Don’t Fall for These Six Digital Photography Myths


We all know that digital photography has buried film. We also know that digital technology has brought high-quality photographic gear within reach of the masses.

But it’s not the panacea that some think it is. Doing it right still requires hard work — and talent. Here are six common digital photography myths:

1. With an expensive camera and enough memory cards, anyone can take great pictures.

Sometimes, yes. But not nearly as often as you might think. There is a reason that the best photographers spend years honing their craft. In fact, even talented photographers have their strengths and weaknesses. Some photographers aren’t great at portraits simply because they aren’t good with people. But they might be great at shooting food, architecture or products.

2. Digital photography is easier than film, so no training is needed.

When I made the switch to digital while working at a newspaper, I was not given any training in this new technology. I will be the first to admit that I ruined many images as I gained experience in digital cameras and digital post-production. Considering the learning curve for career photography professionals, the challenges are far greater for those who don’t have basic photography education and experience.

3. What you see is what you get.

Digital cameras are all about WYSIWYG, right? Everything looks sharp on that three-inch LCD monitor on the back of the camera. But even with histograms and zoom viewing enabled, you can never be sure until you get back to your computer, launch Photoshop and view the image at 100 percent. Then there may be issues like white balance. The ability of our eyes to compensate for different lighting conditions, rendering skin tones normal, is great for humans. But when it comes to producing digital photographs, it can work against us if we don’t know what we’re doing. Just ask photographers who had to shoot transparencies or slide film.

4. Megapixels rule.

While it’s generally true that the greater the megapixels, the better the camera, this doesn’t necessarily translate into performance. Those extra megapixels can be overkill. For most digital camera users, the hard drive simply fills up faster with data that is never used. I’ve found that most folks never bother to delete images that are out of focus, blurry or poorly exposed — which means a terabyte can fill up pretty quickly.

(I am more sensitive to this than most because as a photography teacher, I get humongous files from my students that are blurry, out of focus, etc. But in order to view and grade them, I have to store them on my computer until the end of the semester, when I can finally delete them.)

5. Shooting RAW is the only way to go.

RAW is not for everyone, and certainly not for every photo shoot. I know wedding photographers who shoot RAW for everything, and I really think it’s unnecessary. Only the formal portraits, and perhaps images from the ceremony itself, require such huge file sizes.

The formal portraits tend to be the ones that wedding couples enlarge, so that makes sense. As for the ceremony, often the venue is poorly lit or flash is not allowed, which makes RAW a good choice. But images of the reception rarely get enlarged beyond a 5 x 7.

Too many photographers use RAW as a crutch. Then when their computers slow down as their hard drives fill up, they mistakenly think it’s their computer and not their workflow.

6. Computer skills are only needed if you plan to edit the images.

When you switch to digital, you are forever tied to a computer — even if it’s just to view your images. Even though printers are now able to print directly from cameras, you still need to know how to burn your images or copy them to a hard drive. You can’t just keep buying memory cards. Unless you plan to have Geek Squad on call 24/7, you’d better have a good understanding of how computers work if you want to master digital photography.


30 Responses to “Don’t Fall for These Six Digital Photography Myths”

  1. Thanks. I will definitely be sending this to all my clients who insist on "doing it themselves."

    LOL

  2. I have heard all these myths too! Thanks for de-bunking the myths. I hear 1 & 5 all the time.

  3. Good article. Particularly like the bit about RAW being a crutch.

    It's so true that it's more important that you shoot for your requirements - I normally shoot at 10 megapixels which is fine for all the normal stuff. When I forget to drop the size down for eBay products it reminds me of the pixel race and how silly it is.

    R!

  4. Excellent article & advice. I was the last pro (studio owner) in town to switch to digital Only when all labs switched to "all digital outputting" did I cross over. Film is more forgiving & didn't require the many computer hours & skills digital mandates. Most pros would "love to have" OUR lives back. However, as digital printers have improved as well as cameras, there's so many advantages with digital: dropping in backgrounds, restorations, color enhancing, removing blemishes & trouble spots...can shoot faster hot having to pay for film.. plus the larger variety creates larger sales in my business. Disadvantages: Increased hours per day..per week...less time to photograph...less sales *everybody's got a digital & thinks they're pros, so they get by. Summation: Digital is easy to shoot (by the consumers point of view)...We pros know better...We know how to produce the end results, and WE SEE THE DIFFERENCE. We'd just like to have our lives back....I didn't become a photographer to sit at a computer so much...Sad story in that we pros don't have a choice.

  5. Unfortunately this is basic to most professional photographers. It is always an education to clients when they don't understand or realize any of these fundamental principles.

  6. I am glad to see another photographer state that you do not need to shoot absolutely everything in RAW. I'd like to add that as part-time sports photographer, I do not shoot in RAW for such shots either. In Florida it's nearly always totally sunny so white balance is easy to nail and when in need of a high frame rate, RAW fills up the buffer fast.

    For me it's not the size of files in higher megapixel cameras, it's the amount of noise created when more megapixels are jammed on the same size sensor. For cropping it is always nice to have the resolution to get a good print out of a 50%+ cropped shot, but noise needs to be controlled too.

  7. Well said Peter. There are many myths about digital and you hit on the major ones. I might add that autofocus has really propelled the new digital market in the amateur world. It is now easier to get sharp action photos with the new technology, but anticipating the action so that the photographer is in the right place at the right time only comes with experience. In photography, there is still no substitute for experience. This is why we read your blog. You've got lots of experience to share with us.

  8. Great post, had to show the mother-in-law how to remove images form her memory cards to her computer, she was just buying new ones when the old one was filled up!

  9. Back in the day, you'd take your roll of film in for processing and wait (im)patiently. Eventually, the lab would return the fruits of your labor -- (hopefully) perfectly developed prints along with your precious negatives. How would you have reacted had the lab destroyed your negatives instead of returning them? That's essentially what you're doing when shooting in JPEG mode.

    When you shoot JPEG, the camera captures the raw image ("the negative"), processes it the way _it_ thinks things should look (white balance, color correction, noise reduction, sharpening, etc.), spits out the finished JPEG ("the print") and tosses the negative. Not a problem if you always agree with the camera's choice of processing options. But what if you don't agree? Ever look at an image and think "That's not what I saw when I released the shutter!"? If you only have the finished print (the JPEG), instead of the negative (the RAW image), there's only so much fixing you can do in the digital darkroom to make it right.

    Shooting in RAW is not so much about enlargement as it is in processing. If you and your camera always agree on the image you see, or you just like living on the edge, then by all means, shoot JPEG. However, if you don't trust your camera to see what you see, or you just like to keep your options open, then RAW is the only way to go.

    Just my $0.02.

    -Don

    p.s. every RAW also contains a camera-processed JPEG. You can use a tool like Michael Tapes' "Instant JPEG from RAW extractor" available free from http://www.rawworkflow.com/ . You can have your cake and eat it, too! ;-)

  10. RAW is not necessarily about being able to make a big image, it's about having a pure image for post-processing in an image program like Photoshop.

  11. to add to Justin's comment: Raw is also about getting everything out of the camera that it's designed to give you. After all, didn't you buy the camera you purchased for the top quality end results?....Sure, or you'd spent less money & got an inferior one. I've sold a lot of photos in my business (that I'd cropped in close for a single subject due to the rest of the photo being unprintable or worth selling) and glad it was a raw image. Raw images doesn't have to clutter up your computer if you save the originals on a disc or have a (now affordable) external drive.

  12. Sal, you may also pass this along to your customers:

    1. Film negatives are usually quite forgiving, but you must give up some quality. Considerable exposure latitude.

    2. Slides (positives) produce fabulous images, but are expensive and quite unforgiving. Not much exposure latitude, but can sometimes be fixed in the darkroom.

    3. Digital can produce fabulous images and saves money because film and formal developing is not involved. But it's fussy and can be absolutely unforgiving and when you screw up a digital photo, you have simply screwed it up and there is no hope. Digital photography in the hands of an amateur usually means disaster.

  13. Nice to see there's life out there. Thanks for all your comments.

    A couple of disclaimers first. No one knows it all. Even with my so-called years of experience, RodrigoI'm still learning daily. I owe you a beer next time I see you.

    What I do know is your choice of subject generally speaking, dictates what works best for you.

    If speed is the essence like for sports shooter Jason Collin and señor Rodrigo, a photojournalists, then shooting RAW entirely may not be for you. Shooting both JPEG and RAW, but only processing the JPEG on deadline is the way to go but only if you have fast writing/reading memory cards and an equally capable computer.

    However, if your company issued laptop is "old," forget it, stick to jpeg. Try downloading a 8 GB memory card on deadline sometime on a G4 powerbook. You know I feel your pain Rodrigo.

    Justin, if you're into landscape/scenic, RAW maybe the way to go especially with High Dynamic Range capability.

    Most likely too, if you shoot landscapes, you're not shooting a lot of pictures, so your workflow is not dependent on computer capability.

    In the end, I always ask myself this: does this scene in front of me have a realistic chance of being printed bigger than an 8 x 10?

    Also, do I prefer to spend the day indoors looking at pictures on my computer or would I rather be outside taking pictures? I don't know about you, I picked up a camera because I want to be outdoors as much as possible.

    Finally, there is a certain amount of snobbery anytime art is concerned. There will always be those who are not practicing or making a living from photography, who merely parrot what other pros say about the virtues of RAW just to be appear wise.

    The proof should be what works for each individual. Don McKee, your 2 cents goes into my very limited beer fund. Thanks for your wisdom as well.

  14. I am really glad someone else has put out there that RAW isn't the end all and be all of DP. I get so tired of hearing photogs spout off that unless you shoot it in RAW it is worthless!

  15. "There will always be those who are not practicing or making a living from photography, who merely parrot what other pros say about the virtues of RAW just to be appear wise."

    Absolutely. I know too many people who look down their noses at those who do not take very single shot in RAW. Those same people are overly dependent on post-processing to correct things that wouldn't have been an issue in the first place if they knew photography's fundamentals. Whether you are using a pinhole, view, 35mm or digital, the basic elements of photography are the same.

    I know if I catch myself thinking, "Oh, I can correct that in Photoshop," I am usually getting sloppy.

  16. I so agree with #1. I'm not a professional by any means, but it always causes me to smirk when I see folks with Canon Rebels or the Nikon equivs shooting through glass with the built-in flash going off.

    I've seen some drop dead perfect pictures taken with a PHD camera, and I've seen (including my own) others taken with higher end cameras that makes me cry in pain.

    As for #2... I don't think film is easier than digital for post processing. I've developed color and black & white film as well as done prints off an enlarger (I miss it in some respects). It is much less forgiving than the digital flow. The temp of the chemicals, age of the chemicals, timing of how long in the chemicals, handing pre-fixed film in a careful way, etc can all be killer and be a costly mistake that are not correctable. Digital is MUCH more forgiving in the fact that your negative out of the camera is either good or bad. Outside of losing or overwriting the orignal raw file you can't destroy the negative in the same way as film.

    As for #5, *shrug* I always shoot in raw. Not because I want the pain and suffering of post-processing and fudging images (just because I can slack behind the camera and fix it in post doesn't mean I do/should). I do it because consistently handling media means less mistakes when you are under a time crunch.

    I'll agree if I had 45 minutes of shooting, and 5 minutes to upload an image to a newspaper that I may change my post-process process. However, I suspect the short cut would be in not converting to *.dng from *.cr and do a selective image importing. Instead of cutting corners in my processing flow.

    With good post-processing software like Lightroom it eases the workflow pain. And if you have to crop an image the extra moment to touch a picture up using presets and minor adjustments doesn't add much to the processing cost.

    The thing I will agree about is the file size does suck. I shoot with a XSi in raw mode. Importing 350 pictures (half a day of shooting) using USB pretty much kills a good 30+ minutes.

    - Ben

  17. Sorry, but you aren't going to persuade me about not shooting RAW. It seldom has anything to do with needing huge repro size, it's about quality. JPEG is like taking your film to a minilab and getting machine prints. Fine if that's what you want or need - Jpeg is quicker and cheaper - but nobody should claim the results are the same as careful processing.

    http://tonysleep.co.uk/info/digital-workflow explains

    I get sick of the post-prod too - and especially clients' incomprehension about paying for it. I used to get sick of darkroom work too, but at least clients accepted the costs as inevitable. Now, everyone with an Ixus thinks they know it all.

  18. I see no harm in shooting in RAW all the time if your gear has the capability. Instead of a "wet" darkroom, we now have Photoshop, Lightroom, etc.

    If you don't like darkroom (Photoshop) work and wish to print without editing or adjusting, then shoot in JPEG. Just get the shot and have fun doing it!

    Ansel Adams would have loved it!

  19. Why I shoot RAW much of the time:
    1) I'm not convinced that some unknown camera engineer in the depths of a lab in Japan knows what I'm looking at through the viewfinder and what I want the final image to look like.
    2) JPEG is 8 bits in depth. My sensor captures at least 14 bits. Why let the camera decide which 6 bits to throw away?
    3) White balance is a function of looking across the whole image - but that can be (and is often) fooled by images that have large expanses of one color or another.

    When I want a snapshot or am working in the studio where I can carefully control the light, JPEG may be just fine. But when shooting landscapes or out on the street where lighting is random at best, I tend to shoot RAW more. Maybe I'm a control freak - I don't want someone else making the imaging decision for me!

  20. One more point about mega pixels I did not see mentioned in the comments is pixel density on the chip. Tiny chips in point and shoot cameras may have 10-15 mega-pixels but can't match the quality of a smaller count larger chip. The density and size of the pixel effects quality considerably.

    We can't forget about lens quality as well. As a professional I have certain lenses I use for fun and others for work where the lens quality realy shows and the better ones require less retouching and color correction. Not to mention sharpness. I enjoy your posts, I also write an occasional photo blog at http://pixpro.blogspot.com/ I'd love to read your feedback.

  21. I have to chime in on the raw thing, although I shoot about 65% of the time in RAW and I have my reasons for it but I have plenty of friends who are wedding photographers who shoot in JPEG only regardless of the situation. It seems funny that it's always the JPEG purists that seem all uptight about RAW users always claiming there is some holier than thou issue. Yet I never actually hear that from the Raw shooters. It's just a tool, and it is over simplistic to claim RAW shooters do it because they did not do a good enough job in camera to begin with. Many Pro commercial users only shoot RAW for a number of legitimate reasons one of which is quality and take the imaged down to TIFF, not JPEG for publication. It would even be over simplifying it to say it's a bout color gamut but that is only one part of the equation, compositing is a big part of the work flow for many photographers where images are opened and resaved dozens if not hundreds of times. SOme catalog and retail work have many hours of retouching which has nothing to do with flaws or improper camera skills. Further, magazine covers, celebrity, movie stills, and technical photography all have extensive editing and retouching that JPEG's simply can't stand up to.

    Often those making the biggest argument about JPEG workflows work in small studios, lower end studios or consumer based workflows. The work they do can be amazing and they should be very proud of it. RAW is talked about from the commercial side so much for many reasons and it's simply a requirement. I would guess many of the people have no idea about drum scanners, oil setting positives, CIELAB and real color management that does not come form a box, contract proofs, Apogee workflows, Stochastic printing screens and on and on. These are areas most photographer's don't have to understand and often don't have a clue about. So they think RAW vs JPEG is an issue. In these workflows it's not, JPEGS simply are not a part of the equation and associated with uneducated or less than professional skills. This would be snobbery on their part as JPEG workflows also have a significant place and the quality of the JPEG is vastly better today that it was 10 years ago where most options come from.

    My point then is that each has it's merits and neither deserve to be slighted. Use what works for you without getting so emotional about what works best for others.

  22. As a professional of many, many years, who also transferred from film to digital, I can defninitely concur. I recently taught a class on digital photography and the students were amazed at how much they needed to know in order to obtain that great photo.

    Excellent article.

  23. I fully agree with #5. As a sports shooter, I'd be nuts to use RAW. You're just crippling your camera's FPS while adding post-processing time for work which is done on a tight deadline.

    If you're doing studio or lansdscape work, RAW could be an interesting tool, of course - although JPG isn't terrible either, particularly because it's a standard archival photo format. 20 years from now, there'll be software for your JPEGS, but your raw files might be dead if your camera's manufacturer decided to drop support for old models.

  24. As a photographer, I really appreciate both formats and it definitely is useful to choose whether to shoot on Jpeg or Raw depending on the subjecs and its importance. For stock photo, most of the time, my clients request Jpeg file 99% of the time, thus I only sell Jpeg file formats. Shooting in Raw definitely the way to go if you ask me, and if you are a serious photographer you will know why.

  25. Thanks for drawing attention to these oft-heard comments...and I do like your theory on RAW shooting!

  26. "1. With an expensive camera and enough memory cards,
    anyone can take great pictures."

    This is my favorite one. I HATE when people say this around me. "O well you have a really nice camera that's why your pictures look so good", no you as&!@#ole it's because I've taken more photographs in the last year than you've taken your whole life, and I have a look and a vision I'm going for before I snap the shutter.

  27. I'd never seen a card shoot a picture, but I guess there's always a first time.

    Terrabyte fills up quickly even with a good 25-32 percent deletion rate, so actually I keep the raw and zap the jpgs and tiffs. Both are actually larger than the raw which I can easily re-edit--

    I shoot RAW because of the end requiement. might also pick up a jpg-only camera simply because I have a different purpose for it in mind.

    Think that different techniques are applicable to different situations. Shooting raw for a birthday party seems absurd when I could use jpg or p&s pocket camera.

    Nothing ever looks as good as the LCD. LCD preview is what you show your friends, not the thing that landed on the computer and got kicked to the vertical file under the desk. Never trust an LCD.

  28. i think you are wrong about raw. the one big reason i shoot raw it that i set white balance the way i did with film, daylight, tungsten etc. i do this so that all the shots in a sequence will have the same values. if i want to slightly alter wb after that i can adjust all the frames to the same balance. if you shoot weddings, you know how important that little trick is. you can't really do that with jpeg. if you try to adjust color in each frame, like with auto wb, you will find that the red bridesmaid dresses will be at one color temp, and the white brides dress will be bluer in the same frame, awful.

  29. You are so right about pros having strengths and weaknesses. I am a great photographer when it comes to landscapes and artchitecture, and horrible when it comes to any kind of people photography. When I am behind the camera, I want away from people.

  30. @Carl,
    Thanks for taking the time to comment. It's been quite a while since I last looked at this post I wrote. I appreciate what you mean when you say you want to tweak the White Balance of all your pictures shot in RAW at weddings.

    At the risk of saying something you already know, I think some folks reading your comment might get the wrong idea that shooting RAW can fix everything.

    Shooting in RAW doesn't help if you aren't aware of differences in color temperatures and can't control the color temperature of all the different light sources in the scene. Example, if you're in a Tungsten-lit room and you use your flash to fill, without the right color-correcting gel, RAW WILL NOT RESCUE your images.

    RAW, as I'm sure you've been told, is like color negative film. Sure, you can print the image anyway you want, but you still need to have a good sense of not "mixing" your color temperatures especially where there are skin tones.

    Carl, those preferring to work in JPEG are not completely up the creek, especially if they spend a little time learning to set a Custom White Balance setting

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