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10 Common Photography Mistakes and How to Overcome Them

You’ve got your DSLR and you are excited to test it out. You might have gone out for the first few days or perhaps weeks and then all of a sudden the excitement wears out. Why?

Because you don’t seem to get what you want out of your mighty DSLR, right? You may have spent countless hours in your college, office, or at home in search of a best DSLR that can take the best photographs you want. All your efforts have gone in vein and you have a frustrating backlog of your actual work.

Next time you feel such frustration about your photography remember this quote:

“You will only fail to learn if you do not learn from failing.” – Stella Adler, The Art of Acting

So, get ready to learn about the 10 common photography mistakes that you may have committed and how to overcome them.

1. Wrong White Balance (WB)

The first and foremost mistake is setting the wrong White Balance. We see white as white under all lighting conditions, but the camera doesn’t. You have to guide the camera to know the light source of the current scene you are photographing.

Say you are shooting in daylight; if you set the camera’s White Balance to Cloudy then the scene will have orange cast. On the other hand if you are shooting in cloudy light and the camera White Balance is set to Daylight then the scene will have blue cast.

Here’s an easy way to remember this:

  • White Balance Temperature (K) setting = Actual light source = No Cast
  • White Balance Temperature (K) setting < Actual light source = Blue Cast
  • White Balance Temperature (K) setting > Actual light source = Orange Cast

Solution: Set the correct White Balance in the field or shoot in RAW mode. If you shoot RAW, you have a choice to set the correct White Balance in post-processing.

1 Common Kingfisher blue bird Bokeh Effect Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary Keoladeo National Park Nature Wildlife Bird Photography by Prathap

2. Overexposed Highlights

Remember that the dynamic range of your eyes is far greater than the camera’s dynamic range. Dynamic range is the ratio between the brightest elements to the darkest elements in the scene.

You might see the details in both brighter as well as darker regions, but the camera wouldn’t be able to record those details. As a photographer, it is your responsibility to make an exposure that is pleasing to the viewer’s eyes.

Humans are more sensitive to the highlights than the shadows. Overexposed highlights (white patches in a photograph) are more unacceptable to our eyes than underexposed shadows (black patches).

Solution: Expose for the highlights so that nothing gets overexposed, unless you are doing it intentionally. Almost every DSLR will have a blinking indicator (highlight warning, also simply called The Blinkies) that shows overexposed regions in your photograph on the LCD monitor during image playback.

2 Magnificent Swiss Alps Switzerland Mountains Nature Landscape Wildlife Bird Photography by Prathap

If there are blinkies, then go ahead make exposure compensation (underexpose the scene by the required amount) to get that right.

3. Subject in the Center

It is a common tendency of a beginner photographer to keep the subject in center of the frame, which yields a boring, static composition. The viewer has nothing else to look for his/her eye goes straight to the subject and is stuck there.

Solution: Use the Rule of Thirds and keep the subject out of the middle of the frame. An off-centered subject makes the photograph dynamic and uneven negative space creates interest.

3 Jungle Babbler Shallow Depth of Field Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary Keoladeo National Park Nature Wildlife Bird Photography Prathap

4. Wrong Focus

No matter how good your photograph is technically, if the focus is not sharp enough, then your photograph doesn’t work. The main subject of interest needs to be in sharp focus, otherwise viewers will get distracted and will not find a point to rest on in the image.

We see objects sharp in reality so we expect them (at least one) to be in sharp focus to make any sense.

Solution: Make sure you check the focus by zooming in on your subject after you take a photograph (zoom feature in playback mode). Make sure there is enough light or color contrast between the subject and the background so that autofocus is able to lock the focus properly.

4 Perfect Reflection of Frog submerged in Water Nature Wildlife Bird Photography by Prathap

If you are making a portrait, then focus on the eyes of the person (or bird or mammal), because the viewer needs to make eye contact.

5. Breathing Space

It is quite common to fill the frame with your favorite subject so that it looks big in the frame. But how often does it feel that they are squeezed in the frame? They look suffocated because there is no place to move, forget about the movement there is no place to breathe!

Sometimes there will be enough space around the subject, but in the wrong direction – which is no good either.

Solution: Rule of Thirds is the best composition technique that helps you to give enough space around the subject. Think about the image border as a concealed box where there is no ventilation, you don’t want your favorite subject to suffocate.

5 White tailed Kite Taking Off in Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary Keoladeo National Park Best Bird Sanctuary Rajasthan Nature Wildlife Bird Photography by Prathap

6. Cluttered Background

This is probably the most common mistake of all. Why? Because, it’s a common tendency to take photograph the moment you see something beautiful or interesting. So, what’s wrong with that you may ask.

Nothing. But have you paid attention to the background? Probably not. You are so overwhelmed by the subject, that you hardly notice anything around it.

A cluttered or distracting background plays the major role in ruining photographs.

Solution: The real photography starts after you choose your subject. Once you’ve done that, forget about it. Pay attention to the rest of the scene; include only those things that complement your subject and exclude everything else.

6 Painting with Light Art in Nature Backlit flowers in Golden Hours of Sunset Nature Wildlife Bird Photography by Prathap

The background makes the picture. Cleaner background makes the subject stand out making it the primary focus for a viewer.

7. Skewed Horizon

Another mistake that I see quite often is that horizon is not perfect. This is such a simple thing to notice but still a whole load of photographs have skewed horizons.

How can you miss that? Viewers feel uneasy when the horizon is skewed. It also indicates that the vertical subjects should be perpendicular to the ground. A person, building, bird, or tree tilted to one side makes them vulnerable to fall (unless of course they are tilted in reality like the Leaning Tower of Pisa).

Solution: Use the grid overlay while composing in the field, or correct the horizon using the Crop and Straighten Tool in the post-processing stage. Find a subject in the scene/photograph that should be horizontal or vertical in reality, and use it as a reference when you straighten the image.

7 Beautiful Sunrise in Indiana Dunes State Park Beach in Golden Hours Nature Landscape Seascape Wildlife Bird Photography by Prathap

8. Lack of Depth

Remember, Photography is two dimensional medium but we see everything in three dimensions. Photographers often miss the depth that is inherent in photography.

You saw that most beautiful scene in 3D and you captured it, but you wonder what went wrong as you stare at your monitor, right? Something is missing. This is not what you saw.

Why? You didn’t realize that you are capturing a 3-Dimensional scene in a 2-Dimensional photograph.

Solution: There are lots of ways to create depth – include a foreground object, use leading lines, use perspective distortion, change the point of view, and so on. But the most important thing to remember when you are out in the field is that a photograph is 2-Dimensional.

8 Beautiful Fall Foliage on the way to Agate Falls in Upper Peninsula Michigan Autumn Colors Nature Landscape Wildlife Bird Photography by Prathap

9. Too Much in the Photograph

Too much of anything is bad. When you see a scene, you see it as whole, which is natural. But if you try to include everything that you saw in one image then you end up with a photograph that has too much.

When you looked at the scene, were you really looking at the entire scene at once? Think about it. If you do this exercise of how you actually consume a scene you will know a whole lot more.

Solution: Try simple compositions. Instead of making one photo of the entire scene, ask yourself what interests you the most? Then pick that subject and make a photograph that emphasizes only that subject.

9 Backlit Flowers in Golden Hours in Sunset Rollins Savannas Forest Preserve Gryaslake IL Nature Macro Wildlife Bird Photography by Prathap

What is in a photograph is just as important as what is not in there. Once you master these simpler compositions you will be able to take grand landscapes in a much simpler, but more interesting ways.

10. Bad Light

Photography is all about Light. No light means no photography. But light has quality and direction. The best photographs are normally done in the golden hours and just few hours before and after sunrise and sunset when the light is at its best.

Many photographers don’t seem to care about the direction and the quality of light at all. Either the light is so harsh that there are multiple patches of light and shadows in the scene, or the subject’s eyes are in dark shadows, or light is just flat making the photograph 2-Dimensional, and so on.

Solution: Remember that photography is all about Light. More you learn to see the light better photographer you will become.

10 Double Crested Cormorant Golden Hours Sunset Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary Keoladeo National Park Best Bird Sanctuary Nature Wildlife Bird Photography by Prathap

The best way to appreciate light and its amazing qualities to transform a scene, is to go to the scene before sunrise and stay beyond sunset.

Final Thoughts

Still waiting to hear more?

Go ahead and correct the mistakes now. You will see yourself becoming a better photographer when you take control over these common mistakes.

Good luck!

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Prathap DK
Prathap DK

Prathap is a professional nature photographer, blogger, and the GO-TO-GUY for Bird/Wildlife Photography. Download his most widely read bird photography eBook—Bird Photography: 10 Mistakes & Solutions (http://www.naturephotographysimplified.com/free-ebook-bird-photography-10-mistakes-solutions/) —for free today by joining a thriving nature photographers community! His easy-to-follow, practical, & instructional articles on his most popular blog Nature Photography Simplified (http://www.naturephotographysimplified.com/) are regularly read by tens of thousands of photographers from all around the world.

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