The Ten Most Common Photographic Mistakes in Photography
November 13, 2008, 03:39 PM
by Yogi Sujiwo
The Ten Most Common Photographic Mistakes taken from http://www.aguntherphotography.com/the-ten-most-common-photographic-mistakes.html Here is a quick rundown of the most common mistakes people
me) make that mess up a good photo or prevent us from taking a good
photo. It is a big leap for me to start talking about taking photos,
since it is so much more subjective than writing Photoshop
I am on a journey and often times I look at older pictures on this site
and wonder why I even took the photo (at least I have some negative
examples to show you). I am taking the easy way out, starting with
things that can go wrong, to kick off this series on photography
1. Images are too cluttered (less is more)
Photography, less is often more. Before pressing the shutter-release button, ask
yourself what you first noticed in a scene that made you want to take
this photo. Then try to isolate whatever you saw, without including too
much in the scene. Otherwise the viewer will get confused and will
start wondering what you wanted to show and why you bothered taking the
photo in the first place.
Compare this photo of Downtown Philadelphia... Philadelphia
This image outlines how tight the space is in the city. Philadelphia
Apartment Bulding ...with this
photo of the reflection of an old building in a new building
second image (left) is contained within the first image; however, the
image really brings out what I wanted to show - the contrast of old and
new. Most "snapshots" would include a lot more of the scene than even
the first image shows, dwarfing the actual subject even more.
human eye and mind tends to see a 3-dimensional scene differently. You
automatically blend out things you don''t care about. In a photograph
it''s exactly the opposite.
The things you didn''t even see in the first
place tend to pop out and come right at you: Wham, in your face viewer.
The first image is still a good image if you wanted to show how space
is at a premium in large cities and how tight the buildings clinch
together. For that matter, I didn''t even bother correcting the
perspective (narrowing down towards the top of the image) as it tends
to increase the feeling of tightness.
Even though the photo of the Apartment Buildings (right) is not exactly
a photographic masterpiece, it
shows exactly why I even bothered to look at the building (repetitive
pattern of windows).
Had there been more in this picture, it would be a
lot less interesting.
Here is an example of too much going on: Bruhls Terrace Dresden
someone even bothers to look at the picture, his eyes will start to
wander. Once you are at the parachute in the lower left corner (your
eye is almost out of the picture now), you start to wonder about the
person that''s not even in the picture anymore and you are out of the
picture. A good photo however, should draw the viewer in.
2. There is no Bad Weather in Photography
This is a myth. For Photography there is no such
thing as bad weather. In fact, I have consistently taken my best photos
in what most people consider bad weather. Some places look "just right"
with thick thunderstorm clouds, like this image of Half Dome: Half Dome during a
Winter Storm That
day I saw many tourists leaving the park in disappointment while many
others like me took photos with umbrellas and rain gear.
hear comments by people complaining that they don''t have a clear blue
sky (I call it a boring sky) and that their photos would look dull.
Most don''t even bother to take a photo. Big Mistake!
3. No Patience
and Storm with El Captian Vernal
Falls with Rainbow
is a virtue. I took one of my best images in Yosemite in Winter. Winter
can really test your patience. The whole day was rainy and foggy (zero
visibility - exception for #2) and not very interesting in terms of
photography (even Half
Dome was hidden in the clouds). However, I
stuck around hoping for a clearing and it really happened. I was
rewarded with a dramatic shot of El Capitan peeking through the clouds,
bathing in golden sunlight (left).
I admit, sticking around for a whole day is a bit extreme. Here is
another example (right).
knew that if I waited long enough for the sun to set behind me, a
rainbow would show up in front of Vernal
Falls. I had to wait 90
minutes for this to happen (and it only lasted a minute or so). While I
was standing there in the cold mist, wondering if the rainbow would
ever show, I was passed by many other photographers who stood around
for a while, wondered what I was looking for, got bored and left.
Two more guys, who joined me after a while, held out with me and we had
4. The Digital Attitude
Photography is a blessing. You can take as many photos as you want
without paying a dime and you can get instant feedback in the field.
However, people often use the feedback the wrong way. When you ask ten
a "digicam" what they like best about their camera, a large percentage
will tell you that the best feature of digital cameras is that they can
delete pictures they don''t like !!!!!!
Since when is deleting a
picture a good feature?
The quality of a picture can only be judged on
screen , and unless something is really wrong (e.g. someone
walked into your frame while you pressed the shutter), you should NEVER
delete a picture in the field .
can only be judged by
means of a histogram
(those screens are not calibrated and may not look
right in the bright sun).
Only use the metrics (histogram, exposure,
aperture, ISO) to judge your image exposure.
Never judge by how it appears on the camera screen. You can always
delete the pictures at home (if you are
trigger happy), but I usually keep everything. Flash Memories are
cheap. I usually carry an image
tank with me; this way I can back up my cards and never
have to delete anything.
5. The Photoshop Attitude
I recently wrote a post about this: Photoshop
it Later .
A "photographer" took a photo of a group and noticed that the flash
hadn''t fired. He put the camera in his pocket with the comment "I''ll
photoshop it later".
There are so many things wrong with this (read my
if you want to know more), but even if he could solve all his
problems with Adobe
Photoshop (he would at least get increased noise
levels), he would need to spend a lot of time on the photo.
second shot with the flash enabled would only take a few seconds. So if
you think a photo didn''t come out right and if you have the chance,
always take another one (but don''t delete the first - see 4, someone
might have their eyes closed in the new one or there might be some
other reason the previous shot turns out better).
Photoshop is an invaluable tool for photographers (I even wrote some Photoshop
Tutorials myself); however, it is not a remedy for everything
and you cannot turn bad photos into good ones with Photoshop alone.
I am a technical (computer) geek and we used to say, Garbage in -
Garbage out. The same applies to Photoshop.
6. Unwanted things in a scene
Polynesian Idols with
Polynesian Idols Isolated
Often you thought about everything and you think you got the perfect
shot. When you review the photo on your computer you see an ugly tree
branch, a power line or something else that you didn''t recognize while
taking the photo. Just as it was true in mistake number 1, the brain
plays tricks on us. Before pressing the shutter, take your time and
scan the scene through your viewfinder. Scan it with your eye from the
upper left all the way to the lower right, focusing your mind on trying
to find these items.
Often times a slight change in angle or a step
left or right can solve the problem and make a photo so much better.
In the two pictures above, I had shot the Polynesian Idols as I
approached them. I quickly realized that the background was competing
with the figures. This is due to the fact that the three dimensional
scene is mapped to a two dimensional photo. The background distracts
too much from the idols. Taking two steps to the left allowed me to
isolate the subjects.
7. Always shooting from eye level while standing up
Oftentimes a scene can be much more interesting if photographed low
(i.e. on your knees or belly): Oregon
Dunes Grass Bush
I took this photo lying on my stomach. Lying
on my stomach close to the ground, I could make the small bush
dominate the entire picture and show the curvy windswept texture of the
from Baltimore .
For other photos consider climbing to a higher vantage point: Nevada
Falls - Yosemite
Shot from the trail
you won''t have the choice of a much higher vantage point. You can climb
on a tree or stand in the doorframe of your car (the picture above was
from the trail though).
It is just a matter
of deciding to go the extra few steps and climbing a nearby mountain to
gain a slightly different perspective that may work much better. It
won''t always work out, but you will soon learn to appreciate seeking
different angles and Points of View (POV). Those will make much more
interesting and less static images.
For this image of Cusco Peru (left), Cusco Plaza de Armas
It wasn''t easy to find the perfect vantage point for this photo.
walked around for a while, always keeping in mind how I wanted to
photograph the city. Rattlesnake
I kept searching for a good place that would let me include the market,
the two churches and the hill with the writing, but however much I kept
wandering around, my sight was either blocked or I couldn''t get
everything in the picture I wanted to include.
After a while, I found an old abandoned church and
a little girl was friendly enough to guide me up the spire (she was
somewhat the unofficial keeper of the key).
repaid her with a tip for her kindness and both of us
were very happy.
was able to get a photo that nobody else had, because I spent the extra
time looking for a better vantage point.
In fact it is very hard to
photograph the city square from anywhere else, since there is no open
For the image of the rattlesnake, getting down eye to eye with
the snake made it that much
more dramatic than just standing up. (A glass window
kept me safe; the image was taken in the Zoo, thanks for being
concerned ;-) )
8. Placing People in the Picture
people don''t take a single photograph without posing in front of a
perfectly good scene. Don''t get me wrong, its nice to see someone was
somewhere, but how many of those can you really look at and stay
interested? The pictures feel
extremely static and people always pose the same way. You might as well
pose in front of a blue screen.
I don''t mind a few vacation
snapshots and some of them can be quite funny, but I think it is a much
better idea to capture the moment. People laughing and joking or having
fun going after some activity is much more interesting than having them
pose together in front of
9. Not including other people
This one is a
180 degree turn from the previous item on the list. There are perfectly
valid reasons to include people in photographs. Often I wait
people to leave the picture, not realizing that they belong in the
scene. For reasons of copyright, I usually only publish images of
people whose faces cannot be recognized or who agreed at least orally to
The three most common reasons to include people:
the Viewer into the Scene. Placing a person outside of the main area of
interest and having the person look into the photo. The viewer can
identify with the person:
Giving a sense of scale. Only with the person in the scene
can a viewer truly grasp the size of Delicate Arch in this scene:
Or giving depth to a scene:
The Person is part of the scene itself, an actor or the
person is the scene (sports)
Documenting the life of people, the person being tightly
related to the scene:
10. Wrong Perspective
Your camera has a zoom function, doesn''t it? Use it!!!!
coming back to the tourist photographs. Most people that pose in front
of a great scene, let''s say a mountain, get their photo taken from up
close. In the photograph the mountain scene will be dwarfed by the size
of the people in the scene. If you step back as far as possible and
zoom into the scene, the size of the people in the scene will still be
the same (you can zoom in until you are satisfied).
However, since you
zoomed in, the mountain will now be much bigger, making the
whole photograph appear much more dramatic. Every one of your friends
will envy your great photo, since it is not just another face shot, but
it also has another big and interesting subject (the mountain).
same is true for photographs without people. If you have a foreground
and a background subject, move away from the foreground and zoom in.
This will accentuate the background much more, yielding a much more
Santa Ines Mission with
Ines Mission with large cross
The only difference in the two images above is where I am standing. The
cross and the bell tower are at the same distance in both images, but
the image to the left compresses the depth between the tower and the
cross (too much for my taste, so I stepped a little closer). Often the
situation is exactly the opposite, and by stepping back you can bring
the background closer.
Moving close to the cannon accentuates the cannon
and dwarfs the fort in the background (in this case the desired effect,
since I wanted to show the size of that cannon): A cannon at the
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