You No Longer Need Photography Skills to Be a Good Photographer

You No Longer Need Photography Skills to Be a Good Photographer

When you combine modern photography gear, even at the entry-level, with today's post-production software, it has never been easier for people to get high-quality images. The days of perfectly matching time, elements, and light are essentially done.

Though the list is quite exhaustive, I want to offer three major reasons why most of the skills photographers once held close, and sometimes secret, have become essentially obsolete. 

The first is gear. The advancements of camera gear over the last two decades have taken the results and image qualities of amateur and pro photographers alike to levels that were once perhaps unimaginable. With regards to many of today’s bodies, you have things such as:

  • In-body-image-stabilization
  • Almost global frame autofocus coverage
  • Incredibly accurate animal and human eye autofocus and tracking
  • Up to 30 fps burst rates
  • 8K video shooting
  • 60+ megapixel sensors

The list could go on, but you get the drift. Modern camera bodies are equipped with so many phenomenal features. I use the Canon EOS R5, and I am still amazed more than a year after receiving it by just how good it is compared to my previous cameras.

And that’s before we even get to lenses. In today’s market, we have the native lenses that pair seamlessly with our maker’s bodies, and we also have so many third-party options, led by the likes of Sigma and Tamron. In short, the quality of the gear today at relatively affordable prices means that even the most inexperienced beginners can feel confident that they’ll get high-quality shots whenever they take their gear out to shoot, regardless of brand- or lens-body combination.

The simple fact is that the capabilities of gear today make photography so easy. Ask yourself this: why is it so hard for people to make any kind of living selling prints these days? It’s because cameras and lenses, including mobile phones, are of such high quality and do so much of the work that if people want to print something, they often don’t need to source prints anywhere else because their images are perfectly sufficient for their needs.

But there’s more to it than just gear. Beyond the outstanding work your camera gear does for you in getting the quality images you desire, when you add the post-production options available, I would almost go as far as to say that anyone can get high-quality images that they can confidently print and put up on a wall or send off to websites or magazines for publication.

It’s a big assertion, I know. And I also know that many of you will heartily disagree with me. Thus, I want to use an example to show you what I mean. My premise is that when you combine today’s gear with today’s software, good photography has almost become foolproof.

The first part is to shoot far wider than you need to. In the photo below, I shot far too wide for this article to introduce one point that makes modern photography so easy: cropping options. Due to the sensor resolutions in many modern cameras, if you shoot wide enough and capture more of the scene than you think you might need, you can pretty much crop into whatever composition your heart desires and still get more than enough to work with for printing.

I shot the image below with my Canon EOS R5, knowing, firstly, that the autofocus would do its job and also that I could crop in very tightly and still have plenty to work with because of the 45-megapixel sensor on the R5.

After straightening the horizon, I still had 43 megapixels to play with.

Once I got back home, I played around with a few different compositions and placed the subject in different parts of the frame, until I came up with something I was happy with. I intended to show enough of the wave behind the surfer to intimate he could have gone the other way, and also to show enough of the black vest, as I work a lot with that particular wetsuit brand. Importantly, you can see how much leeway I had and how much room I had to work with.

After the crop, I still had 4.4 megapixels, which is more than enough when you enhance the resolution 4x to 17 megapixels.

However, as you can see above, cropping in so tightly only left me with 4.4 megapixels to work with. No problem. As most of us know, due to recent AI developments, that is no longer an issue. I simply right-clicked on the new crop, selected Enhance, and within a few seconds, I had a new image to work that was 17 megapixels — more than enough to print large or send off for publication in pamphlets.

In this example, I used Adobe’s native Super Resolution feature, but you could also use other software, such as Topaz Gigapixel or whatever else is on the market. The salient takeaway is that as long as you shoot wide enough to get more of the scene in the frame than you need, you can use the crop function to get pretty much any type of composition you like and then increase the resolution and megapixel count later without losing any quality.

And if you need to print to a specifically sized paper, Photoshop’s Crop Tool even has many of those templates available for you as well.

When you do crop in so tightly, one issue you might not have immediately noticed is noise, or how soft your image might be. Such imperfections tend to be exacerbated with extremely tight crops. Again, thanks to modern technological advancements, there are no problems in dealing with such inconveniences.

Let’s start with noise first. As you can see in the image below, there is enough noise there that it needs attention. I use Topaz DeNoise AI or Nik Collection’s Dfine2. Photoshop and Lightroom both have their noise reduction functions also.

Once I get the image into Topaz DeNoise, then I can do some side-by-side or setting-to-setting comparisons and play around with the different options to dial in what I like.

The most important part to be mindful of here is that all of this takes place with the click of a few buttons and barely takes more than a minute. As you can see below, the result is very good.

After that, I like to do some minor edits to color, always staying mindful of not reintroducing noise or digital artifacts. With modern software, there are so many options that make your workflow incredibly fast. There is something for everyone’s taste and I feel that with the options out there, there’s no need to do everything yourself from scratch.

Even within Photoshop, there are numerous one-click actions to get your edits started. Just click Ctrl + F (Windows) to bring up the Discover dialog box, and away you go.

I like to work with tones, so that’s where I start. Again, it’s a one-click thing for me that takes zero effort. Once I get the tones from dark to light in front of me, then I can quickly decide what I want to work on.

With two clicks, I was able to get the color and light much closer to what I wanted.

Then, using the Content-Aware Tool, I was able to remove the two surfers in less than 30 seconds. You can choose between various other options like the Patch Tool as well.

Finally, I wanted to sharpen the image a tad. To do that, you can use so many different methods. In Photoshop, you can use the native sharpen functions or use a High Pass filter. I like to use Topaz Sharpen AI, but Nik Collection’s Sharpener Pro 3 (Output Sharpener) is also a very good option I often utilize.

Like the Topaz DeNoise plugin, the Topaz Sharpen software allows you to put different settings side-by-side for comparison. You can tweak the settings on each one until you settle on something you like. Then, of course, you can mask in or out different parts of the frame in Photoshop.

The final image I settled on for use in this article is below. To reiterate, I wanted two main things from this shot: to show enough of the unbroken wave behind the surfer to suggest riding the wave that way was also possible and to show the surfer wearing the new vest from this wetsuit company’s catalog.

The main point is that I could do all of this with a single exposure and about 10 minutes' editing time.

In closing, modern gear, cropping choices for pleasing composition, and the vast software options and features currently available mean that photography these days is becoming almost foolproof. Naturally, there might be a few scenarios where user acumen trumps everything, but those situations are disappearing with every iteration of camera bodies and editing tools.

To be sure, I don’t think this is a good thing, but it is what it is, and we can’t pretend that getting great photos for newer photographers isn’t easier than ever. What are your thoughts?

Iain Stanley's picture

Iain Stanley is an Associate Professor teaching photography and composition in Japan. Fstoppers is where he writes about photography, but he's also a 5x Top Writer on Medium, where he writes about his expat (mis)adventures in Japan and other things not related to photography. To view his writing, click the link above.

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I think one never needed "skill" to take good snapshots. Skill comes from caring about the results enough to learn (some) control before and after taking the photo. When AI is built into the camera -- framing, cropping, tweaking before the file is produced -- then skill becomes outmoded.

Is that how you cook as well?

The advent of the microwave oven didn't kill culinary arts.

I'm sure we'll weather the storm of new technology in our industry as well - just like we did when autofocus was introduced... And when Photoshop came out... And when digital cameras came out...

There was gloom and doom within the industry when 35 mm film cameras first became available.


Modern gear doesn't do anything to help with the things that define a "good photographer". Truly good photography is not the result of technical image quality, but rather the result of creative artistic vision. Figuring out what exactly it is about your subject that you want to showcase in your photos, and how to showcase those attributes, is what good photography is all about. Also knowing what supporting elements to include in your compositions, and how they should be sized relative to the subject, is of utmost importance. And of course knowing what mood and/or feeling that you want to convey in any particular image that you take. Gear doesn't do any of that. Good photography isn't about getting things in proper focus and exposed properly ..... that's just the easy basic stuff. Good photography is so much more than those superficial beginner things.

That's precisely the point. Take a painter or other traditional artist, who's never held a camera, and put a camera in their hand...

...and they'll come up with some well-composed snapshots. If the images in the article are any indication, I don't think skilled photographers have anything to worry about.

Yes, we're all special and unique snowflakes.

Funny thing though, the author's work is available for all to see.

It sure is, but is the photo interesting in any way.. any? The guy on the surfing board has no sporty posture showing he is working with the wave (looks bored to me) and the light has nothing impressing me. It's blurry and the frame uninteresting even after a massive crop. May be a warm light and the surfer coming out or inside a wave's tunnel while he touches the water with his hand showing his abilities to control the situation would have a nice impact. Nope, snapshot. This is your standard modern over done card filler burst shoot with hope that one frame will have something of interest. Now that I am thinking about it, that photo totally destroyed the point the author wanted to make.

I mean the author's work is linked (website, Insta, and Facebook), he actually is a photographer. The image used is not representative of his body of work; I would also note the qualification.

When you guys sit here and sneeringly comment that the example is rubbish, you fundamentally miss the point.

I take what is presented. I could go around it and look at his portfolio but that was not his approach. I have seen many of his articles in the past. Sorry, you can't flip it that way, I get what he wrote but totally wrong photo, not my decision.

My original point is that the aesthetic skills that apparently make photographers special, are not unique to photographers.

Let's say we could magically transport Rembrandt to current day; are we going to pretend he wouldn't spank all of us after 30 minutes instruction with a camera...

There are super talented people who can excel at things in almost mysterious ways. Does not mean they can duplicate it in other forms of art. Over 20 years ago I replaced a photographer who was ten times better than me. He couldn't keep clients and quit.

Your initial response was a fallacy of composition.

Now you're moving the goal posts.

Also, what does professional practice have to do with the price of goats in Mongolia?

What the? Any way, I make a living from photography not from art. May be your view is limited to art, I don't know, mine is about getting the job done so the client calls back for more. Following this article, I would spend so much time fixing all my sloppy work, I would not stay in business very long.

Yes, I was being polite when I was pretending not to understand the intended implication of *I've been a professional photographer for more than 20 years*.

It's irrelivent to this conversation.

But running a photographic business has less to do with photography than the business.

From Lain: "The final image I settled on for use in this article is below. To reiterate, I wanted two main things from this shot: to show enough of the unbroken wave behind the surfer to suggest riding the wave that way was also possible and to show the surfer wearing the new vest from this wetsuit company’s catalog."
He says company's catalog. What is your problem????

It's always just a matter of time until people reach for an ad hominem.

It's been a lovely, if utterly predictable, chat.

Yeah, next time read the article. Thanks.

Feel better now? Do you validated and important?

Those images in your profile; give it 5 years, and you'll be able to take an image in flat light, and then let AI do the work in post, on a phone or tablet.

Whilst you are busy trying to demonstrate your superiority to your peers, I actually consider questions such as this as being worthy of consideration.

Superiority! Oh, is that where you lock up? You think experience is superiority?

No. I think the hierarchy of human motivation is generalisable.

Ok Mr. generic Superior.

That the best you have when you don't understand?

Want another go at it? Or are we done here?

You should challenge yourself and go for commercial photography. I think you want it but don't want to deal with it's realities and restrictions and discipline. Good night.

Why the hell would I be interested in churning out the same stuff day after day? Not only that, but you have to produce.

I ran a business for 12 years, and know full well what's involved.

I do not view professional practice with the same esteem as you. The notion sounds like a great way to hate photography. Funnily enough, I was a professional cyclist, and it was a very long time till I wanted to get on a bike again.

That's not what your portfolio shows, a lot of the same. BTW same stuff day after day is incorrect but if one start thinking in that manner, yes they should get out of it, But I think it's more of a personal inaptitude at understanding what commercial photography is. May be if you shoot headshots all day you will get burned out, but in advertising you have to allow yourself to let the client surprise and challenge you with new projects. That can be a problem with many, especially when the client is present at the shoot and time limit is part of the equation.

Interesting approach.

Genuine lol

You know when you open a door, then you open it to attacks on the same line.

Yes, your work is "commercial".

Like criticizing someone who has done the same line of work for over 20 years and sill enjoys it? That was not pretty.

Not all of it is commercial, but I often wish it was.

It wasn't a compliment.

Another mistake of yours I guess. You should open yourself to other genres because you can gain from it.
There was a contest on product photography on Fstoppers that just ended a few hours ago. Looked popular.

That's the spirit!

What else you got? Come on, shake me up!

This guy does it a lot. In the end you hear something like "Quit while you're behind". He has eaten wisdom with soup spoons and confuses his own behaviour with that of the opponent. Not very pleasant, better avoid.

Yes, you had better, Jan.

Be grateful that I'm not the brutal asshole I used to be. You guys troll on here; you're just not that interesting, or that good at it.

Fair to say, I'm not going to be upset if neither of you speak to me again.

I'm not sure, you're not anymore. Anyway, if we are not that interesting, why bother?

You honestly have no idea.

Jog on.

Hi Jan, I hope you are doing good. Yeah, after awhile and considering that he was the single supporter for this article and the time it was, I assumed he was simply drunk.

:-), he is forgiven.

Oh, we're playing the appeal to popularity card, and a second ad hominem.

Do you have a list of fallacies that you run through? Is this like bingo?

Willliam, Benoit, both of you, made a huge contribution to the comments count in this article.
Seriously. 100+ comments. Rarely seen on Fstoppers...

Not one of my finest moments.

Its an article presenting an argument it should be able to stand on its own He chose the example and thats what his whole argument should stand on. He obviously must have though it was an ok image. The fact that its very mundane is an indication of how far off beam he must be. There is a belief out there that spending big bucks on a camera system makes you a photographer. That belief is akin to believing the earth is flat.

OK, as a matter of logic, the rebuttals are known as a "fallacy of composition"; in other words, the rebuttal being advanced is that this example fails, therefore *all* such examples (now and in the future) will similarly fail.

Again, as matter of formal logic, when an all encompassing sweeping assertion/argument is made, it may be rebutted by presentation of an empirical example; which I did by presenting my wife's image (I expressly pointed out the camera she uses is an RX100 i). Therefore the objections have been rebutted.

Agreed, his work is available, Question is, would he post the rubbish he offered as a final image, bet not.

You're asking me to comment upon the subjective intention of a third party.

None of these objections invalidates the argument being advanced.

No, not asking you, just an opinion. I do not sit lurking, waiting to pounce. Life is to short.

You are correct. The problem we have at the moment is one created by a tidal wave of self delusion. People imagine that using a high quality camera renders any image captured by said device to instantly become a photograph worthy of the name. Its a bit of an issue with so many people these days calling themselves photographers and adding professional on the front just because they have spent several thousand on gear.

I'm not so sure that people with ultra-advanced and expensive gear are disillusioned.

I know many photographers who have the latest and greatest bodies, lenses, and software, and who regularly say things like, "so and so has old gear, but he's such a better photographer than I'll ever be", or, "I have great gear, but still can't take great photos".

I mean, I hear that all the freaking time from so many people, that it causes me to doubt that this disillusionment that you speak of is really that widespread.

As a retired pensioner my gear is limited, still on occasion I "get lucky" and get a reasonable shot ;-). Someone seeing it would pass a comment, "You must have a great camera" LOL. My response is your wife is a good cook, she must have amazing pots. In short, gear does not make a photographer.

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