Justifying 15 Lies about Photography

by Miserere


Some time ago I wrote a post titled 15 Lies about Photography. I thought I would explain why I consider each statement a lie.

You can fix it later in Photoshop
A bad photo is a bad photo. Sure, Photoshop can help you fix some exposure mistakes if you weren’t far from the mark, or remove a lamppost from the bride’s head, and maybe even paste in some open eyes if someone in a group blinked…but couldn’t all this be avoided if you were a better photographer? The only things you should have to fix in Photoshop are genuine mistakes, and the more practice you get with your camera the fewer of these you should make. Use fixing in Photoshop as a last resort, not a standard tool.

Long focal length lenses have a shallower depth of field
Nope, it’s all about the aperture. Let’s say you’re taking somebody’s portrait with a 50mm lens at f/4 and you stand 1m away from them (3.3 feet). If you wanted to take that same portrait with a 400mm lens you would have to stand 400/50 = 8 times further away in order for the subject to be the same size in the resulting photograph. I hope you’ll agree with me up to here. Now go to a DoF calculator and enter the values for these two situations. In the first you shoot that 50mm lens at f/4 from 1m away. In the second you shoot the 400mm lens also at f/4, but standing 8m away. You’ll see that the DoF in both cases is exactly the same. Hence, if the subject size in the frame remains constant, the only factor contributing to the DoF will the the aperture. (Please Note that different size films or sensors have different DoF, so the previous statement is valid only within a given film/sensor size.) CORRECTION: After some discussion in the comments section I went digging further and can now say that the above statement is only approximately correct. You can find the equations for calculating DoF here. They show that for high magnification, for example when working in the macro regime, the focal length has no impact on the DoF. Outside the macro regime, as magnification becomes smaller, the statement become falser (if that makes sense). In other words: As the distance to your subject increases, longer focal length lenses will have shallower DoF for a given aperture, when keeping the FoV the same. At portrait distances, my initial assertion is a good approximation.

Full-frame DSLRs are better than APS-C DSLRs
For what? Under what circumstances? At what cost? Despite what the media or some websites might have you believe, there is no such thing as the best camera—there is only the best camera for you. Your shooting style and your budget will determine what camera will be best for you.

Film is better than digital
This is true according to Ken Rockwell, but again, it all depends on what and why you shoot. If you want to make 16×20″ prints that have extremely high definition, then you should shoot an 8×10 film camera. If you want to take pics of your kids to e-mail to the grandparents, then probably film is not better than digital. Even Ken Rockwell said as you’ll learn when you finally get your digital SLR you’ll never want to bother scanning again. As of 2005 digital cameras allow most people to make much better images than film cameras. Yes, Ken did actually make these contradictory statements. It’s part of his charm.

Digital is better than film
Same reasons as above, except the other way around.

Film is dead
Not if you want to 16×20″ prints that are extremely high resolution (in which case you would use an 8×10 film camera). Have I said this before…? But in a sense, this actually isn’t a lie, because film is dead, but like you and I, it’s not going to die just yet.

Digital is dead
Again, according to Ken Rockwell, it is. Well it’s not. Sensor technology continues to advance with every year bringing lower noise, higher dynamic range sensors, while at the same time they become cheaper. Boys and girls, digital photography is here to stay.

I only take photos for myself
Sure. Tell yourself whatever you need to get through the SD card.

Real photographers shoot JPEG
I see a trend here. Guess who said that! Real photographers shoot whatever they damn well please, just like the rest of us.

The only way to make great photographs is by using the most expensive equipment (Corollary: you can’t make good photographs with a P&S)
Much of this assertion depends on how you define “great”. If a great photo is one of a football player stopped in mid action, then yes, you’ll need to spend many thousands of dollars. If a great photo is one that transmits an emotion to the viewer, then maybe you don’t need to spend that much. This photo was cheap to produce and it speaks to me. For me, it is “great”.

Miserere - Misty MorningMiserere – Misty Morning

I take pretty landscape and flower pictures, and that qualifies me to shoot a wedding
I do not wish to embarrass dozens of people on the internet, but I have read many horror stories of amateur photographers who agreed to shoot a wedding (usually for a friend) and showed up with their DSLR camera and kit lens. Then the next day they’re in the forums asking why their photos are all dark, noisy and blurry, and how they can fix them. There are many types of photography, and each require their own set of equipment, skills and techniques. Just because you’re good at one type of photography does not mean you will be good at another. Like Harry Callaghan said, a man’s gotta know his limitations. And that applies to women, too!

Real photographers don’t have websites
I’m not even going to comment on this one, but if there are any real photographers reading this, and they do have a website, please let me know!

The pop-up flash is useless
Only in the wrong hands. Use it as fill on those sunny days when you’re taking a portrait of your significant other and their face is in shadow. You’ll be happy you had it.

You need at least 12 megapixels if you plan to make 8×10 prints
I have made 18×24″ prints from a 6MP camera. They looked great. But mostly I’ve made 8×10″ prints from that same 6MP camera, and of course, they still look great. And it was a P&S; with files from a 6MP DSLR they would look even better.

Photography blogs suck
OK, maybe this one isn’t a lie…


16 Responses to “Justifying 15 Lies about Photography”

  1. Very well written again. A lot of rooms for thoughts.

    I tend to shoot JPEG a lot these days. It is really that k20d giving me a lot of room for PP in the form of JPEG. Raw is not that needed anymore.

  2. There really isn’t any need to justify the list. You shouldn’t have to. If anyone complains about any of the items on the lies list then it says more about the person doing the complaining than the list itself!

    I wish more photography websites and blogs were as clear headed and as professional as this one.

    • Kokoro,

      Thanks for your compliments! There were some items on the list that some people weren’t too clear on, so I thought I might as well just explain all of them.

      I hope you keep coming back 🙂

  3. i totally agree with the list and with Kokoro.

  4. About FL & DOF: you’re right of course but isn’t there more to be said on the subject? The myth (a much nicer word than “lie”, don’t you think? ;~) is pretty pervasive–even in fairly sophisticated circles. Perhaps it’s because the DOF will be smaller in relation to subject distance with a 400mm lens than with the 50mm?

  5. We have on our walls an 11×14 print of an image taken with a 3MP P&S camera and several 8×10 prints of shots taken with the same camera or with an only slightly newer 4MP P&S.

    No doubt they’d be sharper with 12MP from a DSLR, but they stand up to normal scrutiny quite well. You need to get awfully close to notice the lack of resolution.

    Wonder what the “need 12MP” types were saying when the best cameras only had 6MP? I’m sure in a couple more years the same people will be saying you need 24MP and a full-frame sensor for 8×10 prints as they try to justify buying yet another new camera body. Meanwhile we’ll still be enjoying that “impossible” 11×14!

  6. Couldn’t agree more with you, Mis.

  7. I am not qualified to take wedding pictures. My joy is in flowers and animals. When Cats and Dogs marry, I’ll be ready for business. 🙂

  8. DoF is related to focal length, it isn’t a myth, if you look at the formula to calculate DoF. It is an input even in the DoF calculator you pointed to. I think you are qualifying with “if you keep the subject size the same”, but that subject size IS related to the focal length. At close distances and equivalent subject magnification, all focal lengths produce the same DoF result, but it doesn’t mean that focal length is not a factor in the generic calculation.

    • Of course I’m qualifying it with if you keep the subject size the same. If you’re going to take a particular photo, you will choose the focal length that gives you the framing you want. If that lens is 50mm from 10m away, it will be 100mm from 20m away. Thinking that you will get less DoF when you shoot with the 100mm lens is incorrect.

      • Agreed. However, if I may add, while depth of field is a function of f-number, the degree of background blur far from the subject varies with the physical size of the aperture–thus, a 400 f/4 will have a more blurred background than a 50 f/4, while the depth of field is the same.

        I think this is the major source of the myth, because photographers see the extremely blurred backgrounds from a 300 or 400 f/2.8, for example, or even a 85 f/1.8, and claim that this increase in blur compared to a normal or wide-angle lens of comparable aperture is a reduction in “depth of field.”

      • Miserere, unfortunately, what you are saying is technically not correct. Let’s use your numbers at DOF calculator: 50mm, 10m, f/2.8 – DOF is 4.48m; 100mm, 20m, f/2.8 – DOF is 4.33m. There is a difference technically, but agreed, it is small. Now, keep everything same, but change distances from 10m/20m to 30m/60m: difference in DOF is from 66m to 43m – much more appreciable. You DO get less DOF with 100mm lens.

        • Thanks for pointing this out. I’m going to try to find out what equations are being used for these calculations as there are exact equations, and approximate ones. Certainly, at portrait distances the difference is very small, but I do want the article to be precise! 🙂

  9. “You can fix it later in Photoshop”
    It’s kinda amusing that you start off admitting that you *can* fix many errors in PS… There are lots of things you need to get right when you press the shutter: framing, exposure, figure/ground separation, etc. But when you click that shutter your work is only half-done. Just like film photographers need to learn how to print their work properly, so digital photographers need to learn how to use Photoshop (or Lightroom, or Aperture, or whatever RAW developer they prefer), and that includes learning how to fix things.

    “Long focal length lenses have a shallower depth of field”
    This seems to be a favourite among the geekier members of photo forums. Unfortunately it’s a result of looking too hard at the numbers and forgetting what they mean. DoF is all about the *appearance* of sharpness, and a DoF of 0.23m *appears* larger relative to the perspective when the subject is only 1m away than it does when the subject is 8m away. The numbers are useful only when you need to do hard calculations, i.e. you have a subject that’s 0.2m deep and you need to make sure that you get all of it in focus for your shot.

    On an APS-C camera with a 50mm at f/16 and the subject 1m away, 90% of the foreground distance will fall outside the DoF. With a 400mm at f/16 and the subject 8m away, 98.6% of the foreground distance will fall outside the DoF. If you have out-of-focus foreground in your shot that difference will be noticeable and significant.

  10. Very well written. This is the kind of information that is useful to those want to increase their SERP’s. Keep up the good work.

  11. “I have made 18×24″ prints from a 6MP camera. They looked great. But mostly I’ve made 8×10″ prints from that same 6MP camera, and of course, they still look great. And it was a P&S; with files from a 6MP DSLR they would look even better.”

    I regularly exhibit 5ft wide prints (43×62) with 10 MP and its pinsharp. I don’t know where people get this idea that you need more megapixels to print big.

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