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Common Beginner Photographer Mistakes

by Steph Doran (follow)
Blog (395)      Articles (166)     

When you first become interested in photography, everything seems new and exciting. Being a beginner means that your mind is open to learning new techniques. It’s a time to make mistakes, and to learn from those mistakes. The faster you do this, the more rapidly your skills will improve. Here are some common mistakes that beginner photographers make, and how to overcome them.

1) Always Using The Same Angle
We see the world from our eye level and our usual plane of sight (i.e. straight ahead, not angled up or down.) So when we go to take a picture, we naturally capture our images with this same viewpoint. Photographers are always looking for unique viewpoints and interesting perspectives, but newbies can sometimes forget to search for different angles. This can result in a collection of images that all have a similar 'look' to them.

Solution: Simply, force yourself to utilise unique angles. Try lying on the ground and looking up, or getting up on top of something (a table, a balcony, a 10 story shopping mall) and looking down. Get close to things you normally view from a distance, or far away from things you normally see up close. Photography has the power to make even the most mundane object look interesting.

2) Always Putting Subjects In The Centre
When we first start taking pictures, we usually put our subjects right in the middle of the frame. While there’s nothing wrong with this, doing it in every picture can get a little repetitive. Placing a subject off-­centre makes for a more dynamic image, and the negative space that’s introduced helps draw the eye to the subject and give it breathing space. It is usually better to shift the main subject either left or right in a horizontal image, or up or down in a vertical image.

Solution: Experiment with your framing! Learn about the Rule of Thirds, and start using it straight away. You will not only enhance your composition skills, but you will see a lot more variety in your images.

3) Not Paying Attention To The Background
Distractions in the background can ruin even the best of pictures, by drawing the viewer's eye away from the main subject of the image. Distractions come in three main forms;
a) Unsightly objects: Common offenders are rubbish bins, construction tape, and poles or trees 'growing out of people's heads’.
b) Bright colours (particularly fluorescent colours): If they don’t help to tell the story you are trying to depict, they can cause distractions, as the eye is naturally drawn towards these colours.
c) Very large highlights: The human eye is drawn towards the lightest thing in an image, so if there is a large highlight, it could pull the viewer's attention away from the intended subject, especially if these highlights are blown out/overexposed.

Solution: Slow down for just two seconds! That's all the time you need to check that your background is distraction­-free. A good trick is to look at all four corners of your image before you press the shutter, as this will make you consciously check your composition each time. If you notice something distracting, move it out of the way or change your angle slightly. This is often much easier, and more preferable than 'fixing it' with editing software.

4) Only Using Auto Mode
Whilst auto mode may seem your safest bet, it is not the best mode for learning or improving your skills. In auto mode, you literally point the camera at a subject and press the button. The camera has total control over all the chosen settings, and you have no control over anything. Why is this bad? Because you aren't learning anything, and you aren't using your camera to its full potential. It's like having a Michelin star chef offer you a cooking lesson, and asking him to teach you how to make instant noodles.

Solution: Try using the different shooting modes on your camera. Nobody is making you go straight from auto to manual mode, so relax and take it slowly. Start playing with the P mode (program mode) first, to understand the basics of white balance and exposure compensation, and then move on to either aperture-priority (AV mode) or shutter-priority (TV mode). Practising them one at a time will help you to understand the effect each of these settings has on your images, and how to achieve the results you want.

5) Being Afraid Of ISO
ISO is a very powerful tool that can easily be overlooked. You’re probably aware that the ISO affects the exposure of your image, and that a higher ISO number allows you to capture an image in a darker environment. You've also probably been told that keeping the ISO number low is the way to go. This is both true and false.

ISO is not something to be feared, it’s there to help you.You should try to keep the ISO number as low as possible, in order to keep your image quality up, but you shouldn't be afraid to raise that number if you need to. Many new photographers lock their ISO on 100, believing their image quality will be heavily compromised if they raise it to even 200, and they will struggle to capture an image in a low-light situation. On the other hand, some new photographers have their ISO up very high, even when there is a lot of light around (outdoors on a sunny day, for example). This is also not ideal, as they’re sacrificing their image quality unnecessarily.

Solution: Experiment with your ISO in different situations, so that you feel comfortable changing it, and understand when and why you need to do so. Be aware of which ISO you have selected. Don't be scared of the higher ISO numbers, they’re there for a reason!


6) Not Experimenting
Both experienced and new photographers can get stuck in ruts, and can sometimes feel uninspired with their photography. In these situations, it is important to mix things up and try something new. Many new photographers get into the habit of always shooting things in the same way, or always shooting the same types of subjects. But this can easily lead to boredom, or lack of variety in your portfolio.

Solution: If you think your images are all starting to look the same, or you’re lacking inspiration, it’s time to look at things differently. Experiment with different angles or viewpoints. Try capturing reflections, or night scenes, or still life. Play with light painting, long exposures, or shooting through different objects. Don't be worried that it might not work­ - that's all part of the fun. You aren't going to find a new favourite technique if you don't start experimenting.

7) Using Your Camera’s Built­-in Pop-up Flash
Put simply, you should try to avoid using your camera's naked pop-up flash at all costs. It’s small and right on top of the camera, so it creates a very harsh and unflattering light. Smaller light sources create harder light, which results in strong shadows,­ not ideal for capturing beautiful portraits of your family. Many new photographers use this flash because it sometimes appears to 'pop up' by itself, but it’s stuck on your camera and can’t be rotated, so the direction of the light is always frontal. This flattens your subject, removing depth and tone.

Solution: Try experimenting with ISO to determine whether or not you actually need to use flash. In many cases, raising the ISO just a little will give you enough light to capture your scene. If you absolutely must use flash, or are interested in learning more about it, invest in a Speedlight or portable flash. One that can rotate up, down, left and right is ideal. This will allow you to bounce the flash off objects (such as the wall or ceiling), creating a larger, directional light source, which is much softer and more flattering.

8) Going Too Quickly
In a world of digital photography, we are often tempted to snap away like paparazzi, and not pay attention to what we are actually doing. How many times have you frantically taken 20 photographs of the same scene, only to realise (later, when reviewing them at home) that there was a huge, ugly dumpster in the background of every single shot? If only you’d taken one step to the left, or zoomed in a bit, you could have avoided this distraction! Taking your time and reviewing your images on sight not only improves your skills rapidly, but also allows you to make changes that are impossible to make in post production (a change in focus or angle, for example).

Solution: Slow down! Take one frame at a time. Really think about everything in that picture. Look at the subject, the foreground and the background. Only press the shutter when everything looks right. And once you've pressed the shutter, look closely at the image you’ve taken. Is there anything you can do to improve it while you’re still on location?

9) Not Shooting Enough
Probably the biggest mistake beginner photographers make is not taking enough photos. Don’t make excuses like not having time, being too tired, not being “good enough”, or being uninspired. Without practice, you’re not going to learn any new techniques, or build on the skills you already have. The only way to overcome these excuses is to get out there and shoot!

Solution: Commit to shooting something on a regular basis. Whether that’s going to a particular place to capture its mood, vowing to take a self portrait once per month or taking one considered picture each day­, make time for yourself to practice your craft. If you think you don’t have time­, schedule some. Sometimes photographers find getting involved in projects, such as Project 365 or Project 52, help to keep them motivated. The worst thing to do is to shoot irregularly. So pick up the camera, and get busy!

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