Photography Opinions That We Should Burn


I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but the photography community is an opinionated bunch, and to make matters worse, there are a lot of people outside of the community who are opinionated about it too! So, let’s take the edge off by sharing the worst photography opinions and why they should be condemned to history.

I’ll start immediately with a caveat: this is meant to be a lighthearted and somewhat tongue-in-cheek article. There are traces of irony that I even have to mention that, but I thought I’d plant a flag there.

Like most people, I started photography with a vague interest in the craft and I bought a cheap, used camera. Again, I suspect like most people reading this, I fell in love, and quite unexpectedly. I’d always been a “creator” (before that was a job title), but I hadn’t seen myself as artistic per se, though I was a visual person. Unfortunately, above all else, I’m prone to becoming obsessive about things that interest me. It has its place and it has given me success, but it’s a double-edged sword, to say the least. After a year with my first camera rarely leaving my side, I was on a path that I denied for a long time. I said I’d never become a professional photographer as I wanted to keep my passion alive, but that was an excuse and it didn’t take long before I was a full-time photographer (with passion intact might I add).

Over the years as an amateur and then a professional, I’ve had a lot of (mostly unsolicited) advice. I’ve written about one of these in particular which I’ll touch on in this article, but that piece of bad advice would never die of loneliness. So, I’m going to cover some of the worst pieces of advice I’ve heard and I encourage you to share yours in the comments.

You Either Should, or Should Never, Work for Free

This is a hotly debated subject with so much nuance, it makes it difficult to offer a one-size-fits-all answer. When I took the leap into full-time photography, I was adamant that any work for free was a terrible business move. However, as time went on I realized it had its place, but isolated soundbites like “working unpaid is fine” are as useless as they are dangerous.

The truth is, in the early days of my career I took opportunities that were not paid but had value to me. That is, the shoot had me creating work that I could then use to secure paid work in that area. I was selective in the extreme about this, but I have friends who did inordinate amounts of work either unpaid or for a pittance. Now, they have a flourishing career producing what they did for free, for a more than fair financial reward.

My feelings towards this particular brand of opinion are a result of one sentiment I hold dear and I use it to scrutinize every piece of advice I get: advice delivered as an absolute will rarely be right.

You Need a Degree To Succeed in Photography

I wrote an entire article on this, but when I was at university not studying photography for my degrees, I was told a degree in photography was necessary, which baffled and irritated me. Here’s an excerpt from said article:

My classmate introduced me to a girl sipping on a bottom-shelf red provided for the bare-bones soirée, and in the interest of setting us off on the right path, he informed her that I too was a photographer. We exchanged pleasantries before she asked a question about the photography degree I wasn’t taking, so I couldn’t know the answer, and I had to correct her: “I’m a photographer, but I’m not doing a degree in photography.” She asked why, and I remained polite, doing my best to emphasize my interest in other courses rather than disparage the course she was enrolled on. There was no escaping. She asked whether I was going to pursue photography as a career, and I honestly didn’t know whether I ever would, so I said as much. “You’ll never get anywhere without a photography degree,” she opined with little wiggle room for interpretation. I disagreed, pointing out that would be like telling an Olympic-level sprinter that he can’t compete without a degree in Sports Science — a loose retort, but she had me rattled.

Perhaps I have mellowed over the years, as this doesn’t bother me anymore, but my opinion on whether it’s true or not hasn’t changed. I have nothing against photography degrees one iota — I’m sure they have great value, but as far as the advice of them being “necessary” to success in the industry goes, it’s incorrect. I’d also like to add that, having read that quote back years later, I wasn’t referring to myself as the photography equivalent of an Olympic-level sprinter — I was just pulling apart the logic.

Photoshop Is Cheating

The subheading is pithy, but it ought to be “post-production and editing is cheating.” This is a tired topic — or it was — until recently, but before I get to that, let’s briefly cover the tired debate. Digitally editing images could scarcely be more commonplace these days; even non-photographers edit their photos with filters and easy-to-use apps. Nevertheless, there’s still a sizable group that thinks that outside of some color tweaking, editing images is cheating and it’s not real photography. The standard response to this is to cite film photography editing which used literal burning (though I’m not sure how they dodged), splicing, and other physical wizardry. I’m not certain this retort actually overcomes the criticism, but it’s true the “problem” isn’t restricted to the digital realm.

The truth is, editing is a fundamental part of photography and a welcome one. However, there are instances in which heavy editing is inappropriate (photojournalism, for instance) or unwanted (photography competitions). These rare occasions where editing works against the purpose of the photograph are not common enough to justify a blanket vilifying of editing, so if you are the purist of purists, perhaps restrict the photography you consume to certain contests! Then again, what has refreshed this topic is the use of AI, which is something I have covered frequently.

What photography opinions do you want to see burned at the stake?

Lead image by cottonbro studio


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