June 25, 2024

5 Photography Mistakes Beginners Make!

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There are so many fantastic subjects out there that it is easy for photographers to get caught up in the moment. Forgetting about technicalities and composition rules in the excitement. Sometimes, beginners and even professionals are so eager to capture a moment that they rush in and disregard all the books, tutorials, and how-to articles they’ve been reading on photography. Furthermore, many of those teaching materials advise you to be fast and take many photos of the same subject to ensure you have a great one amongst them. However helpful this advice may be, it may also push you on the hasty side. And that’s where photography mistakes come in. Here are the five most common examples and how to avoid their trap.

1. Not Getting the Exposure Right

There are two reasons for not getting the exposure right. The first one is that you set the camera to manual mode but don’t master the three camera settings that control exposure: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. In this scenario, your photos are either overexposed (too bright) or underexposed (too dark) because you don’t correctly estimate the ambient light.

The second one is more common and refers to scenery that includes bright and dark areas. In this scenario, if you let the camera decide the exposure settings by using Auto mode, it might get it wrong. The camera evaluates either a part of the frame, which may not be representative of the entire image, or averages the levels of luminosity in the entire frame, which may not be representative of a particular element. For example, if the scene has a very bright snow patch and the camera uses it to decide on exposure, the rest of the frame may be underexposed. Alternatively, if the camera averages the brightness of the entire scene to decide on exposure, the snow patch may be overexposed. 

Not Getting the Exposure Right is a common photography mistake
Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

How to Avoid Getting the Exposure Wrong

  • Practice with different apertures, shutter speeds, and ISO values until it becomes second nature how each influences exposure.
  • Try to use the camera in Manual mode as much as possible.
  • Evaluate the ambient light, the brightness of each visual element, and the contrast between elements.
  • Change framing by changing the position and angle of the camera until you have good light (e.g., avoid backlighting, take out very bright elements from the frame, etc.)
  • For high-contrast scenery, set the exposure settings to correctly expose the brightest areas.
  • When reviewing your photos on the camera’s LCD, check out the histogram. To have a well-exposed image, in most cases, it needs to cover all levels of brightness and not peak on either side.
Photo by Cris DiNoto on Unsplash

2. Missing the Focus Point

As a nature and macro photographer, I know how easy it is to miss the focus point. When you create a narrow depth of field, either by using a large aperture opening to get more light into the camera, getting close to your subject for a nice framing, or using a telephoto or macro lens, you have a tiny area in focus. The smallest move of the camera may result in moving the focus on something irrelevant to your visual story. For example, you photograph a flower but end up having the grass in front of it in focus. 

Another reason why this happens is that you use the camera’s autofocus system, which may or may not think the same as you. Sometimes, it decides to focus on something else. For example, when you have a long distance between foreground and background, the camera may choose to focus on either of them regardless of your artistic intention.

Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash

How to Avoid Missing the Focus Point

  • Choose the focus point yourself.
  • Mount the camera on a tripod when using a narrow depth of field.
  • Go for cameras with AI-based autofocus systems able to detect and track your favorite subjects (e.g., people, animals, cars, etc.)

3. Creating Compositions that Lack a Focal Point

Some photos are technically perfect, but they are nevertheless blunt and far from great. When exposure, contrast, focus point, and colors are all right, but the photo is still uninteresting, the answer is in the composition. Any photograph needs a focal point; in other words, something that catches the viewer’s attention. If your subject is too small, too far away from the camera, unrecognizable, or simply insignificant, the viewer’s eye will wander around the frame aimlessly. The focal point is what keeps a composition together and what glues the viewer from the picture.

Creating Compositions that Lack a Focal Point is a common photography mistake by beginners.
Photo by River Kao on Unsplash

One reason for which your photos lack a focal point is that you don’t know what you’re trying to convey. You just record a pretty scene without thinking why the scene is appealing to you, why you want to share it with others, and what message you want to convey.

Another reason is that although you know what you want to say and why, you don’t know how to make the subject stand out. All the rules of composition are here to help you figure out where to place the subject in the scene and how to make it capture the viewer’s attention. They also teach you how to create relationships between visual elements and guide the viewer around the frame.

How to Avoid Creating Compositions that Lack a Focal Point

  • Do your homework and decide before pressing the shutter release what story you want to tell.
  • Use the rules of composition (e.g., the rule of thirds to position the subject in the frame, leading lines to lead the eyes of the audience to the subject, or a foreground element to make the image more three-dimensional.)
  • Make sure the subject fills up enough of the frame to be recognized as the most important part.
  • Make sure there is some favorable contrast between the subject and its surroundings.

4. Forgetting to Check the Background

One of the reasons why a photo lacks a focal point is that the background is too busy and distracts the viewer’s attention. Many beginners focus so hard on the subject that they forget to check the background before taking the photo. As a result, the background may steal attention and not do so in a good way.

Another common photography mistake is Forgetting to Check the Background
Photo by Linda Xu on Unsplash

It’s rarely the case that the background actually has something more interesting to say and makes a good photo by itself. More often than not, the background will just be noise. For example, it may include objects awkwardly cut out at the edge of the frame, such as parts of people or animals. Or it may include leading lines you didn’t consider that take the viewer’s attention away from your main subject (e.g., wires, electric poles, etc.). Sometimes, the background has the same colors and textures as the subject itself and manages to hide it too well. Other times, it is so vivid and striking that it’s impossible to notice anything else. Remember that everything that enters the frame has a visual weight that affects the composition.

How to Avoid a Messy Background

  • Before pressing the shutter release, take a last look around the frame.
  • Ensure there is enough negative space around the subject to make it stand out.
  • Use a narrow depth of field to blur a busy background further away from the subject.

5. Relying on Tricks, Hacks, and Shortcuts

Photography may be overwhelming for a beginner. Going for tips and tricks that do the job effortlessly or relying on the camera’s auto settings and post-processing seems a good way to get your photos on social media in no time. But it’s not the way to go if you are serious about photography. If photography is a passion, you need to give it time. It does take time to create a personal style, find your artistic voice, and discover what you want to say through this art.

Photo by Chalo Garcia on Unsplash

A common mistake is to use filters and presets right from the beginning to beautify your photographs. While the result may look fine, the process doesn’t help you get better. If you want to edit your pictures, do it manually, taking the time to adjust contrast, exposure, and colors individually and thoughtfully. It helps you see what you like and build a unique aesthetic.

Another common mistake is to think that even if a photo doesn’t look good in the camera, you will make it look good in post-processing. Sometimes, you will fix it; sometimes, you won’t. But it’s always better to try to get it right in the camera. Even if you don’t always manage to do it (e.g., you may be forced to induce an error due to camera limitations or lack of light), trying helps you learn.

How to Avoid Relying on Shortcuts

  • Learn photography from books and comprehensive resources.
  • Read your camera’s manual and try everything out that is relevant to the subject or style of photography you do.
  • Make a principle of trying to get the photo right in the camera.
  • Practice with different camera settings and photo setups to see the differences.
  • Enjoy the process of taking a photograph without considering what others may think of it.

Conclusion

Lately, so many beginners go for shortcuts to produce photographs that fit a trend or win a competition. They use filters and process their images excessively to make them look like something else that might be successful. The biggest photography mistake you can make as a beginner is to skip steps and rush toward a finish line. Photography is an art, and it is here for you to enjoy.


Peter Dam


Peter Dam is a professional nature photographer who loves to explore everything from the tiny world of macro photography to the vast landscape photography. He shares a wide range of photography tips on his website, including tutorials for advanced photo editors like Affinity Photo and Photoshop, over to image management in both Lightroom and Capture One.



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