Whenever I see an article on the “top mistakes” of photographers, try as I might I cannot avoid reading it. Something in me just wants to make sure I’m not committing some grievous error. I never am, but at the same time they do offer some opportunities for learning what other photographers think is important and how they go about doing things. Therefore, I thought I would start sharing some of them I run across here.
Let’s take a look at this list of mistakes and see what we think. That is, I’ll write what I think, and you’ll just decide for yourself.
Mistake 1: Shooting JPG vs. Shooting RAW
Yep, this would certainly be a mistake. Everyone agrees that RAW files are the way to go, although I personally advocate RAW+JPEG. RAW files are vastly superior and preserve all the data possible. The only downside – that they are large files that take up a lot of space – is largely irrelevant now that data has gotten cheaper and cheaper.
But you already knew this, didn’t you? If not, check out this article on the benefits of shooting in RAW.
Mistake 2: Thinking That More Expensive Gear Will Result in Better Photos.
This is a very good point, but I’m not sure I would call this a “mistake.” For one thing, this statement is actually true. All other things being equal, more expensive gear will result in better photos. It just will. The danger in this thinking comes from the fact that it will only make your photos a little bit better. Usually the improvement from the better gear it is not worth all the expense.
I don’t mean to quibble over semantics though. I know what he is getting at. Lots of times new photographers don’t even try to get shots because they don’t think their gear is up to it. They are waiting until they can afford a better camera or lens before they get out there and shoot. And that is a mistake.
But it isn’t confined to beginners either. I don’t know a photographer that doesn’t talk gear much of the time. And we all fall prey to gear lust.
Mistake 3: Not Paying Attention to Light
This mistake relates to lighting, and the advice here is to “pay attention to light and learn about different qualities of it.” At first, this appears to be vague and mushy advice. Once you nail it down, however, it actually turns into something we can all agree with. If you shoot in the middle of the day you are destined for disappointment. It often gets said that dawn and dusk are the best times for photography. Get up early and stay out late. This is really good advice and your photos will improve dramatically if you follow it. And it costs nothing.
Mistake 4: Photographing Anything That Moves.
It is true that beginning photographers often take lots and lots of photographs. It is also true that many of them don’t work out at all. So while this could be called a “mistake,” you could also call it “experimentation.” Everyone goes through it. Everyone should go through it. Yes, if you are just starting out you will go through a phase where you photograph everything that moves. No, it will not work out for you and you will not create great photos. But we’ve all been there and you’ll be better for it in the end. Digital is free. Have at it. I’d agree that this is something to watch though.
Mistake 5: Not Knowing What Quality Is
The final mistake is “not knowing what quality is.” This one wasn’t clear to me on its face. In the video, however, there is some additional detail and it is summed up as “Don’t follow anyone who knows about the buttons of the camera: follow people that talk about the soul of photography.”
I agree with the author that you should be striving to do more with your photography than master the nuts and bolts of exposure, lighting, composition, etc. You should be striving to elevate your pictures into something meaningful. So his point in this regard is well taken.
At the same time, I differ from others a little bit here. I personally don’t think you can be taught how to make your photographs more meaningful or, as Bonclu says, get to the “soul” of photography. To me, that part is on you. When you are learning photography from others, you are learning the nuts and bolts. After that, you take that away and go use it in your own way to create something meaningful.
Stated another way, you can be taught about a lot of dots, but it is up to you to connect those dots. I say that because the best definition of creativity I have heard describes it as the lines you draw between known concepts. The known concepts are the dots. These are things like framing your subject, the rule of thirds, desaturation, adding contrast, adding a vignette, reducing noise, motion blur, a shallow depth of field, etc. They are all photography concepts and techniques you can use. Teachers, experts, and friends can certainly introduce those dots to you, show you what they are, and how to use them. But then you combine those dots using the scene in front of you in different ways. Those lines – the creativity – is up to you.
In fact, I’d take this a step further. I’d say watch out for photography teachers who aren’t talking about concrete concepts and instead are talking about the “soul” of photography. The photography world is full of vacuous artists making their oh-so deep and soulful art, and scoffing at those working through the nuts and bolts of their craft (to be clear: I’m not saying Toma Bonclu is one of these – the statement just reminded me of these sort of people). Remember that when it comes to quality of an image, you are the judge, not some expert.
I don’t mean this to come across as derogatory. I agree with Bonclu that we should all be looking to elevate our game. I also agree that doing so goes well beyond pressing buttons and spinning wheels on our cameras. I just differ on the extent to which we should be looking to others to do that for us.