Five Photography Bad Habits to Quit Today

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We can find ourselves pretty wrapped up in photography bad habits or behaviours long before we realize that maybe we should be trying to find another way. Sometimes, you don’t even see them and, if you’re lucky, you’ll have a friend who can kindly point them out. So let’s take a look today and see if I can be the friend who says, “ahem…you’ve got toilet paper on your shoe.”

Update: Check out our followup post with 5 GOOD habits that you will want to start doing right away.

Five Photography Bad Habits to Quit Today

1. Hesitation

A habit you may find yourself in is hesitation. Hesitating too long in a situation can prevent you from getting that perfect shot. You may be hesitating for a couple different reasons:

Hesitating can mean the difference between catching or missing moments of emotion.

Hesitating can mean the difference between catching or missing moments of emotion.

Fear of what people think

You may be concerned about what people think. Are you feeling the urge to take a shot of your crying child? Those are completely valid moments that need to be captured from time to time. Or perhaps it’s a street shot of a perfect stranger and you hesitate just a split-second too long because you’re feeling vulnerable and on-stage.

One of the best street photography series I’ve ever seen is the Zack Arias #de_VICE series. Even just now looking for that link and scanning over the shots again…they give me goosebumps. Zack made the images with a Fuji x100 camera which has a 23mm fixed lens (this is equivalent to 35mm on a cropped sensor camera). So you know he had to get really super, uncomfortably close, to those strangers to get those shots. He didn’t hesitate. Uncomfortable moments are over in a split second, but these images last forever, have the potential to change lives and get conversations going which would never otherwise have happened. It’s because of Zack’s series that I think twice about pulling out my device at inappropriate times (like eating out with my family). Further reading: 7 steps to get over the fear of street photography and Photographers: Embrace the Awkward Moment

Not being ready

Not having your camera ready can make you hesitate. You may not have it up and ready in shooting position (Jasmine Star talks about that in this video) or you may not have your settings right. Set your camera for the situation so you’re ready to shoot, but if your surroundings are constantly changing, then you have a couple options.

  1. You can shoot in auto or a semi-manual mode. I personally love aperture mode. This means you set the aperture and the camera meters the light for your shutter speed. While shooting in full manual is always preferable, doing what you need in order to get your shot is paramount, so do what it takes in terms of your settings to prevent hesitation.
  2. Shooting in RAW also helps you have a wider range of options in post-production so you can recover poorly exposed shots.

Further reading: The Introvert Photographer (in this post I talk about my use of semi manual shooting modes).

2. ISO too low

A pretty nasty habit to kick can be using too low of an ISO setting. Many photographers say they did such-and-such because they “couldn’t take their ISO above 800”. The fear of using a high enough ISO can be pretty strong and lead you to get blurry shots from a shutter speed that is too slow, or even prevent you from trying to get a shot altogether. A few reasons you want to kick this habit today:

  • You may be surprised at how high you can actually push your camera. If you have a good ‘fast’ lens (one that handles a wide aperture), make every use you can of its capabilities. Then take your ISO as high as you need to get the shot.
  • Post editing software these days can minimize the noise resulting from extremely high ISO amazingly well.
  • Grain/noise isn’t totally bad. For some photographers, it’s actually desirable. Many of us actually add more grain. So if you have a high ISO shot that would look beautiful edited in B&W, try that out and visualize all that noise as beautiful grain.

Now, there’s this thing out there about how sensors in full frame cameras produce less noise. It was this idea that stopped me from taking my cropped sensor camera to the high ISO I often needed, because it wasn’t a full frame camera. But when I did get a full frame camera, I did some cropped sensor vs full frame ISO comparisons and was really surprised to find that there wasn’t a difference substantial enough to have warranted all my worries.

5-habits-image-600px

ISO 4000 and still nice and smooth

3. Pixel peeping

A great subject to talk about next is the bad habit of pixel peeping, because it may be one of the reasons you’re afraid of shooting at high ISO numbers. If you blow your shots up to 100% in your computer and cry, “Oh, the noise! THE NOISE!” then you may be a bonafide pixel peeper. Unless you’re printing those shots to fit on the side of a bus, there’s no need to analyze every single pixel. This is what I suggest for recovering pixel peepers:

  • Stop zooming to 100% (1:1 in Lightroom). Fill your screen when editing, but resist the urge to inspect at 100%. Keep your finished product in mind and stick to that as your frame of reference.
  • Find an image that makes you have a pixel peeping meltdown and do a test print. Print it quite large (like 16×24) and when it comes in, you may be pleasantly surprised at how great it looks.
  • If you’re taking shots for the web, then you have even more of a reason to chill out. Many unprintable shots can still look great online.

One of the reasons you may be blowing up your images in the first place is that this is what camera manufacturers do to show you how great their next model is and why you should buy it. Before embarking on heavy duty shooting of my own, I was shopping for gear and every time I looked at camera specs or reviews, they were filled with zoomed in portions of images. These images are used to say “look how awesome your next camera could be!” so naturally, we may feel that this is also the right way to be judging our photography. But please…quit this habit, because those images have nothing to do with photography and everything to do with cameras.

4. Luck shooting

Yes, I’m looking at you, Mr. and Mrs. Spray-and-Pray. We’ve all been guilty of switching off our brains and shooting like crazy, just hoping for something ‘good’ to be in there when we get home to our computers. Yes, you can physically create images this way. The same way you can plop a paint covered baby on a canvas and allow them to create ‘art’. The baby doesn’t know how he’s doing it and won’t be able to do it again. But hey, he did and that’s all that matters, right? Not exactly.

There are a few problems with this habit and so here’s why you want quit it today:

  • You won’t know how you got those shots
  • …so you won’t be able to recreate them. This isn’t as large a problem in personal shooting as it will be if you’re trying to charge for your services or start a business. Your clients will be depending on your ability to give them what you gave everyone else.
  • Part of your journey as an artist is harnessing something from within and bringing this out into the world. Photography can be one of the ways this happens, but unless what you have inside of you is to let out chaos, shooting like this isn’t a way to create.
  • When you spray and pray you can’t recreate the process. I’ve said this already (it’s that important) but another reason this isn’t good is that it isn’t honest. Harnessing your camera as a tool (as a painter does a paint brush) give you a powerful edge as an artist. You should be controlling your camera, not the other way around.

This habit isn’t too hard to kick once you acknowledge that you have it. Further reading: 5 ways to stop being a luck photographer and start taking pictures on purpose.

5. Editing everything

We can all be guilty of taking too many shots. That will change as you get further along in your journey. But one thing you can change today is the compulsion to actually edit every single shot. Here’s what you can do to kick that habit:

  • Cull your images. I do this in Lightroom. I keep my left finger on the ‘x’ key and my right on the ‘>’ key. I go along and hit ‘x’ for any shot that isn’t a keeper, then ‘>’ to move to the next image. I have far more of these rejects than I do keepers. After you’ve chosen them all, sort to show the rejects only, do a select all (control/command+A) and hit “delete”. This will give you the option to just remove your images from LR or delete them completely. I delete completely to save space.
  • After you cull, go through and do it again.
  • And then do it one more time. Now, you’ll have a good set of keepers to edit.
  • Trust me. Once you’ve gotten rid of those shots, they will no longer exist in your mind. When you focus on your keepers, the other ones no longer have a hold on you. I can say that there isn’t one single image I’ve culled away that I can remember. There are no regrets. I’m not mourning any lost images.

Of all the habits listed here, this one may be the hardest to quit. Deleting images always hurts a little. I get a twinge in my chest when I do it, but I know from experience that it’s completely necessary to give you a concentrated body of amazing work. You can do it!

Summary and comments

Think you can lick these five photography bad habits?  What other bad habits have you hooked? Surely, there are more than just five!

How do you banish them forever? Share your tips in the comments below.

Update: Check out our followup post with 5 GOOD habits that you will want to start doing right away.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Elizabeth Halford is a Hampshire Photographer and keeps a rockin' photography blog where she writes about photography and business in "real.plain.english".

  • Photohak

    after more than one hundred thousand shots, i have learned to select the last one in a series first for post production, why? because thats the shot I was trying to get…the others can waste away somewhere in my archive or image dump.

  • John A

    I’ve just read through this again now it’s been re-posted, and I’m
    astonished at the level of misunderstanding by many commenters, and most
    specifically by Christine. If you carefully read what Gareth is saying,
    he knows that the camera has a reflected light meter and that an
    incident meter is different; he knows that there is no magic associated
    with Aperture priority, and he has tried over and over to explain that
    using Aperture priority plus exposure compensation can achieve the same
    results as manual mode, most of the time, and with the right knowledge.
    (And yes, if motion is an important factor in the photo, then we might
    choose Shutter Priority plus exposure compensation.) He also admits that
    there are circumstances where manual is best, but that for *most* of
    the time, Aperture Priority (plus exposure compensation, where needed)
    will get you where you want to be. It’s not an opinion, it’s a fact, and
    if you don’t understand why, then you probably have more learning to
    do.

    To quote (without permission) from Joe McNally, who knows a bit about light and exposure :

    “I
    am in Aperture Priority 90-plus percent of the time…” “I am
    occasionally in manual exposure mode, say, when in a dark room…” “But I
    tell ya, if you only use these cameras in manual mode because you
    ‘don’t trust the camera,’ or you ‘don’t trust the meter,’ then you are
    taking a souped-up Ferrari and driving it like the little old lady going
    to church on Sunday.”

    Go back and *carefully* read what Gareth is saying. He’s right.

  • John Christopher Yapchapco

    I love the last part, cull the images, until you have the keepers.

  • cjs711

    I learned this exact same system in art school and it is still the best there is. Only caveat is this, that I learned the hard way. Don’t ACTUALLY delete your rejects until your job is done and your client has approved it. You never know when they might ask for some moment you didn’t like but that’s important to them, or the image has some piece you need to splice onto another. But the numbering- yes. Only way to go.

  • cjs711

    Exactly why these blanket statements can be misleading and confusing to people starting out. Shooting continuous while a person is talking or singing is another instance. Very hard to get the exact moment when their mouth is in just the right form. You can easily think you got it and then look at the frame later and it looks like they’re saying, “Sh*T!” or some other unwelcome possibility. Pro sports shooters are another group that typically shoots burst, which is why a camera’s fps rate matters a great deal to them. So again, these blanket statements need qualifications or exceptions listed. As you saw with “Manual mode” there are so many ways photographers can view/misunderstand/interpret the advice, including simply splitting hairs and arguing semantics.

  • Claude

    Thank you for this nice article. Although it depends on the single photographer there sure are some helpful guidelines here.

    I recently shot an interview with a Canon 7D with the 50/1.8 and the Olympus Pen E-P1 with the Panasonic 18/1.7 for wider shots as the interview took place in a corner of a restaurant. The Olympus is from the very first generation of micro four thirds mirrorless cameras and for today’s measures not the best in the high ISO range. Yet there were just some shots I really wanted and I boosted that thing up to ISO1600 I think. Yes, in a 100% crop they look awful, yes for a huge ad it won’t suffice. But they appeared in an online article and look perfectly fine for my taste. They capture the emotion, regardless of the noise/grain.

    You can see the series here if you like: http://www.vice.com/alps/read/vice-es-ist-schluss-mit-der-kultur-kuschelei-911

  • wonderdude

    Good stuff!
    Minor tech point, but the nerd in me is compelled to question, “…a Fuji x100 camera which has a 23mm fixed lens
    (this is equivalent to 35mm on a cropped sensor camera).”
    The Fuji X100 is a cropped sensor camera. Shouldn’t it read, “equivalent to 35mm on a full-frame sensor camera?”

  • Kay O. Sweaver

    A little note on editing. Personally I don’t delete photos. I rank them, and hide the ones I’m not currently interested in, but I don’t delete them.

    There have been a number of times where I’ve gone through my photos years later and discovered that one of my “rejects” was actually an amazing shot. As I learn more about what kinds of images I can create and how to post-process some of my old photos gain new life.

    Also, what’s boring or silly today could turn out to be poignant and powerful twenty years from now. What if that flower girl becomes the next Lady Gaga? What if that style of architecture suddenly becomes historically interesting or that block is destroyed in an earthquake? So many things can happen over the span of time, you can’t predict which photos will suddenly become important. That’s why I keyword the heck out of ’em and don’t delete them.

  • Thank you!

  • Saso Stojanovski

    Gareth, recently I started shooting in manual but with auto iso. So far thats the best mode and as fast as a, s or p mode.this gives you a desired dof, blur/freeze and a nice histogram. If I want to shoot somehing special like the milky way or use the flash I just turn off auto iso and set everything manually.

  • hector hernandez

    What a great post!

  • You can get blur / freeze and a nice histogram in every mode. With auto ISO you’re letting the camera make a big decision on the final image quality. Dynamic range reduces, and noise increases, as you increase the ISO.

  • Merlin Sabbat

    I’m guilty of ISO phobia.
    I take 20 to 30 minute exposures of the night skies and it drives me crazy to see the noise, It was recommended to shoot at 64000, but when I sample an image at that setting, the stars fade into the noise. So, I shoot around ISO 800 to 1250. ( 14mm /f2.8 ) and edit in Adobe Lightroom 5.7

  • Andy

    #1 is huge and something I have a problem with but am trying to work on. Just the other day I was relaxing in bed and noticed a HUGE rainbow forming outside. I thought “meh, by the time I get to the scenic overlook (10 minute drive from my house) it’ll be gone, why bother?” Well it lasted 30 minutes :/ I could’ve driven out there and gotten some great shots.

  • Bill Gillooly

    Tell my niece who shoots 1,500 pictures to get one, but I’m a bad guy because I encouraged editing.

  • Isabelle Saint-Pierre

    Overall a good article, but I hate when advice is given as an absolute…

    One thing with the pixel peeping is it depends on the end use of the image. I shoot stock photography and print very large poster size prints both of which razor sharp images are vital. An image that’s not razor sharp will get rejected by stock houses (those that are curated anyways) and make lousy large prints, so in these situations pixel peeping is vital. Also too much noise in images for these uses makes them unusable. The important thing is to know your camera’s ISO noise levels for each ISO and use an ISO appropriate for the images end use. My Canon 6D I feel comfortable using up to ISO 1600, 3200 if it means the difference between getting the shot or not; my old Canon T3i, I won’t go above ISO 800 period.

    Saying don’t do X is wrong. Know your camera, how it works, what the end use of your image is, and think for yourself…

  • Jaime Black

    Also a good way to discover that your focus was off, and thats why the shot doesn’t look right to you! agreed though, that viewing at 1:1 is just for inspection and sharpening/noise red., and not for normal editing.

  • Tim Lowe

    Yup
    Yup
    Yup
    Yup
    Yup

    Anything else?

  • Michael_in_TO

    Gareth is making some excellent points here folks—like it or not. (and I think he’s listening).

    Here’s where the difference lies:

    If you actually take into consideration that the camera has NO IDEA at what you’re pointing, you can achieve consistently excellent results ONLY by understanding the difference between what you see and what your camera WANTS to see. A meter strives to provide a neutral capture of lights and darks….medium if you will. But if your subject is backlit, you need to compensate for the meter’s ignorance—-over expose (beyond the recommendation of your meter) to be able to expose your subject and yes, over expose (even make too bright) the light source to achieve your desired result—in this case the backlit subject.

    If you shoot on a ski hill and you want white snow (your meter wants to see neutral balance between lights and darks—-and on a ski hill there is no balance)…so the meter says “stop down…too bright” and YOU have to know—-as an artist OR technician—-you need to over expose or guess what—you get GREY snow.

    So the point Gareth is making (correctly I might add) is being in control of your camera means knowing when your meter is being fooled. You can correctly expose equally quickly with compensation while in Aperture Priority mode as you can in Manual. People tell you Manual is better so you learn to see instead of blindly trusting the meter. I learned to shoot film 40 years ago without benefit of an LCD on the back of your camera (back then, there WAS NO “auto” until let’s just say (one of) the first mainstream cameras with Auto—the Canon AE-1 appeared.)

    I shoot for a living. I almost NEVER shoot manual except when I’m in studio using strobes. Why? Because Aperture or Shutter priority modes mean when you’re moving your finder around to capture a multitude of angles and scenarios, your camera modifies your exposure without you CONSTANTLY LOOKING AT “THE NEEDLE”. The result? YOU GET THE SHOT. And what is more important, you SEE the shot, not the meter. You have the benefit of “the decisive moment” because you don’t have to move your aperture or shutter 1.5 stops…your fancy computer-enabled camera has already done it faster than you can blink.

    Manual is GREAT for beginners…and I say have at ‘er. Good for you. Learn. Absorb. Pay attention. Understand what’s happening. (I know “photographers” who’ve never heard the word “aperture”.) You new folks while learning ALSO have the benefit of INSTANT feedback with an LCD. Great!!! Shot’s dark…adjust and re-shoot.

    But please do not assume I (or anyone else) need Manual to shoot well. I see everything and compensate on the fly because I have DECADES in the viewfinder and DECADES in both darkrooms and Photoshop. You can see some stuff here (as I put my money where my mouth is https://500px.com/hopeshots)

    Meantime. Elizabeth! Thank you so much for taking the time to write this post; to share valuable insights and to put up with all this nonsense that occurred when the battle of the mode occurred. I think your points are excellent and very helpful. Bravo!

    Good shooting everyone. Compensate well!

  • Michael_in_TO

    No difference here. You either notice on the meter that you need to adjust for the 1/10 or you notice your shutter speed is going to be 1/10 and you adjust. This is an absolutely invalid point. If you were in manual, you’d just get a dark shot. What’s the difference. BOTH scenarios require an adjustment. In Shutter priority you would run out of aperture based on your lens. Please Leyden. You have to see this. This WHOLE argument is pointless.

  • Cuttie2b

    I’m happy I read this! It’s exactly what I needed to see right now in my journey. Thank you. That’s all I have to say!

  • sally wallis

    Sometimes oversharpening can work really well in an art shot, but like everything it’s horses for courses. I sometimes deliberately over edit in order to achieve the effect I want.

  • Rob

    Spray and Pray is not always a bad thing. My daughters grad involved a dark venue, I got many decent shots but the one ‘WOW’ shot came when she was walking to exit the stage. I flipped to rapidfire and manually focused as she walked. Just as she looked down to the stairs, one of the rapid fire shots was that rare ‘keeper’ shot. The other parents were just the right level of blur and out of focus. She was perfectly focused as the main subject, the lighting on her face and the expression all came together.
    Yes, I love when a planned purposeful shot works out and have spent considerable time capturing those moments, but when these ‘happy accident’ shots happen, it’s actually even more rewarding.

  • Seven Dair

    6. While variety is the spice of life and incorporating some can improve your skills broadly it does fall into the jack of all trades master of nothing syndrome. in order to get good at something a human needs to focus on it( no pun intended) not spread yourself out thinly.
    7 Everyone loves new toys for the same variety is the spice reason. But the reality is you do not need five lenses, three camera bags or even the latest camera body. If you think creatively and can problem solve you can capture your subject with one lens and body only in almost any condition with any camera as long as it functions the way it’s supposed to. Otherwise you are just another consumer with deep pockets.
    8 I find that many photographers just shoot what is in front of them and don’t give any thought as to why they are shooting it. More often than not shooting what they think others or the world will think is cool/great and not at all considering what and why something inspires them. This introspectiveness is the single most important factor in creating anything at all, from creating a work of art to creating dinner to creating a baby. When you remove the desire to be accepted by others (in your photographic work) your work ultimately becomes authentic.

  • Nici

    I more or less know what i want to achieve when taking a shot and some are good and some are bad when they’re good i tend to wonder “how did I get this right” luck shooting is always sort of at the back of my mind… maybe I get it right and maybe I don’t and that’s not something I’m comfortable about, cause what if the one I really want as a keeper turns out to be a no-no…. I’m still shooting in “trial and error” mode and i tend to re-act overhasty when taking a shot like there will never be a second chance. Sometimes its true, it’s a one of occasion, especially with moving subjects. Which I knew how to make ever shot count, but isn’t that just wishful thinking?? Anyone out there who can relate to this scenario?

  • Roberto

    Yep, but it’s slower, and it just depends on where and what and how you’re photographing. In a studio it’s easier to use manual, you have time to set up everything correctly. If you’re doing street photography, you don’t have much time between taking your camera and clicking. It’s like cars manual vs auto, at first the automatic transmition sucked or were not efficient, now it’s a different scenario.

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