5 Common Photography Mistakes to Avoid

Oscar Wilde wrote “Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.”  Every photographer’s journey starts with mistakes, confusion, and a dash of frustration.  While reviewing your images on your computer after an outing, there are plenty of moments when you feel defeated.  There is so much to master in photography that feeling defeated at times is normal and almost necessary.  However, if you learn from defeat, then you haven’t really lost. Here are a few common beginner photography mistakes when in the field and how to avoid them.

Iceberg Beach in Iceland (0.8 sec at f/9, ISO 20)

Mistake #1: Being A One-Shot Wonder

Solution: Look Around & Experience the Location

Frequently, photographers reach a destination and immediately find their photo, capture it, feel the rush of accomplishment, and pack it in for the day.  Alternatively, they experience the entire location from their viewfinder.  Early in my photography career, the best advice I received was to step away from the camera and not only see the scene but also feel the scene.  Think about what you want to convey with your photo. Explore at the composition possibilities.  After some thought, then pick up your camera and start clicking away.  Try multiple compositions from different vantage points.  If you are focused on a sunrise or sunset, turn around to see what is happening behind you.  It is easy to get caught up when shooting.  You may be fixated on shooting an iceberg on a black sand beach in Iceland when there is literally a rainbow behind you.  Yes, true story.

Mistake #2: Not Capturing Enough Image Data

Solution: Review Your Histogram

The histogram is a bar graph of a frequency distribution which is basically a graphical representation of the pixels exposed in your image. The left side is the blacks/shadows while the right side represents the whites/highlights.  The middle portion is the mid-tones.  The height of the peak illustrates the number of pixels in that particular tone.  Now, depending on the image, a histogram can take on many shapes and have multiple peaks.  It does not have to be a nice, round peak for every photo.  As a general rule of thumb, the histogram should just reach the left and right edges.  It should not spill over or peak at the edges of the histogram.

To start, check to see if your histogram makes sense. If the histogram is mostly to the right, then it is a bright scene of a lonely tree in a blanket of snow or you have overexposed the image.  Reviewing the histogram while photographing ensures you capture the necessary data to maximize your post processing options. Alternatively, if the peak is shifted towards the left, then either the photo is of a black tar bubble or perhaps the image is underexposed.  If underexposed, adjust your settings to let more light hit the sensor (e.g. open up the aperture, increase the shutter speed, or increase the ISO).  If the dynamic range is too vast for the camera settings, then you will need either to bracket your photo or use a (G)ND filter.

Sunset along the Norwegian Fjords

Sunset along the Norwegian Fjords

As a general rule of thumb, a histogram should just reach the left and right edges and not spill over or peak at the edges. This ensures enough image data is captured for more flexibility in post-processing.

Mistake #3: Being Out of Focus

Solution: Double Check Your Focus

Always check your focus before you take the photo, while you are capturing a composition, and before you abandon your setup.  Use the back display to zoom in and check for sharpness on the entire image.  Was your focus area where you wanted?  Is everything you wanted in focus?  Would a different focus mode be a better choice to use? Is an area of soft focus too soft? Have you captured undesired movement, such as flowers or tree branches swaying?  If so, reduce your exposure time.  Taking the few extra moments to double check your focus in the field will save you from grunting in front of your computer after the fact because the entire image is blurry. Yes, again, true story.

Mistake #4: Cutting Corners

Solution: Take the Time To Setup Properly

If you lugged all your gear with you, use it.  There is a reason that all landscape photographers carry a tripod.  While they may take a hand-held shot from time to time, they know the crucial benefits of using a tripod.  So, extend those tripod legs and get on sturdy ground. If a different lens may deliver an improved composition, go back in your bag and change lenses to confirm.  If there is dust or water droplets on your lens, take the time to clean it rather than thinking you will address it during post-processing.  Use the cable release cord or set a delay timer with an exposure delay mode/mirror lock-up to reduce any camera shake.  All of these little details add up to have a large impact on your final image.

Switchback Trail's First Light

A location close to home to practice photographing the sun’s rays through the trees

Mistake #5: Trying New Techniques For the First Time In the Field

Solution: Practice at Home

The best place for trial and error is home or close to home.  Do not wait until you reach a travel destination to try out your new knowledge.  Wake up for a sunrise or stay out for a sunset around your home.  Don’t worry about the composition as much as setting up your tripod and seeing if you can capture a sunrise, bracket an image, or give a go on capturing star trails.  Tackling the learning curve at home will allow you to produce better quality images when you are out in the field.

Successful photographers are not the individuals who never make mistakes, rather, then are the ones that learn from their own mistakes and the mistakes of others. Hopefully, these 5 tips on beginner photography mistakes when in the field will help you get ahead of the photography learning curve the next time you pick up your camera. Happy Shooting!

About Author Chrissy Donadi

I’m a travel, nature and landscape photographer originally from the beautiful Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania. After working for several years in the engineering world, I found photography. Now, my life is a constant back and forth between spending time at home with my wonderful husband and Bernese Mountain dog and traveling the globe doing what I love, capturing moments in time that exemplify the beauty of this amazing world.

I believe in continuous improvement and forcing yourself outside of your comfort zone. So I hope that you’ll follow me on my adventures and allow me to share some of the lessons I learn along the way. Safe travels and happy explorations!