Column by Robin Weinstein

Robin Weinstein

Think you’re a photographer? Think again. Just because you own some nice equipment, have a cool app or program to edit photos with or use “awesome” angles, doesn’t mean you know how to take a good photo. You’re just making an ass out of yourself to all of us real photographers.

Let’s start with the obvious: people with nice cameras who don’t know how to use them. Why even spend over $500 (or $1,000 if we’re talking really nice) if you’re going to use it like a point-and-shoot? Just get a $50 camera and call it a day. You don’t deserve a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) if you don’t know how to shoot on manual mode. (If you didn’t even know what DSLR stands for, please, for our sake, put the camera down.)

That being said, getting an antique camera, a Lomography-brand camera, or even a film SLR camera, does not make you a photographer either. You all need to realize: the equipment doesn’t make the photograph. The photographer’s skill makes the photograph. I’ve been shooting with the same Nikon D50 for the past 10 or so years and I don’t have the best lens in the world, but I’m sure I take better photos than you and your D4 if you don’t know how to use it.

A good photo needs good composition. No, the angles in your duck-face Myspace-esque photos do not have good composition. Generally, crazy angles: no-no. Straight horizons: yes. Feet cut off: awkward. Centered photos: sometimes. Rule of Thirds: hell yes. The photo needs some kind of background and foreground; ever heard of a thing called depth?

Another element that’s necessary: proper lighting. You’d think this is an obvious one, but it’s really not. Shadowy places automatically give your photo a gray, boring tone. Don’t photograph a backlit subject unless you know what you’re doing. And please, for God’s sake, do not use flash. I repeat: Do. NOT. Use. Flash. Unless you’re in a studio using studio lights, or you’re a wedding photographer with an external flash. Good photographers know how to work with low light using — guess what — manual mode!

You can’t just pop the camera in manual mode and expect to take good photos right off the bat. In order to properly use manual, you need to understand the functions of ISO, shutter speed and aperture, when it’s appropriate to use  and the relationships between the various settings. The white balance is another important part of the image, but the camera makes it pretty easy to control. It takes years to learn this stuff. If you think manual mode is easy, you’ve probably done a shitty job.

Another sad reality you have to face is knowing how to use basic tools on Photoshop doesn’t qualify you as a good photo editor. It pains me so much when I see an over-saturated, high contrast photo, especially when it could possibly be a decent photo.

If you don’t know what an HDR photo is, it’s a photo that’s compiled of both an overexposed and underexposed image to create one properly exposed image. They look fucking beautiful when done subtly. However, most people don’t know how to create it well. The photos come out fake and cartoony, and I just cringe looking at it. Some people use it when it’s completely unnecessary, and it’s just like…why?

Photo editing applications have given a whole new opportunity to over-edit photos. “I Picnik’d my photo” is basically the translation of “I turned my photo into a saturated, high contrast mess with stupid text and some weird effect added to it.” Instagram has given people the false encouragement that they really can take good pictures with just their phone. Yes, I use Instagram and like it quite a bit. However, you all ruin my feed if you take constant photos of yourself and your friends (with the exception of Cat Tacopina because your photos are really fucking cute), take stupid photos just for the hell of it, or tag your photos with “instagood” or “instamood” just to get “likes.” If you actually do take good photos with Instagram, please give me your username, because I’m in dire need of some good photography on there.

I sincerely hope I scared you out of photography because the digital age has totally ruined it for me. I hate to sound pretentious, but don’t tell me you can take the same quality photos as me or use Photoshop as well as I can. Unless you work as hard as I do and have as much experience as I, you can’t. Please don’t take offense to this if you have an SLR and are now aware that it doesn’t make you a great photographer.