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9 Solutions for Common Camera Mistakes Beginners Make

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One of the most common camera mistakes beginner photographers make is to not learn to use their new camera well. Photography is about the only art-form you don’t need to practice to get a half-decent result.

Woman with a DSLR camera illustrating common camera mistakes
© Kevin Landwer-Johan Nikon D800, 50mm f/1.4, 1/320 sec, f/2.8, ISO 500, Manual Mode, Pattern Metering.

You can pop a battery in your brand new camera, turn it on and set it to one of the scene modes and take a picture. Most often, the photo will be reasonably well exposed – not too light or too dark. You might be pretty happy with the results and initially think you don’t need to learn much to be able to take photos.

Buying your first musical instrument or learning to paint will be much more challenging. Most people can’t pick up a guitar and play a tune without having some understanding of music theory. Most people certainly couldn’t play a recognizable tune without practicing. To learn to use your camera well, you must also practice with it.

1. Out of focus

One of the most common camera mistakes is poor focusing. Out-of-focus photos can’t be fixed during post-production. The only solution is to make sure you get your main subject sharp when you are taking your photos. Check that your auto-focus indicator is precisely where you want it to be before you press your shutter button.

I prefer to use single-point focus rather than multi-point focus. This allows me to choose exactly what part of my composition will be the sharpest. This is particularly important when you use very wide aperture settings, as the depth of field is so shallow.

Rooster isolated by DOF for common camera mistakes
© Kevin Landwer-Johan. Nikon D800, 85mm f/1.4, 1/400 sec, f/1.4, ISO 100, Manual Mode, Spot Metering.

2. Poor exposure

Underexposed and overexposed photographs are disappointing. Pay careful attention to your exposure as you are setting your camera up to take a photo. Make sure your main subject is being well exposed. This can be challenging in certain lighting conditions.

Backlighting your subject can often mean the camera will underexpose it. You need to adjust your exposure settings so your main subject looks the way you want it to. This may be different than how the camera’s exposure meter determines it to look.

novice monks meditating - common camera mistakes
© Kevin Landwer-Johan. Nikon D800, 35mm f/1.4, 1/125 sec, f/3.2, ISO 1000, Manual Mode, Pattern Metering.

3. Wrong white balance

Getting the wrong white balance means your photos will have an unnatural-looking color cast to them. The most practical fix for this is to use the auto white balance setting on your camera. This is the only auto setting I use most of the time because it’s most often correct.

Using manual white balance it’s very easy to forget to alter it. Even when you do, the setting you choose may not be the best when the light changes slightly. Using auto white balance can help you overcome one of the most common camera mistakes.

Mountain sunrise for common camera mistakes
© Kevin Landwer-Johan. Nikon D800, 105mm f/2.8, 1/250 sec, f/8, ISO 400, Manual Mode, Pattern Metering.

4. Motion blur

Using a faster shutter speed is the solution to unwanted motion blur in your photos.

Learning what shutter speed to use when photographing moving subjects is important. A person walking will not require such a fast shutter speed as a person running fast will.

Be aware of the relationship between your shutter speed and the speed of movement you want to capture. This will help you alleviate this problem.

Asian woman on a city walkway with motion blur - common camera mistakes
© Kevin Landwer-Johan. Nikon D700, 50mm f/1.4, 1/6 sec, f/16, ISO 100, Manual Mode, Pattern Metering.

5. Camera shake

Some people can handhold a camera at slower shutter speeds than others. Once the shutter speed is so slow you are experiencing blurring in your images, you need to make some choices. Either adjust your exposure controls so your shutter speed is faster, or use a tripod.

Male photographer
© Kevin Landwer-Johan. Nikon D7100, 35mm f/1.4, 1/80 sec, f/5, ISO 200, Manual Mode, Pattern Metering.

6. ISO is too high

One of the other common camera mistakes I see people making is using an ISO setting that is too high. Using a very high ISO, you will see digital noise, lack of contrast, and flatter colors in your photos.

The solution is to keep your ISO as low as possible. This will mean you get the best technical quality photos with the best color, contrast, and the least noise.

7. Dead battery

Always make sure you charge your batteries before you head out with your camera. Carrying fully-charged camera batteries is always a good idea. You never know when you might come across some fabulous event or happening that you want to photograph. Save yourself the disappointment of a dead battery by having some extra ones in your camera bag.

Woman at an out door shopping mall taking a photograph.
© Kevin Landwer-Johan. Nikon D800, 35mm f/1.4, 1/400 sec, f/2, ISO 100, Manual Mode, Spot Metering.

8. Card full

Being busy taking photos and all of a sudden not being able to is very frustrating. This is what can happen when your card is full. Make sure to off-load images on your card and format it after each photo session. This will mean you always have the maximum amount of space on your card.

Having some extra cards with you is a good backup strategy too. Finding your card full half-way through the day is so disappointing when you don’t have a spare.

You can always start deleting photos from your card. This is slow and you might make a mistake and delete a good image. Doing this in-camera, the process is irreversible and your images will be lost.

Thai drama action - common camera mistakes
© Kevin Landwer-Johan. Nikon D800, 105mm f/2.8, 1/250 sec, f/4, ISO 6400, Manual Mode, Pattern Metering.

9. Always on Auto

Always having your camera on one of the auto or scene settings is another of the most common camera mistakes I come across.

Most people who take our photography workshops come with their cameras on Aperture Priority because it’s easy. This is not a good reason to use this setting, and they are not happy with their photos. They know they are not getting the most from their camera.

The solution I encourage them to use is switching to manual mode and sticking with it. There’s no point in using manual mode only occasionally. If you do, you are unlikely to ever master it. If you commit to it, you will pick it up in no time. You will also begin to think differently about your photography in regards to light, exposure, and composition.

people in an old passage
© Kevin Landwer-Johan. Nikon D700, 20mm f/2.8, 1/100 sec, f/2.8, ISO 2000, Manual Mode, Pattern Metering.

Conclusion

Not all common camera mistakes result in ruined photos, but they can. Being aware of how you are setting your camera and the choices you make will help you overcome these problems.

Slow down and be mindful of what you are doing. Plan your photo session, and make sure you are well prepared for anything that might come up. Know your camera well, like a best friend.

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Kevin Landwer-Johan
Kevin Landwer-Johan

is a professional photographer, photography teacher, and author with over 30 years of experience.

Kevin is offering DPS readers a FREE copy of his new e-book Photographing People – A Guide For Shy Photographers. To enjoy more of his photography and writing, please visit his website.