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Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Some photography questions are simply unanswerable as asked, but that doesn't mean people stop asking them. Allow me to try clarifying a few.

If you spend much time on any photography discussion forum, Facebook group, or Reddit subchannel, you'll see a lot of questions raised. New readers join the discussion who weren't around the last time, so over time, some issues get repeated. Some new territory does get covered, too, but many perennial questions change only in context, not so much in content. For example, digital didn't always exist, but before that were questions about mixing chemicals and what the real meaning of "unsharp mask" is. Rather than optical glass, the filters we use today tend to be digital as well, but we're still endlessly debating subjects related to filters.

One thing I've noticed that some questions don't really have answers. Or at least not any the questioner was expecting or would accept readily. Sometimes, people are looking for easy answers when none exist. Here are some of the biggies.

There is no such thing as the "best" lens. There are wide-angle lenses and telephotos, macro lenses, and fish-eyes. There are fast lenses with wide maximum apertures that weigh a lot, and there are lighter-weight versions that may not work as well in dim light. There are different qualities of glass that vary in price. And of course, there are fixed focal length lenses and zooms. No one type works best for all subjects under all conditions. Because there are different types of photographs and photographers, there are different types of lenses.

Neither is there such thing as a cheap but stable tripod. If it isn't well made, it will end up being wobbly. And it costs money to make the best products. The plus side is that a quality tripod will last a long time. Start with a good one, and it should last you through several camera upgrades.

Wide-angle lenses don't distort. Perspective is solely a function of relative distance. As you get closer to something, the ratio of how far away it is to that of what's behind it increases. Assume you are ten feet away from some object in front of a background object twenty feet away. If both objects are the same size, the background object that is twice as far away will appear half as big. Things that are farther away appear smaller as they recede into the distance. Think of the ties on a railroad track. Now get closer, so you are only five feet away. When you arrive at your new location, that background will then be fifteen feet away, or proportionately three times as far away as your subject. So instead of the foreground object appearing twice the size of what's behind it, it will now appear to be three times the size. Wide-angle lenses fit into all this because you'll need one if you want to focus extremely close to something. If a telephoto could match that shooting distance, it would see the same perspective, albeit a narrower slice of it.

Don't try to calibrate your printer to match your monitor. Even if you achieve this elusive goal, all bets are off if you someday upgrade either. And this quest won't do anything to help ensure your images looks as they should on anyone else's system. Instead, create a color profile both printer and monitor that describe how it reproduces color and let the color management system in your operating system do its job. With a profile, your computer can compensate for the quirks in each device to coax colors into displaying as they should. You can generally download printer profiles for common paper and ink combinations from the manufacturer's website. You're on your own for monitor profiles as there are too many variables involved. But you can and should invest in a gadget called a colorimeter or spyder that can handle the job quickly and affordably. With everything else we spend money on in pursuit of this hobby of profession, there's simply no excuse not to.

Images online are not in the public domain unless explicitly indicated as such. Every image is copyrighted the moment it is taken. Registering that copyright helps you receive legal compensation should someone violate your copyright, but failure do so doesn't mean they aren't copyrighted. If you're concerned about possible infringement, register.

No camera or lens can make you a better photographer, although it might sometimes become a limiting factor. It's up to you to improve through hard work and determination. But at some point, you may come to realize your gear is just not up to the task. Don't justify an upgrade to avoid hard work. But expect to upgrade periodically anyway as camera technology continues to advance if you want to benefit from the improvements made possible. Before you upgrade, be sure you understand why.

No doubt, some of you have your own favorite questions that lack easy answers no how often they may get asked. Let me know, and I may address them in a future article.

Date posted: August 9, 2020


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