Do you ever wonder which photography mistakes you’re making?
Because the truth is that most photographers are making a few mistakes that they don’t even realize are a problem–and these mistakes are bringing down their images.
So if you’re looking to improve your photography, fast…
…then read this article.
I’m going to give you a rundown of the 15 most common photography mistakes.
And then I’m going to show you how to correct them.
Let’s get started.
1. Using a Slow Shutter Speed for Blurry Photos
Here it is.
The most basic culprit of blurry photos.
A too-slow shutter speed.
You see, your shutter speed determines how much of the scene the camera freezes. Use a fast shutter speed, and the entire scene will be frozen, including moving elements (e.g., running people, flying birds, etc.).
But use a shutter speed that’s too slow, and you’ll end up getting motion blur, not to mention camera shake, where the camera itself moves during the shot.
So if you’re shooting still subjects, use a shutter speed of around 1/200s to be safe (though longer lenses require higher shutter speeds to compensate for the lens’s magnification). If you’re shooting slow-moving subjects (e.g., people walking), use a shutter speed of around 1/500s. If you’re shooting fast-moving subjects (e.g., people running, animals moving), 1/1000s is a good starting point, and for ultra-fast subjects, such as birds in flight, you’ll need 1/2000s to even 1/4000s to really freeze the whole frame.
Related Post: How to Capture Sharp Images (Ultimate Guide)
2. Putting Your Subject Smack-Dab in the Center of the Frame
If you want stunning photos, you must pay careful attention to the composition.
And one of the easiest ways to ruin a composition is by sticking your subject in the dead-center of the frame.
Subjects in the center of a frame just look static. They look boring. They rarely work.
Which is why, instead of putting your subject in the middle of the frame, you should put it toward the sides. Try using the rule of thirds, which suggests that the best compositions put the main element a third of the way into the frame, like this:
You don’t have to use the rule of thirds all the time, but it is a helpful guideline. And it’ll ensure that your compositions are far more dynamic and interesting than before!
3. Shooting During the Middle of the Day
If you’ve been doing photography for a while, you’re undoubtedly aware of the importance of light in photography.
To put it simply:
Without good light, you’re not going to get good photos.
Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to remember this, especially when you’re faced with a stunning subject that you desperately want to photograph.
But I’m here to tell you that you must resist the urge to go out in bad light. Go out when it’s cloudy. Go out when it’s late in the day.
For instance, this shot was taken during the golden hours of late afternoon:
But don’t go out to shoot during the middle of the day, because the high sun will cause harsh, unpleasant shadows that rarely look good.
(The exception to this is street photography and other dramatic, contrast-heavy genres.)
In fact, if you start pushing yourself to only shoot during good light, you’ll notice an immediate improvement in your images.
I guarantee it!
Related Post: Natural Light Photography Tips
4. Overexposing the Highlights in Your Photos
The highlights refer to the brightest parts of your photo–the areas that are near-white.
The highlights in this photo are the swans:
And if you’re not careful, you’ll end up overexposing the highlights consistently.
When this happens, you’ll produce photos that lack detail in the bright areas, which looks plain bad.
Now, highlight overexposure is extremely common, and it’s one of the most devastating mistakes you can make as a photographer. Because it’s extremely difficult to recover lost highlights (whereas it is possible to recover lost highlights to some extent).
I’m not saying that all is lost if you overexpose an image. There is some recovery you can do.
But it’s always best to get the exposure right in the first place!
So do whatever you can to ensure you capture the best possible exposure. Set up the highlight clipping warning on your camera. Check the histogram after you take a shot.
And just be aware that losing highlights is rarely a good thing.
5. Shooting With the JPEG File Format
Do you shoot in JPEG? Or do you shoot in RAW?
If you answered “JPEG,” then you’ve fallen prey to one of the most common mistakes out there.
You see, JPEGs are smaller than RAW files, and they’re easy to view on computers. So plenty of people end up shooting JPEGs on accident, without realizing how much this is hurting their photography.
But RAW photos have some huge advantages: They include all the information from the point of capture, which means that you can recover much more lost detail, you can make lots of post-processing changes without much consequence, and more.
Yes, they’re larger than JPEGs. But that’s because JPEGs are compressed so that they lose information. This isn’t something that you want, especially not if you’d like to do sophisticated post-processing.
Note that you may not think that post-processing matters to you now–but it will, someday, if you keep up your photography. Post-processing is extremely important!
Here’s the bottom line:
If you’re currently shooting in JPEG, then go get your camera right now and switch over to RAW. If you like the accessibility of JPEG and you don’t want to post-process at the moment, then at least shoot RAW+JPEG, which will produce both a RAW photo and a high-quality JPEG.
That way, you’ll have the RAW files on hand for when you inevitably decide you want to use them, but you don’t have to sacrifice the ease of JPEGs.
6. Not Getting Close Enough for Stunning Photos
One of the biggest mistakes photographers make (beginners and advanced photographers alike!) is not getting close enough.
You see, it’s often easy to shoot from a distance.
Rather than nice and close:
And it’s often easy to try to incorporate as much of the scene as possible into your photos, because you don’t want to cut anything important out.
But the truth is that leaving in too much of the scene is often a culprit of bad images, not good ones.
It’s an easy way to end up with images that are far too cluttered and unfocused.
That’s why I recommend you always ask yourself:
Is there anything more I could cut out of this photo?
Make sure that everything you include in the frame is very deliberate. Move closer until the extraneous areas are gone.
And you’ll create much more striking images!
7. Forgetting to Post Process Your Images
I’ve already talked about the importance of post-processing, but it deserves a section of its own.
It’s that essential.
Careful processing can make the difference between a mediocre shot and a stunning shot. This is especially true if you shoot in RAW, but is also true if you’re working with JPEGs.
What types of post-processing adjustments make such a difference?
Lots of the basic ones:
Exposure adjustments ensure that you maintain maximum detail in your shot.
Contrast adjustments keep things looking nice and dramatic.
Saturation and vibrance adjustments ensure your colors pop.
Noise reduction decreases unpleasant noise in your photos.
And sharpening makes things look crisp and complete.
Without these adjustments, your photo is bound to look boring.
And your photos will instantly look better.
Related Post: How to Edit Photos (The Ultimate Guide)
8. Shooting from Standing Height Toward Your Subject
This mistake is especially common among nature photographers, pet photographers, and wildlife photographers:
Capturing all of your shots from standing height.
Why is this such a problem?
First, it makes your photos boring–because you capture the same type of shot over and over and over again.
But the bigger issue is that all your photos seem like they’re taken from above, looking down. And this isn’t as intimate as it could be.
So instead of shooting from standing height, try kneeling or even lying on the ground. Get on a level with your subject, so that you feel like you’re in their own little world.
That way, you’ll end up with a unique portfolio–and your photos will look far more interesting.
9. Leaving Your Camera on Auto Mode
Auto mode is the option on your camera where you give up control over everything.
Instead of selecting the shutter speed, the aperture, and the ISO, your camera does it all for you.
And this is a recipe for disaster.
Your camera knows how to expose pretty well. It knows how to maximize the amount of detail in a scene, for the most art.
But your camera doesn’t know what you’re shooting. Your camera doesn’t know if you’re photographing a bird in action, or a still life scene, or anything in between.
Which means that your camera won’t choose the optimal settings for the scene. Instead, it’ll choose a shutter speed that’s long when you need it to be short, resulting in blur. Or it’ll choose an aperture that’s too wide when you want it to be narrow, resulting in an unwanted shallow depth of field effect (more on that later!).
That’s why you must take control over your camera. Set it in Aperture Priority mode or Manual mode (or Shutter Priority mode, though that one’s less commonly used by photographers).
Choose your own settings. Choose the settings that make sense, given your subjects.
And your photos will come out looking so much better.
10. Forgetting to Think About the Background
If you’re just starting out in photography, you probably think a lot about your main subject:
How it should be positioned.
How it should be posed.
How it should be exposed.
But when you do this, you’re forgetting about one of the most important aspects of your photo:
Because the background is what enhances your main subject. And it’s what makes your main subject stand out. So if you don’t choose a good background, then your photos just won’t work.
What counts as the perfect background?
First, your background should be simple. You don’t want there to be any distractions–which includes objects, but also colors and spots of light.
Second, your background should complement the subject. If your subject is blue, then a yellow background will make them really pop, while a purple background will work harmoniously with the subject.
In the end, the background you choose will depend on what’s available to you in the moment. But it pays to think about your background choice every single time you shoot.
11. Leaving Distractions in the Corner of the Frame
I talked about the importance of a simple background in the section above.
But you should also make sure that there aren’t any distractions in the foreground, in the midground, or anywhere else in the frame!
Distractions can easily ruin an image. Because distractions draw the eye from the main subject, and cause the viewer to become lost in the areas you don’t want them to look.
So before you take a shot, look in front of your subject. Look behind your subject.
And, most importantly, look into the corners and edges of the frame. That’s where the most distractions creep in–as stray branches, as people walking, and so much more.
If you can catch these before they become a problem…
…well, that’s when your photos will start to look far stronger.
12. Overprocessing Your Images
I already talked about how processing your photos is essential. Because processing is what will give your photos that something extra, that bit of magic that will really take them to the next level.
You need to be careful.
Because one of the easiest mistakes to make when processing is overprocessing.
Overprocessing refers to situations where you add in so much photo editing glamour that things start to look unpleasant and fake.
For instance, you could add in so much saturation that things become muddy. Look at this original image:
And then look at it, but with too much saturation applied:
You could also add in too much contrast, so that the shot appears crunchy. Here’s a normal shot:
And the same shot with too much contrast applied:
Do you see what I mean? Taking your processing too far can cause problems, even worse than if you hadn’t processed your photos in the first place.
One trick to prevent overprocessing is to take a break after doing some editing, then come back to your photo later and just look at it. Does it look good? Or does it look overprocessed?
If it looks like maybe too much editing has been done, then it’ll pay to bring down the processing effects!
13. Consistently Shooting Too Dark Photos
This is a mistake that I notice a lot of enthusiasts making:
Capturing photos that are too dark, over and over again.
This is especially a problem if you shoot in Manual mode, because you’ll often be tempted to slightly underexpose your photos in order to boost your shutter speed (or in order to maintain a lower ISO).
So make sure you pay careful attention to your histogram. Because even if your photos don’t look too dark to your eye, they may look too dark to others.
And you don’t want to look back at your collection of photos, only to realize that they’re all slightly underexposed!
Instead, keep your photos nice and bright:
14. Not Paying Attention to Your Aperture
Aperture refers to the diaphragm inside your lens, which opens and closes depending on your camera settings.
The wider the aperture, the shallower the depth of field.
In other words, if you shoot with a wide aperture, you’ll end up with photos that have very little in focus, like this:
Versus photos with a narrow aperture that have a deep depth of field (i.e., a lot in focus):
Now, neither of these looks is necessarily better than the other. Both have their place.
But the mistake that photographers often make is not actually thinking about the aperture, and therefore ending up with a shallow-focus effect when it doesn’t work, or too much depth of field when a narrow depth of field would have worked better.
That’s why it’s important that you pay careful attention to your aperture, and make sure you set it to fit your particular subject.
Note that you must shoot in Manual mode or Aperture Priority mode to set the aperture. Otherwise, your camera will set it for you.
Wide apertures have a low f-number, like these: f/2.8, f/4, f/1.4.
Narrow apertures have a high f-number, like these: f/11, f/16, f/22.
So if you want a shallow focus effect, choose a wide aperture.
And if you want a photo that’s sharp throughout, choose a narrow aperture.
That way, you’ll create a photo that looks the way you want it to.
15. Cranking Up the ISO All the Time
Your camera’s ISO refers to the sensor’s sensitivity to light.
In other words, the higher the ISO, the brighter your photos will appear.
Because photographers are often faced with too-dark conditions, they have a tendency to crank up the ISO–and leave it at a high value.
While this does make exposing a lot easier, it comes with a big problem:
High ISOs cause noise.
And noise looks terrible.
So it’s important to leave your ISO as low as possible–until the situation forces you to raise it. Shoot at ISO 100 or ISO 200 whenever you can, and only boost it to ISO 1600 if it’s absolutely necessary.
15 Common Photography Mistakes: Conclusion
Now that you know 15 of the most common photography mistakes out there, you should carefully evaluate your own photography.
Ask yourself whether you have a tendency to make any of these mistakes…
…and then make the necessary changes!
A few common photography mistakes include putting your subject in the center of the frame (which creates boring compositions), using a shutter speed that’s too slow (which causes motion blur and camera shake), and blowing out the highlights of your photos (which is rarely a good look!).
The worst mistakes made by beginner photographers include forgetting to post-process your photos (which will cause your photos to seem boring and flat), shooting in JPEG (instead of RAW), and overprocessing (which can be even worse than forgetting to post-process your photos in the first place, because it can easily make your photos look unpleasant and unnatural).
Some photography mistakes made by advanced photographers include leaving the ISO too high for good noise results, slightly underexposing lots of your images, and not paying attention to the background (which is one of the key parts of your photos!). For more mistakes made by beginner photographers and advanced photographers alike, read the full article!
To fix common photography mistakes, I recommend you do an honest assessment of your photography. Ask yourself which mistakes you make frequently, and why. Finally, take the necessary steps to make things better, such as paying more attention to the surroundings in your photos, carefully selecting the proper settings, and much more.
One of the biggest photography mistakes made by beginners is not post-processing their photos in the first place. The truth is that pretty much every photo looks better with some processing, even if it’s subtle (and subtle is often best, anyway!). Another common post-processing mistake is overprocessing. It’s easy to get carried away with the saturation, sharpness, and contrast sliders, so that you end up with a crunchy, oversaturated shot.
Jaymes Dempsey is a professional macro and nature photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan; his work is published across the web, from Digital Photography School to PetaPixel.