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A clever person learns from their mistakes. A wiser person learns from the mistakes others make. This article will identify the most common photography mistakes for you. It’s based on hundreds of hours teaching beginners through to professionals; do you still do any of these? I’m assuming you understand the essentials of photography; grab your copy of Photography: The Few Things You Need To Know if anything’s unclear.
So many people do this. They’ve invested in an amazing camera, they’ve studied the essential techniques and then they’ve travelled to a great location; but as soon as they’re a little bit tired, hungry or bored – off they go. Even more common is not exploring the scene enough, perhaps assuming that the first photo will be the best. Experience says you’ll get better photos by taking the time to find all of the perspectives that the scene has to offer.
On my workshops, I’m always the last person out photographing before meeting up with the others in the bar. The best light isn’t necessarily before the sun goes down! When you consider that there are billions of photographs on Facebook alone, it’s wise to do a little bit more to ensure your photos stand out from the crowd. If taking a certain photograph is inconvenient and a little stressful, you can be sure a lot of photographers would give up. Keep going a little bit longer than them and you’ll be rewarded with better photographs.
When you turn on a compact camera, the lens will be at its widest setting. A dSLR lens is generally at its widest when it’s contracted to fit in your bag. A wide-angle is therefore normally a default setting for most photographers. But for portraits, its distorting effect can be incredibly unflattering, especially if you’re very close. To avoid creating a caricature of your subject (and ensure they enjoy being photographed!) zoom in to the telephoto end of your lens. This will flatten the perspective, making for much more attractive portraits. If your compact camera has a digital zoom (a little line when you’re zooming in), turn it off as it only reduces image quality.
This is one we’re probably all guilty of at times; I certainly am! At slow shutter speeds such as 1/8th and even 1/80th second, the camera will show any camera movement in the photos. Beginners don’t realise, and professionals often assume they’ll be okay and don’t want to raise the ISO. Unless it’s deliberate, camera shake can be distracting, and many competitions and magazines won’t use motion blurred pictures.
The main way to get sharp photos is to keep the camera still, and one of the best methods is to use a tripod. But you don’t want to carry one of these, nor maybe even invest the money necessary to get a decent one. That’s fine. Modern lenses often have technology to reduce camera shake and modern cameras are very good at high ISO sensitivities (so you can use faster shutter speeds). To avoid this common mistake, ensure you’re as still as possible for the split second when you take the picture. Don’t be afraid to use a higher ISO sensitivity if your shutter speed is too slow. And try and find some sort of support to help keep the camera still.
To get it in, you point the camera up. This causes the vertical lines of the buildings to converge; to appear to slope inwards in the photo. This is made more obvious when you use a wide-angle lens; which will probably be necessary if the building is big and you’re right next to it. Ideally, you want the parallel lines in architecture to be parallel in your photographs. How can you achieve this? In theory, you need to be in line with the centre of the building. This is fully explained by the Pyramid Technique I teach on my courses.
This normally puts the ideal camera position way above our heads. And unless there’s a convenient window opposite our building at the right height for us to use, we’ll have to compromise. Minimise the angle at which you photograph the building by getting back as far as possible. To minimise distortion, use a longer telephoto lens from further away instead of a wide-angle lens up close. Often trees and lampposts will get in the way, so use common sense and get back as far as possible without including too many distractions in the final photograph.
Last but definitely not least, the majority of photographs will never be award-winning because it’s either not obvious what the photographer is showing us, or because there are too many distractions from the main subject. This common tendency is due to the difference between how we see the world and how the camera captures it. Specifically, we generalise what we see, highlight what’s important to us and ignore what’s not. I covered this in my article on DPS, Benefit From How You See The World. There are several fixes you can try to help overcome this. The main one, and probably the most famous, is just to get closer. Often, people want to capture the whole scene so use the widest possible lens from far away. But this makes the subject seem small, and because the images are probably only going to be seen a few inches high on a screen, a lot of impact is lost. Likewise, photographing people and animals often prompts a fear of getting too close. Do it anyway; get closer. Also, experiment with ways to make your subject stand out using colour and lighting ratios. Check for distractions in your background. And make sure you know what you’re photographing!
That’s it! These are the five most common mistakes that photographers make. Check to see which ones you’ve been doing without knowing it. Ask a friend if you want a second opinion. Hopefully my ‘hard and fast rules’ will prove useful. As always, take them as guidelines only; ultimately only you can know if you’re happy with the photograph or not.
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