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What Is the Worst Photography Advice You've Ever Been Given?

What Is the Worst Photography Advice You've Ever Been Given?

There are a lot of fantastic resources for information on photography, but sometimes, there is some utterly useless advice offered. So, for a bit of light relief, I want to know what the worst photography advice you've ever been given is.

I've collected some fantastic advice over the years — advice that has served me well: "Always have a camera with you," "get it right in camera," and "salt water and electronics do not mix well." But among these fragments of wisdom I have gathered have been other pieces of advice that were better off forgotten.

So, share in the comments the worst advice you've received as a photographer, recent or way back when. Here are a few of mine:

1. 'You'll Never Get Anywhere Without a Photography Degree'

Earlier this year, I wrote a whole article on this advice, as it stayed with me for some time. The quote doesn't need almost any unpacking, but I'll give you some context. While I was at university studying philosophy, I went to a meet and greet evening and was introduced to a photography student by a friend, who introduced me as a photographer too. He hoped that the common ground would ignite a nice conversation; it didn't. She hit me with the quote above, and we argued for a while before parting ways.

2. 'You Should Be Shooting in Manual Mode'

This is a mixed bag. How the person who told me this meant their words is without question, terrible advice. He was unambiguously suggesting that professionals shoot in manual mode almost exclusively, and amateurs shoot in the priority modes or auto. That's incorrect! However, I lean on manual mode far more than I ever expected to, so if I'm generous, I could say it wasn't far off being useful advice. "Every photographer ought to be able to shoot in manual mode comfortably" would be much more useful advice.

3. Shoot Wide Open or at the Sweet Spot

I've not put this in quotation marks intentionally, as it isn't a direct quote from any one person. Rather, it's this unwritten wisdom that gets silently passed down from photographers. I wrote a complete article on this recently called "Why You Should Be Using the Forgotten Apertures Between Wide Open and Front-to-Back Focus" if you want a more thorough breakdown of this point, but I'll summarize it like this: Just because you have a fast lens with a good widest aperture doesn't mean you always have to use it at that extreme. For several years, I took portraits and dared not to venture north of f/2.8 at the absolute highest unless I needed everything in focus, then it was f/8. That is a limiting mindset!

4. 'Professional Photographers Use Full Frame'

This is a tricky one. The person who gave me this advice wasn't trying to mislead me, and it isn't quite as sloppy as it sounds, but I took it to heart. I was using an APS-C camera back when I first dipped a toe in photography's waters. However, when I started considering making some money in the industry, I was convinced that full frame cameras are necessary for several reasons. The truth is, while most professional photographers shoot with full frame or larger sensors, it isn't even close to a necessity. I upgraded to an older full frame camera at the first opportunity, and while I don't regret it per se, I do think my money would have been better allocated on lenses and education. Speaking of education...

5. 'Don't Waste Your Money on Photography Tutorials'

The end of this quote is: "because there is so much for free." This is both right and wrong, depending on the angle. It's right insofar as there is a wealth of good educational material available for free on YouTube and websites like us. It's also true that a lot of online education is behind paywalls and a great deal of it is not worth the price. But to lump all paid tutorials into the category of wasting your money is a mistake. The best educational material I've seen on photography has been paid. This isn't a snide way to plug our Fstoppers tutorials — see, I'm not even going to link to them — but they (and tutorials similar to them) are worth the money. They aren't just some photographer sitting in a room and talking for two hours. They're complex, deep, and long collections of videos and files by experts of genres. I've watched many paid tutorials, both ours and others, and they are well worth the money. In fact, high-quality education is nearly always a better investment than gear.

6. 'Don't Get Into Photography'

This one was given to me by Alex Cooke, but I think we've all heard a variation of it at one point or another. On occasion, it might be genuine and honest advice, but usually, it's somebody who hasn't done particularly well with photography. Or, in Cooke's case, it was a local photographer wanting to protect his patch. I was told that there's no money in photography, and it was implied I ought to not get into photography professionally for that reason. The truth is, not many people make good money from photography, but some do. That distinction is an important one.

7. 'You Should Shoot Weddings, They're Easy Money'

Nope. I've shot a fair few weddings in my time (despite never being a wedding photographer nor advertising for them), and I can tell you, though the fee you get looks high, it's anything but easy money. The stress, preparation, and workload on the day is almost unrivaled. The day I shot the wedding of an A-lister's brother, I didn't stop for 18 hours straight, and the pressure I put on myself was staggering. That's without the editing phase, which really eats into the hourly rate that seemingly large fee breaks down into. Honestly, wedding photography might be one of the hardest and most stressful ways of getting money as a photographer. It is rewarding, and I do enjoy it, but it's so far from easy that the person who told me this deserves a large fish to the face.

What's the Worst Photography Advice You've Been Given?

Over to you now. I want to hear the worst advice you've been given and why. Share it in the comments below.

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61 Comments

Graham Glover's picture

Never shoot above ISO 100. Ha ha ha ha!!!!!!

Try shooting nighttime sports at ISO 100.

zave smith's picture

Back in 1990 or 91, when I was first starting out, somebody told me, "don't work for the casinos and especially don't work for Donald Trump. You will never see your money." This was some of the best advice I have been given

Matthew Lacy's picture

I somehow missed how this was at all relevant.

Michael Dougherty's picture

A case of TDS. LOL

Mike Ditz's picture

I had someone tell me something similar, when working for any politician get the money upfront and be sure the check clears. Most seem to follow the "Low pay, Slow pay or No pay" formula.

zave smith's picture

Equipment recommendations are always suspect.

Alex Reiff's picture

I'd recently bought a telephoto lens, and realized I could save $50 by buying an extended Arca plate instead of a tripod collar, so I asked a forum if there was any performance differences between the two. One person's answer was "Just buy the tripod collar, it's only $60."

Along the same lines of "just throw money at it" solutions, the mod of that forum suggested I but $800 in monolights when I asked using equipment I have, and I saw a few people saying that lens holsters were a waste of money and you should buy more lenses and redundant bodies instead.

Thatcher Freeman's picture

I thought tripod collars were just about reducing strain on the lens mount, particularly if your lens is super long and heavy. You probably made the right call in terms of there being a negligible image quality difference, but if you're rough on your equipment then it might be a bad idea to support the lens through the camera than the other way around for some telephotos.

Alex Reiff's picture

The main issue I was trying to address was that a long, heavy lens puts the center of gravity too far forward of the center of the tripod, causing the ball head to sag as you're setting up a shot. By happenstance, the lens is shaped so that part of it rests on the Arca plate, so that should reduce strain on the lens mount.

Just me's picture

"Please take beautiful pictures"

Charles J's picture

Play around with your new camera to familiarize yourself with it.

This was a huge waste of time. Aperture, ISO, shutter - everyone and their sister has a tutorial or an article on that. However, I was lost on how to explore other camera functions. Playing around with menu settings more often led to changes I didn't understand, though some were interesting. The Sony menu system didn't help as I'd regularly develop amnesia about how I got to a setting in the first place to change it back.

Having learned playing around with the camera was going nowhere I took another piece of advice and began training on how to use it. Reading the user manual and going through each camera function, shooting with those settings, taught me the most about my camera's capabilities. It then made playing around purposeful. Tedious, but worth it.

Jon The Baptist's picture

Worst advice I got was "be a generalist"

Matthias Kirk's picture

"Always ETTR"

John Hubble's picture

"Never ETTR"

Alexander Petrenko's picture

Use Imagenomic Portraiture, it’s great!

Paul Wilkinson's picture

Get a 24-70mm 2.8 you won’t need another lens!

Pierre Dasnoy's picture

Most boring focal lengths ever.

Tarek El Wazzi's picture

Was shooting at a wedding. Part of the team and not the main photographer. One guy asks me: "What cam do you have?" I tell him Canon 6D. He tells no!!!, you should buy a 5D M4, then you'll be able to shoot weddings. My reply was that Ive been doing it for the past 3 years with this cam and am getting great results. His reply was that 5dM4 has longer continuous burst and fast shutter speed. Proceeds to take a bursts of everything in that wedding. Ill stick to with Canon 6D

Rhonald Rose's picture

That's a classic technical photographer :-) buying the best and then forcefully using it on all occasions :-) I have been there. Am sure, looking at all the similar photos and the amount of photos to go through, he must have given up on photography

David Pavlich's picture

This is just me, but to be a wedding photographer or any one off type shoot, it's a good idea to use a camera with two card slots. Card failures are rare, but do happen. It happened to me. Because it happened to me, I will always have a camera with 2 slots.

The 6D is still a very good camera, but it lacks that bit of insurance of a second slot.

Mark Harris's picture

I'm always amazed at the self confidence of the random people who will give me advice when I'm working - the wedding guest who warned me that the sun was behind the group; the ones who patronisingly whisper in my ear "I think there's plenty of light today, you don't need flash", and best of all the woman who got quite angry with me because I wouldn't take her advice that "It's much too dark in here, it won't come out without flash".

Charles Haacker's picture

I'd upvote this twice if I could! 👍👍

Michael Carter's picture

The woman I showed some of the great dancing photos I was getting, complete with beautiful light streaks, and she says "Hmm it's just too bad you couldn't freeze the action. Keep practicing though!"

Joe Hogan's picture

as a dance photographer... that rocks!!! Love it. Thanks

Bela Acs's picture

" Photography is an art form" by self proclaimed Master photographers who even advetising Master class tutorials.

Jon The Baptist's picture

Is it not? Or are we still stuck in 1890 when photography was considered to be a scientific medium to copy stuff?

Greg Desiatov's picture

What!!!

I guess people like Diane Arbus, Annie Leibovitz, Gregory Crewdson, David LaChapelle, Man Ray, and Robert Mapplethorpe, all should have picked different professions to get into and just about every art museum now, has a photography section.

Charles Haacker's picture

I'm very leery of statements beginning with "You Must" or "You Can't." You MUST shoot raw! You CAN'T process JPEGs. You MUST use a tripod! You CAN'T use an ISO higher than 400. Absolutism based on someone's personal, subjective opinion. Experienced photographers can almost always figure out a workaround to get the picture. Having a must/can't mindset just gets in the way.

Mark Harris's picture

Related to that is articles that start with ”The correct way to...”. There is very seldom one correct way to do anything in life, and the author loses all credibility before I even read the text, which I often don’t bother with. “My favorite way...”, or “A good way...” Would indicate that the author understands the process, not just learned one recipe that they are going to force on all around them because that’s all they can.

Charles Haacker's picture

I write a lot about photography on Quora. One of my favorite things to emphasize is, "Ya do what works." I try very hard never to be absolute about pretty much anything because I only know what I know, and what I know is I don't know everything. One mouth, two ears.

Rhonald Rose's picture

"Enable rule of third guide and make sure to use it all times", and then me staring at a group of people and trying to fit them into rule of third.

marcgabor's picture

Boycott Fstoppers

Pierre Dasnoy's picture

Is it a bad advice ?

Mike Ditz's picture

When I was in high school I was a friend's house, her dad was rich, a doctor and an avid photographer with a showcase full of Leicas. I had heard of Leica but had never seen so many in real life. (I had a Pentax Spotmatic)
So thinking this guy knew what he was talking about I listened to what he said.

Always shoot Kodachrome and never shoot a vertical. "I've been a photographer since the 40s and never saw the need to shoot verticals." Since he was a doctor, rich and used Leica I assumed he was right.

Wrong on both points.

Nick Sanyal's picture

1. Any post that uses the words, "best", "epic", "ultimate", "must have" and similar such words.
2. Any advice from internet pundits.
3. Change brands because I did.

Andrew Miller's picture

You don't need to bother working out your cost of doing business. And that's still being touted by high profile professionals.

Mike McNeil's picture

Many people on youtube are telling people that you must use only manual focus for macro photography, that's just not right or true. I use autofocus on my D810 and D500 combined with the Nikkor 105mm macro lens for every macro shot and I get around 70% keeper rate with perfect focus on the eyes. What would these people tell those that have poor vision such as myself,just give up ? dont get into it. Modern cameras are more than capable of focusing down to a very close level, it may have trouble at 1:1 but not every shot I take needs to be that close. I like to show the environment that the insect lives in as well so I focus as close as the cam will let me and crop in if needed. People have told me that they would like to get into macro photography but dont trust their eyes with manual focus anymore, I tell them to use auto focus and they say they cant, some guy on youtube said it shouldn't be done. how many people have these youtubers turned away from the segment of macro photography because of their one sided view of things ?

Peter Blaise's picture

"... zoom with your feet ..."

"... on-camera flash is useless and non-professional ..."

"... shoot in manual mode ..."

"... you can't do ___ ( insert random thing that, yes, you can do ) ..."
... can't actually use or print high ISO pictures
... can't use pictures from compact cameras or cell phones
... can't use or print low megapixel pictures big
... can't use wide angle lens for portraits
... can't use a consumer lens for stock photography sales, especially not a super-zoom

"... you need a new camera, old cameras are useless, inferior ..."

"... you need a professional camera to take good pictures ..."

"... you need a Nikon ( or a Canon ) ..."

... and of course, the perennial public comment:

"... you cannot take a picture here ..."

"... you need permission to take my picture ..."

- - - - - - - - - -

... versus best advice, often self-discovered:

- breath long and slow during shutter release, exhale or hold our breath
- don't squat, our heartbeat pumps our thigh muscles to bounce us during exposure
- stay motionless until after releasing the shutter, waiting for the camera to finish it's business, don't just click and move on, unaware that the camera may still be capturing the image as we jerk it away,
- press the shutter button to auto focus twice to confirm stability and agreement with our preference
- charge all batteries by the night before going out, and carry spares
- charge batteries in-camera to maximize compatibility ( may reduce "incompatible battery" errors )
- make sure there's functional media in camera, and if film, that it catches and winds on
- mark a polarizing filter ring-edge with a white dot to align with the sun
- wait 20 minutes after going outdoors for internal lens fog to dissipate, pump the zoom to help it along
- carry close-focusing diopters,
- find fractional diopters ( "close focus" adapters for original super zooms ), which are great for walkabout, focusing close and as far as 50 to 100 feet away ( 15 to 30 meters )
- fill a big scratch in a front lens element with India ink, the image forming light will then ignore the scratch, and auto exposure compensates for the trivial loss of light
- read the reference manuals throughly at least once a year to rediscover lost features and their benefits
- don't get confused by technical inaccuracy everywhere, in manuals, books, videos, web chats
- apertures are wide or narrow, apertures are not large or small, apertures are not big or small, "aperture" could mean aperture or aperture numbers for f/stop for f-number, which themselves could mean fractions or denominators, so translate them to wide or narrow
- shutter speed is not fast or slow, shutter speed is not high or low, shutter speed is exposure time, which is long or brief ( mechanical shutters almost always move at the same speed, it's just the timing between first and second curtain that determines the length of exposure )
- the exposure supposed triangle is meaningless without the 4th side - subject light
- carry more than one camera, always know and have a plan where we can get new and used replacement cameras quickly
- carry cleaning/wiping/drying cloths
- cary plastic bags for emergency rain shelter
- pack and unpack our kit daily to get intimately familiar with it, organize it intuitively, and to cull stuff we don't need,
- carry our camera with us everywhere, shoot everything, all the time
- have a companion actively watch our back, and have them know that is their assignment, maybe have them photographing too, and have someone at a distance watching their back, and so on
- don't argue with someone carrying a gun, make yourself scarce and live to try, try, try again, wear non-descript outfits with no logos or slogans, and have a change of shoes and laces ( they are surprisingly unique identifiers )

Everyone has their own hard-earned savvy - what's yours?
.

Charles Haacker's picture

Another piece I would upvote twice if I could!

Enrique Olivieri's picture

I was told to sell all my Nikon equipment and buy Canon.

Catherine Bowlene's picture

Wow, shooting weddings because they are easy money is the most absurd thing I've ever heard! it's not easy at all, and the culling is also not easy at all. I always struggle through this and usually give the clients a lot of good pictures so they would choose something to edit from. Delegating is the thing, haha!
The worst advice that I've ever heard was something like: "The photography won't bring you any money, it's not even a job, QUIT!". Yes, the corona crisis affected me and my photography but I still find ways to make money (webcam shootings, photo calendars on request, Smartshow 3d slides for the long term clients of mine, etc). You will always find a chance to work and get the money if you really wish, this applies to any job, not only the photography.

David Pavlich's picture

Buy a Sony. :-)

Peter Blaise's picture

Beta is better.
.

David Pavlich's picture

Remember that time and what a VCR cost? Beta was better, but....

chrisrdi's picture

'Don't Waste Your Money on Photography Tutorials'

Most paid learning in photography is indeed garbage that you can learn on Youtube for free, BUT Some of the more interesting and useful things I learned outside of the basics has deffinitely been from paid tutorials.

'Don't Get Into Photography'

If you are looking to get rich in photography then don't start a photography business. You are getting into photography for the wrong reason and will likely fail (at a business). I still encourage people to do photography anyways though because sometimes people learn why chasing paper in the photography industry is not a reason to start a photography business. If the money is all you care about in photography then focus on getting commercial work or shoot weddings. Either way it's going to be VERY hard work. It's still better than working IT though(The most thankless job I can think of).

'You Should Shoot Weddings, They're Easy Money'

Deffo not easy money. I have shot a few and Even though most of them paid well I decided to never shoot a wedding again. I have had to deal with bridezillas, momzillas, willfully unaware guests, ect, ect. Weddings are annoying to me and I do not enjoy them as a guest or a photographer.

I never was lucky enough to have a mentor in anything so most of what I know I have had to figure out on my own. I still have a crap ton to learn so I try to listen to people more knowledgeable than me when ever I can.That's an advice right there. Shut up and listen. Watch and be observant. You don't know everything so you shouldn't act like you do. There is always some one else out there better than you. Find those people and learn as much as you can from them.

Greg Desiatov's picture

I'm self taught and I've only gone to 2 workshops at the start of my photography journey. I've learned a lot off YouTube videos because it's a great way to learn at your own pace.

The worst advice I have ever seen is an amateur photographer who does weekend workshops advertising what you should and shouldn't do in the professional photography arena.

BTW, this dude opened his own photo studio and closed up after 8 months so I guess he has the 'don't do' area covered! LOL

Dave McC's picture

Buy a new camera to improve your photography

Adam Thirtle's picture

I once asked a photographer if he had any recommendations on photography books...he told not to bother looking for inspiration in photography books but to watch youtube lighting tutorials instead. Very patronising when that was not the question at all.

I also used to shoot micro four thirds, a hobbyist told me I wouldn't be able to create professional work with the system, whilst I was in fact, making money from photography and shooting exclusively with a cropped sensor.

People will tell you a whole lot of things but as long as the end product is something of value to you or a client etc, your experience and process simply do not matter to anyone but yourself.

I work full time as a professional photographer now, I've never studied photography, I've never owned a traditional digital SLR (Although I do use them a lot these days) and to be honest I probably shot on aperture priority for years.

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