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

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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!

101 Comments

I think one big time amature mistake I often get questions about is how do I take such nice photos of my subjects but when they do it looks not so vibrant and sharp. I often have to remind these people to do their research before photographing their subject. How does it look in the morning, evening, afternoon? Is it cloudy, sunny, rainy? What is the story you are trying to tell with your image? Does it just look cool or are you trying to pull your viewer's in? Most importantly how often do you shoot? Shoot often, shoot proudly, but do not shoot and act so proud that you make other's feel you are just full of yourself.

Thanks for sharing, Mike. And, thanks for reading!

On number 7: do not forget to turn off image stabilization when using a tripod. The more expensive lenses will do this themselves, but always check! 

Good point, Maarten! Image stabilization systems are definitely getting smarter, but unless you know, for certain, that your lens detects a tripod, make sure to turn that system off! 

Thanks for reading!

Question: How does image stabilization affect negativdly when the camera is already on a tripod? Why isn't it just overkill?

Hi alvareo,

Good question! I'll pull a quote from this article that will answer your query.

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/tips-and-solutions/image-stabilization-when-use-it-and-when-turn-it

"If you mount the camera on a tripod (or similar stable platform) without cutting the IS, you risk creating what’s called a feedback loop, in which the camera’s IS system essentially detects its own vibrations and starts moving around, even when the rest of the camera is completely still. This introduces motion objects to your camera system and brings with it blurriness. This is one of the key reasons to turn off image stabilization."

Many modern lenses have systems to detect when they are on a tripod or alternative support, but, in the olden days of vibration reduction, you had to turn it off manually. When in doubt, turn it off!

Thanks for reading and thanks for your question!

Thanks ... Good to know I'm not alone on forgetting to reset that pesky ISO.

And bracketing is the one I'm so likely to forget... Then wonder why that next shot is a bit dark... Retake.... Looks ok.  Next shot... Over exposed! Then realisation hits.

Ha! At least digital technology allows you to realize your mistakes before you go through a whole roll of film!

You definitely are not alone. Feel free to send me the co-pay that you would have sent to a psychiatrist! Thanks for reading!

Noted. Next trip pack less clothes and more camera gear. Check! Thanks for the good info. Question: mirror lock-up, I have never used that. Can you elaborate? Thanks!

Hi Tara! 

Thanks for your question! Most DSLR and SLR cameras have a (sometimes hidden) feature/option called "Mirror Lock-Up." On a "normal" capture, when you depress the shutter release on an SLR camera, the reflex mirror filps up out of the way of the light's path, the shutter opens and closes, and the mirror swings back down. This mirror actuation creates a fair amount of vibration that can lead to motion blur in a photo. For most fast-shutter speed images, this is not an issue, but for longer exposures, the effects of the vibration might be seen in the image.

Mirror lock-up flips the mirror up and then allows the photographer to cycle the shutter independent of the mirror movement. After the shot, the mirror is released back to its reflecting position.

I highly recommend using mirror lock-up whenever shooting from a tripod, unless the images are time-critical.

How you select mirror lock-up is different for every camera brand and type, but let me know what you are shooting and I can try to tell you how to access the function if you need it.

Thanks for reading!

Exposure compensation is the worst!

So seldom used and, hence, so easily forgotten about. A great tool since I shoot in aperture mode 90% of the time, but I really wish my camera had a little computer voice that reminded me every time I went to take a photo and this was still on!

It might not have a voice to remind you, but most certainly a +/- symbol on your LCD and viewfinder! ;)

Yeah, but who actually pays attention to all that stuff in the viewfinder? :)

remember the slot on the back of your film camera for you to put the box-top in as a reminder of what film you had loaded...three shoots ago!?!?

Yep! Unfortunately, it was replaced by an LCD screen!

Agreed! One of my minor complaints about the Fujifilm X-T1 is that the exposure compensation dial does not lock. 90% of the time, I have it at -1...but sometimes that changes accidently and it isn't always noticed right away.

Maybe an entrepreneur will create stickers for folks like us to put on the back of our cameras. "Check your ISO, dummy!" "What is your metering set for?" "Are you compensating?"

Thanks for writing in!

My Pentax has a setting called Memory, where I can tell it to forget all sorts of things, like exposure compensation. Maybe your camera has it too?

Hey Jess,

I'd love to tell you that that is a feature exclusive to Pentax. Unfortunately for you, and the rest of us, that setting is part of every camera's construction and/or programming. It was very likely a part of the first cameras ever made and has been genetically passed from generation to generation of cameras.

Your Pentax is special, but not in that way.

Good luck!

Great read...thanks!

Thanks IMAGE! I am glad you enjoyed it!

I know about Obsessing over the missed shots.  I still think about allot of them.

Yet, here is another capturing a great shot you love it.  You think everyone else is going to love it.  Come to find out it is average and another more simple shot you took everyone is obsessing over.

Hey Christopher,

Yep. I have trouble letting go.

As far as your last point, that opens a bit of a Pandora's box. I have posted images and projects online that I felt were visually compelling and had a lot of personal meaning to me. The internet as a whole dismissed them while the same audience clicks "like" on the most casual snapshots of the world around me. Frustrating!

Thanks for reading and letting me know I am not alone!

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!

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