Mistakes to Avoid as a Beginner Photographer

Making mistakes is an essential part of the photography learning process and as a beginner you’ll make a lot of them. Although I say that, if you know how to prevent them beforehand that’s also a good way to learn, so we’ll go over a few of the most common ones and how to prevent them from happening.

Blurry Photos

Undoubtedly the most common and problematic mistake is your photos turning out blurred, meaning your photo isn’t sharp and clear.

The most common reason for this is handshake blur which appears when the shutter speed isn’t fast enough. Handshake blur can’t be avoided unless you’re a robot because everyone naturally shakes (even if it’s only slightly) when holding an object with some weight to it. So to prevent this you need to use faster shutter speeds which you can achieve by increasing the ISO or using wider apertures (smaller f numbers). A general rule is your shutter speed should be equal to or greater than the focal length number you’re using with your lens. So if you’re using a focal length of 30mm then a shutter speed of 1/30 S or more would be needed. An alternative to using faster shutter speeds if you have the time to do this is use a tripod to keep the camera steady and then you can use any shutter speed you want.

Out of Focus

The most common focusing problem is choosing the wrong focus point, and another one is a completely out of focus photo, but you’ll rarely come across this because usually cameras don’t take the photo until they’ve found a focus point.

So the more common one in which parts of your scene aren’t in focus that should be is usually caused by not choosing the correct focus point. An easy way to ensure the part of the scene you want in focus is in focus is to firstly set the mode to spot autofocus and then place the subject you want in focus in the center of the viewfinder and then half depress the shutter button until it’s in focus and then depress it fully to take the shot. When you have your focus point you’re free to re-compose the photo as long as you keep the shutter depressed otherwise you’ll lose the focus point if you lift your finger off it.

One other reason your photos might not be in focus is because you set the wrong aperture, which is common when using wide apertures which are more suited to keeping a specific point in the scene sharp while a narrower aperture will keep more of the scene sharp from the nearest to the furthest point.

Too Bright or Dark

When your photo is too bright or dark this is called overexposure or underexposure and this is something that even happens to professionals. The problem with an overexposed photo is you lose details in the highlights which means the bright parts of your scene will appear too light and not visible. The opposite is an underexposed photo which means the details in dark areas of your scene are lost in the shadows.

A simple way to remedy this is to use the exposure compensation to increase it in increments such as +2 to brighten the photo or -2 to darken it for example.

Grainy Photos

If your photo looks grainy and like it has colored or grey specks then your photo is probably suffering from camera noise. You’ve probably already worked this out but noise isn’t pretty and results in a low quality photo unless you’re looking for a vintage kind of look.

This is caused by using a high ISO and basically the higher the ISO, the more grain your camera will produce although modern cameras are much better at preventing this grain than older cameras. Using higher ISO settings is needed sometimes to enable faster shutter speeds in dark conditions etc. but an alternative to increase your shutter speed is using wider apertures if this is possible. The key point to take away is to use the minimum ISO required to get the results you want, and not any higher. One final point I’ll make is to remember to change your ISO back down again when you’re done shooting, because this is something photographers often forget and start shooting again using a high ISO without meaning to.

Orange or Blue Color Cast

This problem isn’t always obvious and you might not notice small differences if you don’t know what to look for. White balance is what governs the color cast of your photos and it ranges from warm to cold or orange to blue and to make things more confusing this is also called color temperature. These orange and blue color casts create a warm or cold looking photo and this will be most obvious in white areas of your photo, but this is sometimes the intended effect.

Usually you’ll be aiming for a neutral white balance and to achieve this you need to choose the appropriate white balance setting. There’s a few to choose from and usually auto will do a decent job but not always, so in this instance it’s best to choose a more specific setting for example cloudy in cloudy conditions or tungsten when shooting indoors with tungsten light bulb lighting.

Not Using Your Camera Properly

You might be tempted to use auto mode because it requires little effort and you can just point and shoot without much thought. But this stops you from progressing as a photographer and restricts how creative you can get with your shots. It’s important to learn to use the other camera modes including aperture priority, shutter priority and manual mode if you want to get the most out of your camera.

Boring Photos

If your photos just aren’t coming out well despite getting all the camera settings and techniques spot on then there might be something else going on (or not going on).

Lighting

One of the key elements that can make or break your photos is the lighting conditions. Basically lighting has many effects including bringing out contrast, color, texture, shape and form, so pretty much everything you need for a dramatic photo. For most types of photography strong lighting works well especially when shooting outdoors, but on the other hand a cloudy day with no sun in sight will leave you with a dull, colorless photo. For indoor photography such as portraiture the best types of lighting are flashguns, studio lighting or natural sunlight from windows.

Composition

The way you compose your photo is another reason why they might be turning out uninteresting. So it’s a good idea to read up on some composition techniques such as leading lines, balance and the rule of thirds for example which will help you shoot more attractive looking photos.

Sloping Photos

Another common problem not always noticed by beginners is that their photos are sloping to one side. One way to prevent this is to pick a subject for example the top of a building, a path or the horizon and then try to keep these level so they’re not sloping either to the right or left.

Rushing

A lot of photographers either don’t have the time or on the other hand the patience to properly set up their shots. If you’re just taking holiday snaps then this doesn’t matter so much, but if you’re after professional level photos then you need to take your time or you just won’t get the results. One reason to spend more time doing this is because you may need to keep changing settings in between each shot or change the spot you take it from for the best one possible.

Taking Too Many Photos

This isn’t always a bad thing unless you’re sacrificing the effort you put into each photo so you can get a photo of everything possible because you then risk ending up with a batch of mediocre photos at best. If you show your photo album to a family or friend and there’s hundreds of badly done photos then they’ll only lose interest but on the other hand if you have a dozen epic shots they’ll love taking a look at them.

Bad Locations

Planning ahead is key to finding a good location and subject to shoot and avoid turning up and finding there’s nothing interesting in sight. So first you need to decide on a subject you want to shoot then find a location to shoot them, and one good website to help you with this is Flickr.com on which you can search through a huge library of photos and many have the location from which they were taken in the description. Another couple of websites you could check out are shothotspot.com and mapmyphoto.co.uk. On these you can find photos taken in specific locations and filter by keywords and categories, then it gives you a list of photos taken by photographers in these locations.

Not Picking the Best Day and Time

This only really applies to photos taken outdoors so picking the best day and time to shoot is important and it can make or break your photos, so checking the weather beforehand is important. The first step is deciding what kind of shot you want, for example maybe you want perfect conditions with clear skies for a more colorful photo or perhaps dark rain clouds for a moody atmosphere. But days you probably don’t want to be shooting on are overcast days because you’ll find it hard to get a good shot and you’ll usually end up with a boring and flat photo with very little color or contrast.

Most photographers will agree that the best times of day to shoot are in the morning and evening and the reason for this is the shadows are longer, the light is more dramatic and emphasizing colors. But for even more dramatic shots there’s a more specific time to shoot and this is a short period of time in the morning and evening also known as the golden hour. This is just as the sun is on the horizon and it casts a soft, golden light.

Lack of Creativity

If you know all the basic photography techniques and you’re doing everything right then this isn’t always a good thing and it can even hinder you. I’m not saying you shouldn’t learn them all and try them out, because you should, but sticking to them all especially composition techniques can make all your photos look the same as everyone elses without having that wow factor to them.

Bad Camera Grip

How you hold your DSLR camera is the first thing you should learn before anything else because it affects the stability and how much your camera shakes. First you need to place your right hand on the right side of the camera body so your index finger is within reach of the shutter button and then place your left hand underneath the lens so you have easy access to the lens zoom ring.

Investing in Expensive Gear

If you’re new to photography, don’t feel like you have to invest in expensive gear to get good shots. Although professionals use top of the range gear, the main difference is that these give you more control over your photos, and of course other things such as image quality will be a bit better, but entry level gear does more than a good enough job.

One thing I would recommend investing in though is a DSLR as these are the standard for any serious photographer because generally they have more features and shoot higher quality images than compact cameras. But recently the gap between compacts and DSLR’s has been closing with the introduction of hybrid cameras, also known as compact system cameras which give you the benefits of both worlds. But entry level DSLR’s do a fantastic job if you’re a beginner, and then as you progress you might want to invest in a higher range camera with additional features to give you more control over your photos.

Using the Wrong Lens

It’s important to research lenses before buying a DSLR because different lenses are more suited to different subjects. Kit lenses that usually come with DSLR’s are a good all rounder for most situations but photographers tend to invest in a few lenses and in the long term you’ll probably feel the need to buy more. For example Landscape shots work best with wide angle lenses while a telephoto lens is needed for Wildlife photography.

Running Out of Battery and Memory Card Storage

If you’re planning a long day out and your battery isn’t fully charged then you risk it dying on you. So obviously make sure it’s charged beforehand, but if this still isn’t enough battery life then having a backup battery is beneficial.

Running out of memory card space can be an issue if you don’t have access to a computer to upload your photos to or you don’t have enough memory card storage. So taking some backups and investing in some memory cards with more Gigabytes storage is a good idea.

Backing Up

Probably an obvious one, but keeping backups is definitely a good idea because whatever you store your photos on, whether its your memory card or hard drive, they can all break and then you potentially lose all the photos you’ve ever taken. So make sure you have another backup, perhaps on another hard drive or online in cloud storage for example.

On Camera Flash

Most DSLR’s come with a popup flash and basically they’re useless 99% of the time unless you’re not bothered about shooting great photos. The reason for this is they have a very harsh light that’s concentrated into a small area which often overexposes the main subject and creates dark, ugly shadows behind.

Using Flash When You Don’t Need To

Although I wouldn’t recommend using popup flash in the first place, turning your flash on when it’s not needed is very common. This is often done outside at night when shooting distant objects and there’s no benefit to this. If the subject is too far away and the flash won’t reach your subject then it won’t light up your subject and therefore will have no effect on how they appear.

Fake Looking Photos

An unrealistic looking photo is usually caused by going over the top in the editing process. A common one is increasing the saturation too much so all the colors appear overly vibrant, but this only leaves an ugly looking photo and I even find myself decreasing saturation in some of my photos.

Shooting in JPEG

JPEG is a good file format if you don’t intend on editing your photos, but a much better format to use if you want complete control in post processing is RAW format. When you take a photo in JPEG you lose image data and details you would otherwise have available to edit with RAW. A couple of other benefits of RAW files is they are uncompressed and can be saved and edited as many times as you want without losing the original image data and you lose no quality.

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