How To Avoid Common Photography Mistakes

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How To Avoid Common Photography Mistakes

This blog post may contain affiliate links.  I may earn a small commission for any purchases made through these links. Click here for the disclosure statement.

All photos are original to the author unless otherwise noted. 

Person holding a camera

We all have to start somewhere and making mistakes is part of the learning process; that’s something you will learn to get comfortable with. Instead of feeling frustrated or feeling self-doubt, think about how you can learn from those mistakes and continue to improve. These common photography mistakes are ones every beginner photographer has made and are easy to fix once you can identify the problem.


Blurry Photos

The two most common reasons for blurry photos are camera shake and missed focus. Camera shake happens when you are holding the camera and the slight movement in your hand causes blur while the shutter is open. Missed focus can happen if you’re too close to the subject, you focused on the wrong part of the image, or your manual focus was off.

Next time a photo is blurry try these things to fix it:

  • Increase the shutter speed to 1/focal length to reduce camera shake

  • Lenses have a minimum focusing distance which is the shortest distance at which the lens can still focus so if your macro photos are blurry, try backing up. The minimum focusing distance on a macro lens might be less than 10 inches, but a telephoto lens may require 2 or more feet.

  • If you are shooting manual mode, the LCD screen may be deceptive because its small size lacks detail, and it’s harder to see minor focusing issues. In live view, mode zoom in the focal point to verify you are in focus.

  • Use a tripod, monopod, or other items to help stabilize the camera


Crooked Horizon Line

The most common mistake I see amateur photographers make is a crooked horizon, but it is also the easiest to fix. You can usually click the corners of your photo using a crop to straighten the horizon, Lightroom even has an auto straighten option that auto-detects the horizon.

Before and after comparison of corrected crooked horizon line of the sun rising in the mountains


No Clear Subject

Good photos guide the eye to the subject, too many distracting objects or no clear subject could confuse the viewer. There are several things that can ruin a photo such as cars, trash cans, people; these things distract from the subject and clutter the photo.

To eliminate distractions and clearly define the subject:

  • Pay attention to your surroundings and move yourself or the subject to get a better composition.
  • If moving isn’t a possibility, try using a wider aperture to blur out a distracting background.

  • Try different angles such as above or below so that distracting elements are not visible.


Under Or Over Post Processing

Taking the perfect photo that doesn’t require editing is rare, but the difference between too much post-processing and not enough is a fine line. Under editing can cause dull colors, crooked horizons, hard shadows, and a lack of detail, while over-processing can create unrealistic colors and textures.
To avoid over-processing while still giving the image the vibrance it needs, try using local adjustments to color, contrast, and exposure. In this example, the left photo looks murky, is dull, and the whites aren’t pure. The orange roofs on the right are overstated and unrealistic, and the whites are overblown.

German City used as an example of post processing photos


Taking Pictures From Too Far Away

Someone once told me “if you don’t like your photos, you aren’t close enough”; cluttered, uninteresting pictures could be you shot too from the subject and included elements that don’t add value to the image or too much empty space. It’s better to move physically closer, but zoom lenses are an excellent alternative if moving is not an option.


Avoiding Burst Mode

It is common practice to avoid the “spray and pray” method, so suggesting burst mode may sound contradictory, but there is a time and a place. Using burst mode with a purpose differs from the spray and pray method, which refers to taking an excessive amount of pictures, without thinking critically about each shot, and hoping for at least one good photo. 

When should you use burst mode?

  • when photographing fast-moving subjects such as wildlife or sports photography.

  • Bracket exposure uses burst mode to take three photos at three exposures, which is useful in blending the photos for an HDR image or effortlessly capturing “dark and moody” and “light and airy” photos.

  • Using three quick clicks to avoid blinking in portrait photography, especially for people who use a tripod to take pictures of themselves.

You should continue to think critically about your photos, understand your subject, and watch for the perfect moments, but when used correctly burst mode can help make sure you don’t miss amazing photo opportunities.


Cutting Off the Edge Of The Subject

Cutting off a sliver of the subject and supporting elements can look more like poor composition than an artistic style. It’s fine to crop the subject, but use the long shot, medium shot, closeup theory to help determine an appropriate place to crop and make it look intentional.

Photography Graphic of a blue heron to demonstrate long shot, medium shot, and close up
  • The long-shot captures the entire subject without excess space above or below the subject.
  • The medium-shot crops roughly half the subject or from the waist up on a person
  • Close-up shots crop most of the subject in order to emphasize the most important details

This method is more commonly used when photographing people but applies to any photography style. If an image awkwardly crops part of the subject, just crop the image to a tighter shot in post-processing.


Using Slow Memory Cards

For sports and wildlife photographers, the speed of an SD card matters. High-quality memory cards improve the read/write speed and allow photographers to use burst mode for longer periods of time. Not all types of photography need a fast SD card, but if you’re taking photos of moving objects, a quality memory card makes a difference.


Shooting Only At Eye Level

Eye-level photos are uninteresting because we see the world from that perspective every day. Provide viewers with a new perspective they are unlikely to see in everyday life.

  • shoot up from the ground
  • position the camera somewhere a human couldn’t reach, such as in tight places or through objects
  • Shoot from above. Use a drone, stand on a chair, place your hands above your head, or set the subject on the ground.

In the below example, I took the photos on the left at eye level. Notice how a fresh perspective makes the images on the right more unique and visually appealing.


High ISO That Causes Grainy Photos

One of the most ignored and misunderstood camera settings is ISO, the camera’s sensitivity to light. Cameras boast about their high ISO and low light performance, but ISOs greater than 800 begin to create noticeable digital noise and reduce image quality. The higher the ISO, the more prominent digital noise becomes. Understanding ISO can be intimidating, but a straightforward solution is to set auto ISO settings to not exceed a tolerable ISO setting and let the camera do the rest in auto mode.

Author Bio

Author Bio Image

Delaney is a Business Analyst by day and a travel and wildlife photographer by night who is using her skills for translating complex technical language into easy to understand concepts to make photography achievable at all skill levels. You have questions; she has answers.

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