Top 10 Mistakes of Beginning Photographers

While the instant feedback gives the impression that digital photography is easy, here are some very common beginner mistakes:

beginner photography mistakes

“Photowalking in Sacramento” captured by Thomas Hawk

1. Not reading the owners’ manual

Admittedly, this isn’t easy to do. The writing in most electronic manuals is very dry and not very user-friendly.

2. Thinking the only way to get a certain picture is to buy special equipment

Your tool should fit the job you’re doing. If you’re just looking to put something on eBay, you don’t need a DSLR unless you need extreme closeups like jewelry. Most of the time, those point and shoots should work.

3. Relying on the LCD or preview screen

In case you haven’t been burned by this, just know everything looks sharp when it’s viewed on a tiny LCD monitor on the back of your camera. To be sure, always open up the image on your computer using a graphics program or Photoshop and view it at 100 percent.

use manual mode on your camera

“Death Valley Photo Workshop” captured by Keith Skelton

4. Not opening a picture on a computer and viewing it at 100 percent

Resist the urge to edit your images on your camera. Sure, there are instances when it’s obvious when you’ve accidentally taken a picture of the ground or something. But if you have enough memory cards, you should never delete until you get back to you computer.

5. Shooting everything in Program or Auto Exposure mode

When you’re learning, the best you can do is to learn to adjust the settings on manual. That way you can figure out what you did wrong. Shooting on auto will not tell you much when you’re trying to troubleshoot.

framed burj dubai

Photo captured by Sohail Nakhooda

6. Buying too much camera for your level of experience

Most folks know don’t realize that digital cameras have a lot of artificial intelligence in them. So it takes quite a bit of reading before you can learn the ins and outs of the camera. If you don’t plan to invest the time and take a class or buy a book, then stick with simple point and shoot cameras. Too many folks see that the price of DSLRs are becoming so close to point and shoot models that they assume the learning curve will be similar.

7. Not backing up pictures before deleting images on memory card

Always back up images before deleting. This might be obvious, but too many people don’t realize that once erased, the images are often gone. Though there are file recovery programs that might salvage pictures, they’re not reliable.

8. Not buying enough memory cards

Memory cards used to be so expensive but no longer. The more you have the better. Having a good supply of these cards mean you can always shoot at your camera’s highest resolution that will guarantee you will have the best results even if you have to crop.

9. Not buying enough batteries

Without power, your camera is just a paperweight. Some paperweights are heavier than others, of course. Proprietary batteries are okay but make sure to have enough for a spare. Always use a card reader to transfer your images instead of connecting the camera to the computer. Doing so conserves your battery life.

10. Not researching computers to determine post production capability

Before you purchase a camera, always check and see if your computer will run the software you will use to edit your images. In the long run, you will be saving yourself a ton of grief. Each year as more cameras shoot with higher megapixels, your computer’s CPU will be taxed more and more, all things being equal. That’s why you’ll see a drastic slow down if you use an old computer. It may be able to do the work, but it will crawl along.

About the Author:
Peter Phun is an adjunct photography instructor at Riverside City College ( He is a freelance photographer, web designer, and stay at home dad. He previously worked as a staff photographer for 18 years at The Press-Enterprise, SoCal’s fourth largest daily newspaper. Peter is the webmaster for the Mac group in the Inland Empire.

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14 responses to “Top 10 Mistakes of Beginning Photographers”

  1. Benny says:

    Wow hit the nail on the head. I do instant photography professionally and I see this all to often.
    I always tell my guys not to delete anything off the memory card until you see the images on the computer.

  2. Paul Conrad says:

    Great write up Pete.

    And with the owner’s manual, I still keep mine even though I’ve had my camera for 3 years. For example, I needed to use the built-in intervalometer for a specific shoot. I couldn’t figure out how to use it as I’ve never had to. So I read the manual.

    I keep the manual in my camera bag.

    Thanks Pete.

  3. No. Terrible advice. TERRIBLE advice.

    > Not opening a picture on a computer and viewing it at 100%

    No, this is exactly backwards. The worst things you can do is stare at 100% crops of pictures, like the retards on “photography” (read: “gear”) forums, to try and find flaws in them. The vast majority of people (everyone but the retards mentioned, who would look at a classic Ansel Adams picture and complain about grain) don’t care about slight unsharpness, noise, etc. The fundamentals of a picture are much, *much* more important than that.

    > Deleting pictures based on LCD monitor on back of camera

    I’m confused, because later you mention that things that look good on your LCD might not look good viewed at a reasonable size, and I agree on the latter. But if it sucks on your LCD, it’s almost invariably going to suck when viewed larger.

    > Shooting everything in Program or Auto Exposure mode

    We have automation for a reason, and if you’d like to prove me wrong, I have a 1954 Voigtlander Vito B I can lend you. ;) It means you spend less time concentrating on technical trivia and more time taking photos. In the time that it takes you to take a shot, check the LCD, change the shutter speed or aperture, take a photo, check the LCD, etc etc, you could have missed a few seconds of really great light, or your subject could have flown or walked off out of boredom.

    Wait, you’re using the meter to gauge your exposure? Then what’s the point in shooting fully manual? Nearly every automatic camera since Canon’s T90 from 1986 has a shiftable program and/or exposure compensation, which makes this irrelevant.

    (“Auto”, however, is just plain rude. I might agree with you on that.)

    > Too many folks see that the price of digital SLRs are becoming so close to point and shoot models that they assume the learning curve will be similar

    Digital SLRs, apart from their myriad stupid autofocus settings, have *exactly* the same number of critical settings as their point-and-shoot siblings. You need to set white balance, exposure compensation, ISO, and (under the less-automatic-but-still-automatic modes) aperture or shutter speed on *any* camera. Digital SLRs just make it faster to adjust those settings. (All digital SLRs still suck, by the way, but that’s something for another day.)

    I’m wondering how you square this with your advice about shooting fully manual. Have you ever looked at the menus of a point-and-shoot? Can you imagine having to dig through *these* for a shot in quickly-vanishing light?

    > Not buying enough memory cards

    Sorry, I’ve never filled a reasonably-sized memory card on any camera. If you’re not blasting a digital SLR in its continuous shooting mode all the time (or a pro who cannot afford to screw up a shot) and still find yourself filling up memory cards, it’s time to start thinking about your photos rather than blasting off as many shots as you can, spraying-and-praying in the hope that you might get a passable shot.

    > Not researching computer to determine post production capability

    Pft. Any computer made since about 2001 will do fine for the basic tweaks on any photo. I’ve worked on 30+ megapixel film scans without any problems on a 1.4ghz Athlon with 368mb RAM. (Yup, if you’re doing some HDR stuff, then yeah, you’ll need a lot of RAM. HDR is stupid, as are all post-processing tricks that can turn a boring photo into a good one, and that is one of the *real* traps that photography newbies, or even not-so-newbies, fall into.)

    • Kat says:

      You may give good advice, I don’t know because I stopped reading after being insulted by your judgmental references to photography *retards*. You, sir, are an arrogant jerk and should leave your judgmental attitude out of reviews if you want to be taken seriously.

  4. Nik says:

    I like #5. A lot of photographers should adhere to learning to adjust settings manually. I feel like if you don’t, how do you really understand what your camera is capable of/what it is doing for you?

  5. Jack B says:

    Its a great list. I have mixed views on number 4 – clearly it would be bad to delete a shot with potential and regret it later. Its nice, in my opinion, to remove the out of focus and poorly exposed shots so that you feel good about the photos you download at the end of the day.

  6. john Hopkinson says:

    The biggest mistake is assuming that you must be a great photographer, have high technical skills and a van full of the latest kit. WRONG!
    The reality is; to be a pro you must have business ability and be a great salesman/saleswoman

  7. nath brennan says:

    helpful list! and as a beginner i’ll keep these suggestions
    in mind- certainly been in the position w/ other electronic
    machines where my batteries went and had no back-ups-
    that said, reading the manual cover to cover seems wise

  8. Tucker McCall says:

    I disagree. I own a Nikon d5100 and shoot exclusively in the auto modes that are provided. I recieve many compliments on my picutes. Maybe not from “pros” but from ordinary people. These ordinary people could care less about all the crap that people write about on photography web sites.

    A good photograph has more to do with composition than just about anything else.

    I use Adobe Lightroom and my basic laptop computer seems to be able to handle everything I do from within that program.

    I have taken over 300 jpeg fine shots on my memory card and it still had room for more. So if you run out of memory I have to wonder what the heck you are shooting.

    • Rick G says:

      Hey, did you really buy a dSLR to shoot jpegs? You have a device capable of recording millions of colors, yet you throw them away to create pictures with only 256… Try using RAW for a change. Hopefully, you’ll see the difference. Then you’ll understand why it’s wise to have more than one memory card…

  9. Brandon P says:

    Thank you, Rick! I’ve seen quite a few people claiming they don’t fill their cards, obviously you’re not shooting in RAW either. That’s just plain crrrrazy!

  10. Dave says:

    You forgot one: over-processing an image/creating a faux “HDR” image and thinking it’s good. And John H. is right…is you want to “make a living” at this, it’s not how good your pics are, it’s how good you market yourself.

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