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6 Common Photography Fallacies

As you progress through the world of photography, you hear a lot of things. Oftentimes conflicting things. This Internet age is a true wonder, and it has put vast amounts of information at our fingertips, indexed it, and made it easy to find. On the other hand, it has also let the misinformed, confused, and crackpots into the game, polluting the waters.

So in an effort to clear out some of that pollution, here’s a list of 6 common photography fallacies that I’ve come across and would like to clear up. (And you can trust me, ’cause I’m obviously not a crackpot!)

1.) f/6400 will give me super sharp photos with deep depth of field!

Not quite. This is a common fallacy, one that I fell into for a long time. But it turns out that cranking your lens’ aperture down as tight as it’ll go isn’t the best recipe for sharp photos. True, the smaller your aperture, the more depth of field you’ll have; at f/22, pretty much everything from here to the horizon is going to be in focus.

But that doesn’t mean it’s sharp. In fact, it won’t be. Most lenses are sharpest at about f/8-f/11; beyond f/11 they start to get softer because of diffraction. If you want to read up on the physics of diffraction, Google it – for our purposes here, just remember that after a certain point, stopping down does more harm than good. (Do some test shots with your favorite lenses to find out where this point is for each.) 

2.) High ISOs will always show too much noise!

High ISOs have a bad rap that they don’t quite deserve. Yes, if you take your 50D and crank it up to ISO 12,000 there is going to be lots of ugly noise. But if you learn to use it right, high ISO can be your friend. The trick is having enough light – I’ve shot well-lite scenes at ISO 1600 on my old 400D and you’d never know that it was at it’s ISO limit.

Most high ISO photos look noisy/bad because they’re not properly exposed – the photog cranked the ISO up in a desperate attempt to get the shot, but didn’t quite make it. Simply, if you underexpose a shot at ISO 100 and then try to pull it up in post, it’ll look bad.

3.) Shooting in RAW will let me fix it later!

I hear this one a lot. There’s a misconception among the uninformed that shooting RAW gives you the ability to “fix” anything later. It doesn’t. RAW gives you extra options, more leeway – but it’s not a miracle file. Most of the literature says that RAW files have adjustable by 2 stops without significant degradation. But that’s for a perfectly exposed photo – anything else, and 2 stops is pushing it. (I usually adjust the exposure of my RAW photos by less than 1/2 stop.)

The answer here is to just get it right in-camera. Take the time to learn your gear, learn photography, and do it properly. Forget that it’s digital and shoot as if you were shooting film, where every frame counts, because every frame is costing you money. Do it right – then, if you need to make a small adjustment to get it perfect, you have that ability in RAW.

4.) You don’t need to post-process digital photos!

FAIL! Every time I hear this, I want to suggest a Cat-Scan to the “photographer” who said it. I met a “pro” a little while back who launched into a 5-minute tirade against Photoshop & post-processing, claiming that none of it was necessary and was just used by hacks to ruin photos.

I held my tongue, but what I really wanted to ask this guy was, “So back in the day, when you did darkroom printing, you threw the negative into the enlarger and made a print? And that was it? No contrast filters, no dodging & burning, no adjustments to the chemical solutions?” I don’t believe that for a second – even the crappy photo machines at CVS adjust your prints for color and contrast.

Photoshop takes skill to master – or even be competent in. But not post-processing your photos is, to be blunt, half-assing it. Almost every photo taken will benefit from a slight curves adjustment, at the very least. Don’t over saturate the colors, don’t make the sky electric blue – but please, do finish the photo the way it deserves.

5.) I’m new to DSLRs; my first lens should be a super-telephoto!

I think every first-time SLR owner falls into this trap. You buy a camera with the kit lens and immediately want a telephoto zoom. “I’ve got to have REACH!” you say. Then you finally get that zoom and realize that it was dumb – what you really needed was a wide angle.

Most beginner/hobby shooters will benefit much more from a good wide-angle or standard range lens than they will from a telephoto. Telephoto lenses are difficult to use – they require patience and solid technique, and even then they will frustrate you. They also tend to be slower lenses, in terms of aperture, and will only work well in good light. Do yourself a favor and buy a good starter lenses, like the Tamron 28-75 f/2.8, or the Canon 17-40 f/4 and Canon 50mm f/1.8. Then, when you’re comfortable with photography – and know what you actually want to capture way over there – start looking at telephotos.

6.) More megapixels = better!

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – this is a MARKETING PLOY. More megapixels does not equal better photos, or a better camera, or a better anything. These days, most people never make prints of their photos at all – and even if you are making 4×6 and 8×10 prints, a 6 megapixel camera will make lovely prints. A 15 megapixel camera won’t make a better 4×6 print. What it will do is cost you a lot of money and use up huge amounts of memory on your computer (on my 7D, each photo is around 22MB – that’s big).

In technical terms, consider that they’re adding more pixels, but the overall size of the sensor remains the same – the pixels just get denser. Denser pixels can mean more noise, more heat – things that aren’t necessarily great news. So don’t fall for the marketing ploy – 10MP is plenty; 12MP is more than enough. 98% of photogs don’t need 22MP. (Note: this applies to crop sensors; full frame sensors are physically larger, so can accommodate a higher megapixel count before becoming too dense.)

Brent Pennington

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2 Comments to 6 Common Photography Fallacies

  1. May 13, 2010 at 12:32

    Regarding #1 — I’ve heard a general rule of thumb is two stops down from wide open should be very sharp.

    Regarding #5 – No need to buy another lens the 18-55 or 18-135 kit lens is really a great lens, especially when you consider it comes with IS. I think one of the first prime lenses a photographer should own is the nifty 50. That will teach you how to zoom with your feet.


    • Brent Pennington's Gravatar Brent Pennington
      May 13, 2010 at 19:59

      I hadn’t heard the general rule about two-stops down being sharp, although I do know the old line about f/8-f/11 being the sharpest on most lenses (although there are some exceptions).

      I definitely agree re: kit lenses. In the past couple of years, many of them have gotten quite good. If you don’t need a f/2.8 or faster lens, then the 18-55 IS or 15-85 IS will work wonders. They’re good glass, at varying rates of inexpensive, at last when compared to the L-series.


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