Breaking the Rules

I’ve had this post on my mind for a while now. Since earlier this year, I’ve been developing (heh) my photography skills and it’s been an interesting exercise. Photography exists, for me, between art and science. It isn’t enough to know the physics of light and the mechanism of the camera to evoke an emotional reaction to my photos. Photography is a form of creative expression that I’m growing more and more fond of as I get better at it.

Coming from the perspective of a skilled practitioner of my field (software development) to an area where I’m just beginning has been very interesting. I can tell when the questions I ask have obvious, objective answers and when they have subjective answers which are informed by opinion and experience. It’s been a really interesting period of time for me, since I’m more used to giving answers than asking the questions.

One thing I noticed, as a beginner, is I’m willing to make the mistakes and violate the rules that experienced photographers would avoid. The 37Signals blog had a related article last month discussing the same thing:

[As a beginner], you’re in a magical position to make great strides. To propose radical solutions, deliberately ignorant ideas that just might be brilliant.

I’m not saying that the mistakes I’m making are producing fantastic results; rather, I’m saying that not being bound by conventional wisdom is producing more organic learning.

When I found this post on Reddit discussing 100 photography tips, I was happy to see some of the opinions I had formed about photography backed up by someone who had the authority to make an informed judgement.

One item I found particularly reassuring was this:

  1. A noisy photo is better than a blurry one.

What the author is referring to is that it’s OK to increase your light sensitivity (ISO setting) in low-light conditions. Increasing ISO will introduce more noise , like graininess, to a photo, but will let you get away with a shorter shutter speed, which reduces blur from the camera moving slightly while you hold it.

Now, I own an entry-level Rebel DSLR, so my light sensitivity goes up only to ISO 1600, and better cameras do a better job at removing noise, even at higher ISO levels. I enjoy shooting in the evening, and I don’t always have a tripod with me. In fact, I usually don’t bring one. Since I started shooting, I’ve never hesitated to switch to a higher ISO. I can fix noise in post-processing but I can’t fix blur; I’d rather have a noisy photo than no photo at all. I didn’t want my fear of image noise to keep me from taking shots at night. The worst-case scenario is I take a photo I don’t share with anyone, which is actually most of my photos anyway, since I only show my best work.

There are other conventions I’m not following, but after reading these tips, I’m much more comfortable challenging established dogma in my own photography. The results aren’t always spectacular, but I’m learning these lessons for myself instead of relying on the experience of others to completely inform my skill. I’m trying to use the lessons I’m learning as a beginning photographer to help me recognize the assumptions I’ve made about software development so that I can evaluate them on their merit.

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