Are You Making these 5 Common Mistakes with Your Photography

Are You Making these 5 Common Mistakes with Your Photography


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.

Photo1 0715

1. Giving Up Too Early

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.

2. Using a Wide-Angle Lens for Portraits

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.

3. Getting Shaky, Motion-Blurred Photos

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.


4. Photographing Buildings From Too Close

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.


5. No Clear Subject in the Photo

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.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Ben Evans is a best-selling photography author of Photography: The Few Things You Need To Know *click here to get your copy now* and English photographer based between London and Barcelona. He specialises in fine art portraits, fashion and commercial photography. He teaches photography courses in Barcelona and Holistic Photography workshops in London and worldwide. He shoots Hasselblad, Nikon, Apple ;-P and those little waterproof film cameras with the plastic lenses.

Some Older Comments

  • Dan December 12, 2012 03:15 pm

    I actually find a way round #3 is to keep your camera on burst mode. The initial pressing of the shutter button could cause the camera to move as can the releasing. I find a few shots at a time will produce a decent photo in the middle with the first and last possibly slightly blurred

  • ArturoMM November 23, 2012 06:04 am

    I used the Canon 10-22mm lens for an entire wedding providing the lens was not at his widest but on the other end.

    Also because my camera factor is 1.6x is like I was using a 35mm lens in a full frame camera.

    So, most of the pictures came out fine, the newlyweds liked them very much.

    I forgot: I tried not to have people near the edges of the picture.

  • Ben November 21, 2012 10:06 pm

    Thanks Lawrence - was a marksman in another life back home and I've actually got an article written up about this. Jay, The main rules involve breath control, getting support from your skeleton instead of your muscles and smoothly taking the shot. Very helpful for photography!

  • Ben November 21, 2012 10:02 pm

    Yes - completely agree 4 (photographing buildings too close) is very subjective. In fact, I do it quite a lot! The effect should look intentional to work best. It's definitely not easy to get the camera in the ideal position, especially in busy cities so there's a lot of compromise involved (and Photoshop if necessary!).

  • Ben November 21, 2012 09:55 pm

    Thanks Lori! We've just got a Nikon D5100 with a 35mm prime lens for my girlfriend - it's recently been updated to the D5200 so there should be some great deals available. That said, there are lots of amazing cameras around now so you can't really go wrong if you buy a best-selling model!

  • Rex November 20, 2012 08:23 pm

    At times, I deliberately want the lines of a building converge, especially when shooting up. It gives a good feel for the height of the buildings.

  • marius2die4 November 20, 2012 07:43 pm

    All it is true.

  • Jay November 20, 2012 01:25 pm

    Lawrence: interesting analogy. For the benefit
    of people like me that are clueless about (shooting) firearms, could you please describe some techniques?

  • Lawrence November 20, 2012 10:20 am

    For keeping a camera still, study the techniques of a marksman. Even if you do not like firearms, studying how someone holds a rifle steady can do wonders for your lowest handheld shutter speed.

  • yaro November 20, 2012 09:11 am

    I can't agree. This is just stating what's widely acceptable. This is a good advise for people who do point-and-shoot. I wouldn't call neither 2,3 nor 4 mistakes. It's almos like saying that if I shoot lying on the floor was a mistake. If you know what result you want to achieve and these as you call them "mistakes" get you the effect you want to get there is no mistake in that but good planning and awareness of what techniques and tools you need to get the job done.

  • Guigphotography November 20, 2012 07:32 am

    Have to agree with John - I think #5 is an incredibly useful tip and was a mistake I took a long time to get to grips with. I think the other tips are valid too!

  • Jay November 20, 2012 02:48 am

    Very good post, but agree with that it's not often feasible to move away for building shots. IMHO, the photo shown is an effective alternative - catching an interesting detail closer up.

  • Jai Catalano November 20, 2012 02:03 am

    I think that we all tend to think our equipment isn't good enough at one time or another. The reality is that you can make things work under most circumstances.

    However I would love a hasselblad camera. There I said it. :)

  • timgray November 20, 2012 12:08 am

    4 is not a mistake if that is the photo you are looking for. a LOT of my building photos are taken with the camera 1-2 feet from the side of the building and pointed up. And there is a lot of times that you CANT get far enough away, Good luck getting the right distance from the sears tower for a photo in Chicago without being in a helicopter or on the roof of another building.

  • raghavendra November 20, 2012 12:04 am

    no clear subject in photography is a big mistake, guess you should have pointed it in first

  • Jocuri November 19, 2012 07:48 pm

    We all make those mistakes but we are trying to corect them

  • Ben Chapman November 19, 2012 07:34 pm

    I'm guilt of number 4

  • Mridula November 19, 2012 03:30 pm

    I think I still end up doing 5 at times. Here is an example!

  • Scottc November 19, 2012 10:09 am

    I've made them all more than a few times, particularly #4 though that is in part due to the nature of some cities. Great points to ponder, and remember.

  • Lori Miller November 19, 2012 08:14 am

    Very helpful article and great website! I love your photography.

    I am looking to buy a new camera. I have a Canon PowerShot SX10IS—my first digital camera. It does not focus well in low light. I'd like to spend no more than $1,000. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    I miss the sharp photos I got with my Pentax 35mm. But BOY, have I shot lots of photos.
    Best, Lori Miller

  • Ben November 19, 2012 08:13 am

    Agreed John, there are some amazing portraits taken with a wide-angle lens if the distortion is used creatively; though longer lenses are more flattering!

  • Ben November 19, 2012 08:09 am

    Great photos Chitra :-)

  • Ben November 19, 2012 08:08 am

    Thanks Glenn! The WTC photograph was taken from the W hotel across the water in Barcelona.

  • John November 19, 2012 08:01 am

    I think #3 and #5 were the two that took the longest for me to get over. I don't think taking portraits with a wide-angle is necessarily a bad thing as long as you KNOW what you're doing the distortion can be an artistic choice.

    Definitely some stuff for those starting out to think about tho!

  • Glenn November 19, 2012 07:31 am

    Nice article Ben with some good words of wisdom. Just curious if the first shot of the WTC was taken from the Columbus statue?

  • Chitra Sivasankar Arunagiri November 19, 2012 07:26 am

    I used to do 4 and 5 a lot. But trying to reduce them now. Shot some of the pics of my univ building recently and you can check them out at please let me know what you think :)