Photography / Tips and Solutions

8 Mistakes I Have Made In Photography and How You Can Avoid Them


True statement: I am not perfect. *Gasp!* Not only that, but some of my imperfections have trickled into my photographic life. **Double gasp!** So, luckily for you, I will share my mistakes with you in the hopes that you can learn these lessons before you make the same mistakes. Or, maybe, if you have already made them, or still continue to make them, you will sleep better knowing that you are not alone!

1. Incorrect settings  “Wow, I am getting some amazingly fast shutter speeds today.” That is because your ISO is cranked up from the night before when you were shooting a low-light photo without your tripod. It has happened far too many times to count. Also, if you switch from RAW to JPEG for some reason, make sure you switch back. White Balance? Exposure modes? Exposure compensation? AF modes? Metering modes? Check and re-check your settings before you shoot.

2. Distracting background objects  I might classify this one as another “rookie mistake,” but I am as guilty of it as anyone else. If you are taking a photo of your friend, family members, favorite pet, etc., pay attention to what is in the background. Moving your feet just a few inches might make the difference between a great portrait and a portrait of your subject with a street lamp post growing out of his or her head. Scroll through your Instagram or Facebook feed to see how many portraits feature such undesirable visual elements.

3. Dirty optics  It honestly takes a lot of dust or smudges on a lens’s front element or filter to affect the image captured by your camera. Sometimes a small scratch might catch the light just right and cause some flaring, but your lens never has to be perfectly clean to get the perfect photo. However, once upon a time, I was out photographing an abandoned industrial site and I noticed a strange flare going on in my images when I reviewed them on my LCD. I checked the lens filter. Clean. I checked the sensor. Clean. I sent the image to friends and they were befuddled. Then, I looked at the lens’s rear element. A huge smudge. Whoops. Keep your optics clean.

4. “Accidental” memory card formatting  Before you format your memory card, feel free to listen to that little voice in the back of your head that says, “Hey, why don’t you take a minute and make sure that you uploaded the images from this card onto your computer before you format it.” I ignored that voice once and lost images. Thankfully, a data recovery application that I downloaded saved the majority of them, but it could have been a lot worse. If you format your card, the information may still be there until you overwrite it with more images, but don’t count on it! Ever. Just listen to that voice.

5. Perspective change  We all view the world from eye level. I often preach changing perspective to give your images a fresh viewpoint, but I often fail to do this on my own. This isn’t necessarily a mistake, but I am sure there are times when I could have improved my imagery by changing perspective. Not only am I confessing my sins here, I am writing this to remind myself to practice what I preach.

6. Out of power / memory  Two totally different things, but definitely showstoppers. In the olden days, you used to run out of film. Today, you run out of photo storage or battery power. A friend of mine used to tell me that when he packed for a trip he would assemble all the clothes he thought he would need, and then he would put half of it back. This does not apply to photography. A word to the wise, bring more batteries and memory cards than you think you will need; and then, add one more of each.

7. Blurry photos from a tripod  The tripod can sometimes give you a false sense of support. Just because your camera is mounted on a sturdy tripod does not mean that it cannot shake while capturing an image. Use the tripod, tighten everything down, but then make sure your DSLR is in mirror lock-up mode or set your mirrorless or point-and-shoot to timer mode, or use a remote shutter release. If you want to be extra careful, put a delay on the shutter while using a release so that you can let go of the release before the image is taken. Wind is a tripod’s enemy, as well. Weigh it down in high winds, or try to shield your gear from the wind. And, for goodness sake, don’t kick the tripod while the shutter is open! Yeah, I’ve done that plenty of times.

8. Obsessing over the misses  This could be better discussed with my therapist than you all, but try not to dwell on what you failed to capture. I love to live in the past, and mistakes haunt me. Pull up a chair to the campfire and I can tell you more stories about photos I missed than photos I captured. Note to self: Go make pictures of the now and not worry about what was missed.

Feel like you need to confess some mistakes, as well? Feel free to comment below, so that I have some company! Thanks for reading!

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To help reduce the possibility of not having the right equiptment with me I keep a "Photography" list in my smart phone.  When I go on an extended trip or photo shoot I check what I packed against that list.  While I have never had to use the information, I also include serial numbers of any piece of equiptment I own that has one.  One additional item I make sure I have with me is a PDF copy of both my cameras and speedlight manuals, again, on my phone.  [These can be downloaded from most of the camera manufactures sites for free.]

Hey Bill,

Great tips! I would also recommend keeping your serial number list at home or online. If you insure your gear, your insurance company will be a virtual vault for your gear and serial numbers.

Its also great to "carry" the manuals with you on your phone as we are not always near an internet signal to download them in the field.

Thanks for sharing and reading!

I take the SD card from my action camera to remove the footage, then delete them. When I return it to the camera I remount it and know it's ready to go again. But sometimes, the card sits incorrectly in the camera and when do click the record button, I get the horrid sound that the SD card is not installed. So I've learnt through mistakes to ALWAYS take a dummy shot on the camera when returning the SD card to it. (SONY HDR AS20).

Great tip, Trev! Thanks for sharing and thanks for reading!

How about remembering to turn off the image stabilization on the lens if using a tripod as well as autofocus? I shoot art works most often in studio with tripod but every opening event requires documentation of the reception. When going back to shooting paintings, prints or sculpture blurry pictures are a sure bet if the image stabilizer is on, and the lens may not be able to automatically focus on a soft image.

Hello Jim,

Great tip, thanks! Some IS systems now have a tripod mode, so that might help, too. Great point about autofocus and blurry subjects!

Thanks for reading!

I have been guilty of pretty much all of these, but my costliest mistakes have happened after downloading my images to the computer. #1. Not making a duplicate before editing an image so that I end up with only the edited image and no longer have the original unedited file. And #2. Not backing up my images to an external hard drive frequently enough. We wound up with some malicious malware on our computer that was so bad my husband had to use the computer manufacturer's disc covered in warning labels which state that once you use it it will scrub ALL information from your computer; you even have to reinstall all of the basic drivers again. Like a typical man, he didn't notice all of the warning labels, popped in the disc, and while it fixed our malware problem, it also lost ALL of the images that I have on my website and our family photos from 2012 and 2013. We later tried recovery software but it didn't work, luckily my images are on a public artists website so I was able to recover my professional photos by contacting the domain manager. Phew! Lesson. Learned. Backup your pictures people!

Hey Amber,

Sorry you lost all those images, but thanks for sharing the tale so that we can all learn not to marry the "typical man!"

As far as keeping originals, before I used Lightroom, I would, once I altered an image, save it under a different name (I have a file numbering system that I use). That left the originals untouched and I would work on the altered one if I needed more tweaks. A lot of today's editing software, like Lightroom, does what is called "non-destructive" editing. You can make as many changes as you want to a file, but you can always revert to the original or save your new version separately.

Thanks for the share and thanks for reading!

Awesome tips. Not a camera tip but definitely a photography one-- pack, then remember to take out with you the rain gear. Nothing like coming back in after a shoot soaked when you could have been dry. My next investment? I've of those brimmed "fishermens" hats to keep rain off my glasses.

Hey Cindy,

Thanks for the tips! Definitely photo related and good for life in general!

Thanks for reading!

Good suggestions!  The digital age has changed our preparation criteria.  In the good old days (film) carry more rolls - or even another spare body, loaded and ready.  Now?  A bigger flash card.  I use a 128GB SD series.  (Yes, 128 GIGAbytes!)

ALWAYS carry extra batteries - and a charger or two; one for wall mains, the other for the automobile.

If outdoors, be prepared for weather.  Most modern digi-cams can't "swim".  (e.g., almost NO exposure to moisture!) ... and while we're talking potential weaknesses, they don't bounce very well either ...

Thanks, Daily!

All good stuff! Yep, they really don't bounce. You used to drop a camera and the floor would get hurt. Now, the floor seems to always win!

Thanks for reading!

My most frequently forgotten step is to re-set my lenses after shooting. They are sometimes left with the image stabilization off from having been on my tripod or I put them on the tripod & then forget to take the stabilization off. I have also sometimes forgotten to switch them from manual mode back to auto focus and then have to stop and run through a mental check-list to figure out what has gone wrong. Although these things are easily corrected, they slow you down when you are in the moment and are, therefore, frustrating.

Hi Judith,

Good share. Thank you!

I am sure this is not for everyone, but I kind of gave up on image stabilization after I shot an air show with a new VR lens years ago. The images were horrible. So, now, even though VR/IS is way better, I shut it off all the time unless I am shooting in fading light, handheld, and need a boost to try to maintain a sharp image. This way, it is off almost all the time, unless I make a conscious decision to use it.

I have also left a lens at infinity on manual focus and then started taking photos the next day that were almost-in-focus...but not quite. Lots of things to keep in mind these days! First world photography problems!

Just my $0.02. Thanks for reading and sharing!

I made up a saying for my camera club, to help stop the duh's.....  Be My First W I F E  Batteries, Media, Focus(single or continuous) White balance, Iso, Focus (focus points, manual or automatic), Exposure( compensation? What am I shooting? Is it a blue heron or a ibis? What do I want the picture to be high key or low key?)

Hey Biggeorge,

Thanks for sharing the way to stop the duhs! Good tip(s)!

Thanks for reading!

I have been guilty of Incorrect Settings:

With my 5D Mk III, it is often forgetting to check the exposure compensation and on a lesser note, the white balance. For sunrises/sunsets, I'll change the exposure compensation to -2/3. The white balance stays most often at daylight and I'll forget to change it when shooting inside.

With my A-1 and F-1N, my biggest mistake is forgetting to change the ISO when I change film. I once shot a roll of Kodak BW400CN at ISO 100 in broad daylight while boating; the photos were "acceptable". Fortunately, that film has a wide latitude. I miss that film.

Hey Ralph,

Find me a photographer who hasn't been guilty of Incorrect Settings and I will introduce you to someone who as never shot digital or film!

How many photographers were saved from incorrect ISO settings from DX encoding? And how many of them now go out with their digital cameras and the wrong ISO? Lots!

Thanks for reading!

Good points... Even when you use big memory cards... it's wise to have at least 1 extra per camera in your bag.... It hapened me several times to forget (some of) the cards (or some camera batteries) in the dockings and find myself in location with no card to record on or no battery to power the camera. Pretty annoing. Still, most of the times I managed to do the job, either by using another SD  from another camera or the Computer, (or even micro SD from the phone) or calling a friend to bring the missing cards, or even .. buy new ones !

Tx for the reminders !

Hey Cotiso,

Thanks for your tales! Yep, I have had to make more than one emergency memory card purchase in my lifetime!

Always fun. Not!

Thanks for reading!

I hastily put my tripod plate in my camera bag instead of back on my tripod thinking I'd put it back on when I brought my gear home. Put my tripod neatly back in its bag. Next day went to a shoot with that tripod and my camcorder. And guess what? No tripod plate! How embarassing. Painful mistakes are often the best teachers. Great article. Thank you! 

Hey Rebecca,

Yep, I have done that one before, too! I always have that thought of screwing the camera directly onto the tripod without the head, but that does not work unless you have compatible sockets. Also, it would be a pain to adjust! Or, I think I can get a good stable shot without the plate. "I'll just rest the camera on top of the plate!" Nope, that does not work either.

Thanks for reading and thanks for the compliments!

I solved this issue by getting an extra plate. It didn't cost much & became one less item to  check off my prep list.

Good advice, Judith! I have a small collection of hexagonal Manfrotto plates. I feel they are semi-rare, so when I stumble across one in a camera store, I often buy it. They probably are not rare, but now I have about 10! Do you need an extra?

Thanks for reading!

I used to obsess over only ever using manual mode so that the camera would behave more like a good old 35mm SLR.

Then I realized, aperture priority and shutter priority are there for a reason. They work!

My other big fail is forgetting to charge batts.

Hey calaversgrande,

Yep, Using Auto Modes is OK!

The dead battery issue has bit me in the past. I have been out in the cold at night frantically trying to warm up batteries against my chest to coax a few more electrons out of them in order to finish a shoot. Fun fun!

Thanks for reading!

Very informative.  We all need to slow down a bit. Those pictures we take today will become the memories for tomorrow. You may not get every shot but we will keep trying. That is all that counts.

Hey John,

Great points. Slowing down is probably the key to avoiding a lot of these mistakes!

Thanks for reading!

One mistake I make is shooting a photo in over/under exposer and forget to reset it to zero for the next photo.

So... Remember! Zero the exposer meter.

Hey iany,

Yep! My default setting is usually -1 EV. Sometimes I knock the dial off of it, or forget to adjust it when needed. Great tip!

Thanks for reading!

Here's one: I recently bought a used DSLR. Went out to do some shooting and found that the camera was set for multiple exposures - but not before I had taken many pictures. They just weren't that detectable on the LCD screen. Advice: If you buy a used camera, no matter how little use it got, do a factory reset and start over. You don't know what the previous owner was thinking. Who knows? Maybe they thought the camera was broken. 

Hey Ed,

Great advice about resetting the camera. Definitely do a factory reset and then go back through the menus to make the camera do what you want it to.

If you cannot find a factory reset option, do your due diligence and go through all the settings yourself before taking it out on a shoot.

Thanks for reading!

Another "tripod/blurry images" suggestion: When using a tripod, turn off image stabilization. It will cause blurriness when on a tripod. 

Hey Ray,

You are correct, image stabilization, especially the early versions, could ruin a tripod-mounted photograph. Some modern lenses and cameras have a "Tripod Mode" to avoid this, however, it is probably just as easy to secure the system!

Thanks for reading!

8!!! So few! I could tell 800 mistakes which I still do after some decades as a photographer. Anyway, I loved to read your post. My suggestion is that you expand this list into a regular blog or even a book. Also, real images could improve your examples and make your article more atractive And you may add wonderfull contribution from other active photographers, moreover if you can gather the testimony of famous pros! That is an amazing territory...

Hey Zé,

Thanks for your comments!

Actually, I have made way more than 8 mistakes in my photography and exponentially more in life! However, the original article stretched more than 100,000 words and the editors here felt that readers would feel really really bad for me if they had to read about all of my faults, so we narrowed it down to 8. 

I love the idea of expanding it. We are talking now about making it the subject of an upcoming B&H Podcast, so stay tuned!

Todd...Thanks for this and thanks for your humility, a wonderfully superb characteristic to have! I'm really glad to have the reminder about using mirror lock up on critical, if not all, tripod shots because I endlessly forget to do this. What is wrong with me? And I'll apply this and your other reminders when I step into Yellowstone in exactly 15 days from today, Christmas Day. With the assistance of B & H, I have multiple spare batteries and memory cards awaiting my arrival in the USA. Now all I need is a decent memory so I don't forget them. I think I had one once, but I can't remember. Wish you could come along on this trip to prompt me!

Hey Tom,

Thanks! No worries about the humility! I am only humble in my writing, not in real life!

Just kidding, of course! Have a great trip to Yellowstone! I am looking forward to seeing the pictures!

Thanks for reading!

Great tips! Here's one for anyone lucky enough to have a new Sony A7 camera with 'silent shutter' mode - images are badly affected by some artificial light sources - if you need to use 'quiet' mode (for example at a church service) be sure to review your photos regularly to ensure they are free from banding. If banding is present be prepared to turn off silent mode and start annoying the people near you! I've recently taken a whole batch that were utterly runied... whoops!

Martyn....Thanks for this. I have an A7 and will be in Yellowstone in 2 weeks. it's the last place I want to mess up any photographs! Doubtful I'll be using any artificial light sources but maybe this applies to natural light too? To be sure I just may avoid the 'silent shutter' mode all together.

Hey Tom,

From what I can tell, the A7 uses what is called a "rolling shutter" when in silent mode. Basically, the camera activates rows of pixels one at a time in very quick succession. Movement through the frame can get strange distortions. I see this when I take photos from my bike with my iPhone - fences and lamp posts get "bent."

So, you also want to not be using that mode with a lot of panning motion in the frame. Good luck!

Hey Martyn,

Great tip! Thank you for sharing and thanks for reading! Silent mode no more!

Your mention of "misses" reminded me - forgetting to have a camera on hand, at all times.  It's no earthly use worrying about "misses", if you leave all your gear at home.  I am less concerned with whether I have my "best" cam with me, than I am about finding myself unable to shoot that once in a lifetime pic because I was so stupid I didn't even chuck a compact cam into an otherwise empty pocket.  "Just in case!"

Hey pete,

I miss the misses and some of the misses! I have three (or four) moments in my life where I wish I had had a camera - any camera - but did not. Now I can only describe the scene(s).

Great tip! Thanks for reading!

Always reset the bracketing button to zero after You bracket to guard against the next shot from under or over exposed.

Hey Bill,

Great tip! Thanks for it and thanks for reading!

I may or may not have done this very thing!

i think you've got it all, Todd, especially the tripod foibles.  For traveling, extra support gear such as batteries and cards.  I remember the charger by keeping it packed... or, get two chargers and keep one packed.  The main thing is to capture the right composition, so we don't want to miss or misuse equipment or have it malfunction. 

Before traveling, take a practice run, especially if it's a complex shoot.  So I'd add to your list, failure to understand how to use new equipment. 

Hey Charles,

You are 100% correct on all. I wish chargers were a bit cheaper these days! 

You definitely don't want to be out fighting with your gear while out shooting. Your point about new equipment should be emphasized. Never, ever go out on a serious shoot (paid or not) without testing your gear. 

Thanks for reading and adding to the discussion!

Good list!  My Nikon 750 holds two cards and I set it to make duplicate files on both cards.  When I upload the photos to the computer I still have a copy on the camera just in case something goes wrong with the uploaded files, e.g., can't find them on the computer or they're accidentally deleted.

Hey pjs,

You can't be too safe when it comes to data! Great advice!

Thanks for reading! this same category - I always rotate cards after I download the images from the one I'm shooting with, so i have a copy in case I accidentally delete from the computer. Great tips. Happy new year all!

Thanks, Jeff! Great tip!

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