A LIST OF FALSE PHOTOGRAPHY BELIEFS, PART 1
A couple days ago, someone replied to me, "Landscape RULE #1... don't shoot mid-day." This lead me to make a post about how I disagreed with this "rule", which in turn prompted someone to respond, "...it's all about the light..." Being the contrarian that I am, of course I disagreed with that, too. ;-)
Now these have lead me to the idea of making a mega-post of photography rules and beliefs I reject. So here it is. This will cover both the ones which people explicitly say and the ones which go unspoken, but which people operatively seem to believe.
There are more than I can possibly address, so this will necessarily be very incomplete. Furthermore, since I'm going to cover a bunch of them, I'm going to be rather brief and cursory with each of them. Nonetheless, I hope some of you will find this list useful. Here goes:
You shouldn't shoot landscapes mid-day.
Apparently because the shadows are harsh and ugly, or because the light is flat, or because the colors are boring, or some combination of the above.
There are a few things to say about this: 1) Conditions vary depending upon weather, location, time of year, etc.; 2) You can work with any conditions rather than fighting against them, and with a bit of vision and inspiration, you can create a worthwhile photo anywhere and any time; 3) Landscape photos don't always have to be pretty.
I would've missed a lot of fine shots if I'd followed a rule not to shoot landscapes at mid-day.
It's all about the light.
How meager and limiting that would be!
Sometimes it's about the expression on your baby's face, or the splendid geometry of the scene, or the perfect juxtaposition of disparate elements. The reality is that, to the photographer, it's about whatever you want to make your pictures about, and to the viewer, it's about whatever you see and whatever you choose to read into pictures. Personally, I tend to place much higher value on the meaning the picture communicates, and / or upon the informative content of the picture than the quality of the light.
Sometimes the quality of the light integrates into the composition of a great picture, sometimes not. Many of my best pictures have unexceptional light. I recently published a book - which is getting reviews saying the photography is "absolutely astonishing", "phenomenal", and "breathtaking" - wherein most of the photos were made in marginal at best light conditions.
Saying photography is all about the light is like saying business phone calls are all about the sound.
You should compose by default with the golden ratio or the rule of thirds, when there's not a clear purpose for breaking this "rule".
Apparently because a visual form is most aesthetically pleasing when possessing these proportions, or - at least - it will usually make your picture somehow look better.
Except this is a testable hypothesis which has been thoroughly tested and refuted. The rule of thirds and the golden section hypothesis are really no more than numerology beliefs that some numbers possess magical properties. There are no magical numbers.
Besides the fact that it doesn't work (except by random chance), it's a pernicious idea on a conceptual level. “Composing” pictures by the golden mean or rule of thirds switches the whole enterprise from creatively constructing and communicating emotionally and intellectually engaging meaning, to hollowly making pretty or striking designs through rote application of a formula. They take the roles of the artist as creator of objects with meaning, interpreter of the world, and communicator, and diminish them into the role of technician of formulaic, mechanized constructs. They take the roles of the art observer as thinker and participant in the exploration of meaning, and diminish them into tester of pattern accuracy.
This leads to the next one....
Pictures are all about beauty, impact, and graphic design.
People don't necessarily say this, but most photographers operatively behave as though they implicitly believe this.
Pictures can be all about beauty, impact, and graphic design, but they don't have to be. The art of photography is not fundamentally about the pleasing spatial arrangement of objects within a two dimensional space; it’s about communication. In most cases where beauty, impact, and graphic design are used at their best in photography, they integrate with the picture's content to add to the expression, rather than being the only thing. And there are plenty of great "ugly" pictures.
Style is a chosen set of visual tendencies and tics, adding up to a recognizable sum.
Again, people don't necessarily say this, but many photographers show they operatively believe this through the way they behave.
Beleving this is mistaking the effect for the cause.
The visual tendencies and photographic tics which make a great photographer’s works identifiable are actually not her style. They’re the artifacts of her style. Not the style, itself.
Style is the manifestation of who you are. It’s how you see. It’s how you think. It’s what subjects resonate with you. It’s the kinds of meaning you perceive. It’s how you express yourself. It’s the sum of all of your mental and perceptual characteristics, coming through in your creations.
And this leads to the next one....
You can easily change your style by changing your equipment, methods, location, etc.
People seem to think that changing their style is like changing a pair of pants. Just switch to shooting infrared, or to selenium toning your pictures, or to using prime lenses, and - Presto! Instant new style.
When you realize your style is a manifestation of who you are, you realize that changing your style only comes from changing who you are. 20 years of marriage might change your style, but switching cameras probably won't. At least, not in the short term, nor in a way that can be planned.
Wide angle lenses are best for landscape photography.
Nope. It's just a fad. All focal length lenses are equally good for landscape photography, from the shortest to the longest - although certain focal lengths might suit a given person's style and taste better than other focal lengths.
It’s true that wide angle lenses tend to work best for showing everything from right in front of your feet to the distant horizon, and up high into the sky, in one shot; and they also are generally better choices for getting both near subjects and far subjects within the depth of field. But long focal lengths are better for paring down to the bare essentials in a scene. Both have their place.
Scenes come in every size and distance - each calling for a different focal length to ideally capture the shot.
While we're discussing focal lengths....
Focal length changes perspective.
It may seem that way, but technically speaking, it's not true. All focal lengths render perspective identically. It's the way we use different focal lengths - getting closer with shorter lenses or farther with longer lenses - which gives the appearance of different perspectives.
OK, that's enough for now. I've barely dented the list of ones I wanted to discuss, so maybe I'll make this a series and post more parts in the future.
I hope you enjoyed. Thanks for reading it.