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One of the Biggest Misconceptions in Photography

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Related course: Photography for Beginners

This is holding you back, but you don’t even realise it.
About a year ago, I wrote a post called ‘Top 10 Photography Clichés You Should Avoid To Improve Your Photography‘, and I guess you could say it was somewhat controversial.
The very first point that I made was that you should avoid taking photos of flowers, pets, and sunsets. Why? Well, partly because it’s holding back your photography, and partly because it’s too easy.
The harder you make it for yourself, the quicker you’ll learn. 
This brings me to one of the most common misconceptions in photography: beauty and sentiment.
When you see something beautiful, you want to stare at it, you want to capture it, admire it, enjoy it, photograph it. This is why we so often see beauty in photography, because it’s something that everyone can enjoy.
A girl standing in a forest scene - One of the Biggest Misconceptions in Photography
So what’s the problem?
It’s easy. Far too easy. And something that doesn’t take all that much work. So when we look at flowers, pets, and sunsets, we see the natural beauty, we enjoy it, but all too often, we take the credit for it.
I repeat, what’s the problem?
Well, let’s take a beginner who knows nothing, or very little about photography. They take a photo of a ridiculously good looking person. The person is what the photo is all about.
To take the photo though, they’ve used a pop-up flash, underexposed the background, used a terribly noisy ISO, a DoF which is far too shallow, and the wrong white balance.
Are you still going to enjoy the photo? YES! Of course you are, have you seen this person? I mean, damn, they’re so good looking!
Why though? Because the success of the photo is relying on the subject, rather than the photographer.
But that’s not what the photographer is going to hear or think though, they’re going enjoy all this feedback, and think that their photo is so amazing, and it’s all down to them. And it is, right?
Wrong.
When you can take something ordinary, and capture it in a way which is uniquely beautiful, well, then you’re onto something.
A black and white image of a woman in the street - One of the Biggest Misconceptions in Photography
The same goes for flowers, pets, and sunsets. Beautiful subjects do not equal beautiful photos.
Same goes for sentimental photos. Again, we’re all guilty of it. We share a photo of someone, or a time, which really means a lot to us, and we don’t quite get why no one else enjoys it as a much.
Whether it’s a newborn baby, or a special holiday. Just because it means a lot to you, it doesn’t mean it means something to someone else.
SIDE NOTE: For me, it’s usually the opposite. I post my favourite (photographically speaking) photos on Facebook, and all I hear from my friends is ‘Where’s that one of me and Amy?’, or ‘Aren’t there any more?’. Anyone else get this?
OK, now I’m confused. How come models and landscapes are so beautiful?
Well, because everyone enjoys looking at them, obviously. I’m not saying that you should avoid them, I’m saying that you need to be weary of them. Ask yourself, ‘If I were to replace this beautiful subject, with something far more ordinary, would this still be a good photo?’.
Photography is so much more than just your subject. Sure there’s the technical side of the camera, but we can all master that. It’s also the lighting, the setting, the timing, the context, etc., but most importantly, it’s our personal style.
It’s our style that sets us apart from other photographers, not the subject.
A woman on the bus reading a newspaper - One of the Biggest Misconceptions in Photography
I can’t think of a better line to end this on, I hope you’ve taken something away from this post. – Josh

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6 comments
  1. Hi Josh
    I agree with you, I was new in the world of photography.
    And from my experience, in the end I was having problems, simply because they always see what I feel beautiful, then shot him. Yahh,,, maybe as photography became dependent on external objects, and result in the loss of creativity.
    Is this the intent of your post is this?
    regards
    santosalaksana

  2. Hey Josh,
    Great post, and fantastic timing.
    I was just telling someone how I was feeling really disappointed because I posted a photo for a photography challenge that I knew wasn’t very good, but it received great feedback because it was pretty.
    It can be really hard when you are trying to improve your photography and find your own style knowing that you could easily get praise by going for the popular shot. Do you ever find yourself going for the popular shots to keep those around you happy, or are you at the stage that you don’t need to?
    For some reason I never thought to look at a photos success being just because of it’s beauty….I guess in my example I was confused why it was liked, now it makes sense (I thought since it was a photography challenge, I wouldn’t get away with it). So now I feel happier to move on and continue to focus on and improve my own style.
    Thanks, I owe you a beer!

    1. I’m at the stage where I just feel a bit awkward when I include what I refer to as ‘crowd pleasers’.
      Glad you enjoyed the article.

  3. Honestly you can improve your photography that way when you’re starting out. I’ve only been into it for a couple months now and am really loving it. My primary subjects so far have indeed been flowers and static objects. But take a look at my flickr and tell me. Are these photographs beautiful because of the subject, or also due to proper exposure, lens choice, setting, lighting, etc.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/98037503@N05/
    I agree not all are good but there are some I really liked.

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