The dark side of photography

The Dark Side of Photography

To a lot of people, it is a dream to work full time in photography. Perhaps you are on the same boat now working hard towards this goal. Every day you dream about how wonderful it is to have your own photography studio, being able to work on your own schedule and becoming the CEO of your company! Wonderful isn’t it? Well, just before you dream any further I hate to destroy this atmosphere by showing you the dark side of photography. I believe everyone including yourself will encounter what I am about to mention long before you build your photography business.

My prediction is that this post is going to spark some debates or even upset somebody. But since I want my blog to be as realistic and practical to you need as possible, I am not going to hide anything back.

Please note that what I’ve written below were purely from my own experience. Everyone view life differently and your journey may be a lot tougher than mine. I’m not here to judge anyone or go against any type of photography/photographers. I just want to say no matter how you view this article, we are still good friends after you read this post 🙂 Promise me before moving forward ok!

Are you ready for the dark side? Here we go!

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Natural light photography screams, “I don’t want to learn flash”

You don’t need to be far along your photography journey to bump into someone that claimed, “I am a natural light photographer”. Or “I don’t take client that requires me to use flash”. This person is very proud of he/she does and often brag about declining clients that require them to do something other than natural light.

If this person understand flash photography very well and chose to be a natural light photographer, I totally admire this specialization. If not, I’d encourage you to stay away from him/her as much as possible. Why?

This type of photographer screams, “I don’t know anything flash photography”!

There are exceptions (always). But I just want you to know that people like this exist in the world and you need to be careful not to fall into the trap of “avoiding the technical side of photography”.

Do not specialize in something until you have learned the overall craft. In photography, I’d say understanding light and learning how to use external flash are the core fundamental knowledge in photography.

I believe all types of photography build on a foundation from understanding how light behave. For example, if you don’t understand concepts like inverse square law, how aperture control flash power, and why shutter speed controls ambient light, then I highly suggest you attend good photography class before moving further in your photography journey.

What is a good photography class? This is one example. I don’t mean to pitch a sales here but this is an example of a good online class looks like.

With the barrier to entry the photography field so low these days; you just cannot afford to be an average photographer. You need to understand more than somebody with an iPhone camera. The world has an ocean of average photographers and if you want to stand out you need to drill the technical side of photography into your brain.

Using Photoshop and Lightroom mean cheating in photography

Unfortunately, there are plenty of people still believing in the mindset that “photo editing equals cheating in photography”. Although this sounds harsh, but I wonder if those people were living under a rock.

Does that also mean painters should not use paint to draw? Policemen should not use GPS to track criminals? Mathematicians should not use calculators but their heads to calculate?

In this digital age, no matter how amateur a photographer is, I don’t think he/she is just going to hand in the RAW images to the client without any sort of touch up. This could simply be changing the file name to match the photo session description or pressing the auto fix button in Lightroom.

If you are still in this mindset, I highly encourage you to stay away from it. I am not saying there is a right and wrong answer here, but I want you to be an open-minded photographer accepting new technologies and adapt to it.

Online Photography forums are a nasty place

To get straight to the point, online photography forums are a nasty place to go especially for young photographers. Right now, I don’t think I’ve met any photographers who did not run into a disrespectful situation in an online forum.

The issue is that anyone can sign up to those online photography forums. People can sign up anonymously and say whatever they want without taking any responsibility. It’s like criminal roaming free in the online world.

I once had someone asking me out on a date because of some landscape picture I posted. I also had people cursing at me for whatever reason because the style of photography didn’t suit theirs. Worst of all, there are many so called ‘know it all’ photographers pretending to be knowledgeable enough to rip your work into pieces and use every opportunity to step you down.

It is ok to get upset at the beginning. If this happened to you I just want you to know those people don’t deserve any of your attention and you should spend the time learning photography skills instead.

In terms of using photography forum as a resource, I encourage you to treat those forums as Q&A library. You go in, search for answer, then get out. If you need to ask a question, ask it and ignore the negative feedbacks, get the answer you need then get out. Very simple.

Once you find the information, apply what you learn in the real world. Don’t be attached or offended by anything anyone said in online photography forums.

You need thick skin to grow in photography

Being a photographer sometimes means you need to learn how to deal with trolls. Whether this is from online or face-to-face, it is a skill we need to develop as the photographer.

As soon as you put your work out there you need to expect some kind of firebacks. Photography is subjective and there will be people who don’t appreciate your art. Remember, this is different than putting your work on facebook where all your friends know and like you.

If you want to get higher quality feedback try putting your work on 500px and Pixoto and do some online contest to check your standing. As a photographer you need to get thick skin and show people your work that you don’t know of. By the way, I’ve this quote in mind whenever my work get critiques by someone:

“A critic is a man who knows the way but can’t drive the car” – Kenneth tynan

I don’t mean every critic has no real skills. But the fact is a lot of them don’t (especially online). Therefore, love your work, initiate the share, and learn from each picture you took. Here is my guideline of whom I should listen to for feedbacks:

  • Is this person my photography mentor? (I’ve a few photographers that I admire and no matter what critiques they give me I’m going drill the feedback to my brain so I won’t make the same mistakes again. I know they are here to help me grow and those are true feedbacks. I encourage you to search for your own photography mentor as well. )
  • Did this person experienced similar struggle as I do currently?
  • Is this person providing learning lessons or merely expressing their opinion?

Watch out for Photographers who are only into gears

The fact is you can go broke just from buying flash modifiers (aka softbox). Let alone chasing for the newest digital cameras, flashes, lenses and so on all the time.

If you find yourself constantly chasing for the newest photography gears and not learning photography, you should pause right now and think if this is where you want to be heading?

There are countless of people battling between the Canon vs Nikon wars everyday. Thinking which mirrorless camera to get, what brand of flash to order, how to build a cheap macro ring flash etc. Those people are not really into photography.

Great photographers talks about how they handle difficult lighting situation with an entry level camera. They use the cheapest flash and light stand to show their student how they achieve professional result combing stuff they brought from dollar store with their photography skills.

I don’t mean you shouldn’t buy new photography gears. But if you are at the beginning of your photography journey, spend less time researching the best gear and spend more time learning the craft of photography.

There is nothing to replace experience in photography. The more you go out and learn the less you know the equipment will affect your photo quality. I do not want you to get caught with photographers who are only into gears.

Conclusion

I hope the 5 points above showed you some of the dark side of photography that I’ve seen. As long as you have the right mindset, work hard, and take on challenges everyday you will eventually become a great photographer.

Now I encourage you to stop reading and get out taking amazing photographs!

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About Gary

A passionate photographer with goals to fulfill your photography passion and motivate you to take pictures even when life is busy!

8 comments

  1. Great article Gary! You covered almost all the dark sides of photography. Love you used paint using paintbrushes to draw as a metaphor for photo editing. Photography is a long journey. Once you ace all the technical parts, it’s really just your unique style. That’s why photography is a combination of science and art and I love it.

    • Thank you Lai 🙂 Yes once you get the technical aspect it’s our unique style that will bring us to the right direction. Very well said!

  2. Definitely agree that learning the technical aspects is so important! You covered a ton of ground, thanks for sharing!

  3. It really gets me how some people think its cheating to use Lightroom and Photoshop. If they knew their history of photography, they would know masters like Ansel Adams would do adjustments to his images like dodging to lighten the shadows and burning or blocking the light while printing his negatives on the enlarger. And you definitely need thick skin these days to hold your own in the forums and dealing with all the critics and haters. Survival of the fittest!

  4. Very well rounded post cover a lot of points. I agree with Patricia, photoshop and lightroom are digital darkrooms like film photographers of the past. Can it be overused and a crutch to fix not getting it right in camera, sure, but it can also be used to create art.

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