Mistakes (Nearly) Every Photographer Has Made

20 Mistakes Every Photographer Makes

I posted a vlog over on my YouTube channel this week discussing a series of beginner photography mistakes.  But, when I was editing I realized there are dozens of other ones that I could have probably listed.  Then, I started to think that there are probably mistakes that even non-beginner photographers have made. I know that long after I might be considered a beginner I still occasionally make these mistakes.

So, I thought I’d list some of these out in blog format.  Also, I’ll use my imagery from the UK as examples. I just realized that I’ve never posted a blog post with my photos from the past couple months, so it’s fitting.

Leave Things Behind

I’m almost guilty of this more now that I was when I was new to shooting. And it’s more of a laziness thing than it is a rookie mistake.  But, how many times have you gone out shooting only to realize you forgot your battery, tripod, or a certain lens?

The Solution: Set up your camera before you leave. Try to take a picture in your room. If it works, pack it all up.  You’ll realize quickly if you’ve forgotten something.  If you’re leaving on an early shoot, pack up everything before you go to bed and it’ll be ready for you to just grab and leave first thing in the morning.

Brighton Beach

Brighton Beach, England

Leave too Late

Sunset is at 6pm, and you rock up at 530pm.  It makes sense, but it just doesn’t give you enough time to look for a composition, and can leave you a little bit rushed to get a cool photo.  And, there are times that sunset or sunrise isn’t the best time to shoot, sometimes it’s just before or after.  Another example is markets.  Let’s say a market opens at 8am. The best time to shoot it might actually be 730am when all the shop owners are setting up.

The Solution: Add an extra 30 minutes to whatever time you think you need to get to a location.

The Lake District, England

The Lake District, England – Other solution: camp at your location.

No Location Scouting

So many new photographers just rock up to a location and think they can get the best images. However, you need to location scout. Not only is that going to make it easier to find compositions in the right light, but it’s going to lead to a less rushed shoot.

The Solution: In the middle of the day, when the light is terrible, go look at locations and eye-ball some shots.

London, England

London, England – I spotted this location on a location scout a week earlier

Not Moving

Jeff Bartlett and I noticed this on our photography workshop in Iceland recently, a lot of newer photographers just don’t move enough.  They stand and shoot the same image, composition, and exposure, over and over hoping for different results.  You have to move. You have to learn to let go of certain compositions and try different ones too.

The Solution: Move. It’s that simple. Get the shot, and move.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh, Scotland – I found this location moving around waiting for light. Move, people!

Not Resetting the Camera to 0

I think everyone has this happen to them. And, usually it’s quite harmless.  You were out shooting long exposures, and you had the camera set to 30 seconds and a 2 second timer. Then, the next day you’re out shooting wildlife or something and you miss your first shot because of the timer or long exposure. And, while that’s harmless, there are cases where it’s not. For example, you were shooting small JPEGs for a time lapse and you forget to switch back to RAW. Or, you were shooting iso3200 at night, and you forget to switch it back to iso100 for the day and you get a series of grainy images.  It’s not usually that big of a deal, but it also can be a disaster.

The Solution: At the end of every shoot when you put the gear back in the bag set your camera settings back to 0. IE: ISO100, aperture priority mode, auto white balance, and no timer.

Glencoe, Scotland

Glencoe, Scotland

Too Shy

A lot of beginner photographers are just too shy with their gear. They seem worried about being in people’s way, or standing out. But, if you want to be a good photographer, you need to get in a zone and just get your shots.  When shooting portraits, you need to be courageous. And, when shooting landscapes you need to be bold enough to stand in the right spot for your shot.

The Solution: Suck it up.

Not Close Enough

I can’t remember who gave the advice, but I once heard that if you’re not happy with your images of a subject, you’re probably not close enough.  Whether it’s portraits or landscapes, sometimes you’ve got to get closer to your subject so that your images “interact” better with the subject.

The Solution: If you’re images feel like they’re lacking power – especially your portraits – put on a wide lens and get up in someone’s face (respectfully).

Isle of Skye, Scotland

Isle of Skye, Scotland – Sometimes you’ve got to get up in your subject’s grill.

No Clear Subject

This is by far the biggest beginner photography mistake.  All images need not only a subject, but multiple layers. Lots of new photographers will just go out and shoot a sunset. And while the sky is amazing, there’s nothing there to make it special. There’s no depth. You need to have 3 layers to a photo: an anchor, a middle (the subject, usually), and a background.  And, the subject of the photo should be obvious to the viewer.

The Solution: Find an anchor (a foreground element) to hold down the image and build the composition from there. Then, you’ll always at least have the anchor as a potential subject.

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

Over-editing

I’ve seen so many beginner photographers edit their first photos, and it’s always messy. And, I was the same when I started, too.  But, it’s not just beginners.  I see a “gap” in people’s photography skill curve. It seems that has they progress they hit a wall and then they try to push forward by over-editing, or moving towards HDR. Editing should be a tool to enhance a photo, not to make it look fake. Be careful, don’t over-edit.

The Solution: If you’re editing in Lightroom, never take a slider past +/- 50.

Under-editing

While over-editing is maybe the biggest mistake photographers make, almost as many don’t edit enough.  Camera’s can’t see the same colour and dynamic range as our eyes can see, so most photos do need a little bit of correction or editing to bring them back to what we see. Editing, when done right, can bring an image from flat and boring, to punchy and exciting.

The Solution: Shoot in RAW, that way everything needs to be edited. Don’t overdo it, but be sure you make adjustments as they are necessary.

London, England

London, England

Everything Eye-Level

Another big photography mistake is shooting everything at eye-level.  And, when images are shot at eye-level, a lot of them can look very much just like a snapshot, rather than a made photo.  Our goal as photographers isn’t to take photos, but rather to make photographs.  And often the difference between a snapshot and a great photo is changing the perspective a bit.

The Solution: If your image looks too basic, try to change the height of the camera significantly. Change the perspective.

Hartland Quay, Devon, England

Hartland Quay, Devon, England – I got way low to the water to get this perspective.

Lack of Sharpness

Honestly, if you can’t shoot sharp images you can’t sell them.  Sharpness isn’t a skill as much as it is a factor of laziness.  You need stability, you need the right shutter speed, and you need the right f-stop.  If your images aren’t sharp, at least from a professional photography standpoint, you might as well chuck them.

The Solution: Tripods aren’t always the solution, but for maximum sharpness use a tripod, an intervalometer, lock the mirror up, turn off the image stabilization on your tripod, and shoot in the sweet spot of your lens (apertures 5.6-11 are sharpest). If you’re hand holding, always try to shoot a shutter speed of 1 / double whatever your focal length is. For example, if you’re shooting at 100mm, shoot 1/200 seconds minimum. If you’re shooting 16mm, shoot at least 1/30 seconds.

Durdle Door, Dorset, England

Durdle Door, Dorset, England

Shooting in Manual

What’s more important: getting the shot, or being able to brag about shooting in manual? There is a tendency among photographers, especially those who have just advanced from beginners to more advanced, to brag about shooting in manual.  Newsflash: most pros don’t.  Personally, when I’m on a walk around I shoot everything in aperture priority. I even set my ISO to Auto with a minimum shutter speed.  In fact, the only time I really shoot in Manual is in extremely tough lighting conditions or when I’m on a tripod.

Don’t be a snob, or stubborn.  There’s no real NEED to shoot in Manual. And, shooting in Manual doesn’t make you a better photographer, it just makes you a more hard-headed one.

The Solution: Aperture priority mode tends to be the best mode to shoot in. And, if you need to, you can always use exposure compensation in situations where you need it.

York, England

York, England

Not Chimping

Chimping = looking at your LCD after you’ve taken a photo.  The term came up during the transition period between film and digital in which film shooters joked that people shooting digital had the attention span of a chimpanzee and needed to constantly look at their LCD after every picture.  Since then, kind of like shooting manual, it’s become almost taboo to Chimp.  But, it’s ridiculous. Why not use the technology you have to get the best shot? Chimp away people!

Or, at least chimp every now and then to make sure you’re doing OK. I think if you chimp every image, you can miss shots. But, you should be chimping every now and then to make sure you’re on the right track.

Again, what’s worse: shooting all your images wrong because you were too stubborn to look at the LCD, or occasionally looking down and getting great images?

The Solution: I always chimp my first couple images to make sure they’re OK. Then, I can concentrate on the shot at hand to capture the moment. I’ll chimp every now and then after that to make sure everything’s still alright. Don’t over-chimp, but do it. And, if someone gives you a hard time for chimping, send them my way.

White Cliffs of Dover, Kent, England

White Cliffs of Dover, Kent, England – I had to chimp a couple times to get this tricky exposure right.

Quitting Too Soon

I think pro photographers are more guilty of this than beginners. We make a lot of assumptions. We think that the light is done, or the moment is done, or that the light isn’t going to get great, so we call it quits too soon.  However, in my experience, some of my best photos are about 20 minutes after I decided I wanted to go home.  Stick it out.

The Solution: As soon as you decide it’s time to call it a day, set your clock for 30 minutes. Spend that time location scouting and exploring for future shoots. When that 30 minutes is up, then go home.

Isle of Skye, Scotland

Isle of Skye, Scotland – With a bunch of rain, we almost called it quits on this shoot just before it cleared and got epic!

They Shoot with the Eye, Not the Camera

The camera sees different than the human eye. And, each lens manipulates that even more. Moreover, the eye doesn’t see long exposure, it sees a smaller range of light, and it sees depth of field different. So, you have to start shooting with the camera, not your eyes. If that makes sense.

The Solution: It’s a practice thing. But, before you take a picture, try to imagine how your camera might make the scene look.

Everything Wide

It’s easy as a new photographer to see the world and want to capture it all in one frame. As such, so many new photographers try to get too much of the scene into a photo. They shoot everything wide. As a result, the images are a bit messy and are too busy. Moreover, shooting wide can also make the big world look smaller.

The Solution: Change Focal Lengths. If you’re somewhere like a market. Walk around once with a wide angle, then switch on a telephoto lens. Same with at a landscape. Shoot it wide, then switch to a telephoto and test out the differences.

Dorset, England

Dorset, England – An iconic location shot with a long lens.

No Story

The constant battle in photography is “what story does this image tell”. And so often, a beautiful photo might not have a story. Early in our photography days, it’s easy for us to play with things like long exposure, or low depth of field and make things look visually pleasing, and that’s a part of the growth stage of photography.  But, what’s the point if there’s no story?

The Solution: Before taking a photo, ask yourself “what’s story does this image tell?”

London, England

London, England – Model: @alajode

Don’t Check the Edges

When I do photo critiques on my facebook group, the biggest thing I notice is that the edges of the frame have something wrong.  It’s so easy for us to focus on the center of the frame and totally forget the edges.  But, if the edges are messy, or something is cut off, it can be totally distracting to the viewer.

The Solution: Slow down when shooting and inspect the edges from corner to corner of your frame before shooting.

The Lake District, England

The Lake District, England

Shoot the Wrong Light

The other thing in my facebook group that I see all the time is amazing locations shot at the wrong time of day.  Almost without exception, the hours directly before, after, and during sunrise and sunset are the best time for photography.  And shooting those hours alone will make your images exponentially better.

The Solution: Don’t be lazy, get up for sunrise.

Isle of Skye, Scotland

Isle of Skye, Scotland

Bonus! Photographer’s Add Their Mistakes

I wanted to open this post up. So, I’m accepting photographer contributions.  Below are various photographer’s talking about their own mistakes over the years. Add yours to the comment section.

“Back when I was new, I never shot in RAW. When I go back to old images, I can’t showcase the vision I had in my head when I took them, and missed out on a lot of great shots.” – Jim Cheney, UncoveringPA.com

“My biggest problem has been not so much forgetting to pack gear as just deciding I won’t take something in order to save space and pack light. I am still kicking myself for every time I have traveled without a tripod because I didn’t want to mess with carrying one around. So many photos could have been much better if I would have had one.” – Justin Stone

“The biggest mistake I made (still do but making a conscious effort to avoid) is simply not going out shooting enough. The best way to learn is to do!” – Richard Coombs

What’s Next?

I’m in Thailand at the moment. And, at the end of the month I’ll round up the trip with some of my favourite images.  As usual, you can follow along in real time over on my YouTube photography channel.




Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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3 Comments

  1. To me, my biggest mistake or bad habit was not paying close attention to ‘focusing sharply’. I would shoot and happy to get the shot which looked good on the screen but upon getting home and checking on big monitor so disappointed at those slightly out of focus shots, especially the good ones! So now I pay close attention to ‘focusing sharp’.

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  2. My worst mistake probably is not trying to reposition people in travel portraits. You don’t want to bother too much, are unsure about your skills and embarrassed if you bothered them and the pic won’t be outstanding… but keeping them in the wrong light will also mean to throw away the pics, which is even more useless and embarrassing…

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  3. shooting with the eye, not the camera – I second this! I remember how I started off frustrated when I saw something I thought was beautiful but it went totally off when captured on camera. It was a tough process to learn to see things while envisioning how it looks in the camera, but as time passes by, this ability just improved my photos immensely! Thank you for sharing, very valid points 🙂

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