7 Deadly Sins to Avoid When Beginning Photography

Everyone’s journey into photography plays out differently. Maybe scrolling through Instagram spiked your curiosity and you began with your phone. Or maybe you dove straight in and bought a DSLR. Regardless of where you begin, the initial exploration stages are full of hard learned lessons and growth. Recently, restrictions have meant travelling less and gave many the opportunity to dive into the archives of old pictures. I rediscovered photos I forgot about — falling in love with some and groaning over silly mistakes, especially those that couldn’t be fixed. In an effort to save you some pain, below are 7 ‘sins’ to avoid when starting out.

  1. Not being satisfied unless you have a super expensive camera (aka being too much of a gearhead)

You can do amazing things with entry level DSLRs and even your phone. Looking back on some of my photos from 5 years ago, a photo still stands up today when it has good composition, an interesting subject, and is properly exposed. The best camera is the one that you have with you. Carrying something with you more often can help you figure out what style of photography you like (e.g., Do you like hiking and landscapes? Wandering cities and snapping candid shots? Do you prefer nighttime shots or are you obsessed with golden hour? Do you love macro or abstract photography?, etc.).

Photo by JD Gipson on Unsplash

2. Not knowing your camera

This is one of the most regrettable errors I made time and time again. I often shot in auto mode and let the camera decide what was best which sometimes included ridiculously high ISO shots. Firstly, check your camera to see if you can set a max ISO and it can be helpful to Google your specific camera and see if people recommend a max value. For example, my old one generally was around 1600 but my new one can handle a bit of a higher value.

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Three *technical* things that can kill a shot are:

  1. wrong focus point/depth of field (aperture),
  2. blurry photos (often a wrong shutter speed),
  3. too much noise (high ISO).

Before going into full manual mode, it might be helpful to play around with the different ‘priority’ modes. These allow you to set one and play around with the other two. For example, if you want to shoot moving water, switch into shutter priority mode and play around from there. One thing I would generally recommend NOT playing around with though is ‘in camera’ edits. For example, my Sony cameras had ‘apps’ in them which allowed you to shoot in toy camera mode, selective color, high dynamic range (HDR), etc. While these can be fun, you can always edit a photo in that style later. If you shoot in a selective color mode, you only have that edited version, not the original.

3. Not shooting in RAW

When someone first told me about the RAW file format, I had no idea what they were talking about. Yes, RAW files are larger to store and process but it is because they store so much more for you to play around with. If you thought your shot was a bit over or under exposed you can save it! JPG images are compressed and you lose the ability to ‘save things’ at a certain point. You can also check your mobile phone to see if it has this option too.

4. Not taking your time

Taking time while shooting forces you to pay closer attention to your settings and ‘investigate’ a subject in a different way. In addition to slowing down while actively shooting, every once in a while, take a break and check your lens, especially if you’re shooting a lot or in bad weather. The longer your lens it out, the great chance of getting dust or moisture on the lens. There are helpful tools for editing little blurred areas of the images if this happens, but save yourself time and energy in post-processing and invest in a rocket blower and a microfiber cloth.

Photo by Jakub Sisulak on Unsplash

5. Not exploring your subject enough

Related to the previous point, taking time also means exploring your subject more. Some people love prime/fixed focal length lenses because they force you to move your feet and get to know your subject or object better. You never want to get back to your desk and say ‘ahh if only I had taken a few steps to the left, this would’ve been perfect.’ So explore the subject/object by shooting from different angles or heights. It’s easy enough to hold a camera to your eye but try crouching down or taking pictures looking down from a high point. Everyone can hold a point-and-shoot camera/phone at a large touristic site. What makes your photo unique? How can I see the Eiffel Tower in a way I’ve never seen before?

Photo by Shubh karman Singh on Unsplash

6. Not editing enough or over-editing

Once you‘re back in front of your computer, I’m sure you’re amazed at all your photos and want to share them with the world. Presets can help speed things up but be careful that they’re actually the right choice for your photograph. Presets should be only a starting point as 1 preset cannot apply to endless photographs. It’s up to YOU to personalize it.

Also when editing, be careful of being overzealous with edits to your pictures. I apply the classic quote “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off” (Coco Chanel) to editing photos. Before you leave your editing software, change one thing. I think most people usually tend to over-edit rather than under-edit, so I’d recommend to take one thing off ;)

In the end, don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal to look at your old photographs and cringe. (I know I do) That means that you’ve grown and learned. Generally speaking, revisit old photos and see how you would edit something differently now. It’s a great way to check your progress.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

7. Following trends too closely

Lastly, photography trends come and go, both in terms of editing and ‘subjects.’ High dynamic range (HDR) photos were all the rage about 10 years ago and blue-orange beach color themes flooded Instagram a couple summers ago. Everyone with a phone camera is a photographer nowadays so carbon copies are plentiful. Try to get your inspiration from multiple different sources to avoid ending up on Insta-Repeat as just another imitation. You want your work to be your own and connect with people.

A https://www.instagram.com/p/B9AGxHSHIem/

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Epidemiologist specialized in meta-research. American in Europe. Photographer and Embroiderer on the side.

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Melissa Sharp

Melissa Sharp

Epidemiologist specialized in meta-research. American in Europe. Photographer and Embroiderer on the side.

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