Article thanks to Sue Featherstone Bride Online Columnist

Top Photography Mistakes You Didn't Know You Were Making

Have you ever taken (what you think is) the perfect photo, only to find that your finger is obscuring the lens? How about snapping away before realising you’ve left the lens cap on?

camera on books.png

All photographers – amateur and professional – make mistakes, but if you learn from these errors, you’ll soon be taking better photos. We’ve put together a list of the most common photography crimes that you may not realise you’re guilty of committing.

Blaming Your Equipment

Problem: Thinking that a new or swankier camera will instantly help you take phenomenal photographs.

Solution: The camera doesn’t take photos, you do, so familiarise yourself with your equipment and play with different settings. As you grow in confidence, you’ll become a more proficient photographer. 

Forgetting to Reset Settings

Problem: Ruining that once-in-a-lifetime shot because your settings are wrong.

Solution: It’s important to experiment with your camera, but get into the habit of turning your settings back to your most-used one, after you’ve finished taking photos.

Unclear Focus

Problem: You look at your photo and you can’t figure out why you took it.

Solution: The subject needs to stand out, otherwise your photos are in danger of being bland and confusing. (Your viewer will wonder what they’re supposed to be looking at.) Retake the picture and make sure the subject is the focus of your image.

Lost Subject

Problem: What you’re photographing is too small – or faraway – and it’s swallowed up by its environment.

Fixing Bad Pictures: why do my photos lack impact?

Solution: Walk closer or get a bigger lens. Unless the surrounding area adds to the composition of the image, get rid of this space by filling the frame with the subject.

Fixing Bad Pictures: fill the frame

Lacklustre Composition

Problem: Placing your subject dead-centre, or cutting off hands and feet.

Violation of the rule of thirds

Solution: Don’t create boring photos, keep your point of interest just off centre by sticking to the Rule of Thirds. Divide your screen into three horizontal and vertical sections, and place your subjects where the lines intersect. You can also change your perspective by shooting from the hip or from the ground.

Cluttered Background

Problem: Your background is too busy and it competes with your subject.

Gray Heron (Ardea cinerea) showing a cluttered background

Solution: Take in the entire scene before you press the shutter release, and make sure the objects around your subject don’t overwhelm it, whether in colour or size. Stick to the less is more philosophy.


Respecting Horizons

Problem: Skew skylines and horizons slap-bang in the middle of your photo.

Solution: Use the grid setting to ensure your skyline is straight, and avoid making it the centre of your photo, rather have it a third from the top or bottom of the image, to make it more appealing.

Landscape Photography Tips: 4 ways to ensure a level horizon

Blurry Photos

Problem: Your photos come out unfocused.

Cameras often times miss the mark when left to decide for themselves what to focus on. By arranging the composition of this image and then pressing the shutter down, the camera chose the wrong focal point.

Solution: This happens when you shake, your subject shifts or there isn’t enough light, so your camera can’t focus sharply. Use a tripod for stability, wait for your subject to stop moving or shoot using the action mode. You can also try using a flash or choose a higher ISO setting for a faster shutter speed.

By pre-focusing on his eyes and then composing the image, the boy stays in focus even though he isn't centered.

Poor Lighting

Problem: Squinting subjects, light hitting the wrong place and people in shadow.

4 pose in direct sunlight

Solution: Photography is about catching the perfect lighting moment, and it usually takes careful planning. The most flattering light is early morning and late afternoon, and overcast days provide ideal soft, even light.


Problem: Your photos are too dark because insufficient light is reaching your camera.

Try using histograms: underexposed

Solution: For indoor photos don’t use a flash, rather open curtains and widows, switch on a lamp, and move your subject towards the light source. Try shooting in night mode, or manually adjust your shutter speed to allow in more light.


Problem: Your photos are bright, washed out and lack detail, as there’s too much light hitting your camera.

Overexposed Sky

Solution: For outdoor photos avoid direct sunlight, and take photos in the shade. You can also try underexposing images and standing further away, if you’re using a flash.

Red Eye

Problem: The light from the flash reflects off your subject’s retinas, particularly if they have light-coloured eyes.

Red Eye Removal in Photoshop Elements

Solution: Turn off your flash if possible, make the room brighter, or ask your subject to face the camera but not to look straight at the lens. You can also easily correct this problem with image editing software.


Problem: Using your zoom – instead of your feet – to get closer to your subject. When you zoom in, you bring the subject and the background closer, which can distort the image, and you’re more likely to see the effects of your unsteady hand, unless you use a tripod.

Solution: A good quality telephoto zoom lens is essential when you’re unable to get near your subject (Who wants to aggravate a territorial 7m long saltwater crocodile?), but often taking a few paces towards your target, can make the world of difference to your photo. It also tends to give you a different, more interesting perspective.

Working Too Fast

Problem: Your photo is ruined because there’s strand of hair across your subject’s face, or a telephone pole that looks like it’s growing out of the top of their head.

Solution: Take your time before you click the shutter release and look at your entire composition. If you see a problem fix it there, rather than waiting for post-processing.

Image Quality

Problem: JPEG is the default setting for most digital cameras, but this compresses your information and affects the quality of your photo.

Solution: Get extra memory cards so that you have the space to shoot RAW files. By using the highest resolution possible, you preserve your data and you’ll be able to print your photos in large sizes.

Post- Processing

Problem: Relying too much on programs – like Photoshop – to correct images, and making too many changes so your photos look unnatural.

Blue on White

Solution: Aim to get it right when you take the photo, otherwise you become complacent, believing that you can “fix” the picture later. Take a few test photos first, to check that you get the basics spot-on. Most photographers will tweak their photos slightly during post-processing, but avoid the urge to enhance too much or else they becomes over-contrasted, over-saturated and overdone.

Not Backing Up

Problem: You don’t digitally store your photos.

Solution: Technology is not infallible, so safeguard your precious honeymoon photos by storing them in two different formats, whether DVD, CD, external hard drive or an online backup service.

The joy of digital cameras is that they allow you to (quite literally!) take a thousand experimental photos, without the huge cost of developing your films. Trial and error is fundamental to your growth as a photographer, and if you stick to it, you’ll soon be taking photos that are worthy of a framed place on your wall.

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