Three Questions That New Photographers Should Avoid Asking

Three Questions That New Photographers Should Avoid Asking

Learning photography, especially for beginners, can really be kickstarted by one’s enthusiasm about the craft. In fact, since people have different ways of learning and different paces of learning as well, being able to ask the right questions most of the time gets one on the right track. So, here are a few questions that one should skip entirely.  

1. What Exposure Settings Are Best for This Genre?

This is a question most often asked by those who have just started shooting outside the safe realm of the auto modes. For some reason, some photographers think that exposure settings (shutter speed, aperture and ISO) are some kind of ingredients in a recipe, and the reason why it’s a nonsense question is simply because they're not. Exposure settings are not determined by the kind of shoot you are doing but by the lighting conditions of each specific shot. The reality is that every single second, especially when you’re shooting outdoors, have different lighting conditions, which means that the recipe that your friend may have given you from his shoot two months ago will most likely not be applicable to the shot you are taking right now. 

Mastering exposure requires a full understanding of the three exposure settings, the light sources, and how light behaves altogether. No matter how many books you read and how many photos you’ve seen with their exposure settings right beside them, practice and understanding light are the only ways to master it.

2. Did You Edit That Photo?

Many photographers start in the craft with an erroneous understanding of editing and Photoshop. Mainly because of social media, people have the misconception that an edited photograph is automatically a fake photo. Unless you’re a newbie studying to be a photojournalist, you should understand that photography, as much as any other art form, is a free art form and editing may be a necessary part of refining your output.  

An edited photo that involved some tweaking of hues to give a summer mood and removal of small but distracting elements

The camera is no longer just a tool to document certain events. It’s not a copy machine. The camera has become a tool to create art that aims to express, inspire, and exude beauty. One should also understand that an edited photograph doesn’t always mean it’s a beautiful one in the same way that an unedited photo doesn’t really make it automatically ugly. Instead, whether or not to edit is the choice of the artist based on whether they think that the original photo already represents their artistic vision entirely. 

3. What Lens Should I Buy to Start Shooting Like You?

One of the best things to learn right off the bat is that the gear you have does not dictate the photos you take. There have been hundreds of YouTube videos made on this topic, wherein professional photographers were tasked to create masterpieces with cheap or entry-level gear, and each one ended with the conclusion that an experienced photographer can take good photos with any camera. That will always remain true. Though specifications and certain features differ and are generally better with more expensive gear, it doesn’t take away the fact that as long as a camera can take a clear picture, it can take a good one.  

An action shot of a surfer take with a standard zoom lens

One of the most underemphasized facts about gear is that the less professional-looking, small, and cheap kit lens that came with your entry-level camera is actually the best kind of lens for every newbie. The kit lens (18-55mm, 16-50mm, and all other variants) is a standard zoom lens that is actually a watered down version of its professional counterpart for most brands (24-70mm), simply because that lens has a good range that goes from wide angle to a bit of telephoto with which you can try almost all genres of photography, and it’s cheap not just so you can afford it, but also because it wouldn’t be as painful if you make a clumsy newbie mistake that destroys it. 

Asking these questions is, of course, acceptable, but the unfortunate truth is that sometimes seemingly more experienced peers give wrong and misleading answers that generally impede your development as a new photographer, so hopefully, reading this helps you avoid some wrong turns.  

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18 Comments

Rob Mitchell's picture

4: What would you charge for this job?

5. How much should I crank up my saturation to get likes on Instagram?

Edison Wrzosek's picture

OMG, I know right??? Some of those images look like they may have been decent, once upon a time, until someone cranked the vibrance, clarity, and saturation sliders all the way to the right!!!

Logan Cressler's picture

I think that many times, the saturation issue, is frequently the makers display. If they do not have a good display, which many many of them do not, they need to crank the saturation way up to see the same results that we all see on our good displays. Frequently with laptop editors unless they have one of the few options with a good display.

I also frequently see it in my own work if I spend a lot of time on a photo, when I take a break and come back I have to dial it back because I got accustomed to it. I call this saturation resistance :D

Although now I rarely ever use the saturation, as it is too global of an adjustment for my uses, I will frequently bump up vibrance and then bump down saturation though.

I learned this the hard way recently. My laptop screen is trash. Didn't know. Many of my edits would show my phone LED as too saturated.

Logan Cressler's picture

When I first started getting more serious and taking jobs, I would check all my exports on my phone for color accuracy and making sure they were not over baked :D

Then I upgraded to a much better display, and that largely fixed it, but then they were frequently too dark. Through trial and error I found that lowering my display brightness 3-4 clicks makes them perfect for both phones and other computers.

Just takes a little time and experience to figure it all out.

But for anyone reading this, if your phone is relatively modern, use your phone to double check your edits before posting. And its frequently helpful to give the eyes a rest and come back to it, kind of like smelling coffee beans to cleanse the pallet when you are sampling perfume.

I have calibrated my display several times, and honestly, I am not convinced I actually need to very often, although some photographers may need to.

I also learned that if you edit on a white background, that it acts as a natural white balance to the brain, so even if your display has a tint or color shift to it, the white background lets your brain adjust to it and your edits are still largely correct. I wouldnt count on that when color accuracy is critical, but for 98% of photographers this should be more than enough as long as your brains white balance works well.

I use a bit of software called Spacedesk to mirror (or sometimes extend) my screen onto my tablet. It gives me an instant look at how my photos will appear across a few devices. It's worth checking out. :-)

Edison Wrzosek's picture

Having switched away from Photoshop and Lightroom to Affinity Photo and Capture One, what I do now when I perform final edits and need to bump saturation, in Affinity Photo, create a HSL Adjustment layer at the top of my layer stack, crank it up between 25-40%, then layer mask hide it, and using a 4-8% flow brush with 0% hardness, gently start to brush in the saturation and luminance adjustment I want on specific elements in the image.

I find this yields a much more interesting look, without over-baking the entirety of it.

I almost always zero out vibrance and saturation, depending on other adjustments and local adjustments to get there.

I still think they know they are cranking saturation up. Good monitor or bad learning how to interpret a histogram as well as out of gamut warnings are available. Most people have no idea that most of the stuff they are liking isn't even remotely printable to look like the screen shows it and certainly no like the scene actually looked.

I know a woman who has sold a lot of her over-saturated landscapes. They hurt my eyes, but there are people who like that stuff. It looks like she lives on some alien planet.

Logan Cressler's picture

6. What filter did you use for that?
7. Where can I buy good quality presets?

Gordon Cahill's picture

8. Which camera brand is best?

I kinda disagree with #1. While the combination of settings will vary, individual settings can be genre specific. e.g. large aperture for certain looks in portraiture, slow shutter speeds for blurry waterfalls, etc..

At what point does an edited photo becomes a "fake"photo or digital art?

What is wrong with those questions when someone is trying to understand photography? The new photographer is trying to learn. Tell them what they need to know. Or be a jerk and look down your nose at them.

Carel van Huyssteen's picture

Where is this location?