‘If you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something’.
Whether you’ve just started taking photos, or have been taking them for many years, making mistakes is inevitable. That’s how we learn and grow our craft.
I should know; I’ve made many mistakes over the years!
I once forgot to zip up my camera bag on the first day of a big shoot, and my camera fell out and my main lens smashed. I was in the Caribbean and there were no camera shops on the island, of course!
About 15 years ago I photographed a wedding without checking all my equipment first, and the entire shoot was slightly out of focus because one of my lens was broken. I hadn’t noticed at the time because I was shooting on film - eek!
Oh and there was time time I forgot to charge my batteries and turned up on a job with very little life left in my camera. I managed to get the job done, but only just.
The fact is that everyone makes mistakes, and that’s ultimately how we learn. You can be sure that I’ve never gone to a job without checking ALL of my equipment and charging my batteries first.
Hopefully you won’t make any of these mistakes, but here are a few that I see quite often, and ones that are really easy to fix :)
TIP NO. 1
NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO THE BACKGROUND
Sometimes we’re so focused on what we’re photographing that we forget to check the background.
The most common result of this is a wonky horizon, people’s feet being chopped off, or the subject having a big ugly sign coming out of the top of their head.
It doesn’t matter how good the photo is, all you’ll notice is the sign!
All of these are distracting and take our focus away from the subject. In portrait photography, we want to lead our eyes towards the subject, so the fewer distractions in the background, the better.
Every time you take a photo, get into the habit of quickly scanning the entire viewfinder, checking for any potential distractions. Look in all 4 corners, making sure the camera is level. If you’re not confident about doing this by eye, many cameras have grid lines which you can switch on in the menu which will quickly tell you when you’re level.
On an iPhone, you can switch on the grid function by doing the following:
Open the Settings app
Scroll down to the Camera and open it
Find Grid and toggle it on
If there is something distracting coming out of your subject’s head, just move a step to one side or the other.
If you can’t get all of your subject in the frame, step in closer for a tighter crop to avoid chopping the feet off!
TIP No. 2
NOT THINKING ABOUT THE LIGHT
Light has the ability to transform our photographs like nothing else; it can turn something ordinary into something magical. I’m reluctant to say that there is ‘bad lighting’ but being aware of the light and knowing how to use it to its full potential can have a huge impact on your photography.
Light changes depending on the time of day. Typically, the light during the hours around sunrise and sunset, when the sun is low in the sky, is very flattering. In contrast, during the middle of the day when the sun is directly overhead, the light can be much stronger, causing hard shadows.
I took these images at the same place, on the same day, at different times. You can see the strong shadow under the boy’s chin on the left hand side, and in fact it was so bright that he had to wear sunglasses. However, in the image on the right, you’ll see they aren’t squinting, and there is a softness that the other image doesn’t have.
I do love to shoot in these golden hours around sunrise and sunset, although I realise that if you've got young children, it’s not always possible or practical to take them out at this time!
If you're taking photographs in the middle of the day, in hard light, here are a few tips that will help you:
(i) Don’t face your subject directly into the sun
They’ll invariably squint and will have strong shadows on the their face, most noticeably under their eyes, nose and chin.
Instead, turn them so that they have their back to the the sun, like in the image above. You’ll probably need to alter your exposure as the light may be coming towards you.*
(ii) Move them into the shade.
They won’t have to squint, and the light will be softer and more flattering. Once in the shade you can still have them turn towards the sun to maximise the available light.
Next time you’re outside, I encourage you to looking closely at the quality of light.
- What time of day is it?
- Is the sun directly overhead, can you see how it falls on your subject’s face?
- Are there hard shadows or does everything look soft and glowing?
An easy way to check the light is to look at your hand and notice the way the light is falling on it. Hold your hand out in front of you with your palm facing you, and turn a full circle. See how the light changes on it, as you move.
*Exposure is a big subject and if you’d like to learn more about it, I have a whole lesson devoted to it in my FREE mini photography course called Compose, Capture, Create which you can access right here.
TIP No. 3
Oh this one is particularly painful. You think you’ve got a beautiful photo, and it’s only when you get home that you notice your subject is slightly out of focus. It’s so disappointing because, more often than not, you can’t correct this later, and I'm all for getting it right in camera, first time around.
There are quite a few reasons why your subject can be slightly out of focus, or blurred; I’m going to talk about 2 reasons here.
(i) Your camera may have set its focus on the wrong part of your image.
When you take a photo, your camera typically reads the area near the middle of the image and puts that into focus. However, maybe you want to take a photo with your subject on one side of the image, which can make for a more interesting composition.
If the camera is focusing in the middle of the frame, your subject won’t be in focus because - they aren’t there!
You can adjust the focus modes in your camera’s menu, so that it focuses on a different area other than the centre, but here's a quick tip you can implement without going into your camera menu.
Instead you can try a technique which is called ‘focus and recompose’. I use it all the time.
- Point your camera at your subject and press your shutter release button only half way down so the focus is locked in on them.
- Keeping your finger on the shutter button, you’re now free to move the camera so that you can recompose and place your subject anywhere in the frame. As the focus is locked on them, they will be in focus, regardless of where they are in the frame.
If you’re shooting with your iPhone, and you want a particular area in focus, simply tap on the screen where you want it to focus.
Tip: always make sure that your subject’s eyes are in focus. This is the focal point of many portraits and helps us connect with the subject.
(ii) Another reason for an out of focus image is using a shutter speed that’s too slow.
If your subject matter is moving and your shutter speed is set too low (like 1/30th of a second) then it’s likely that they’ll look a bit blurry. Make sure you’re shutter speed is set to at least 1/500th of a second.
If you want to find out more about shutter speed and how to control it, why not download my free eBook called ‘The Beginner’s Guide to Basic Camera Settings’. You’ll discover what shutter speed is, and how to use it intentionally in your images.
Tip no. 4
NOT BACKING UP YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS
If your computer got stolen, or your phone went for a swim, are you 100% confident that none of your photographs would be lost?
Whether you take photographs for a living or simply to document your life and family, you really don’t want to lose your images. The memories you've captured are most likely some of your most treasured possessions, and yet digital media can be incredibly fragile.
From Time Machine on a Mac (which involves using an external hard drive) to a file hosting service like Dropbox, there are multiple ways to back up your images. Aside from these kinds of services, I also keep multiple external hard drives in a separate building from my office. I’m not suggesting that you need to be so vigilant but I do encourage you to have at least your favourite images backed up somewhere away from your home.
It's easy to do, and will greatly increase the longevity of your images. We can't put a price on the memories that we create, and we need to treat them with great care.
Tip no. 5
Do you ever wonder why one photo ‘works’, and another doesn't? Sometimes it’s simply the use of a compelling composition which creates an interesting image. Composition is the way that the various elements in the image are arranged, and there are lots of techniques you can use to dramatically improve your composition and give your pictures more impact.
Great composition can help lead our eye into the frame, draw our attention to a certain area, and balance the image as a whole.
One of my favorite principles is the Rule of Thirds. It’s been used in art for hundreds of years, and is one of the easiest ways to add impact to your composition.
Imagine your image is divided into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. Now try placing the focal point of your image on one of these intersecting points on the grid.
TIP: Don’t forget you can switch on your camera’s grid system in the viewfinder if you’re not sure where your lines intersect.
You don’t need to use this rule every time, just be aware that your subject matter doesn’t always have to be in the centre of the photograph. The more you do it, the easier it will become and soon you’ll be doing it intuitively without the need for a grid.
There are lots of other techniques that are fun to experiment with. Look out for leading lines, negative space, changing your viewpoint and many more! Regardless of whether you’re photographing landscapes or portraits, all of them will help you achieve stronger and more dynamic photographs.
So, friends, that’s it for today! I hope these quick tips have given you a little insight into a few common photography mistakes, and how to fix them.
Just remember, if we’re making mistakes, it means that we’re developing our craft and learning, so don’t be scared to make them! If you'd like my free downloadable PDF covering everything in this post, go and grab your copy right here.
My aim is to really help you improve your photography skills become more confident with your camera. Why not join me in my free private Facebook Group, The Photography Lab. It's a friendly community of like minded people who want to share, learn and grow their photography skills. You can sign up right here.