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Five Photography Bad Habits to Quit Today

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.


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.

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Elizabeth Halford
Elizabeth Halford

is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

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