When you’re learning how to do anything, you’re bound to make mistakes along the way, and digital photography is no exception. Luckily, those of us who have spent years learning the ropes of shooting digital already know there are some common mistakes beginner photographers often make that can be easily avoided with a bit of prior knowledge.
Here are eight of the most common technical mistakes beginner photographers make, from image blur to overlooked composition, and some advice on how to avoid them.
None of us are perfect and we all make mistakes. While some photographers might be naturally gifted, and just do amazing work from the moment a camera is put into their hands, that is not the case for most of us. Chances are, if you are new to photography, you are going to muck things up. You shouldn’t feel bad however, as you can be sure that many newbies have done exactly the same things. Here are a number of very common mistakes that new photographers make. Learn to avoid them, and you will improve your images.
1 – Centering everything in your images
The horizon line is right in the middle, cutting the image in two.
When most of us look back at our early images, we usually see the horizon line placed very much in the middle of the image (see photo above). This is one of the most common mistakes new photographers make when they start. Sometimes it’s a good thing to do, but not always. The problem is that it cuts the image in half, and leaves people looking at the image, unsure of which half to look at, which is the intended subject.
When you take photos of landscapes, or anything with a horizon line, it is best to put the horizon on one of the third lines.The Rule of Thirds is one of the compositional guides for photography. As you get more into photography you will hear more and more about it.
With the horizon in the top third, more ground is showing than sky, telling the viewer where to look
It’s the same idea for your subjects. If you are photographing a person, put them to one side of the image, on one of the vertical third lines. Which line you use is up to you. Sometimes it is better to do both and see which one looks better. Experimenting is the key to getting great photographs.
2 – Taking attention away from the main focus in the image
Without meaning to, you may include something in your frame, that takes the focus off the main subject in the image – things like bushes, or a light post that is just a line through the image. It goes back to the previous point about giving your subject so much attention, that you aren’t taking the time to look around it.
3 – Cutting things off at the edge of the frame
It is amazing how many times you can look at someone’s photo and ask, “Why have you cut off their feet?” They then look back at you blankly, saying they had never noticed it before.
Be careful not to cut off parts of limbs, like feet, when you are taking photos.
It is a very typical thing that newbies do. It may not be the feet, but it could be someone’s hand or the top of their head. It can happen in architecture and landscapes as well; the tip of a church dome will be missing, or the top of a tree.
It is all about learning to look at your subject and making sure you concentrate on getting them all in the frame. If you can’t fit them in the image, then you need to make decisions about what you will include, and what to crop off. Often if you take more than two thirds of a leg away it looks deliberate. If you only take one third away it looks like you weren’t paying attention.
|Missing toes or feet.||Make sure to include feet.|
4 – Thinking that having a great camera is enough
“I bought this fantastic camera and I paid a lot of money for it, but my photos don’t look great.” There is an assumption that if you have a good camera, you will automatically take amazing photos. This is not the case.
Just because you have a great camera, doesn’t mean you don’t need to learn photography. It is the person behind the lens that is responsible. If you see amazing photos by other photographers, that it is because they have learned about composition, and how to use their camera properly. Scroll to the bottom for links to more beginner articles to help you with this one.
5 – Taking only photo of a subject and from a common viewpoint
We all see people who want to take photos of a building, they walk straight up to it, take one photo from the middle position, and that’s it.
Think about other angles you can use as well. Try moving to the left, the right, or both. Take some from low camera angles and then some standing up. As you take more shots, you will learn what works and what doesn’t. Again, it is all about experimenting.
Taking a photo of a place by standing right in front of it.
6 – Having a really good camera and never learning how to use it properly
If you get an amazing camera that is capable of so many things, and never take it off auto, you are missing out on a lot. Learning to use your camera is one of things you can never regret. While you may be able to get some great photos with it on automatic, if you learn about aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, you will have more control over your images. It is usually something that no one is ever sorry about doing.
Once you have the basics worked out, you can then learn more advanced things like long exposures and HDR. The world of photography really opens up to you when you know how to use your camera to its full potential.
7 – Not giving your camera enough time
I was at an event once and I handed my camera over to friend to grab a few shots for me. When I got home and looked at the photos he had taken, they were all out of focus. I realized that he was pressing the shutter release without giving the camera time to focus properly.
You have to learn how to let the camera focus for you and give it time to do that. They are fast, but not always fast enough. The same goes with exposure, you have to give it the time to get the correct exposure. It doesn’t ask for a lot, so just give it the time it needs.
8 – Forgetting to check the settings you used the last time
It’s common for newbies to go out to take photos, making adjustments on their camera for what they are shooting at the time. But, the next time they go out to shoot, they forget to look at how the camera was set up. Afterwards, when they put the images on the computer, they realize they have lots of photos that didn’t turn out, because the camera settings were wrong for that subject or situation.
I was photographing a four day event a few years ago, and I couldn’t work out why some photos were really overexposed, while some were really dark. It took nearly three days to realize it was because my camera was set on auto bracketing (AEB). It was around that time I had just started taking photos at different exposures (bracketing) and had forgotten about it. Now I pick it up straight away.
Checking your camera setting when you take photos in case the last time you were out your were underexposing or bracketing your images.
Always look at the settings you have on the camera. Check what the aperture is set to. Work out if you have it on manual, shutter priority, aperture priority or auto. Be aware of what the ISO is at all times. It is a good habit to get into, to check them all every time you start.
Make sure you have a memory card in the camera too. I have gotten into the habit of leaving the card out of my camera, and when I pack my gear to go somewhere, I put the card in the camera. It is part of my routine now, I also pack an extra as well.
9 – Never turning the camera vertically
One thing you often notice with new photographers is that they only use their camera in landscape mode. They never seem to consider turning their cameras up on the side, to shoot vertically. It isn’t always necessary to do so, but some subjects would benefit more from that orientation. When you are taking photos, try turning the camera into the portrait mode (vertical) and see if you can get a better image.
Don’t always have your camera in landscape mode, like this image, turn the camera up into portrait mode as well.
Try vertical for a different perspective.
10 – Not asking for help
You should never be afraid of asking for help. Generally, photographers are more than happy to help someone who wants to learn. Don’t badger people with too many questions, but asking a few questions isn’t going to hurt.
11 – Don’t panic
A friend was telling a story about how she was in a Cathedral taking photos and they were all turning out black. She started to panic and couldn’t work out why. Once she calmed down she realized it was because her ISO was too low.
If you get into a situation where your photos are not working, don’t panic. Think logically about it. In most cases it is going to be your aperture, shutter speed or ISO. Just take the time to think about them and check the settings. You will work it out.
12. The Missed Focus
If you’re using autofocus and letting the camera choose your focus points, it’s highly likely you will focus on the wrong part of your image frame from time to time, especially when using a shallow depth of field. This is something that’s either impossible or difficult to fix after the fact, so it’s important to nail your focus in the field. A simple way to make sure you get accurate focusing is to use your camera’s spot autofocus mode to choose your focus point. When focusing for people and portraits, make sure your focus point is on the subject’s eyes.
Pro tip: Use your back button focus to lock on.
13. The Shaky Frame
If your photos are turning out blurry or slightly unsharp and you’re not sure why, it’s probably because you are using too slow of a shutter speed. When your shutter speed is too slow, the shaking of your camera can reduce the sharpness of your image. A rule of thumb to help avoid this is to use a shutter speed that is at least equivalent to the focal length of the lens you’re using.
For example, if you’re using a 50mm prime lens on a full frame camera, the slowest shutter speed you can use without shake is 1/50 of a second. This becomes 1/85 of a second on an APS-C (crop) sensor camera, as the effective focal length of the lens is multiplied by 0.5. If you’re using a zoom lens, you’ll need to pay attention to the focal length you’re using as you zoom in and out.
Pro tip: If your lens or camera has image stabilization, you can shoot at three to five stops slower and still get a sharp image.
14. The Buried or Blown Exposure
While shooting in RAW gives you a lot of latitude to adjust your exposure in post-processing, there are definitely limits on what you can do. If your exposure is too dark, the shadows will be grainy and discolored when you bring them up in processing. If your exposure is too bright, your highlights will be blown out and the detail won’t be recoverable when processing. If you have a scene with a high dynamic range, including very bright highlights and dark shadows, a general rule of thumb is to underexpose slightly to preserve details in the highlights, while not obliterating the shadows, and then brightening the shadows in post processing.
Pro tip: Use your camera’s spot metering function to meter different parts of your frame.
15. The Awkward Pose
As most people you will be working with likely won’t be professional models, they probably won’t feel all that comfortable posing. And while it’s great to find poses online and try them, people will probably feel awkward just being told how to stand, which will come through in your photos. Your best bet is to use the poses as basic guidelines and then focus on putting your subjects at ease by engaging them with eye contact and friendly banter, while encouraging them to have fun and be themselves.
Pro tip: Use a tripod to compose your image, then you can make eye contact and freely talk with your subjects.
16. The Tree Growing From Heads
An easy way to ruin a good portrait is to have a vertical object such as a tree or telephone pole sticking straight up out of your subject’s head. While you will very likely be focusing most of your attention on your subject’s pose and appearance, it’s key to also pay attention to the background, and make sure there are no distracting elements growing out of or cutting through your subject, even if they are very out of focus.
Pro tip: Do a quick visual scan of your entire image frame in the viewfinder to look for distracting objects that are poking in.
17. The Confusing Composition
Figuring out how to arrange the elements in your camera’s frame can take some time. When you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s easy to create a dog’s breakfast composition that will cause the viewer to become completely lost and confused when looking at your photo. Luckily, there are some very simple guidelines that can help you manage and arrange elements in your frame based on human perception, such as the rule of thirds.
Pro tip: You can often crop portraits to the rule of thirds using your grid overlay in processing.
18. The Overzealous Processor
When you’re first learning to do post processing on images, it can be easy to get so excited that you overdo it. One common mistake beginners often make when processing is adding too much saturation and sharpening to images, which results in photos that look overdone and totally unrealistic. Another beginner processing error is extreme HDR processing, which robs images of their shadows and highlights, making them look at best unreal or at worst just horrible.
Pro tip: Use your histogram to make sure you have a black point and white point.
19. The File Backup Fail
One of the dangers of digital photography is the potential for technology to fail, and this includes the hard drive on which you store your image files. If you only have one copy of your image files stored, and the drive where they are stored fails, there go all your image files. That could lead to a lot of disappointment for both you and your clients. So be sure to have a second copy of your images stored somewhere, on an external hard drive or cloud storage service.
Pro tip: Cloud storage and external hard drives are becoming increasingly affordable, so why not keep two backups just for peace of mind?
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