Photography Opinions That We Should Burn

Photography Opinions That We Should Burn

I'm not sure if you've noticed, but the photography community is an opinionated bunch, and to make matters worse, there are a lot of people outside of the community who are opinionated about it too! So, let's take the edge off by sharing the worst photography opinions and why they should be condemned to history.

I'll start immediately with a caveat: this is meant to be a lighthearted and somewhat tongue-in-cheek article. There are traces of irony that I even have to mention that, but I thought I'd plant a flag there.

Like most people, I started photography with a vague interest in the craft and I bought a cheap, used camera. Again, I suspect like most people reading this, I fell in love, and quite unexpectedly. I'd always been a "creator" (before that was a job title), but I hadn't seen myself as artistic per se, though I was a visual person. Unfortunately, above all else, I'm prone to becoming obsessive about things that interest me. It has its place and it has given me success, but it's a double-edged sword, to say the least. After a year with my first camera rarely leaving my side, I was on a path that I denied for a long time. I said I'd never become a professional photographer as I wanted to keep my passion alive, but that was an excuse and it didn't take long before I was a full-time photographer (with passion intact might I add).

Over the years as an amateur and then a professional, I've had a lot of (mostly unsolicited) advice. I've written about one of these in particular which I'll touch on in this article, but that piece of bad advice would never die of loneliness. So, I'm going to cover some of the worst pieces of advice I've heard and I encourage you to share yours in the comments.

You Either Should, or Should Never, Work for Free

This is a hotly debated subject with so much nuance, it makes it difficult to offer a one-size-fits-all answer. When I took the leap into full-time photography, I was adamant that any work for free was a terrible business move. However, as time went on I realized it had its place, but isolated soundbites like "working unpaid is fine" are as useless as they are dangerous.

The truth is, in the early days of my career I took opportunities that were not paid but had value to me. That is, the shoot had me creating work that I could then use to secure paid work in that area. I was selective in the extreme about this, but I have friends who did inordinate amounts of work either unpaid or for a pittance. Now, they have a flourishing career producing what they did for free, for a more than fair financial reward.

My feelings towards this particular brand of opinion are a result of one sentiment I hold dear and I use it to scrutinize every piece of advice I get: advice delivered as an absolute will rarely be right.

You Need a Degree To Succeed in Photography

I wrote an entire article on this, but when I was at university not studying photography for my degrees, I was told a degree in photography was necessary, which baffled and irritated me. Here's an excerpt from said article:

My classmate introduced me to a girl sipping on a bottom-shelf red provided for the bare-bones soirée, and in the interest of setting us off on the right path, he informed her that I too was a photographer. We exchanged pleasantries before she asked a question about the photography degree I wasn't taking, so I couldn't know the answer, and I had to correct her: "I'm a photographer, but I'm not doing a degree in photography." She asked why, and I remained polite, doing my best to emphasize my interest in other courses rather than disparage the course she was enrolled on. There was no escaping. She asked whether I was going to pursue photography as a career, and I honestly didn't know whether I ever would, so I said as much. "You'll never get anywhere without a photography degree," she opined with little wiggle room for interpretation. I disagreed, pointing out that would be like telling an Olympic-level sprinter that he can't compete without a degree in Sports Science — a loose retort, but she had me rattled.

Perhaps I have mellowed over the years, as this doesn't bother me anymore, but my opinion on whether it's true or not hasn't changed. I have nothing against photography degrees one iota — I'm sure they have great value, but as far as the advice of them being "necessary" to success in the industry goes, it's incorrect. I'd also like to add that, having read that quote back years later, I wasn't referring to myself as the photography equivalent of an Olympic-level sprinter — I was just pulling apart the logic.

Photoshop Is Cheating

I wonder what purists would think of a macro stack of over 100 images; post-processing to recreate what was really there.

The subheading is pithy, but it ought to be "post-production and editing is cheating." This is a tired topic — or it was — until recently, but before I get to that, let's briefly cover the tired debate. Digitally editing images could scarcely be more commonplace these days; even non-photographers edit their photos with filters and easy-to-use apps. Nevertheless, there's still a sizable group that thinks that outside of some color tweaking, editing images is cheating and it's not real photography. The standard response to this is to cite film photography editing which used literal burning (though I'm not sure how they dodged), splicing, and other physical wizardry. I'm not certain this retort actually overcomes the criticism, but it's true the "problem" isn't restricted to the digital realm.

The truth is, editing is a fundamental part of photography and a welcome one. However, there are instances in which heavy editing is inappropriate (photojournalism, for instance) or unwanted (photography competitions). These rare occasions where editing works against the purpose of the photograph are not common enough to justify a blanket vilifying of editing, so if you are the purist of purists, perhaps restrict the photography you consume to certain contests! Then again, what has refreshed this topic is the use of AI, which is something I have covered frequently.

What photography opinions do you want to see burned at the stake?

Lead image by cottonbro studio

Robert K Baggs's picture

Robert K Baggs is a professional portrait and commercial photographer, educator, and consultant from England. Robert has a First-Class degree in Philosophy and a Master's by Research. In 2015 Robert's work on plagiarism in photography was published as part of several universities' photography degree syllabuses.

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Robert K Baggs asked,

"What photography opinions do you want to see burned at the stake?"

This whole premise that photography is about "telling stories". What hogwash!

If I want to tell someone something, I will use words. Words are for telling.

If I want to show someone something, I will use photos. Photos are for showing things, not for telling things.

Yes. That "visual storyteller" thing gives me gas.

Of course, if a picture is worth a thousand words, what does that mean for your position?

Angela Maloney asked,

"Of course, if a picture is worth a thousand words, what does that mean for your position?"

It means that I use photos to SHOW things to people ... things that would take many words to describe if I was describing them verbally instead of visually.

I do not want to use photos to tell people what happened. I want to use photos to show people what something looks like. I am interested in expressing aesthetics, not in relaying events.

For example, I want to use a photo to show someone how majestic a bull Elk looks, or how cool looking a Deer's antlers are, or how colorful the wing feathers are on a Northern Shoveler (a species of duck). I do not really want to use photos to tell someone how harsh life is in the winter for wildlife. I do not want to use photos to tell people how the habitat is being destroyed by man's development. I want to show how cool looking and beautiful things are. That is NOT telling a story. Stories are better told, not shown.

Opinion: Film photography is best for learners as it slows them down
Turth: as an educator of more than 25 years this is rubbish and goes against pretty much all educational theory. The most important aid to learning is feedback and reflection. If you have to wait several days or weeks to see the image, the thought process that went into it has long since dissipated and feedback/reflection is a lot less meaningful than the instant feedback afforded by digital. Also, it is entirely possible to slow down on a digital camera.

Opinion: Film photography is the only photogaphy for purists
My opinion: Anyone who insists on form over function (I ONLY shoot film, I ONLY listen to vinyl, I ONLY read paper books) is a fetishist rather than a practitioner. This is not to say there is no use for film, vinyl or hard-copy books (I have a great many of all three) but that for a true 'purist' the photograph, the music and the words themselves are paramount. Please note that this idea is usually a stage seen in the development of new artists who do not yet have the chops but want to feel superior. They usually grow out of it.

There, glad to have gotten that off my chest.

I don't shoot film anymore for the past 20 years but that's not how I view education from film. The wait for processing, to me is not a factor. The value of film is in getting the process well thought before even taking the camera out to achieve the work with minimal effort. Yes it will take more time to get to see the result but often this can be done within hours or even less. The digital way of learning can lead to more time to learn, large volume of images taken and possibly confusion. Film is more of a discipline, learning the theories and rules and the film processing a way to evaluate or confirm that the knowledge was acquired. Learning from digital doesn't have that mind set, it's about volume and back screen evaluation and the instant "reward". Either way, one has to gather information for starting point, books, YouTube, teacher or else so someone with no photography education will have to spend time to learn the minimum no matter what. If it's to take snaps, then a phone is actually the best tool. In some way, film is slower, but I think it can be a cleaner way to learn fast since any mistake will cost you. Additionally, if you learn film processing and even get experience with printing, RAW will be a natural transition. Most digital only photographers don't even print and have no clue how their images would print. They don't even know what a calibrated monitor is and the word profile is like a scary thing to avoid. That leads more to be able to take good snaps rather than totally understanding the process.
I think both are equal in their own and dependent more on the photographer's ambitions than a time frame to learn. It takes time no matter what you use.

It bothers me when people make absolutist statements such as "film is better for learning the photographic process". It bothers me equally when people say that digital is better for learning. Neither is better than the other. They are simply different. There is nothing essential that one can learn from one that they can't learn from the other.

Everyone is different and some learn very well when they slow down and take time to think each thing thru, whereas others don't learn well if they slow down and need to do ten thousand things at once in order to get something to sink in. And that is okay.

Plus, even shooting digital, I can *choose* to slow down; it gives me the flexibility to adapt to circumstances.

Exactly! The idea that we need to be forced into doing things, by having other options taken away, is pretty much hogwash. For those with very open minds who are continually evaluating and re-evaluating everything they do, we are prone to explore every creative and technical choice that is available to us without needing to be prodded by necessity.

I slowly stopped using film because of the time gaps and the expense. Digital has allowed me to become MUCH better because I get instant feedback plus I can crop my own photos, exactly how I want to - again, without the wait and the expense.

That you need a dedicated camera to be a photographer. A smartphone's computational photography via a machine learning chip (like Snap Dragon) is just as legitimate.

Every photographer MUST have a cheap 50mm lens in their bag!

Any photography lens or other equipment deemed a must have.

Oh dear. I'm in trouble then. I have a rather expensive 50mm lens in mine.

That any lens that's not a large, modern clinical autofocus lens is rubbish and only bought by amateurs.

People who have a go at you because you approach taking and editing photographs differently to them and they insult you for it.

All opinions from brand fanboys slating other brands and other people's opinions.

That new modest level cameras must have features found on the flagship model and cost well below $2000 or they wont buy it.

That Voigtlander must make autofocus lenses and they insist it can be easily done without changing the size of the lenses too much. Also moaning about the price of their lenses.

All Leica reviews full of people complaining in the comments about the cost of Leica equipment as if nobody has ever heard that before.

"Generative AI is just another tool."

The title should be something like, 'Opinions that drive you crazy'. We are all entitled to an opinion. It may not be popular, but burning it is a bit on the Draconian side.

My opinion is that FS should cease and desist all articles that state that either older equipment is just as good or new equipment isn't necessary. It's not that the articles are badly written or the videos are in poor taste, it's because the subject has been covered and covered and covered and covered. Probably not a popular opinion with the FS staff, I'm sure. Should they burn it?

This is kinda' like the articles that state we've seen enough of this sort of photograph or we've seen enough of that geographic location. So, when a photographer gets to visit the Grand Canyon for the first time, he/she is supposed to take the pictures but not show anyone? Sounds silly, but....

Fstoppers thrives on posting links to content that other people have created that rehash topics that have already been beaten to death over and over. This is the mainstay of Fstoppers and what they are all about. Fortunately, every once in a while there is an article about something else that is actually interesting, so that's why I still come to this site each day; to see if they actually created their own content about something that hasn't already been covered yet by someone else.
When a writer such as Kate G or Ivor Rackham actually writes an article that is NOT about gear or a software product, then that makes for some worthwhile reading and discussion. Otherwise the articles that I can actually learn from or enjoy are very few and far between.

Tom, I assume that you've gone to the top left drop-down menu, Latest and have clicked on FStoppers Originals so that you don't have to see all the other articles?

yes I have done that from time to time .... but I do like to click on all the articles because I like to debate things, and even when an article is of no value to me, there is still an opportunity to use the comment feature to debate the premise of the article or to debate with others who comment.

I would definitely like to see *far* fewer pointless clickbait "articles."

Someone is probably working on ClickbaitGPT even now... :'(

I suspect the influence of AI will make the next iteration of this thought exercise rather interesting.

A degree in photography is as useful as my Masters in film directing. It was huge fun doing it I learned a lot but at the end of the day no one in the industry gives a dam about qualifications. They want to see what you have done. Photography is the same . Portfolio or showreel is where it’s at. What an academic course does do, which I think is crucial and often overlooked, is it gives one time to think about a subject like photography, experiment and time to study the work of other photographers in a structured way. On balance if you have the time and the financial backing it can be worthwhile but not absolutely necessary.

Yeah I have never heard ANYONE say that a degree in photography is necessary ... so I don't know where the author got the idea that it is another opinion that should be burned. Another straw man, it would appear, created by the author simply so he could shoot him down.

But overall it is a great article, especially in that it invites us to interact and discuss. Kudos to Bobby Baggs! And I'll gladly forgive him his one straw man.

I have no degree in anything. But I totally respect the value of such education. We seem to be going through a period where it's being derided and people are saying "show me the money". That's not what it's about. I seriously wish I could have gone to art school, regardless of whether it ever paid off in some monetary sense.

If you're using more than a cardboard box with a pin-hole in it; you're not doing *real* photography. :D

Converting a photo to black and white makes it art.

Or, just printing it really big.