We are all unique people, but there are some mistakes that almost every new photographer makes at some point. Here are five common mistakes to watch out for in your own work.
This is something I am pretty sure 100% of photographers have been guilty of at some point. I know I certainly did this quite a lot of the time when I was first starting out, and I still catch myself taking things too far sometimes. The problem often arises simply because beginners have not yet developed a refined eye for edits, so it is hard to dial in subtle adjustments. That ability is something that just comes with time and practice and looking at a lot of photos — a lot.
This sort of over-editing often crops up in a few common ways, most of them having to do with saturation, HDR, and skin editing. It is very common to see photographers really over-crank the saturation, use extreme HDR, or blur skin to oblivion. Instead of cranking up the saturation, try using a touch of vibrance and spending time with the HSL sliders to dial in specific colors so you are not just turning all the colors way up. Also, remember that HDR is a technique for getting around the limited (as compared to the human eye) dynamic range of camera sensors. The truth is that with modern sensors, you truly do not need HDR very often at all. And remember that skin is supposed to have texture; rather than getting rid of every last blemish, focus on just the blemishes that are most prominent. Regarding the three aforementioned items, it is always better to err on the side of under-editing than over-editing.
2. Ignoring the Edges of the Frame
There are a lot of compositional tools and heuristics, but at the end of the day, composition is generally about leading the viewer’s eye toward the subject and avoiding things that lead the viewer’s eye away from the subject or out of the image, all while keeping everything in the frame in balance. Remember that in general, our eyes are drawn to the brightest part of the frame along with major changes in color, texture, or content. It is, in general, fairly dangerous to place anything novel, bright, or overly colorful near the edges of the frame, because it not only distracts from your subject, it pulls the viewer’s eye out of the frame entirely.
It can be easy to overlook the edges of the frame, even as a seasoned professional, simply because our subject is rarely near the edge, and thus, the majority of our attention is focused elsewhere. I struggled with this for years. What finally fixed it for me was literally conditioning myself to scan the frame in a circle before clicking the shutter. In other words, before I clicked the shutter, I consciously forced myself to run my eye along each edge of the frame until it became an automatic habit. At first, this is cumbersome and takes a lot of time, but once you habituate yourself to it, it becomes easy and quick. In general, try to keep the edges of your frames uncluttered and simple.
3. Using New Gear During a Paid Shoot
I have definitely been guilty of this once or twice, and it has bitten me in the butt each time. New gear is exciting, and we often can’t wait to put it to use. However, a paid shoot is not the place to do that. There are two reasons for this. First, even new gear has the potential to have something wrong with it. For example, I bought a new 85mm f/1.4 lens for a three-week trip to a different state back in 2013, only to have its focusing mechanism completely fail on me after just a few shots (it wouldn’t even manually focus). Luckily, overnight shipping saved the day and I was only without a portrait lens for a day, but I could have saved myself a lot of headaches had I simply tested the lens before I left.
The other reason it is a bad idea to use new gear during an important shoot is because you are not familiar with it. I’m not implying that you won’t know how to use the device at all or the like. Instead, it’s always something silly, like how to change a menu setting. For example, I took a brand new set of lights to a shoot and had to stop in the middle to look up how to adjust the HSS settings on my phone. Take time to get familiar with your equipment before you’re being relied on to use it properly and efficiently.
4. Overcomplicating Their Compositions
It is tempting to try to include as much as possible in the frame, trying to add visual interest and balance different elements. Generally, it is better to err on the side of simplifying compositions. Remember, it is important to always keep the attention moving toward your subject, and if that means simplifying your compositions, don’t be afraid to. Be willing to crop in tight; don’t let your subject get swallowed up by the frame.
5. Standing in One Spot at One Height
This is why I hate zoom lenses for beginners, because they discourage you from trying different perspectives, angles, heights, etc. It becomes far too easy to stand in one spot with a zoom lens and simply zoom in and out. It is important to remember, however, that zooming with your feet is not the same as zooming with a lens because of the perspective change. If you find yourself falling into this habit, either switch to a prime or pick a focal length on your zoom lens and force yourself to stick to it for an hour on a photo walk or the like. Work on trying different perspectives, changing your height, and the like. People are very used to seeing photos taken from a normal height; after all, that is the perspective of our eyes. You can often make more eye-catching shots by showing the viewer a perspective they are not used to seeing.