One of the most common myths in photography and art, in general, is that some things are wrong and others are right. This creates a notion that some art is worse than other art. If this were true, the world would never go beyond a predefined concept of art.
Painters like Van Gogh have painted “wrong paintings”. However, executed with the brilliant technique that suits the concept, these “wrong” paintings have become some of the most valuable ones to ever exist. Here is why there is no right or wrong photo, only bad technique.
Art Is Subjective. Really, Is It?
Perhaps the most pretentious thing I hear over and over again when I give feedback is that photography is subjective. There is a significant element of truth to this pretentious-sounding statement. The reason I say this statement is pretentious is that people tend to stop at the fact that art is subjective with no further explanation for the motives or ideas in the art, just the pretentious statement loosely suggesting that the audience is too stupid to understand.
Photography, like art, is subjective, but only if you care to explain what the intention was. At least to some degree.
Each artwork is created with some intention, feeling, or emotion in mind. A great artwork then translates this emotion through its medium. When photography is used as a medium for communication, there isn’t really a way to go wrong. The content of the picture can be anything, as long as the technique used to communicate is sufficient.
Let me explain what I mean.
No Right Way To Light a Certain Image
There is a stigma against hard light. Many consider it to be low quality, bad, or just wrong. However, there are countless instances where hard light is the perfect choice for the image. It is true that hard light brings out more detail in the skin and can look less flattering, but I think that this is just one of the tradeoffs you make when opting for hard light.
No Right Way To Expose
There are countless arguments over which image is under and which one is overexposed. In the digital age, it has become a custom to follow the camera’s suggested settings. However, they are by far not the best ones, again depending on the purpose.
For example, if you want to take an image of a person standing in front of the sun (backlit) you will have to overexpose because if you don’t the backlit subject will be completely black. Exposure simply controls the amount of light hitting the sensor. You control how much light to let in to get your desired result. Bad exposure technique is, as I said, not knowing which exposure to set for the desired outcome.
No Right Gear
Fashion photographer Wanda Martin uses a Canon 1D X Mark II for her work, while I use a Canon 5Ds. Two very different cameras, right? Well, the flagship seems to do exactly what Martin wants, while the 5Ds do exactly what I want. I don’t see an issue with this.
There have been cases where action has been shot on a relatively slow Phase One, and times where presidential portraits in 2016 were done with a 1Ds Mark III from 2008. The Internet went ballistic over this — how could this be when there are these Sony, Canon, Nikon, etc. cameras? To this, I’d only say that the person critiquing didn’t get an offer to shoot the presidential portrait, whereas the person with a 2008 1Ds Mark III did.
The photographer makes the pictures, not the other way around.
Had the photographer used this camera very wide hoping to crop in later, perhaps that would constitute a bad technique? But with appropriate gear choices (for the task and end result), you can capture any image you want on pretty much any appropriate gear.
No Wrong Technique, Only Bad Technique
An important aspect of this opinion article is technique. I believe that is such a thing as bad technique. For example, if a photographer is trying to execute a moody portrait with a huge umbrella in front of the subject, that may not be the most effective placement.
Bad technique isn’t necessarily wrong, but it does imply a certain lack of knowledge. To be able to break the rules of photography and invent your own, you first have to be fully familiar with the existing techniques and practices.
For fashion photographers, this may be knowing how to light different fabrics. For example, there are 1,001 ways to light chiffon, hence no right or wrong, but using hard light to show the smooth texture is a bad technique as it doesn’t achieve the goal in mind.
So, What Works for You?
Throughout the article, I’ve mentioned two concepts: technique, and desired outcome. Asking what outcome you want to have with the picture is helpful in being able to then pick the right tools from the toolbox and apply them to get the desired look.
Figuring out what sort of photographer you are, what you consider beautiful, what inspires you in the first place are all things that will enable you to go “yes this is what I want, I don’t care that this is “wrong”.
Remember, every comment you get on your images or any other art is just a point of view. It is no worse or better than yours, nor is it right or wrong. Some like to focus on why the image is wrong, or try to tear it apart for some little mistake.
What if you could focus on what you do well instead of what you do badly? Realize that right and wrong are constructs of people that want to limit, label stuff, and put it in a box. There would never be this diverse wonderful world of artists, creators, inventors if there was a right and wrong way to do things.
It doesn’t have to work for anyone else if it works for you.
About the author: Illya Ovchar is a commercial and editorial fashion photographer based in Budapest. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Ovchar’s work on his website and Instagram.