13 Bad Habits That Can Ruin Your Photography

Do this simple test below. For each bad habit, give yourself a test score.

1. Leave the Camera at Home

The best camera is the one you have with you—even if it’s on your smart phone. Not every photo you take is photography competition material nor is it of commercial value. Regardless, a huge megapixel count and optimum lens quality on a DSLR is useless if left at home.

2. Rely on a Single Memory Card

Those little storage cards are expensive, but the temptation to be frugal will bite you on the bum. Murphy’s Law states that your memory card will fill up precisely when you’re shooting that money shot, when the light is right, or when the entire group is all smiling at you. The remedy? Buy more memory cards.

3. Don’t Back Up Your Photos

I know a friend who fills up a memory card with images then buys another, fills that up, then buys another—a dangerous habit! He recently confessed he’s lost some of his precious photos. Personally, I have experienced the pain of having a hard drive fail, losing more than a year’s commercial photography work. To be super-secure, you really should store your photographs in three different locations.

4. Chimp

Constantly checking your images on the LCD display is called chimping. Nothing wrong with it, unless you’re into street photography or at a wedding or party. You may miss that decisive moment, as you’re too engrossed in the perfectionistic tendency of chimping.


photo by Jim Pennucci

5. Shoot from Eye Level

Amateur shutterbugs tend to hold the camera at head-height. However, this will produce predictable results. When shooting in a location, learn to ‘work the scene’. Drop to your knees, or even lie on the ground, searching for fresh angles. An aerial perspective can be stunning. Remember that the best tool of composition is your feet.

changing perspective

photo by in transition

6. Fail to Consider the Background

Look for a simple background behind your subject. For example, avoid having a telephone pole in the distance that appears to protrude from a person’s head. If you have a long lens, you can employ a narrow depth-of-field to blur the background. This will isolate your subject from the clutter beyond, achieving a degree of separation.

7. Center the Subject

Ignore the rules of composition at your peril. If you want your photos to stand out, learn and use the Rule of Thirds rather than place your focal point bang in the middle, like most folks do, (in blissful ignorance). Or, add dynamic by tilting your camera at an angle. Don’t forget to try different types of framing: portrait orientation versus landscape orientation. Or even a really wide panoramic crop.

8. Shoot Only in Bright Daylight

Confession time… I am guilty of this. Because I trained back in the bad old days of film, when strong light was necessary to capture good images, I became a fair-weather photographer. Also, I used compact digital cameras for a decade, which were hopeless in low light situations. So I was infatuated with clear, blue skies, as cloudy skies often washed out into a white haze.

However, under a harsh, midday sun, shadows are short and therefore objects do not look three-dimensional, lacking form. Human subjects may squint into the sun, or blink. Worse, they may have an ugly ‘sun-dial’ effect under their noses! Better to pose people in the shade.

photography at sunrise

photo by Jeff P

Landscapers should learn to work with softer, diffused light, This is mandatory for waterfall scenes. Thunderclouds overhead will introduce a sense of foreboding that blue skies cannot. Golden hour lighting will exude warmer tones and longer shadows.

9. Don’t Read the Camera Manual

Same old story: you buy a new camera, put the box away and the camera’s manual stays inside the plastic bag. Perhaps you were too eager to use your new gadget. Well, now it’s time to dig out the manual, and attack it with a highlighter pen.

Be methodical, and diligently work through each function of your camera. You may find features you didn’t know existed!

10. Shoot on Auto

If you haven’t read the camera manual, your photos may suffer from the restrictions of shooting in Automatic mode. Modern cameras are amazing and can produce great results on Auto, but not consistently. Better to take control yourself. Learn the semi-automatic shooting modes, such as Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority. Then, if you are brave, try shooting on Manual.

11. Think That Post-Processing Can Fix Anything

This is a lazy habit to fall into. It’s much better to get a shot right in-camera, including the correct exposure, as blown-out highlights cannot be retrieved later. Another consideration is ensuring that the horizon is straight, or you will lose the edges of your image when rotating then cropping it on a computer. Use the 3×3 grid on your LCD display or a spirit level fitted on the hot shoe.

If you shoot landscapes, buy some ND and ND grad filters. The most useful filter is the polarizer, the effects of which cannot be replicated using software.

Finally, it’s better to do a bit of gardening, removing distractions from a scene, than be forced to clone them out in Photoshop—tedious work!

12. Shoot Only JPEGs

JPEG files are compressed. Unfortunately, this narrows the dynamic range of your photographs and changes the color according to the camera’s presets. This can’t be undone. Shoot using the RAW file format, as this is more forgiving. RAW allows you the latitude to correct exposure and color, as well as sharpen the image, on computer software. Think of RAW files as digital negatives, that need processing and fine tuning.

13. Post Too Many Photos

We all take poor pictures, badly exposed or blurry, but there’s no need to inflict these on the unsuspecting public! Carefully select only your best images, then process these on the computer.

posting too many photos

photo by Kevin Jarrett

Also, display a variety of images on social media or online galleries, but limit these to 3-5. Essentially, don’t submit minor variations of the same shot.

So, what’s your score? How many bad habits can you identify with?

Tick these habits and tally up your total.


1-3 habits. Wow! You are disciplined and must have done a few photography courses.

4-6 habits. Not bad. But there is room for improvement.

7-9 habits. Don’t despair; there’s still hope for you.

10-13 habits. You need professional help!

About the Author:
Ray Salisbury is a seasoned landscape photographer and art teacher based in Nelson. He sells his photos to magazines, calendars, and image libraries. This article is part of a 28-page eBook Jumpstart Your Photography, designed to educate & inspire beginning photographers.

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5 responses to “13 Bad Habits That Can Ruin Your Photography”

  1. Wendy says:

    As a rule, I treat my cards as “rolls” to be finished and rarely erase them unless I’m either desperate for memory or know most of the content is forgettable. Doesn’t mean that’s the “only” place I store my images. All the images get uploaded to my PC, only the absolute worst get deleted (since I’m also a painter, a blurry and/or camera-shaken exposure may still be useful for color reference) before I copy them to an external drive, and the best of them stay on my PC’s drive and the best-best get uploaded for printing (some of them in multiple accounts). So most of my pix exist in 3 or more copies, one of which is the original card. What’s so bad about that?

    As for shooting JPG, I tried shooting “RAW and JPG basic” when I first got my DSLR, but before I downloaded the NEF drivers, i couldn’t even see the NEF (Nikon RAW) files, and after I installed them, uploading “RAW + JPG basic” gave me two identical JGP files for each image. Shooting RAW only gave me a NEF that my system could create a thumbnail of, but none of my photo-editing programs could read. I finally gave up and now shoot “JPG fine.”

    –Oh, yeah, and my DSLR was an ex-demo model, so I didn’t have a manual TO read. Yes, I downloaded one, but it’s too much effort to print out the whole thing, and I don’t know in advance which page I’ll need to check. Easier to just experiment with the camera. Force of habit; the cameras that taught me to shoot were all secondhand (manuals long lost), and it was long before the internet.

  2. Mike Schwartz says:

    How about a number 14? Forgetting to check your power supply/battery?

  3. Josh Araujo says:

    Okay, a healthy amount of chimping is NOT a bad thing, not at all.
    No if you check your preview in the middle of a tense or action filled moment then that’s just silly, but taking a photo and checking if it turned out okay can you save you the despair of a series of poor images. No matter how good or experienced you might be, you will never get the exposure, focus, dof, iso, etc correct every single time, corrections are needed atimes and “chimping” allows it.

  4. JB says:

    I got a score of 1.5 without any classes.
    I’ve also been shooting for over 50 years.
    Have to learn something in that time.

  5. Steve says:

    I got a score of 1-3, but I have never taken any courses, I just cant get away from chimping

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