5 common mistakes beginner photographers make (and how to fix them)


[Feature photo: David Martyn Hunt]

I learned photography by myself and often missed some amazing opportunities because of common mistakes I could have avoided.

Here is a list of the top 5 mistakes that I’ve made and how to easily fix them.

1. Not taking enough photos

In the age of digital photography, taking images is free.

One important thing I’ve learned during my early days, is that it’s better to have too many photos of a specific subject than not enough. I’ve often snapped one or two images of one scene and moved on, which often led to disappointment later while browsing through my images.

Solution: Once you take the shots you want, walk around, look behind you, try different angles, try different settings, be patient and wait a while to see if something happens. You’ll have a lot more options to choose from when editing your images.

2. Lack of subject or point of interest

When capturing landscape images or street scenes, a common mistake I made was to try to include too much information and forget to focus on one subject or point of interest.

Many of my landscape scenes were too boring and lacked a point of interest, and most of my street shots were extremely cluttered and appeared confusing to my viewers.

Solution: When taking landscape shots, don’t just focus on the entire scene, but find a point of interest such as an interesting rock in the foreground, or an element that stands out to grab the viewer’s attention. And when it comes to street photography, keep it simple and remove any unnecessary information from your frame to avoid confusing the viewer. Make sure your subject is clear and stands out against the rest of the scene.

3. Not paying attention to the background

Similar to the above mistake, I sometimes focused too much on a specific subject that I didn’t pay any attention to the background. This often resulted in having colorful trashcans distracting the viewer or branches and poles growing out of people’s heads. The only solution was to either spend hours cloning them out in Photoshop or completely discard the images.

Solution: Pay close attention to your subject, but never forget to pause for a moment and check the background and edges of your frame. If there are distracting elements, either go remove them, or change your angle. Make sure nothing is pulling the attention away from your subject or creeping in from the edges of your frame.

4. Poor lighting

One of the most important elements of photography is light. The direction, quality, and quantity of light all play an important role in how images are going to turn out.

A common belief when I first started was that the best time to photograph is during midday, when there’s plenty of light available. In reality, midday light is considered a difficult lighting condition and is often avoided by many photographers. The harsh sunlight tends to wash out colors and creates dark shadows that are often unflattering, especially when taking portraits.

Solution: During midday shoot indoors, in the shade, or make the most of overcast days. The cloud cover acts like a giant softbox and softens the harsh light.

Most importantly, take advantage of the “golden hour” when the sun is low in the sky and casts a warm light over the landscape. Pay attention to the direction of the light and how the shadows create a sense of depth in your images.

5. Over-processing images

Post-processing is an important part of the photographic process, especially when shooting in RAW. Cameras never capture the scene exactly the way we see it so we use software such as Lightroom or Photoshop to make the most out of our images.

However, it’s easy to go overboard and end up with unnatural looking and over-saturated images after spending a long time moving sliders around to achieve new effects.

Solution: Start with basic editing such as contrast and saturation adjustment. Just these two sliders can already make a dull image stand out. Don’t forget to take a break for a few hours after editing to clear your mind and come back with fresh eyes. Once you get comfortable with basic editing you can try more complex processing such as HDR, but avoid pushing sliders too far and ending up with psychedelic images.

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