TO ERR IS HUMAN
Welcome to a guide on the common photography mistakes and how to avoid them. Yes, everyone makes mistakes and no one is perfect. Beginners, hobbyists, professionals and even seasoned masters alike. It does not matter who, as long as you are human, you will not be spared from the embarrassing misses.
But the better human beings will wish that they have not done those silly things. This guide is exactly a sharing of the stupid stuff that I have done before as a clueless newbie, and these are the things that we should avoid doing. A fair word of warning though, this post consists of many badly Photoshopped examples to illustrate my nonsense. Read on!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Can mistakes be made even before the shoot? Yes, and these are the “expensive” mistakes that can often destroy the entire shoot – Prevent these at all costs.
1) FORGETTING TO BRING CAMERA GEAR
Mistake: Have you ever went to a shoot and not bring the memory card? Bought everything except for the battery? You are not alone, and I have done that a few times before. Luckily, those were not paid assignments and casual shoots. Plus, I am not the only photographer. But that still hurts, and things would have gone in a bad way if those were paid shoots.
Prevention: The best prevention measure that I have to date is not a checklist, but to adopt the “shadow board” method. The compartments of my camera bag are always the same, and the equipment that I put in is always in the same position.
If there are empty “slots”, I will know that I have missed out something. Also, I have a spare camera battery plus memory card in the bag at all times. There is simply no way that I go to a shoot and not take a single photo.
2) FORGOTTEN & FLAT BATTERIES
Mistake: This used to be my number 2 killer mistake, forgetting to bring the camera battery. Also, please take note that it is not just about forgetting to bring the battery… It is about bringing a flat battery to the shoot and not have any spares.
Prevention: Get a spare battery. It obviously helps, and I always keep the spare in my camera bag. Apart from that, my prevention strategy goes like this:
- If the camera battery is flat, I will immediately swap it with the spare.
- If I am at a shoot, I will leave the flat battery in the camera compartment. This will remind me to charge the battery when I get home.
- While the battery is charging, I will leave the battery door on the camera open and lie the camera on the side.
- A flappy battery door when you pick up the camera will definitely remind you to keep the charging battery into the bag.
Mistake: Hey, there’s this cool abandoned building. I bet that will make an awesome place to have a shoot. So very often do we get excited over finding good locations that we forget the “abandoned building” might actually be someone’s private property. Among the other times, we will shoot at an “open public” park and have rangers chase us away with one sentence – “No permit, no shoots allowed”.
Prevention: Bribes don’t always work. *AHEM* Next time, it does not hurt to check if the property is really abandoned, and it does not hurt to check if you need a permit to shoot in that location.
There are so many ways in which things can go wrong during a shoot. Here are a few common ones that you should know and avoid.
4) FORGETTING TO TAKE THE LENS CAP OFF
Mistake: Bow before the fearful almighty lens cap! This is the number one silly mistake that everyone makes, and I don’t just mean the beginners. I am sure seasoned photographers and professionals are guilty of not taking off the lens cap as well.
Prevention: For some reason, no one seems to be able to escape from this mistake. I believe that every photographer is doomed by some sort of lens cap curse. Luckily, lifting the curse is as easy as removing the lens cap before shooting. Yep. If you are looking at pitch black while shooting, you should know that the cap is still on.
5) THE NUCLEAR FLASH
Mistake: The usual mom nagging goes – It’s too dark, turn on the lights or you will spoil your eyes. So we comply to stop the nagging after a few hours. Thankfully with photography, some people seem to be a lot more “generous” with turning on the lights. So much that they will literally blast full powered flash at people, in-your-face style.
Oh please. In-your-face flash is just rude and will only produce shots that look like deer in the headlights. Not to mention that they make your subject squint, and have a long awkward moment of silence after that.
Prevention: For these “hardcore” flashers, it does not hurt to learn more about flash photography and exposure. Boost the ISO, lower the flash power and at the very least, point that flash at somewhere else other than straight into peoples’ eyes. You can even use a piece of tissue to soften that light.
6) WRONG TIME, WRONG PLACE, WRONG APPROACH
Mistake: There is this idol/model/cosplayer that you like a lot. So much that you will follow him/her and camp outside the toilet just to grab a “private” shot. You like to take sudden photos when people are resting and when they have their guard down.
The best way to get the best shot is to wait until someone is tired and wants to take a break. Then you rush in to deliver the “deadly final shot”. Which usually result in a photo of a person in shock or confused.
Prevention: How about asking “can I take a photo of you” nicely?
7) OUT OF FOCUS
Mistake: No, I did not screw up the shot. This is just a very cool Len blur effect (pun intended) that I wanted the photo to be. The wonders of modern day technology, if it is auto-focus, then it must be in focus. I wonder how many people have that complete trust in their cameras these days… Sadly, that trust is misguided. Auto-focus is not always in focus, so don’t just shoot and put 100% trust in your camera.
P.S. Sorry to those who don’t get the pun. This is a shot of a cosplayer, dressed as a character called Len.
Prevention: Shoot and review your shot on the spot. Always zoom in your photos to check if they are in focus after taking a shot. Get the shot right on the spot, or regret later at home – You can never fix a massively blurred photo in Photoshop.
8) I HAVE A GOOD CAMERA, I MUST SHOOT IN MANUAL
Mistake: I have a DSLR camera. This camera only shoots in manual. Automatic is for the weak.
Prevention: Well, don’t be stubborn. Even professionals use semi-auto during event shoots. Think about this, would you rather use automatic, or miss that money shot while struggling to get the correct settings in manual mode?
9) NOT SHOOTING IN RAW
Mistake: It is not wrong to shoot with JPG files. The entire Internet uses the JPG file format, who cares about RAW? Never heard of it.
Prevention: For you guys who are shooting in “JPG only” and have no idea what RAW is, it’s time to make a switch. While it is not wrong to use JPG files, they are lossy, and not good when it comes to editing. RAW files, on the other hand, is lossless and keeps a lot of data. So if your camera supports the RAW file format, do yourself a favor and switch to shoot in RAW. Now.
10) SPRAY AND PRAY
Mistake: I am a beginner, I do not know camera settings, but I know strategy. If I take 9999 shots, at least 1 of them will be good. 🙄
Prevention: Photography is not a gamble. If you spray 9999 random shots, you will get 9999 random shots as-it-is. There are no “sudden hits” in photography, it is all about skills. I know a certain “photographer” who spams thousands of photos, and nobody gives a sh*t about the photos he publishes. So learn how to properly compose a photo, not to spray hard.
11) WAIT FOR IT, WAIT FOR IT, NOT YET, JUST A LITTLE WHILE LONGER
Mistake: If I stay in the same spot long enough, magic will happen. Good shots are worth waiting for, and they rarely happen.
Prevention: No. Sometimes when you want good shots, you have to ask for it, and you have to work for it. If you want to create good shots, you don’t wait for it. You have to think of a shoot concept, and you have to create it yourself.
There is no right or wrong in the way you do photography composition. But there are many bad ways to frame a photo, and here are a few of them.
12) ALWAYS SHOOTING STRAIGHT (TAKING PASSPORT PHOTOS)
Mistake: Well, nothing is really wrong with taking passport photos. Except, it just gets old. Very old. Almost every beginner I come across seem to be “naturally stuck” with portrait, straight on, no tilt. To top things up, they desaturate photos to make “very artistic” black-and-white perfect passport photos. It is good to try this once in a while, but I really don’t think the classic style will work well in modern day photography…
Prevention: Try exploring other angles, it’s time to graduate from passport photos. A bottom-up shot will give people the illusion that your subject is taller. Top-down is usually used to give that “cute” feel. Adding a slight tilt to the camera can give an illusion of movement.
13) GROWING THINGS OUT OF THE HEAD
Mistake: I have to confess, I am guilty of this crime several times. Ever notice that lamp post, tree, or street sign pop out of people’s head? Yes, they don’t look good. Mostly weird, and sometimes funny.
Prevention: Be a ninja, learn to notice your surroundings while you shoot.
14) DRUNK AND SLANTED
Mistake: I know, the Dutch tilt offers an interesting angle and perspective. But you can count on some people to take it to the extreme. Welcome to Dutch tilt gone wrong, or what I like to call “drunk tilt”.
Prevention: Let’s just keep the Dutch tilt moderate, and let straight horizons be straight.
15) CUTTING OFF LIMBS
Mistake: Welcome to an otherwise perfectly good photo, with a missing arm or leg.
Prevention: If you think that an arm or leg is sorely missing from the photo. It probably is. Just take extra care when you are taking photos of people. Don’t SAW off their arms and legs needlessly.
16) AWKWARD POSES
Mistake: It is all good if you are working with a model who knows how to pose himself/herself. But when it comes to working with untrained talents, it is all up to the photographer. I have seen some really awkward “stand straight” and “yoga master” poses before. Don’t just depend on the talent to pose, a good photographer needs to understand some poses as well.
Prevention: Not sure how to pose? Just ask Google or Youtube. The above are 2 generic posing guides for you – These 2 videos sure don’t cover everything on posing. Make sure that you do your own further research for your future projects.
Can you make mistakes after the shoot? Yes, you are not out of the woods yet, and a whole load of pitfalls await in editing.
17) DESATURATION GONE WRONG
Mistake: A classic way of editing photos is to desaturate and leave a spot of color to catch attention. But some people just have to up the game on bad Photoshop. Leaving out a spot of color in a weird way? On a person? Why? Just why?
Prevention: Let’s just not use this desaturation tactic on people and leave it to flowers and objects, shall we?
18) DREAMLAND TURNED NIGHTMARE
Mistake: Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of what the heck. Some people love that warm and fuzzy feel so much that they take it to the god level. Yes, god level. Where the photo is nothing but a ball of warm fuzziness. Much like someone who poured too much softener into the laundry, and had a lot of trouble washing it off. What is the photo all about again? I don’t know, it’s just way too warm and fuzzy for me to care.
Prevention: Practice moderation. Photos need some sharpness and details.
19) VOMIT OF COLORS
Mistake: Photographs must be vivid and colorful to be attractive, so I will make mine super color-fool. I am sure this looks super catchy and super nice now. I am sure everyone will be captivated by this, and love this to bits.
Prevention: Oh please don’t, just leave the color fantasies to unicorns over the rainbow bridge. We humans are not meant to cross that bridge. If we do, our eyes will bleed, and smoke will rise from your head. It can result in permanent brain damage as well.
20) A TRUE HDR HORROR STORY
Mistake: My eyes! They burn! Yes, the masters did say “use HDR to bring out the details”. But they did not say to use it in the worst possible way. HDR will not work on “everything”, and just… don’t post your HDR horrors online unless you really know what you are doing.
Prevention: It is easy to tell when HDR has gone way over with pronounced edges and “color poisoning”. Treat “HDR everything to the extreme” like a taboo.
21) THE PLASTIC DOLL
Mistake: Yet another horrible mistake that I see all over the Internet. People going overzealous with smoothing the skin. Life in plastic must be fantastic. Not. While this may not as bad as warm and fuzzy, it is still stupid. Please don’t turn humans into plastic dolls. We are photographers, not puppet masters.
Prevention: Human skin has pores. It is easy to tell when you turn skin into plastic, you must have gone over.
22) BIG AND UGLY WATERMARKS
Mistake: My photos are worth a lot of money and everyone should know who I am. We should all respect copyright, and so, I make sure that no one can copy my photos. Yeah, right. I think it’s most likely people don’t even bother to copy because of that fat and ugly watermark. Do we really have a need for an excessive watermark?
I mean, the Internet is an interesting place now. We have eyes looking out for each other, and publicly shame people who publish without permission. Publish my work without permission, and make a huge profit? Good. Sue them!
Prevention: Keep your watermark subtle. If you are afraid of people stealing your photos, put the watermark in the middle of the photo and lower the opacity. This way, there is no way the watermark can be cropped or removed.
TO ERR IS HUMAN, TO IMPROVE DIVINE
Thus we have come to the end of the list. No one is perfect, which is why we have exactly gone through a whole list of mistakes to learn from. Everyone will have their moments of failure, just don’t be disappointed and give up. If you keep improving and going on, you will have a good laugh looking back at all the mistakes in the future.
Do feel free to share your mistakes in the comments below, so we can learn from each other.
Cheers, and happy shooting!