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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Previous comments need to have computer skills now.

What nonsense. It's like saying "Fantastic novel you wrote - you have an amazing typewriter" or "That was a great meal - you have an amazing oven". Even though it's all in the eye of the beholder, all the modern tools in the world won't help someone who couldn't recognise a good photograph even it it smacked them in the face..

Sorry, clickbait :-(

Yet you created an account just to respond to it.

Yep. Been lurking/reading for a while. This article tipped me over the edge finally wanting to comment on something ;-)

Sad to say the clickbait works sometimes, it did for me. But this “article” is nonsense and should be called out as such. A website for photographers and photo enthusiasts probably isn’t the place to go posting really, really poorly backed claims that the modern tools of the trade are obviating the skills that almost every other post on the site is trying to help our community build.

And I have a new Pixel 6 phone. It even does motion blur & long exposures easily, hand-held, and I can clone out distractions all within the phone, all using Google's 'AI'. But I can still take awfully composed/dreadful photos. It just makes the more difficult to take stuff easier to do/increases the number of keepers (assuming you accept the deficiencies of the AI and don't pixel peek).

This is why it's so easy to sell this stuff, when the advertisements (have to) use accomplished photographers to actually illustrate what's possible.

E.g. Attached was "snapped" hand held in broad daylight. Would have been awkward/more complex to shoot the same using a tripod, ND filter, long exposure etc. So technically a much easier point-and-click to get the effect with all the AI on the phone. But the AI can't fix composition or creative vision, as you can see ;-)

And these 'cute' AI based features for getting a few effects easily don't help you with the 100's of other situations they don't do well with. Having said that, even as photographer with a good DSLR, lenses and software, I'm enjoying the phone. It meets the need of the "best camera is the one you have with you". For stuff I think may want to be printed at some point, or quite franckly I want the DSLR lens quality/"look", I'll take the DSLR.

However most of what I look at casually now is on a photo frame or TV acting as one. Technical quality isn't so important here. Composition/creative vision etc is. Much of what I look at there was shot on a phone, and I'm looking at my photography much more than I used to, which I think is a good and pleasant thing.

At the end of the day, all the clever tools DO now make it much easier to get the result you want, but you have to know WHAT you want in the first place.

Thank you for clearly demonstrating what the article should have been. But then this all seems pretty obvious and probably wouldn’t have gotten like 100 comments.

I hope whoever went through and put a low rating on all of my images feels now feels better about themself.

That sort of thing says far more about your shitty self-esteem than anyone else's work.

You know that doesn't actually improve the quality of your own work, right?

This is one hell of a wasp nest to enter. Let me bring my example why this isn't quite true. My mom, trained in Photoshop through 15 years of working in advertising, started taking pictures. But she doesn't give a rats behind about raw or composition. Her horizons are crooked as F, and giving her a R3, wouldn't solve her issues. I've talked to her about these composition errors many times, but she just doesn't learn.. I agree and disagree with this article, because if you know what you are doing, it has never been easier.

But that's just a boring photo of some guy standing on a board--about a 1 on the stoke meter. With the actual photography part being so easy now, it seems like you'd have a LOT more time to search out more interesting surfers and waves. So what happened?

I agree. No matter how much technology allows us to make an image like that one technically sound, it is still a boring image that is not inspiring of compelling in any way. And that emphasizes the point that good photography is about artistic vision and compelling subject matter - things that no equipment can do for us.

The tools of the trade always had advanced and made it easier for the average person to purchase the tools to do the job since the invention of the camera. So what's happening now isn't any different from what happened over 30 years ago when film changed into digital.

The real culprit is Instagram. The mass majority has accepted "good enough" images as the norm rather than exceptional. As a result, people have become complacent, paying for mediocre work.

That said, there are two types of photographers: those who have the skills to use the equipment and those who have the talent to create something incredible. That's true in pretty much all creative professions.

Skill was never a critical part of photography since the digital age. What matters is thought and the artistic aspects :)

I think that for some genres and some subject matter, skill is still important. Focusing on rapidly moving subjects that are very close to the camera and changing angles quickly is still a required skill for some types of bird in flight and sports action photography.

Heck, when shooting at 800mm, just moving the camera so that the rapidly moving subject stays in the frame requires quite a bit of skill! I can't even begin to tell you how many times i've clipped the head or tail or wingtip off of a rapidly flying bird!

Yup! :)

Been a fan of Fstoppers for a long time, just never registered. Then I saw this article. What is Mr Iain Stanley smoking. I do not know how to translate this into Japanese, perhaps one of his students can. "You can not polish a turd". Hope aspiring photographers are not misled by his comments. Perhaps he is advocating that photography is only for those that can afford expensive cameras and software. Hope his students don't blindly follow his thoughts.

I make delicious pies because i have a fantastic oven.

Did you read the fantastic novel I wrote? I have this amazing word processor so anyone can write a novel now if they have it...