Photography Part 1: There is no right or wrong

One thing I have learned, in studying photography over the past couple of years, is that there are a lot of strong opinions.  Things are right or wrong, and many opinions are polarised:  digital vs film is best, it is cheating to use Photoshop vs use it all you like, HDR is good vs HDR is bad, you have to have a good camera or the latest equipment vs you can take a great photo on a simple camera, you must shoot RAW vs it doesn’t matter, natural light is best vs flash is best etc.
I used to read all this stuff and get so confused.  Suffering as I do from low confidence in my work, I got very upset by all the debate, and felt I must be doing it wrong, somehow, because I didn’t agree with a lot of the strong opinions out there.  From what I’ve heard from clients while running photo workshops at our woods, I suspect that a lot of other people are put off, upset, or confused too.
Having got my head together, and thought things through, here is my philosophy on photography, the Universe and everything.
  1. There is no right or wrong
    What matters is whether the image you took is the one you wanted to take – the one that records your feelings, thoughts, creativity, visualisation or emotions.  Obviously, there are things you can do to improve the way in which you are able to achieve this end, but essentially, if it looks right to you, then it is OK, and it doesn’t really matter what anybody else thinks (unless you are working for a client who is paying, in which case, they need to like it too).

We all see things differently because the images we see are not those that appear on the retina of our eye, but rather those images that our brain processes and turns into information for our brain.  If a hundred people listen to a radio programme, they will all recall different bits differently, and probably disagree quite vehemently about the details.  Likewise, with an image, the brain of one person will process it differently to another.  A very crude example of this is that somebody with red-green colour-blindness will see an image in a different way to non -colour-blind people and probably other colour-blind people too.  But colour-blindness is not absolute.  We all perceive light, patterns, shade, colour, tone and depth differently.  That is why, when we take a picture with our camera, we are often disappointed because it wasn’t what we saw – the camera doesn’t process images in the same way our brain does.

Given that, what right does anybody have to say your image is “wrong”?  Thankfully we all see things differently, and are capable of producing a multitude of different interpretations of the same scene.  One photographer may see a particular detail, and focus in on that.  Another may love the wider angle.  One may be intrigued by the colour, another by the patterns of light and shade.  One may like the darkness and shadow, and another will see the brightness and light.

So, what matters is whether we can commit our own visualisation of the scene to our medium, film or digital, not whether what we have done is right or wrong, and the purpose of learning photography is to enable us to do that, not to produce an image that meets a tick-box or a particular convention.  The “rule of thirds” may help us compose our image, learning about exposure compensation may help us get the light and dark bits looking the way we want, learning how to render a monochrome image may help us concentrate on light and shade, using artificial lighting may help us get the lighting we want, post-processing (film or digital) may help us convey the feeling we got, or help put the viewer in our shoes, into our creative eye.  It is not right or wrong to use any of these, or not use them.  What matters is that you got the image that you wanted.  Some people will never “get” your images because they don’t see things the way you do – does that really matter?  I think it is great that we all see things differently, or our world and its wonderful photographic diversity would be poorer because of it.

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