12 Common Newbie Photography Mistakes to Avoid

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12 Common Newbie Photography Mistakes to Avoid

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None of us are perfect and we all make mistakes. While some photographers might be naturally gifted, and just do amazing work from the moment a camera is put into their hands, that is not the case for most of us. Chances are, if you are new to photography, you are going to muck things up. You shouldn’t feel bad however, as you can be sure that many newbies have done exactly the same things. Here are a number of very common mistakes that new photographers make. Learn to avoid them, and you will improve your images.

1 – Centering everything in your images

The horizon line is right in the middle, cutting the image in two.

The horizon line is right in the middle, cutting the image in two.

When most of us look back at our early images, we usually see the horizon line placed very much in the middle of the image (see photo above). This is one of the most common mistakes new photographers make when they start. Sometimes it’s a good thing to do, but not always. The problem is that it cuts the image in half, and leaves people looking at the image, unsure of which half to look at, which is the intended subject.

When you take photos of landscapes, or anything with a horizon line, it is best to put the horizon on one of the third lines.The Rule of Thirds is one of the compositional guides for photography. As you get more into photography you will hear more and more about it.

With the horizon in the top third most of the ground is showing, telling the viewer what to look at.

With the horizon in the top third, more ground is showing than sky, telling the viewer where to look

It’s the same idea for your subjects. If you are photographing a person, put them to one side of the image, on one of the vertical third lines. Which line you use is up to you. Sometimes it is better to do both and see which one looks better. Experimenting is the key to getting great photographs.

2 – Taking attention away from the main focus in the image

Without meaning to, you may include something in your frame, that takes the focus off the main subject in the image – things like bushes, or a light post that is just a line through the image. It goes back to the previous point about giving your subject so much attention, that you aren’t taking the time to look around it.

3 – Cutting things off at the edge of the frame

It is amazing how many times you can look at someone’s photo and ask, “Why have you cut off their feet?” They then look back at you blankly, saying they had never noticed it before.

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Be careful not to cut off parts of limbs, like feet, when you are taking photos.

It is a very typical thing that newbies do. It may not be the feet, but it could be someone’s hand or the top of their head. It can happen in architecture and landscapes as well; the tip of a church dome will be missing, or the top of a tree.

It is all about learning to look at your subject and making sure you concentrate on getting them all in the frame. If you can’t fit them in the image, then you need to make decisions about what you will include, and what to crop off. Often if you take more than two thirds of a leg away it looks deliberate. If you only take one third away it looks like you weren’t paying attention.

Missing toes or feet.

Missing toes or feet.

Make sure to include feet.

Make sure to include feet.

4 – Thinking that having a great camera is enough

“I bought this fantastic camera and I paid a lot of money for it, but my photos don’t look great.” There is an assumption that if you have a good camera, you will automatically take amazing photos. This is not the case.

Just because you have a great camera, doesn’t mean you don’t need to learn photography. It is the person behind the lens that is responsible. If you see amazing photos by other photographers, that it is because they have learned about composition, and how to use their camera properly. Scroll to the bottom for links to more beginner articles to help you with this one.

5 – Not looking behind your subject

“Look at the tree coming out of that person’s head.” This similar to the previous point. You need to consider everything in the frame. You can usuallt remove the tree from their head by taking one or two steps to either side.

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Look behind your subjects and make sure there aren’t things like trees coming out of their heads.

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Slight camera reposition and no tree coming out of her head any more.

6 – Taking only photo of a subject and from a common viewpoint

We all see people who want to take photos of a building, they walk straight up to it, take one photo from the middle position, and that’s it.

Think about other angles you can use as well. Try moving to the left, the right, or both. Take some from low camera angles and then some standing up. As you take more shots, you will learn what works and what doesn’t. Again, it is all about experimenting.

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Taking a photo of a place by standing right in front of it. 

7- Having a really good camera and never learning how to use it properly

If you get an amazing camera that is capable of so many things, and never take it off auto, you are missing out on a lot. Learning to use your camera is one of things you can never regret. While you may be able to get some great photos with it on automatic, if you learn about aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, you will have more control over your images. It is usually something that no one is ever sorry about doing.

Once you have the basics worked out, you can then learn more advanced things like long exposures and HDR. The world of photography really opens up to you when you know how to use your camera to its full potential.

8 – Not giving your camera enough time

I was at an event once and I handed my camera over to friend to grab a few shots for me. When I got home and looked at the photos he had taken, they were all out of focus. I realized that he was pressing the shutter release without giving the camera time to focus properly.

You have to learn how to let the camera focus for you and give it time to do that. They are fast, but not always fast enough. The same goes with exposure, you have to give it the time to get the correct exposure. It doesn’t ask for a lot, so just give it the time it needs.

9 – Forgetting to check the settings you used the last time

It’s common for newbies to go out to take photos, making adjustments on their camera for what they are shooting at the time. But, the next time they go out to shoot, they forget to look at how the camera was set up. Afterwards, when they put the images on the computer, they realize they have lots of photos that didn’t turn out, because the camera settings were wrong for that subject or situation.

I was photographing a four day event a few years ago, and I couldn’t work out why some photos were really overexposed, while some were really dark. It took nearly three days to realize it was because my camera was set on auto bracketing (AEB). It was around that time I had just started taking photos at different exposures (bracketing) and had forgotten about it. Now I pick it up straight away.

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Checking your camera setting when you take photos in case the last time you were out your were underexposing or bracketing your images.

Always look at the settings you have on the camera. Check what the aperture is set to. Work out if you have it on manual, shutter priority, aperture priority or auto. Be aware of what the ISO is at all times. It is a good habit to get into, to check them all every time you start.

Make sure you have a memory card in the camera too. I have gotten into the habit of leaving the card out of my camera, and when I pack my gear to go somewhere, I put the card in the camera. It is part of my routine now, I also pack an extra as well.

10 – Never turning the camera vertically

One thing you often notice with new photographers is that they only use their camera in landscape mode. They never seem to consider turning their cameras up on the side, to shoot vertically. It isn’t always necessary to do so, but some subjects would benefit more from that orientation. When you are taking photos, try turning the camera into the portrait mode (vertical) and see if you can get a better image.

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Don’t always have your camera in landscape mode, like this image, turn the camera up into portrait mode as well.

Try vertical for a different perspective.

Try vertical for a different perspective.

11 – Not asking for help

You should never be afraid of asking for help. Generally, photographers are more than happy to help someone who wants to learn. Don’t badger people with too many questions, but asking a few questions isn’t going to hurt.

12 – Don’t panic

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.

If you get into a situation where your photos are not working, don’t panic. Think logically about it. In most cases it is going to be your aperture, shutter speed or ISO. Just take the time to think about them and check the settings. You will work it out.

Have fun

The best advice anyone can give you is to enjoy your time with your camera. Explore the world around you. Remember that the mistakes you make are being made by nearly everyone in your situation. You aren’t alone.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Leanne Cole is a fine art photographer based in Melbourne, Australia. She loves Melbourne and photographing it, along with other parts of the state. She likes doing architectural and environmental photography. You can find her on her website or on Instagram.

  • Sorry Lorri, I missed this before. I have to use autofocus too, for the same reason, but also because it is much faster than me. You’re welcome.

  • Very true and there are always new people who have never picked up a camera before. It is good to get information out for them that is easy to find. It is good that you enjoy your photo group, especially if they are supportive. Thank you.

  • rob Lamont

    I have owned this camera for a few years now and only recently discovered the diopter was adjustable. Think someone mentioned something about knowing your gear….. Guilty!

  • That seems to be the thing that most of us more experienced photographers still have trouble with. Thanks Jim.

  • Oh yes, I knew that, but I’ve had my camera for two years and just recently discovered how to change the focus settings, can make you feel very stupid at times.

  • Dre Mosley

    I did #1 a lot at first admittedly. Now I intentionally shoot off center.

    Was guilty of #8 too; I was quite trigger happy back then.

  • I think we all do that one Dre, I do the same. Haha, I have seen that with people when I look at their photos and they don’t realise that is why their photos are not in focus. Thanks for sharing your experiences Dre.

  • Most of these aren’t mistakes. “Don’t Panic” isn’t a mistake. Cutting things off is fine, every good photographer does it almost every shot. Rule of thirds is only for square aspect ratios, golden mean is for horizontal compositions. And never changing your aspect ratio isn’t a noob mistake, it’s what every film director ever does.

    *sigh*

  • Johnny C.

    Rule of thirds is not only for square aspect rations, it does apply to rectangular images also, don’t know where you heard that. Cinematographers use it when filming, just watch any movie and you will see it applied extensively.

  • Mary Toohey

    Years ago, I borrowed my dad’s camera for a holiday in New Zealand. I had used it at home but on the top of Coronet Peak in the South Island, I realised that I had no idea how to change the film. Thank God for Japanese tourists. A little group of them had the camera opened and new film in in no time.

  • Great story Mary, thank goodness you had lots of tourists around you. Thank you for sharing it.

  • Said commenter was banned, but thanks for your support.

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