Myth 1: Serious Nature Photographers Shoot in Manual Mode
Photography Instructor: “What does the ‘M’ setting on your camera represent?”
Student: “It stands for manual.”
Photography Instructor: “Yes it does, but what ‘M’ really stands for is ‘Master’; once you learn to use manual mode you will be the master of the camera!”
Oh puleeeeze! In this case ‘M’ stands for moron!
When a student is taught to use manual, he most often has no idea why or what he’s doing. He twiddles the aperture and shutter speed dials until the light meter returns an average or ‘proper exposure’. Instead of thinking in advance of the creative effects aperture and shutter speed provide, and what the photographer wishes for a given image, the shooter is just turning the dials willy-nilly to get an exposure. Sound familiar? It’s hard to be the master of anything without first understanding, one by one, what aperture, shutter speed and ISO do to the look of your photo.
The vast majority of creative nature photographers we know use aperture and shutter priority modes instead of manual. A creative photographer purposely picks an aperture for a specific effect (aperture priority mode) and the camera automatically picks a corresponding shutter speed for proper exposure. Or the creative photographer picks a shutter speed effect (shutter priority) and the camera automatically picks an aperture for proper exposure. The key here is that the photographer tells the camera what aperture or shutter speed effect she wants. The camera, like a good slave, does the rest! Now that is ‘mastery’. If the shooter does not like the exposure recommended by the camera, she can simply lighten or darken the picture using exposure compensation. Now the photographer is truly the creative boss of the camera!
Of course, there is a time and a place for using manual mode. For example, we use it when making panorama stitches to make sure each picture in the series is exposed exactly the same for easier blending in post-production software. But even in manual mode a specific aperture or shutter speed setting is chosen first and then we manually dial in the other variable for the exposure we want. The best way to master your camera is to learn the effects of aperture using aperture priority mode and the effects of shutter speed using shutter priority mode. For both aperture and shutter speed there are really only three different ‘creative effects’ you need to learn for each and we cover those in our Photography Fundamentals eBook bundle.
Myth 2: Without Good Light, You’ll Only Take Bad Photos
Nature photographers have been told that the best light is during the golden hour, the light that occurs one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset because the light is warmer and softer than when the sun is burning bright high in the sky. And yes, photos made during this ‘magic light’ can be exquisite especially given subjects that look beautiful in this light. For many nature photographers, if there is no sunrise or sunset (such as an overcast day), then there is no point going out because the light is bad for good photos.
If you know anything about us here at oopoomoo, you know that our favorite saying is “There’s no such thing as bad light – just bad photographers”. We wrote an entire article about this myth and our strategies to deal with so-called bad light. No matter what the light you’re given, there’s always something that’ll look great in that light! Our job as photographers is to learn to see the opportunities in any lighting situation and to not shut out potentially great images due to silly rules.
Myth 3: Photographers Who Shoot in Raw Format are More Advanced than Photographers Who Shoot in JPEG Format
The myth here is that advanced and professional photographers shoot Raw while amateurs shoot JPEG. Ha!
We know plenty of creative and professional photographers who shoot JPEG especially on assignment when there is a tight deadline to hand over the photos. Lots of wedding, portrait and journalism pros shoot JPEG and they do the most they can to get it ‘right in camera’. Fewer nature photographers shoot JPEG and we think it’s probably a good thing because many of them have no idea how to get a good capture in the camera! Shooting Raw gives nature photographers the flexibility to ‘fix’ mistakes made in exposure, lighting, white balance, framing and composition in post production. Shooting JPEG means they would have had to perfect the capture in-camera. Shooting JPEG is like shooting slide film: there is little room for error and you need to know what you are doing behind the camera. Many Raw shooters just massage the heck out their pictures in post-production to make the poorly captured images look better.
In our workshops when we give an assignment we make everyone shoot in JPEG format so that we can see what their true skills are behind the camera. Shooting in JPEG levels the playing field. Man, you should hear the complaining from the Raw shooters about having to shoot JPEG! And guess what, their lack of skill and thought behind the camera is clearly revealed when they are forced to hand over JPEGs straight from the camera. People used to shooting in JPEG format do much better work on our assignments than those who rely on the flexibility of Raw to fix their mistakes.
It takes more photographic skill to make a good JPEG capture than it does to shoot Raw. Don’t believe us? Then try shooting JPEG yourself. Would you show and share the JPEG photos you captured in the camera or does the idea of not being able to do post-production work on your images make you cringe? We discuss even more myths about Raw vs. JPEG in this post.
Myth 4: Real Nature Photographers Use a Tripod
Tripods allow photographers the flexibility to use any aperture or shutter speed they want and not introduce hand-held blur. To get the sharpest pictures that your camera and lens combination is capable of, you’ll need to use a sturdy tripod. As well, tripods allow you to make fine tweaks in composition not easily done when hand-holding. All in all, serious photography demands a tripod. Right? Well, we thought that too.
One time we had a workshop participant come on one of our offerings and during the introductions he said, “I don’t use a tripod, I know I am supposed to but I don’t, so please don’t bug me about it!”
“Hmmm… do we have some lessons to teach this guy!” we thought. Well, the lessons was for us! During the portfolio review we expected this guy’s photos to be lacking. Instead we were stunned by the creativity we saw. Don’t believe us? The person in question was Mark Wainer, go to his website to be amazed by what you can do without a tripod.
Another favorite example of creativity without a tripod comes from Michael Orton. Don’t be quick to pass judgement when you see someone hand-holding their camera!
Myth 5 – Serious Photographers Shoot with Serious Gear!
Whenever people find out that we’re professional photographers, the first question we get is about the gear we own. Then they tell us that they are into photography too but need to buy a better camera because their current camera doesn’t take good enough pictures. When asked what camera they own, it’s usually newer and ‘better’ than the ones we are using! And so, no matter how often photographers hear “it’s not the gear, it’s how you use it”, nobody really believes it. The answer is always more megapixels, newer features, and the highest end cameras. During our recent trip to Antarctica almost everyone owned the most expensive top end camera models from Nikon, and Canon. And the vast majority of these people were running their cameras on fully automatic! They didn’t know aperture from Adam or shutter speed from Steve. How can you be creative if don’t understand the creative controls of your camera?
There’s a trend among many of our professional peers to ditch the big professional cameras in favour of smaller, lighter point-n-shoot or mirrorless cameras. All these cameras offer the flexibility of good image quality in a small size but with all the controls a creative photographer needs. As well, travelling with a small camera keeps your load light, makes you less conspicuous to theft or prying authority and keeps you flexible to capture great moments because you always have your camera with you. In the end, many of our peers feel more creative with small cameras than they do when they have to haul out the big guns. Owning the latest and greatest top end camera may get you ooh’s and aah’s from other camera geeks, but it’s doubtful your pictures will improve. Art comes from within. Invest in learning, practice and seeing before investing in gear.