A big part of any learning curve is making mistakes. No matter the hobby, or how long someone’s been practising, I can guarantee that they are still making mistakes. It’s the best way to learn. With that being said, photography comes with a whole host of mistakes that are just waiting to be made – and lessons to be learnt. After working as a photographer and videographer for the last 8~ years, I’m still making mistakes, and learning from my own and other’s work, and I can bet you that the majority of people who take photos out there are doing the same. Today, I wanted to share some common beginner photography mistakes and how to fix them. These range from pretty menial mistakes, to the bigger ones that I try to avoid with every essence of my being. I’d love to know what sort of beginner photography mistakes you’ve made in the past – or any that you’re instinctively trying to avoid, too.
Ignoring the Histogram
Honestly, this was a mistake I used to make all the time. In fact, to this day I still make it sometimes. Someone I used to work with was obsessed with the histogram – and for good reason too – but I (stupidly) ignored them for longer than I should’ve. If you want to make sure your photos are as good as they can be – pay attention to your histogram. Regardless of if you’re using an LCD screen, a monitor, a digital viewfinder – whatever, the histogram is the most accurate way to tell if your photo will turn out well.
The histogram is that little graph you can toggle on and off in your display settings. It gives you a horizontal reading of the light in the image. What you want to see is your graph pretty evenly dispersed throughout the graph, without any extreme peaks or troughs. If the graph is bunched up towards the left or right, with little information in the centre or the opposite edge, then it’s either over or under exposed.
The image could look great on the back of the LCD, but if it’s over or under exposed, then when you get your file into your photo editor you’ll really notice the limitations start to creep in. Whether that’s through excessive noise, blown out highlights or colour information being degraded or lost completely. You want to make sure the photos you’re capturing are a great foundation for the editing you’re going to be doing to them. Rather than them already looking stylised or filtered before you’ve laid a single finger on them. If you give your images a steady base, that is consistent and well-captured, then you’re going to have a much smoother editing process.
Standing Subjects Too Close to the Background
Finding a dynamic background to photograph is incredible. Whether it’s a classic brick wall, or a row of houses or cute storefront. But a beginner photography mistake that I’ve seen a lot of people (and myself included) make, is standing your subject too close to the background.
I spoke in this post about the importance of photographic layers, and by distinguishing a foreground, subject and background, your images pop and are a lot more dynamic than not. If you take the time to shoot a variation where your subject takes a few steps away from your backdrop, then you’ll see a natural blurring of that back layer which will bring a much sharper focus on the subject you’re capturing.
Of course, if you’re going for the effect of everything being compressed into one layer – then you do you and I’m sure it will look great – but if you’re not, this is a great little rule to remember.
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Not Learning How to Shoot in Manual Mode
I’m all for making the most out of aperature priority if you’re in a rush, but from a photographic point of view, you’re missing a lot of great opportunities by neglecting to learn how to shoot with your camera in manual mode. There are so many incredible capabilities hidden away to help you in your menu, and not figuring them out can make life a lot harder for yourself.
In fact, a lot of camera settings are specifically designed to make the shooting process either (zebras and focus peaking, I’m looking at you), so if you’re not taking advantage of the ability to use both, you could be doing yourself a disservice.
This is not my harping on saying that you should only ever shoot manual. But, having knowledge of what manual features your camera has, will in turn help you shoot more effectively.
Forgetting to Alter the White Balance in Different Scenarios
This one is “me” all over. The amount of times I go from one scenario to the next and completely forget to alter my white balance is alarming. In fact, I usually stare at my images for a second or two in boyish wonder over how weird the colours look before I realise that, of course, I’ve gone and done it again. If you’re part of the camp to set your white balance on auto and go, that’s totally fine. In fact, that’s a great work around if you’re constantly forgetting – and the camera will probably get you 70% of the way there at least.
Unfortunately, I was taught over and over again to always set my white balance custom, and as hard as I’ve tried to shake it, I still find myself preferring to dial it in than let the camera decide it for me. This is more prevalent when shooting video. As white balances are a lot harder to correct in post-production with video than they are when shooting photos.
This is probably the most basic beginner photography mistake, but it’s one to try and watch out for.
Shooting in Anything Other Than RAW
If you’re looking to edit your photos on anything other than your phone, I’d try to steer clear of shooting in jpeg. I say that, because I’m (pretty sure) that you can’t yet transfer RAW files from in-camera to a phone, but if I’m wrong then I’m more than happy to be corrected. The amount of information that you lose when restricting your file format to jpeg is pretty intense, and if you’re after a pretty filter – or blowing your photos up – then I’d always recommend RAW as the way to go.
I totally get how the file size, and management, can be labourious – but if you’ve already put in the investment of a camera and equipment, it’s 100% worth it. You can return to your RAWs at any time or date and re-edit them all over again. And if you’ve made any mistakes in camera (like not altering your white balance) then you have access to that raw information to correct them on a much larger scope than if you were editing in jpeg.
This is one of those mistakes that everybody warns others about, and for good reason. If jpeg is your thing – then have at it, but if you’re starting out and not sure – shoot RAW!
And there you have it! These are the mistakes that we all make, but are best to be avoided if you can help it. I’ve really enjoyed posting more photography-centric posts lately, and you can check them all out here.
Which photography mistakes are you guilty of making?
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