While photography for many is nothing more than a relaxing time outdoors, others wish to improve their skills and perhaps even sell their first print. As a beginner, understanding the camera settings might be a big challenge itself, so other important factors are easily forgotten. Even simple mistakes might have a negative impact on your images. Your camera settings might be perfect but the images still lack the quality many pursue.

Do You Make These 6 Mistakes When Photographing?

Before we get started it’s important to note that avoiding these mistakes won’t necessarily make an average image good. Photography is still a full package where there are many factors deciding whether or not the final images are professional-looking.

However, these mistakes will have a negative impact on your photography. In fact, when you will be looking back at your photography a couple years from now, you will be grateful that you eliminated these mistakes from your workflow.

You’re Using Automatic Mode

The single most important step to improving your photography is to stop using your camera’s automatic modes. Yes, it is extremely easy to take a picture without having to manually change the settings but the quality will not be particularly good.

Cameras don’t consider the image quality when using automatic modes. Its main objective is to get a correct exposure and avoiding clipping in the shadows and highlights. To achieve the “perfect” exposure the camera will change ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed depending on the scene. However, it will not take quality into consideration.

While using automatic modes might be fine if you only want to freeze the moment and keep the images in your family album, it’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make if you wish to improve your photography.

Challenge: During the next days I challenge you to go outside and take pictures while using the camera’s Manual Mode. Think about the Exposure Triangle and consider what settings will give you the best exposure while retaining optimal quality. Feel free to share the images in a comment below, I would love to see what you come up with!

Photographing Without a Tripod   

It’s important to expose images correctly but not necessarily at the cost of image quality. If you are photographing in RAW format, you’re able to increase exposure in post-processing software such as Adobe Lightroom.

Using a tripod for landscape photography is, by most professionals, considered a must.

Let’s list some of the reasons you should use a tripod:

  • Allows the use of a longer shutter speed without getting blurry images
  • Removes most risks of vibration in your camera
  • Makes it possible to take multiple exposures without movement
  • Removes the need to use a high ISO in most scenarios
  • Lets you carefully optimize the composition and perspective
Mistakes When Photographing
By using a tripod I could use a longer shutter speed

Note: There are exceptions to this and it’s quite often that I don’t use the tripod these days. However, I always use a tripod when the required shutter speed is too slow for me to get a razor-sharp hand-held image.

Forget to Level the Horizon

A typical mistake among beginner photographers is forgetting to straighten the horizon. No matter how beautiful the image is, an uneven horizon will reveal that you’re just getting into photography and this might lead a potential client away.

When I was just getting into photography I managed to capture an image that I’m still proud of today (Even though the image quality is poor compared to what I aim for today). This image hasn’t been posted online in many years and unfortunately the file got lost when my hard drive at the time crashed (the reason I’ve learned to always back up my files). The reason I haven’t shared this image in years is due to the fact that the horizon is tilting so much I almost get dizzy.

Mistakes When Photographing
A image I took while I was getting started with photography.

It’s good to look back at this image and see the progress I’ve made but it’s also sad to see that such a nice image is ruined because I did not pay attention to the horizon.Nikon D800 Virtual Horizon

High end cameras such as the Nikon D810 have a Virtual Horizon. This is a great tool to see if your image is straight and is a popular tool among both landscape and architecture photographers. A cheaper alternative than buying such an expensive camera is to purchase a $6 3 Axis Hot Shoe Bubble Spirit Level.

Snap Wildly Without Considering Composition

Another important tool within photography is composition. You might have heard about it before but do you know just how important it is?

I’ve always been fascinated how certain photographers are able to capture stunning images of what I consider “less interesting” sceneries. What all of these have in common is a good understanding of compositions; they know how the viewer’s eye will be led through the image and toward its main subject.

Mastering composition is something only a selected few can claim to fully do. Yes, there are many of us who understand the concept and how to benefit from a good composition but not many fully understand it.

I believe the deeper understanding of composition is what separates the best from the average but this doesn’t mean that you need to master the craft to create a good image. It’s definitely important to study the topic and learn how you can exploit it but don’t expect to be a compositional genius right away.

Having a general understanding of composition is what you should begin to aim toward. Most professional photographers aren’t fully trained within the field but they have a general understanding that helps them create professional-looking images. In fact, I don’t know if it’s possible to ever fully master but it’s something that we always work with in our images.

Not Considering Sun and Light

Since 2012 I’ve been a moderator of several Instagram hubs and I feature images daily over at our CaptureLandscapes Instagram account. Images are normally selected from our hashtag and there is occasionally quite a lot of work to find a good image. Each week I scroll through hundreds, if not thousands, of images to find the ones I’m going to share. As you can imagine, I don’t spend much time analyzing each one and I won’t stop and consider an image before I find one that sticks out.

In the beginning, I was shocked to see how many images that had great potential that were completely ruined by the light. After viewing tens of thousands of images since that time, I’m no longer shocked but I find it a bit sad that such good images are ruined due to being shot during the wrong time of the day.

Mistakes When Photographing
The backlight made this picture much more interesting

In our article Why You Should Start Shooting Landscapes During Golden Hour, Nick Dautlich explains the importance of photographing in the correct light. Many are surprised to see how drastically the scenery changes from mid-day to late evening.

Photograph Out of Focus

Another element I notice many beginners fail with is getting the shot in focus. This may be because their cameras autofocus is bad or because they’ve taken the step towards focusing manually without really knowing how to do so.

If you’ve just begun exploring with manual focus it may take some time before you are able to get the image sharp. A quick tip is to use the camera’s Live View (if you have one) and zoom into a subject that is about 1/3 into the image. Adjust the focus until this point is at it’s sharpest.

You should know that focusing 1/3 into the frame is not always the best option but this is what most photographers tend to do in most situations. I can recommend reading the article Understanding Your Camera’s Hyperfocal Distance by Cambridgeincolour for further information on how to get most of the image in focus.