Every photographer messes up, no matter their level of experience. But when you’re just starting out, it’s easier to make certain beginner mistakes over and over again – the kind of mistakes that are incredibly easy to avoid, if only you knew what they were and how to fix them!
In this article, I share the 10 most common photography mistakes made by beginners, covering gear, settings, composition, and more. If you’re ready to get rid of those pesky mistakes once and for all – so you can start capturing consistently great images – then let’s dive right in!
1. Centering everything
When you’re just starting out, it’s often tempting to place everything in the center of your images. People, trees, buildings, and even horizon lines; it all gets positioned smack-dab in the middle of the frame.
But while centering the main subject can sometimes work, it usually doesn’t. The problem is that a centered subject cuts the image in half and leaves people confused and unsure of which half of the shot to focus on. Additionally, a centered image can look rather static and boring.
So instead of positioning your subjects in the center of your compositions, try using the rule of thirds, which encourages you to put your main subject a third of the way into the frame. This will give you an image that feels balanced, but it will be far more dynamic and engaging.
The rule of thirds isn’t foolproof, but it works on most subjects in most situations. Don’t believe me? Try it out and see what you get!
2. Including distractions in the frame
It’s easy to be pulled into a scene by a compelling main subject, such as a gorgeous silhouette, a beautiful building, or a vibrant flower – but no matter how breathtaking your main subject, you should also pay careful attention to the other objects in the frame.
You see, without meaning to, beginners often include other elements in the frame that take the focus off the main subject (things like bushes, lampposts, passersby, etc.). Don’t give your subject so much attention that you don’t take the time to look around it. Instead, before pressing the shutter button, make sure you do a quick review of the frame. If there are any distracting elements, adjust your angle or your framing until they disappear!
3. Cutting things off at the edge of the frame
It is amazing how easy it is to cut off key elements – such as a person’s feet – without realizing that you’ve messed up. These little things aren’t often apparent until they’re pointed out, but once you’ve been made aware, it’s often impossible to ever unsee them!
Cutting off key image components is a very typical thing that newbies do. It may not be the feet; it could be someone’s hand or the top of their head. It can happen in architecture and landscapes, too; you’ll photograph a church but cut off the tips of its spires, or you’ll truncate the top of a tree.
Fixing this common photography mistake is all all about learning to identify your subject and make sure they’re completely within the boundaries of the frame. If you can’t fit your entire subject in the shot, then you’ll need to make decisions about what you want to include and what you want to crop. Note that it is possible to successfully crop off part of a subject, but you have to do it carefully so it looks deliberate!
4. Believing that it’s all about the camera
“I bought this fantastic camera and I paid a lot of money for it, but my photos don’t look great.” It’s a very common line among beginners, who often assume that if you own a good camera, you’ll automatically take amazing photos. However, this is simply not the case.
Having a great camera won’t make up for a lack of solid technique, compositional skills, or understanding of light. When doing photography, it’s the person behind the lens that’s responsible for most of the success or failure; a camera is simply a tool that helps them achieve your creative vision.
So don’t rely solely on your gear, and don’t get frustrated if your equipment isn’t getting you the photos you imagined. Capturing great images takes hard work, and if you want to get amazing results, you’ll need to put in some serious effort. (Reading this article is a good start!)
5. Only photographing a subject from a common viewpoint
Every subject has its conventional viewpoints. People, landmarks, and buildings are generally photographed from the front, the Grand Canyon is generally photographed from the same handful of overlooks, and so on.
There’s nothing wrong with capturing a conventional image of a subject, but if you only ever take the clichéd shot, you’ll never end up with anything original. So instead of capturing a single shot of your subject before moving on, spend some time approaching it from various angles. Walk around it, get down low, find a vantage point and shoot from up high, zoom in close.
As you take more shots, you’ll start to see what works and what doesn’t. And while you won’t come home with a hundred keepers, you’ll end up with some shots that are completely unique and totally yours.
6. Shooting on Auto mode
Auto mode basically tells your camera to handle everything for you, including focusing and exposure settings. When you’re just getting started with photography, this can be helpful, especially if you simply want to capture some nice shots of your family that you can hang on the wall or share on social media.
But as you become more serious, it’s important to learn how to adjust your settings manually. Aperture Priority mode, for instance, will let you set your ISO and aperture while your camera “completes” the exposure by choosing a shutter speed. It’s a great mode if you’re hoping to understand various camera settings, and I highly recommend it for beginners looking to really level up their shooting.
Why is it important to take control of your settings? While your camera generally does a good job, it can’t read your mind, so it doesn’t know the precise effects that you’re after. By dialing in various settings manually, you can ensure that each image reflects the shot that you imagined!
7. Forgetting to reset the controls
This mistake is made by tons of photographers, and not just beginners; even professionals still mess this one up from time to time!
You see, it’s common to head out with your camera and take some photos while making settings adjustments for the subjects and the lighting scenarios you encounter.
But then, the next time you go to shoot, you forget that you tweaked various settings. Maybe the ISO was far too high or the aperture was extremely wide, but whatever it is, when you get back home, you realize that none of your photos turned out looking nice because the settings were wrong.
I was photographing a four-day event a few years back, and I couldn’t work out why some of my photos were really overexposed while some were really dark. It took nearly three days to realize it was because my camera was set to its auto bracketing (AEB) mode! I had previously been bracketing my shots and had forgotten all about it.
My advice here is to always put your settings back to a “default” at the end of each photoshoot. If you raised the ISO, put it back down to its base value. If you widened the aperture, set it to f/8. If you lowered the shutter speed for a long exposure, set it to 1/250s or thereabouts.
And then, when you start a new shoot, always take a moment to check the camera settings. Make sure you know the camera mode, the aperture, the ISO, the shutter speed, the focus mode, and more. That way, you’ll never accidentally ruin your photos because you left your camera on a bad setting.
8. Never turning the camera vertically
One thing I often notice with new photographers? They only use the camera in landscape mode. In other words, they never seem to consider turning their camera up to the side for a vertical shot.
This isn’t a huge deal – after all, you can capture plenty of great horizontal shots – but it can be somewhat limiting. Variety is the spice of life, and it can be helpful to include some portrait-orientation shots in your portfolio for variety’s sake. Plus, some subjects actually benefit from the vertical orientation.
So when you’re next taking photos, make sure you test out both the portrait orientation and the landscape orientation before shooting. (And if you’re not sure which is best, try both options and see how they turn out.)
9. Not asking for help
Capturing great photos is hard. Even if you’re afraid of looking foolish or getting rejected, you should never be afraid to ask for help. Email your favorite photographers and ask their advice. Join online discussion groups and speak to like-minded shooters. Go to in-person photography events and ask for advice.
Generally, photographers are more than happy to help someone who wants to learn! You shouldn’t badger them with too many questions, of course, but asking a few questions isn’t going to hurt.
It might sound dramatic, but if you’re taking photos and you run into an issue – your images are all over- or underexposed, you can’t get the focus to work properly, or your camera’s LCD screen is black – don’t panic. There is almost certainly a very reasonable explanation for what is going on, and if you take the proper troubleshooting steps, you’ll have things fixed in no time at all.
A friend was telling a story about how she was in a cathedral taking photos, and they were all turning out black. She started to panic and couldn’t work out why. Once she calmed down, she realized it was because her ISO was too low.
Whenever you’re in a confusing situation, take a deep breath and calmly check your camera settings. Make sure your camera is set to the right mode, has good exposure settings, has an effective focus setting, etc. Just take the time to think it all through, and you’ll work it out!
Common photography mistakes: final words
If you’re just starting out with your camera – or even if you’re a veteran shooter – you’re probably making a few of the mistakes I’ve listed above.
So identify the problem, then take steps to correct it! That way, your photos will look better, and you’ll be able to rest easy knowing that your photos look that much better.
Now over to you:
Which of these mistakes do you make? Do you have any other beginner mistakes we missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!