Everyone makes beginner photography mistakes. Otherwise, they wouldn't be common. So don't feel bad if you find you're making mistakes on this list or any other mistakes.
I've seen photographers with decades of experience and lists of awards make these mistakes. Certainly, I've also made these mistakes.
We're imperfect creatures, so don't worry. The idea of this list is to help you identify new habits you can create to help avoid beginner photography mistakes in the first place.
What Are 10 Beginner Photography Mistakes to Avoid?
You're probably going to recognize a lot of items on this list. If you're honest, you can also admit that you've made some of these mistakes, too.
The idea of this list isn't to cause shame for anyone. Rather, sometimes we just need to admit to ourselves that some of our actions are preventable. Acceptance is the first step to recovery.
With that in mind, let's get on with our list of beginner photography mistakes.
1: Using the Wrong White Balance
This mistake is easier to make than most people realize. In my case, it happens when I'm in a rush and don't pay attention to critical settings because I'm in a hurry to get a photograph.
Here's one example of my mistake with using the wrong white balance.
I was in Las Vegas on vacation and planned on taking photos along The Strip. Nothing wrong with that. My White Balance was set for Daytime, as it was a lovely day outside.
I went inside The Flamingo for some reason, and then I found a lovely woman in a Showgirl costume. We spoke a bit and she agreed to a photo.
The whole thing only took seconds and I only took one photograph. It was a bit of a quick tourist snapshot, not a portrait session.
She went on her way and I looked at my LCD to see the results. She was Pink. The whole photo was pink. I shot it as a JPEG, too.
Well, let's just say that my daylight White Balance didn't react kindly to the interior lights in The Flamingo that day.
Perhaps using Auto white balance would've helped, but I planned on taking photos in daylight and that's what my settings reflected.
A sudden opportunity with limited time to get a photo ended up with a dreadful result.
I'm embarrassed to show this photo, as there are a number of problems. However, I present The Pink Lady as an example of what NOT to do in a hurry.
2: Your Composition is Too Busy with Distractions
The best photography advice I ever got with regard to creating a composition went something like this:
Distill your photo to only include the absolutely essential elements and eliminate anything that does not support your subject.
A busy background or unnecessary elements in your background (or foreground) take attention away from your subject.
There are different ways to eliminate distractions. Ideally, you want to physically remove the distractions. That isn't always possible, so you have some other options at your disposal.
Take a moment to consider your options and you'll come up with a better result.
3: Poor Lighting on Your Subject
How many times have you found someone's social media profile photo where they look like a silhouette? It's usually a photo taken in a nice place with backlighting.
There's this common advice given for quick portraits to not let the subject face the sun so they don't squint in the photo. On the surface, that sounds like practical advice.
However, you still need good lighting on your subject.
Maybe you have issues with dappled lighting, too much harsh light, or the light is so flat and boring that your subject just blends into everything else.
Our eyes are drawn to the brightest thing in the photo, so we need light on our subjects to allow them their prominent place in a photo. That light should be different than the light around them.
Sometimes you can do this with flash or you can also use a reflector. Basically, don't let your subject suffer in the photo.
Use the right light for your subject.
4: Your Subject is Too Small in the Frame
Have you ever come across a scene that looks wonderful to you, and then you try to take a portrait of someone in front of it?
Tourists do this all the time. Either the photo shows the enormous scene and the people are tiny little insects in the view, or the people look normal and you can't see what was interesting behind them.
This is a problem with proportion. It's pretty easy to fix and you only have to remember one thing.
Objects closer to your lens look larger.
A photographer I know once took a portrait of a model on the bow of a yacht.
It was a great photo of the yacht. The model was so small I couldn't make out any details about her, other than she wore red.
If he really wanted to show both the yacht and the model, he needed to get the model closer to him. Either that, or he needed to get on the yacht with her.
When you have two objects of interest in your photo and they're of greatly different sizes, then you have to decide which is really your subject.
5: You Have Poor Color Coordination in Your Photo
Color theory helps experienced photographers stand above all others. It's easy to forget this when you're still thinking about controlling the settings on your camera or lighting gear.
Take a moment and step back from the technical aspects of photography.
The time you spend thinking about the creative elements of your scene will have dramatic results. Even if your viewers never consciously think about it, something about your photograph will seem superior.
You see this in commercial photos, advertisements, and movies all the time. Colors aren't selected randomly or used without thought.
Colors bring emotions to your scene. Some colors work well with other colors. Likewise, some color combinations work poorly. I know, because I live in Orlando and I see what tourists wear when they visit.
Color coordination isn't just about wardrobe for portraits. Some locations have a consistent color theme. Others look more coordinated at different times of the day or night.
The color of light can have a strong influence to unify everything else in the scene if there's a color cast to the light. It's another reason why sunrise and sunset make for a beautiful time to take photos.
6: Your Photo Lacks Depth & Dimension
Photos are flat, two-dimensional works of art. So is a painting or the window on a building.
If you want to appeal to your viewer, make them believe they're looking through a window out to a beautiful scene by adding a sense of depth. Remember to include space and balance in your composition, too.
This is why photographers advise that you have a foreground, middle, and background to your scene. These layers trick the mind into thinking a flat photo is actually three-dimensional.
Filmmakers like to use depth. When possible, there's always some room to move behind a subject. The view creates a sense of reality in the mind.
7: Your Photo Has Uneven Horizon Lines
It's a very common mistake to take a photo where one end of the horizon dips lower than the other. It's not a problem if you fix it in your Crop tool later in post-processing.
The only time this becomes a beginner photography mistake is when you fail to fix the horizon line and then SHOW your photo to someone else.
If it looks like water is running downhill in your photo, it better be a waterfall.
The ocean doesn't tilt one way or the other. Neither do lakes or deserts or any other kind of horizon line.
This is an easy fix. Unless you have some compelling, artistic reason to show an uneven horizon line, it just doesn't look good in a photograph.
8: Your Exposure is Wrong
There's nothing wrong with a dark background or a high-key background. The question about correct exposure is whether you're presenting the photo in a way that your viewer doesn't have to fight to comprehend what's going on in the frame.
If you've under-exposed or over-exposed your photograph to the point of losing data or detail in your photograph, then you have a problem.
Someone once asked me who is to say what a “correct exposure” is, anyway.
My answer is, “Everyone who looks at your photo.”
Sharing a photo with poor exposure is often one of those times when you love what's in the photo more than you love creating a good photo. Perhaps you think you can somehow save a bad photo because the subject is so interesting.
When these thoughts go through your head, fight them. Seek help from others. Someone you trust who will tell you the truth about your photo. Then bury that photo deep so no one ever sees your mistake.
9: You Have Blurry Photos
Nailing your focus is an important skill to master.
That doesn't mean 100% of your photograph should be in focus. I love good bokeh as much as the next person. I think using blur to create a sense of motion is a wonderful creative technique.
However, the critical part of your photograph – which is the key part of your subject – needs to be in focus.
I once encountered someone who took photos out of the passenger seat in a moving car and thought the result was creative and artistic.
My thought was less kind because all I saw was a hot mess of blurry photos.
Art is in the eye of the beholder. Most people, I think, like to behold something that they don't have to struggle to interpret or understand when they look at a photo.
I don't believe that photos are reality, but I do think that they need to create an acceptable illusion to the viewer.
Blurry photos when you intended to capture a sharp result are a mistake.
10: You Over-Processed Your Photos
Over-processing photos happens when you're trying a bit too hard and then cross an undefined line. You don't know where that line is, but you can tell when you've crossed it.
Some telltale signs of over-processed photos include:
Over-processing your photos is a beginner photography mistake when you first start getting into post-processing tools. If a little is good, more must be better, right?
More is garish, not better. It's easy to get to this point without even realizing it.
One method to protect yourself is to beware of changes made while zoomed into a part of the image. Always be sure to back off to view the entire photo and determine how it looks.
If you see halos, too much sharpening or garish colors, then you need to back off. Not sure where things went wrong? Then reset back to your original photo and start over.
You may start to see unusual artifacts appear in your photo when you've over-processed them. Compare your post-processing results to your original photo.
Then ask yourself this question. Did you enhance what was there, or did you distort what was there?