5 Mistakes Beginner Photographers Make and How to Avoid Them

Photography is one of the most creatively rewarding hobbies you can pick up, but when you’re first starting out it can be all too easy to become overwhelmed. Endless possibilities mean endless possible mistakes. However, in reading this, we hope you’ll know how to avoid the five most common mistakes that beginner photographers make when starting out.

how to avoid beginning photography mistakes

1. Overexposing Highlights

One of the most common issues facing a new photographer is the ‘clipping’ of highlights. This means that your highlights are so overexposed that the camera sensor can’t record any information in that part of the image. Once your highlights are blown, no amount of post-processing can bring them back; the data is just not there.

Let’s say you have a high contrast situation; maybe it’s a sunny day… What can you do? This is where we ‘expose for the highlights.’ Simply put, this means that when taking a photograph, you make sure the exposure is correct for the highlights in the image. This will naturally mean that the rest of the image will be a lot darker than you want it, so isn’t this just as bad as clipping the highlights? Well actually, no!

Camera sensors tend to be able to record much more information in the shadows than they can in the highlights. So when you take the image into your post-processing software, you can simply adjust the exposure and bring back all the detail in the shadows. That is if you are shooting in RAW, which brings us to our next point…

2. Shooting in JPEG

Now, contrary to popular belief amongst the photography community, sometimes it actually is OK to shoot in JPEG as opposed to RAW. The files sizes are smaller, cameras usually allow for a faster burst mode in JPEG, the whole process is quicker, and sometimes all you need is to take a few quick snapshots and be done.

So why not just shoot in JPEG? Well because some photographers don’t like the automatic processing done by the camera and prefer to take the RAW file into their post-processing software of choice and finish the image themselves. If you’re looking to process the images yourself, though, it’s always advisable to shoot in RAW as the files are much more malleable.

What is RAW? Well, when your camera is shooting in JPEG, between you taking the image and seeing it on the screen the camera does the processing and voila! Your photo is ‘finished’. Shooting in RAW, on the other hand, gives you many more tools for a much wider range of creativity and often this is key in developing your own signature style.

3. The ‘I’ll Fix it Later’ Mentality

But be warned, shooting in RAW comes with its own set of pitfalls! Maybe you’ve begun using photo editing software and have started to feel comfortable. There’s a risk that you can become lazy when shooting in RAW. What’s the point in getting the exposure right when you can adjust exposure by up to five stops either way in post processing? Why get the white balance correct in-camera when you can just fix it later?

With such incredible tools as Photoshop available, it’s become all too familiar to hear, “You can fix that in Photoshop, right?” Sure, you probably can fix the problem in Photoshop later, but should you? Once you start taking shortcuts with one area of your photography, other areas are sure to suffer, too.

I admit that when I first discovered the power of Photoshop, I had this very same mentality. But I realized that because I was becoming less methodical in my approach, my composition had started to suffer. Because the other factors were on autopilot in my brain, I began giving less and less thought to the remaining aspects of photography. Always remember that post-processing is intended to finish and enhance your images. Don’t rely on it to rescue a bad picture!

4. Overshooting

When people talk about perfecting anything in life, they say that you should do it as much as possible; practice makes perfect. It’s also often said that your first 10,000 photos are going to be terrible. While I agree that you should be shooting every day, I also think that you can improve your photography by shooting less! Back in the analogue days, you were locked into either 12, 24, or 36 exposures per roll of film. And film was expensive! This meant that you really had to think each time you pressed the shutter.

Now, digital photography is a much cheaper process and you can take many more shots even with even the smallest of memory cards. However, with this comes the problem of overshooting. When you can take as many photos as you like, how much are you really thinking about each shot? It turns into a ‘spray and pray’ situation!

One creative exercise I recommend is to go out for the day and challenge yourself to take no more than 12 photos. With this limitation, you might just find that you end up putting much more thought into what you are capturing and develop your skills much quicker.

5. Heavy-Handed Editing

When you first start editing your photos the array of options on offer can be dizzying! Exposure, contrast, shadows, highlights, blacks, vibrance, saturation, vignettes—the list goes on and on. It’s so easy to move the sliders and lose track of where you started out, often ending up with a hot mess! Across all areas of editing, moderation is key, and you should never really notice the post-processing on an image, so it’s essential to just make small adjustments at first. It may even help to have the original image side by side with your edit so that you can see how far you’ve come. If your image starts to look very different from the scene you saw when capturing the image that’s a sure sign that you may have gone too far.

So there you have it. The five top tips I wish somebody had told me when I was starting out! I hope this list will help you to further your talent in the photography world. Let us know in the comments of any mistakes you wish somebody had warned you about and how you overcame them.

About the Author
Bradley Allen is a freelance photographer and writer for Fat Lama.

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2 responses to “5 Mistakes Beginner Photographers Make and How to Avoid Them”

  1. Wendy says:

    I shoot JPG because most of my programs won’t read NEF (Nikon RAW), even with the drivers installed. I also have to shoot manual, even with metered lenses, because my D60 chronically overexposes images.

    Personally, if I were to gift someone their first camera, I’d give them something with a manual lens on it–so they’d HAVE to learn to shoot manual, and learn the basics of shutter-aperature-ISO before they could start using the shortcut program modes. (And yes, I’d say the same thing about cars)

  2. Tiberman Sajiwan Ramyead says:

    I am not a beginner, but I have this to say: What a refreshing reminder!! Especially 4 & 5. And the language is simple and elegant.

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