In this article, we’ll cover 10 of the most common mistakes beginner photographers make. You are likely reading in hope that you will not repeat those very same mistakes.
This can work, mostly. But what mistakes are you still making if you are long past the beginner stage?
Beginner photography mistakes
So, what are the mistakes advanced learners make?
There is the longest road between beginner and master of any craft and how everyone develops is very different. Sometimes you make a certain beginner mistake over and over, while in other areas you are already well on your way on that photography road.
It has to do with how you got into photography and how you develop in it. Hence, like any other, this list is a little arbitrary and subjective.
During our photo tours, we spend a lot of time teaching about how to avoid mistakes. Teaching new techniques is easy, but if you are a beginner, you need to first learn the mistakes. Then learn how to avoid repeating them in order to improve the quality of your photos.
Mistake #1 – Not shooting in RAW format
Yes, it is true that right out of the camera JPGs look better than RAW files. The in-camera processing is optimally tailored to the camera by the manufacturer and the results are usually great. So, if you are just taking vacation photos, you can save weeks of post-processing if you shoot jpg.
Most cameras allow you to save both file formats, so you will have JPG files if you have to work quickly. But ideally, you should never go without the RAW images.
In post-processing, the last image information can only be tickled out of the RAW data and the final edited image can be made (i.e. the decision about how to process your image). Because as good as the camera’s JPG conversion may be, it is never individual. It’s not your choices or decisions – it’s the camera’s.
In addition, there is a second good reason to shoot in RAW. If you have the RAW file, you can very quickly identify yourself as the author of a photo in case of doubt or dispute over image ownership.
Read more about RAW here: Why shoot in RAW format…
Mistake #2 – Not doing any photo editing
Yes, there are many people who say a photographer must get the picture perfect in the camera, when the shutter button is pressed. Indeed, the photo should at least have great composition. For portraits, clothing and hair should be optimally positioned before the shutter is released and corrected as often as necessary until it fits.
The time that you will have to spend fixing unkempt hair and clothing during the image editing process is much great than if it was handled when shooting. But in this case, you would never consider leaving the end result to the camera. So why let the camera do any image manipulation?
In my opinion, not editing photos is simply absurd.
You want to adjust the white balance, highlights, shadows, contrast, saturation, and sharpness. Of course, you should edit your pictures until they look the way you envisioned them or how want them to be. For example, making sure the horizon is straight and small mistakes are erased.
Edit until the image look is exactly what you want. To demonize image editing in principle (we’re not talking about mistakes, inability, or tasteful abominations) can only be the excuse of people who do not want to spend the time learning image editing and therefore speak out of ignorance.
But yes, you can do something.
Learn to Edit: Sign up for our free 5-day photo editing challenge here and learn how to get started processing your photos now!
Note from Darlene: Any opinions expressed in this article are solely the author’s and do not represent those views held by me or Digital Photo Mentor.
Mistake #3 – Not resetting your camera settings
This is a classic mistake that can happen again and again even after years of shooting.
You may have a “just in case” or emergency backup setting on your camera. It might be Auto ISO, aperture preselection with a wide-open aperture, and single autofocus, in order to be prepared for snapshots. Then you change everything for a specific situation – and forget to set everything back to your defaults.
Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are mostly still in view. But is a common mistake to have switched to manual focus and then forgotten about it. Then later when autofocus was needed, it wasn’t on and you end up with a bunch of out of focus images.
While we’re on the technical side, other mistakes happen in all phases of a photographer’s career. Forgetting the battery, packing the wrong lenses, choosing the wrong outfit, these are normal. Every photographer has their own disaster stories. So, make sure you check and double check things always.
Read more here: Top 9 Settings to Reset on your Camera After Every Use
Mistake #4 – Not reviewing the images on the LCD
Looking through the eyepiece of the camera or the back display don’t differ in what can be seen, but rather in what you perceive. If you look through the eyepiece, you quickly lose sight of the edges or the camera warps a bit when the shutter is released.
To counter that, get used to checking the result after each photo and you will quickly develop a good eye for any errors in the image. Right away you will see cut-off image elements (including shadows). Eventually you’ll also start to see things that do not belong in the image but were not noticed and are difficult to retouch.
Reviewing your image on the LCD display also means zooming it up to 100% view in order to be able to assess the sharpness. Then it would also be noticeable if you had switched off the autofocus and you could correct for that mistake (as mentioned in #3 above).
Note from Darlene: But there is a point where you can go overboard with this too – it’s called pixel peeping. Read my rant on this here: Is Pixel Peeping Holding You Back From Doing Better Photography?
Mistake #5 – Not using a tripod
A good tripod is an essential piece of equipment for photographers. On one hand, you need it for long exposure images that cannot be handheld. Also, perhaps for positions that you cannot otherwise get into. But apart from these technical requirements, a tripod teaches you to slow down and work precisely and deliberately.
It is an excellent exercise to work with a tripod for a period of time. This will make you consider whether the subject is really worth setting up the tripod or not. So, you may end up not taking a lot of pictures you normally would just snap.
As such, you will be rewarded with images that are much better composed than just shooting quick by hand. You will work more carefully, check and correct your settings before the shutter is released, and overall just think more before you shoot.
Mistake #6 – Demonizing or avoiding flash
First of all, you can completely forget about the built-in flash on your camera. Professional camera bodies do not even have one. What does that tell you?
In regards to flash and other lighting, however, what we discussed above on the subject of image processing, also applies here. Those who carry the “available light” moniker proudly, usually use it as a protective shield to hide a lack of knowledge and skills.
The subject of light – and thus also the use of your own light sources – is key in photography. Light turns a field into a place of longing, and turns a passport photo into a mysterious portrait.
Anyone who not only works with ambient but complements and uses light according to their own ideas, is a photographer in the literal sense, someone who paints with light.
The first attempts for many beginner photographers usually produce hideous results. So take time to learn how to use flash properly.
Read more: Learn Flash Photography Challenge
Mistake #7 – Not finding your own style
You will develop your own style over time. But only if you work systematically on yourself and your motives.
First, others will discover this style by being able to correctly assign the images to you. When comparing with other photos, you can see your own peculiarities. You have to cultivate these, develop those characteristic elements even further. Finally, above all leave out images in the selection and presentation phase that do not bear your clear signature style.
Mistake #8 – You stop learning and growing
Sure, you develop priorities and preferences. But it is not enough to stay at that point, you have to develop further.
Learning new techniques and photographing other subjects is one part, but also constantly renewing your own style is the other part of the equation. Development can be seen in all important artists, phases in which familiar territory was abandoned (getting outside your comfort zone).
You don’t necessarily have to step outside the box immediately.
You can establish your brand or style with the tried and tested, but something new should be attempted behind the scenes. Even if it’s just so photography doesn’t suddenly get boring.
In photography, this also means taking your focus away from technology and turning to content and artistic aspects. If you limit yourself to making your images technically better you will still not improve as from an artistic aspect.
Read more: In Order to Create Great Photos You May Need to Get Uncomfortable
Mistake #9 – Not investing in the right equipment
This one goes in opposition to the classic beginner’s mistake, where the purchases are fun and you get carried away. You may have heard that you should exhaust the possibilities of the camera and spend less on the hardware, and more on travel and further education. That’s all true too.
Eventually, you will be able to operate your camera in your sleep, know which settings are responsible for which result and be able to compose like a master. But until that happens you should go outside and take photos instead of burying yourself in test charts of lenses.
A comparison is often made with cooking that a good chef can conjure up a wonderful dish even with bad pots. Nevertheless, the most expensive knives, a number of special devices, and unusual ingredients can be found in a professional’s chef’s kitchen.
At some point, it will be time to buy (or rent/borrow) the right photography equipment you will need to create the kinds of images you aspire to make.
Then it might be time to upgrade your camera body or invest in some higher-end lenses to do the job. There are always camera improvements that have an impact on the image quality.
Read: What Camera Lens Should I Buy Next, and Other FAQs About Gear
Mistake #10 – Failing to visit museums
Art of all kinds can influence your growth as a photographer. Consider the artists who created the art and their effect on you, thinking about photos, viewing them for longer than a minute, all of this affects your own photography.
In museums, it is advisable to visit with a guide, and in galleries to let the gallery owners talk. With the latter in particular, you learn a lot not only about the artist and his work but also about trends and the stories with which the works are sold.
I hope this post help you to improve as a photographer. Remember, that photography should be a passion and it includes always striving to be better.
Practice is the best way to do it. If you love landscape photography, go out and capture different scenarios and locations. If you love portrait photography, try to use different lights or set ups, etc.
Please answer the following questions in the Disqus area below.
- Are you guilty of making any of these mistakes?
- If so which one and how will you conquer it?