Photography tips and tutorials are great but don’t you also want to know what you’re potentially doing wrong that could be ruining your photos? In this article, you’ll learn six things you need to stop doing now!
6 Mistakes Photographers Make That Ruin Photos
- Shooting JPG
- Using Auto White Balance
- Making blurry images
- Using bad (or the wrong) lighting
- Having no clear subject
- Overprocessing your images
Mistake #1 – Shooting JPG
This one is a bit of a Catch-22 situation.
Ideally, you want to be shooting in RAW image format. But for absolute beginners that’s difficult because RAW files must be processed – so it’s one more thing to learn all at once.
The challenge is that JPGs don’t hold as much image data, and you have to get both the exposure and White Balance perfect in-camera. Those things can also be hard for beginners to master.
Hence, the Catch-22! If you’re new to photography you need to shoot RAW so you can access the extra information in the raw files. But doing so means you need extra skills in processing that a beginner doesn’t have.
So what’s the solution? I’ll give you two answers here, depending on your photography and photo editing experience.
Option 1 – If you’re a total beginner
In this case, I’d suggest you shoot both RAW and JPG file formats. Most cameras have that option, just check your camera’s user manual to see how to set it up.
Then you have the option of using the JPGs now and saving the RAW files for down the road. When you’re ready to learn about photo editing you will have those RAW images ready and waiting for you to edit.
Shoot BOTH until you’re ready to convert to raw 100% of the time!
Option 2 – If you’re already photo editing
If you currently have and use a photo editing program like Lightroom, Luminar Neo, On1 Photo Raw, etc. – then you already have the skills you need to shoot RAW.
The workflow for editing raw files is exactly the same as JPGs – so there’s no reason why you can’t just switch over 100% to shooting RAW now.
Personally, I shoot RAW format about 99% of the time. It’s really rare for me to just shoot JPGs because my photo editing workflow is pretty fast and I know that I can pull a lot more out of a raw file. On occasion, I’ll shoot both if I need to post images really fast. But even that is really infrequent.
Mistake #2 – Using Auto White Balance
The next mistake I see many photographers making is not paying enough attention to the White Balance (WB) setting. While Auto WB is really handy and in many situations, it does a pretty good job – it’s not foolproof.
In certain scenarios, the Auto WB gets tricked because how it works is the camera attempts to read the color of the scene and neutralize it. That may sound good in theory, but what if you are photographing a stunning orange sunset? What about a photo of your friend wearing a blue dress with the ocean in the background?
YES, in fact, Auto WB is counter-productive in such a scene because it will attempt to neutralize the colors. The result is your colorful sunset will have almost no color left, and your friend will be yellow (opposite of blue).
If you shot RAW (see point #1 above) you can usually get some color back – but even then, not all of it. So the best option is to choose one of the WB presets on your camera.
To get more orange in your sunset, for example, choose Shade. To get more blue in your blue hour at night, choose Daylight. See the example images above.
Read more about White Balance here: How to use Camera White Balance to Improve Your Photos
Mistake #3 – Blurry images
This one should almost have been first on the list because it’s the most common issue I see many beginner photographers struggling with.
There are many reasons why your image might be out of focus or blurry, these are some of the most common ones:
- Holding your camera incorrectly (your left hand should be under the camera body, palm up – NOT thumb down)
- Your shutter speed is too slow (and conversely the ISO is also too low)
- Using the wrong focus settings (zone versus single point focus, and single versus continuous focus mode)
- Aperture too large (this is least common but for group photos, it applies)
- Not using a tripod when you should (macro, long exposures, night photography)
Let’s compare the images below. The two on the left were shot without a tripod. As a result, the ISO had to be quite high, and the aperture wide open.
In direct contrast, the images on the right are using a low ISO and longer exposure. As a consequence, there is more depth of field (smaller aperture, more in focus), and less noise (lower ISO).
I was also able to use the 10-second timer on my camera and get in the photo in the bottom right.
To overcome these issues just spend some time learning about your camera, its settings, and what each of them does.
Here are some articles to help you learn about your camera:
NOTE: To take your photography to the next level and make images like the one above, you NEED to have and use a tripod!
Mistake #4 – Using bad lighting
What exactly is bad lighting anyway? This is a bit of a misnomer because there really isn’t any such thing as good or bad light. I suggest you think of it more in terms of appropriate or inappropriate lighting.
Inappropriate (wrong) lighting
This type of light does NOT highlight the subject well and in extreme cases may actually hinder the viewer from even seeing the subject well.
Such scenarios as backlighting, spotty uneven lighting, and harsh or high contrast light, can lead to this issue. However, the opposite is also true – in some cases, these kinds of light can add a sense of drama, mystery, and mood to an image.
So know what you want to achieve first, then make sure the lighting matches that goal. The image above is one of my favorite images. Without the shadows, it doesn’t even exist. So the lighting here is essential!
For example: If you want to make a soft portrait of a loved one or a pet (puppy or kitty or something fluffy) – then harsh, high-noon, midday sun doesn’t match that objective.
Likewise, when you are photographing a cactus and you want all the spikes and prickles highlighted then soft, even light isn’t going to cut it.
Appropriate (right) lighting
Now the opposite is true, this kind of lighting actuates and highlights the subject and matches your intention for the image.
So for the portrait or fluffy pet, you will want to choose soft, even light with no bright spots in the background. In other words, find some shade or photograph in the late evening (as in the image below).
Then take that cactus photo in the bright sun and backlight it so you can see every needle and spine! The contrast will add to the drama and prickliness of the subject.
Compare the two images below of two saguaro cacti. Same subject, different lighting. Which one is right or more appropriate?
Well, that depends on your goal. If you want to show the outline and shape of the cactus then the image on the left is best. But if you want to show texture and the sharpness of the spines, then the right image is the clear winner.
Read more here:
Mistake #5 – No clear subject
This point follows directly from the one above. If you have done your job well and chosen appropriate lighting the subject should be featured in your image.
So the main trick here is you need to make sure you HAVE one! A subject that is, and make sure it’s clear and obvious to any viewer.
Looks at the image below on the left-hand side. They all include TOO much in the image. They are cluttered and there is no clear subject for the viewer’s eyes to land on. Compare to the ones on the right and see how much more effective the images are now.
You took the photo so you know what you were going for – but that’s not true for anyone looking at your image. If the subject isn’t immediately apparent, you’ll lose the viewer and the image will be ineffective.
The biggest tip I can give you here is to GET CLOSER!
Too much stuff in your image can cause it to be overly busy, and the subject gets lost. So when you’re photographing make sure you zoom in or get close enough to cut out anything that is extraneous.
So remember this – LESS is MORE in terms of creating photos with more impact!
Also, watch what’s in the background. Bright highlights, bits of bright colors, and a lot of contrast will draw the viewer’s eye away from the subject as well.
Mistake #6 – Overprocessing
Lastly, you can ruin your images by overprocessing them in the final step.
You may have heard this before, but what does that actually mean or look like? How do you know when you’ve gone too far?
There are many ways you can overdo it when editing your photos, but watch out for these issues:
- Pulling the Shadows and Highlights sliders too far.
- No pure Blacks or Whites in your image (it’s flat).
- Overdoing the saturation (the grass should not be neon green).
- Over sharpening (this creates artifacts and makes your image look crunchy and not smooth).
- Likewise, too much noise reduction (makes the image blurry, and obliterates stars).
- Halos around the subject or dark objects like trees, the horizon, or buildings (this is caused by trying to darken the sky too much).
- Banding or artifacts in the sky (also cause by over-editing the sky) which looks like streaks where the color doesn’t blend well. So instead of a smooth gradation, there are steps or lines.
- Over-vignetting – if people can see and point out your vignette, it’s likely overly dark or not feathered (softened/blended) enough.
- Not doing ANY photo editing
Do NOT make neon puke!
If you want to learn more about how you might be overprocessing your photos watch the video below now.
I hope this has given you a few ideas on how you might be ruining your photos and what you can do to solve these issues.
Use the things mentioned here in this article as a checklist. Are you guilty of making any of these mistakes? I know I certainly have made more than a few of my own, nobody is perfect. Just strive to do a little better than you did yesterday and keep moving onward and upward.
Did I miss anything on this list?
Let me know your thoughts in the comment area below?