Almost daily, I speak with photographers and receive emails and messages from photographers of all skill levels who ask a question that begins with “What’s the best…?“
What’s the best camera or lens? What are the best settings? What is the best time of day to shoot? What’s the best software, camera bag, background, modifier, strobe… well, you get the point.
The Illusion of “Best”
It’s time to address the elephant in the room: the obsession with finding the “best” equipment and settings.
I am going to coin this The Illusion of “Best.” Because it is just that – an illusion that often hinders creativity and growth in photography.
WHY we should stop asking for the “best.”
Before delving into WHY we should stop asking for the “best,” let’s first acknowledge some of the reasons why this question is so tempting.
It is tough and challenging for many people to know what is best to think, say, and do in various situations and relationships.
Much of this confusion happens because we live in a time of information overload. From morning to night, we are bombarded with information about what we “should” and “shouldn’t” do to be successful, happy, and the best.
Not only does everyone have an opinion – but thanks to social media and having the whole world online and at our fingertips, we also have access to everyone’s opinions and ideas all the time. Whether we like it or not. The reality is everyone has an opinion! Photographers have more opinions than others – but that is a different discussion! There are experts everywhere!
This brings us to the first reason. We all want to be right or correct. We are trained – not taught. The training begins in pre-school, and that lesson is reinforced for the rest of our lives. Being wrong sucks. Failing sucks – unless, of course, you are failing for the right reasons. All of you genuinely creative folks understand that.
The second reason and the part that impacts our conversation the most is it’s human nature to seek efficiency and perfection. In photography, we often believe that having the “best” tools will lead to the best results. And, since gear is so expensive and the fear of failure is so intense, we want the best and to be sure our choices are correct – all so we can have a false sense of confidence. Not to mention that gear is expensive, so we don’t want to find out we purchased the “wrong” item – we want to buy the correct item.
We all know that it’s not the camera or gear that makes the image great. Just don’t tell my wife that I said that. 😬
The problem with this mindset is that it oversimplifies the complex art of photography. YES, photography is complex – regardless of how simple Apple and Google make it in your smartphone.
What’s best for one photographer or situation may not be for another. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to questions about settings, lenses, modifiers, or software because photography is inherently subjective.
The only aspect of photography with simple answers is the elements of physics, such as Depth of Field, The Inverse Square Law, optical properties, etc. – they are simple because they are controlled by math and physics, which also means they are predictable.
The Importance of Context
We should stop asking “what’s best” because the correct answer depends on the context. What are you trying to capture? What emotions or stories do you want to convey? What are the environmental conditions? What’s your personal style? How will the photo be displayed? Who is it for? I could go on and on. In short, it all comes down to WHY? But the answers to those questions… Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How give us context.
Those factors should be crucial in determining the right choices for your photography.
Research in psychology and photography has shown that asking the “why” questions and considering context will significantly improve one’s photographic skills.
- Emotion and Storytelling: Research in psychology has highlighted the importance of emotions in photography. You can make more deliberate creative choices by asking yourself why you are taking a particular photo and what emotions you want to evoke.
- Environmental Factors: Different shooting conditions, such as low light, fast motion, or close-up shots, require specific settings and equipment. Understanding why you need a particular setting or lens in a given situation will lead to better results. That understanding becomes skills, or I refer to it as more tools in the tool kit.
- Personal Style: Photography is an art form; your unique style matters. Instead of blindly following what others consider “best,” like a zombie incapable of being creative, you should explore and experiment to develop your unique voice.
Avoiding Lazy Questions
Another issue in the world of photography is the prevalence of lazy questions. These questions are overly simplistic and often seek shortcuts rather than a more profound understanding. Examples include “What’s the best camera?” or “What’s the best preset?”
To grow as a photographer, we have to put the effort into more thoughtful inquiries. Instead of asking for a one-word answer, delve into the reasoning behind choices. For instance:
- Instead of asking, “What’s the best lens for portraits?” ask, “What qualities should I look for in a lens to achieve a specific portrait style?”
- Rather than seeking the “best” settings for a particular scene, consider, “How can I adjust my settings to capture the mood and atmosphere I envision?”
Conclusion: Embrace the Journey
You may want to call me out because I haven’t shared the “valuable hack.” It is straightforward, really: just do the work.
In photography, there is no universal “best.” The concept of “best” is subjective and context-dependent, and too much concern over what is best can hinder your creative growth. Instead of seeking shortcuts, focus on asking “why” questions that help you understand the reasons behind your creative choices.
By understanding the importance of context and asking the right questions, you can develop your unique style and make more deliberate creative choices.
Remember, photography is an art form that thrives on creativity, personal expression, and storytelling. Embrace the journey of discovering what works best for you in different situations, and you’ll find that your skills and creativity will flourish. So, let’s stop asking “what’s best?” and instead ask “why?” to unlock your full potential as a photographer.
The best way to improve your photography is to study the technical aspects of photography to develop a solid foundational understanding of your tools and how to use them to your advantage, then shoot and shoot and shoot some more.
Ask for help, not as a shortcut, but as a solution after trying to work it out yourself. Be sure to provide lots of context with your question so that the response will provide you value rather than comfort.