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  • Writer's pictureGary Holpin

8 common photography mistakes

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

As a self-taught photographer, I've made a lot of mistakes over the years! So, I thought I would share a few of the common ones with you so that you too can learn to improve your photography.

1 Having distractions at the edge of your photo

On my photography courses, I always start by talking about composition, since it's the quickest and easiest way to quickly improve your photos. One of the rules I stress to my students is not just deciding what to include in your photo, but also making sure you eliminate distractions. Items on the edge of a photo, such as a branch sticking into the frame, or a person's arm, tend to attract the eye of the viewer and can be particularly distracting. So, I always stress that the last thing to do before pressing the shutter is to check the edges of the photo for any distractions, and if possible eliminate them (by moving your point of view, or waiting for a person to move out of the frame.

2 Always putting your main subject in the centre

I think it's a natural instinct to put the main subject of your photo (whether it's a person or a lighthouse) right in the centre of your photo. Whilst this is sometimes the best thing to do (especially in symmetrical scenes) for many scenes it is much more visually pleasing to put the main subject off centre. What works particularly well is to follow the 'rule of thirds' where you split your photo into thirds horizontally and vertically, using two equally spaced vertical and horizontal lines. This grid (which can be turn on on many camera screens) encourages you to put your main subject on one of the 'third' lines which tends to be more visually pleasing than a centre composition. Notice how in the photo below, the main subject / focal point of the church tower has been placed 1/3 in from the left hand side. rather than placed in the centre.

A foggy Honiton landscape photo by Devon photographer, Gary Holpin Photography
A foggy Honiton morning

3 Blaming the camera for poor photos

This mistake is definitely one that I made in the early days of learning to be a photographer! I bought a new camera and simply couldn't seem to take a good photo with it! Rather than realising that I should find some appropriate training to show me how to use it properly, I blamed the camera and simply bought another one, only to find that I had similar problems! Another common complaint is that people think that the reason that their photos aren't good enough is that they don't have the latest camera / lens or other piece of kit. It is very unlikely that this is the reason their photos aren't as good as they hope! So, the advice that I will always give to people who want to improve their photography is first to spend some money on training, and then consider new equipment later, and only then as a last resort if they find something that their current kit isn't capable of doing.

Assorted camera equipment

4 Always taking the obvious composition

I will be honest in saying that if I am going to a new photo location I will always have a look on social media for images of that location taken by other photographers. I find this is helpful so that I have a basic understanding of the location and the compositions that work. However, what I do NOT do is turn up, spend five minutes taking the classic view and then get in the car and go home! I use the shots that others have taken as a starting point, but always take my time to explore the location and find my own compositions. In fact, I can often be found at a location for an hour or even two, simply exploring for compositions. Although it's fine to take the classic view taken by 100 other photographers (after all, there is a reason why it's a classic view!) you will learn much more by exploring the location and trying to find other views that work.

5 Always taking horizontal (landscape format) shots

Like many photographers, the majority of the shots that I take are 'landscape' orientation. After all, it's natural as that's the way that you normally hold your camera. However, it's always important to consider if turning the camera on its side and taking a portrait orientation shot is more appropriate. There are two main reasons why you might do this. The first is that some compositions simply work better in portrait; especially views that have a lot of layers of content that you want to make the most of. The second is that portrait format is the natural orientation for photos for Instagram. Personally, I always start with landscape orientation compositions, but will always then consider whether there are portrait ones that might work too. In the photo below, this view simply worked better as a portrait orientation.

A landscape photo of Windy Post, Dartmoor by Devon Photographer Gary Holpin Photography
Windy Post, Dartmoor

6 Always using Auto mode

Auto mode is the way that we all start out photography, and much of the time it will work fine. But whatever your camera, and however much it cost, there will be times when auto will not do a good job, or will not give you the results that you want. For example, if you point your camera on auto mode at someone standing with a beautiful view behind them, your camera will identify that you're taking a photo of a person; it will assume that the person is the main subject of your photo, and will blur the background so as to create a visual focus on the person. But, what if you want to see the view behind the person too? This is when learning how to move off auto and gaining full creative control of your camera is the best way to improve your photography, and why all of my courses specialise in training students to do this!

A camera graphic

7 Over processing your images

If you shoot in Jpeg format, your camera automatically applies some basic corrections and post-processing. If you shoot in Raw format (as I do) then your camera simply captures the basic information, and you will need to do some post-processing on the image before it is ready to be used. Post processing is therefore an essential step if you want to move from taking snaps, to producing creative photography. However, it's easy to overdo the post processing and produce images that simply look completely fake, such as over saturating or over boosting the colours to create something that could never be seen in real life. Although it's a creative choice, and entirely up to you how far you go, I often see photos on social media where people have been heavy handed with their post processing and have created photos that just look totally unreal (and in my opinion have been ruined). My photos have a style that I call 'reality plus ten percent' where I have post processed them to be slightly better than reality; i.e. a sunset that's 10% more orange that in real life. That's my creative choice, and I believe that I create art that makes the most of reality, without making it look fake, however others may disagree! It's important to find your own style when post processing, but be careful not to be too heavy handed.

8 Not checking your settings

We've all done it, and this is one mistake that sadly I still make occasionally now! After a day out taking people shots, with the focus mode and other settings that are appropriate for this style of photography, I have been known to go out and take landscape shots without changing the settings appropriately. Although sometimes you might get away with this, at other times it can ruin your photos. So it's important to review your settings before pressing the shutter, especially if you are switching between different genres of photography. Some cameras can make this easier by allowing you to save to memory whole sets of settings; so on my Sony A7RVI I have a dial where I can easily switch between all the settings appropriate for portraits, and another which are perfect for landscapes.

Want to learn how to take photos like a pro?

If you want to learn more, why not consider one of my one-to-one courses, or if you're not local to Devon, one of my highly rated weekend residential workshops for beginner photographers or for intermediate photographers?

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