Photography is the most enjoyable hobby and profession for millions of people, but there are many traps that you can fall into that can have a negative impact on the quality of your images as well as the weight of your wallet. They’re a combination of myths and half-truths that can put a dampener on your enjoyment of the craft, so it’s best to be aware of them. So let’s take a look at the most prominent traps.
Thinking Gear Will Make Your Images Better
This is the granddaddy of all traps in photography and the problem is that there are many billion-dollar-plus, publicly-traded, and very powerful companies who have a vested interest in making you believe that better gear will mean better images. That’s how they make money!
Don’t believe the hype!
If you have mastered using your existing gear for your favourite genre then you will start to run into small roadblocks that you can probably name and talk deeply about. Maybe your penchant for nightclub photography won’t be well served by the poor ISO performance of your old Nikon D70 due to unwanted noise. Maybe the field of view of your 50mm lens isn’t quite enough to capture the landscape scene you envision from your favourite shooting spot. These are the types of specific problems that will tell you that upgrading is a realistic option for realising your vision.
But just something general like “better photos with better gear” is an absolute trap.
Any moderately skilled photographer will know that spending $100 on education and training will almost certainly produce better results for you than spending $1,000 on a piece of kit. This is at its most stark towards the beginning of your photographic journey, but it stands true for most of it. A good photographer can take a better photo with poor gear than a bad photographer with great gear. That is the reality.
Thinking Social Likes Denotes Photographic Skill
Look, I don’t want to get snarky with this one because I absolutely love Instagram and Flickr and the others and I think they are a massive positive for photography as a craft. However, it’s a hell of a lot easier to get a bunch of likes from your followers than it is to get an image past a stock editor or buyer. Like chalk and cheese. Let’s not conflate the work it takes for each as being comparable.
Now wowing a social audience is awesome on its own and most definitely to be encouraged, but it’s a different ball game. Occasionally the sheer volume of likes will persuade an editor or buyer, but that’s about the size of a following rather than the quality of a photo. Now there is a lot of nuance and extenuating circumstances that can be applied to this trap, but in general, try not to believe that lots of likes equate to high photographic skill.
Not Learning Light
Light has a quality all of its own and the more you can learn about how light functions, the more skilled you will become as a photographer. While it’s possible to take reasonable shots in most lighting conditions, knowing how to shoot in even the worst type of light will serve you well. Knowing how to change that circumstance will serve you even better.
Step one is (usually) to start shooting in softer light like the golden hour. Next is learning various tactics and situations to find that softer light. After that, you start learning how to shape it. And finally, you start learning how to create it yourself with strobes and the like (and then shaping that light). It’s a journey and not a particularly easy one. But it is well worth it. Ignore it at your peril.
Not Reading The Manual (RTFM!)
Even the most basic cameras that are being sold these days are very capable machines. RTFM has been a long catch cry of photographers who get asked questions that are easily answered by reading the manual. RTFM sprung up as a kind of in-joke among such photographers – “read the f***n manual” being their catch cry.
But look, the chances of even an experienced photographer being able to know the nuances and functions of a new camera is pretty slim. Sure, the basic functions are more or less the same, but accessing the more advanced functions usually takes a bit of reading.
It is an extremely good idea to read the manual of any piece of new photography equipment before you start using it. You almost always learn something and you avoid some exasperated photographer screaming “RTFM” at you.
Thinking You Can Fix It in Post
This is another classic trap. Software like Photoshop and Lightroom are extremely advanced and are capable of amazing digital transformations of images. But the raw material they work with in photography is the file you are able to capture in camera and the better that is, the better your post-production results will be.
Get it Right in Camera
This is the catch cry of any skilled photographer. You need to be capturing the image that is as close to perfect as possible in the camera itself. After you have achieved that, then you can finish it off in post.
Now look, I am not one of those people who thinks that any post-production is “cheating” and you should only ever use the images straight from the camera (literally no famous photographer in history has used unedited images). But getting the image as perfect in-camera as possible is an extremely useful habit to get into and something that any person who aspires to be a skilful photographer should put at the forefront of their own goals.
Not Having a Working Knowledge of the Exposure Triangle
The exposure triangle refers to how the main controls on your camera (ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed) interact with each other and what effects each produces. This leads to the visual compromises you make to reach your photographic vision (effects on noise, depth of field, motion blur, etc).
While it’s not necessary to know it if you’re just shooting snapshots in auto mode, a working knowledge of the exposure triangle will serve your photography better than almost any other piece of theory or camera craft.
The good news is that it only takes 10 minutes to get the basics. The bad news is that it takes a lifetime to really master it in the context of being an all-round good photographer. But don’t worry, the first 20 years are the worst. 😉
Not Having a Thirst for Constant Improvement
This one is a bit more esoteric and opinion-based. But there are photographers who become “content” with their skill set. And while that skill set might serve them well for a time, without constant improvement, experimentation and adjustment it photography skills start to atrophy.
What I mean by that is that some people get stuck in a certain style and never evolve from it. They are stuck shooting in a style that went out of fashion a decade ago and it shows.
Now if that’s the style you love, that’s fine. But if you want to really achieve mastery of the craft, it requires constant learning and evolution.
The good news is, that is fun as hell!
Look, this whole article is meant so you can shortcut some obvious traps that will stifle your creativity. There are exceptions to everything so we are definitely not trying to be prescriptive with your learning – make your own path.
One good piece of advice is simply to really get across the ins and outs of basic photography as quickly as possible. Read a good generalist book and then go out and implement it. We’d highly recommend taking a look at something like the DSLR Crash course in order to short cut your way to being a competent photographer, but in the end, it’s your journey so enjoy it.