Every year, we instruct 200 people with an interest in photography; they are beginners, enthusiasts, as well as professionals. We mainly teach in workshops that run for several days, this allows us to really get to know the participants of our courses. Because of the long discussions we have with the different target groups of our courses, and the good rapport we have with our course participants, we have able to see an interesting pattern. The fact is that it is very often the same mistakes that recur when someone is instructed in photography. On this page you will find a top five of the most common photo errors. And what is even more important, we will give you suggestions for solving these problems, suggestions that should enable every photographer to get better results instantly.
You need to learn many different skills in order to shoot really good photos in many different situations. Never forget that having fun while you learn IS still allowed.
Metering Light– When Correct Exposure Is a Problem
Why do my photos turn out like this? For a photographer one of the most annoying things is when the photo produced by the camera does not resemble what his eyes see. It will often appear much too bright, much too dark or with colours that seem all wrong. This can be a terrible disappointment. This problem is, by far, the most widespread challenge that beginners have to overcome. The good news is that it is a problem that almost every photographer has had to deal with. There is, consequently, no reason to be upset. We all begin at the same level, and just because you are not able to expose correctly from day one does not mean that you have no talent for photography. The problem is often caused by a lack of understanding of the nature of light combined with a lack of knowledge about the way the camera perceives light.
The sun is a very powerful source of light. If you attempt to expose the sky and the sunlight correctly it will be at the expense of the foreground, which will appear too dark. In this instance, the camera cannot reproduce a subject as well, by far, as the human eye can. Annoying? Yes, but that is just the way it is. Sorry.
The same subject as above. In this photo our priority has been to expose the sand in the foreground correctly. Notice how the sky appears much too bright. You may come across subjects with a dark part and a light part that are so different that exposing correctly will simply not be possible.
Just a few meters away from the subjects above we shot this photo. The sunlight and the sky have been exposed correctly, and we have used a flash unit for lighting the foreground. You will be able to read more about flash photography towards the end of this page.
Subjects shot in backlight or landscape photos such as the one above are often the biggest problem. Shooting a sunset on a beach with a bright sky and a somewhat darker foreground will very often result in a photo where the sand in the foreground will appear much too dark. The reason for this is that the human eye is actually much more sophisticated than the image sensor of a camera. Follow this link to read more about metering light and exposure compensation.
ISO Values – Don’t Let Yourself Be Trapped by Technology
ISO values are often used for controlling the light sensitivity of the camera image sensor. Beginners often make the mistake of letting the camera control the ISO value (this setting is called ISO-AUTO, AUTO ISO, or something similar, depending on your camera model, use your manual as a reference). YOU need to control ISO values, and you should NOT leave deciding the ISO value to your camera. Once you take control of the ISO value you, however, need to remember that it is now your responsibility. A great many beginners tend to forget this. When the available light is dim at the end of the day you will probably have turned up your ISO values to the max in order to force the disappearing daylight to yield a few last photos, this is when many photographers forget that you need to turn down the ISO values again when the light returns the next day. For this reason, you should begin every photo outing by checking and double checking what ISO value you have selected.
This photo was shot late in the evening at a great elevation in the Alps. There was hardly any daylight left, and it was necessary to really crank up the ISO values just to be able to shoot a passable photo.
A few hours later, after having slept very deeply in the thin air, we continued our hike. Light was extremely powerful even in the early morning. If you forget to readjust your ISO values after shooting, you may, if worst comes to worst, end up ruining all the photos you shoot the rest of the day.
Focus – or the Lack of Focus
This may come as a surprise to many, but problems with focus does not make it higher than third place in our top five. Modern single lens reflex cameras offer a wealth of different focus modes. Spending a little time on obtaining a thorough understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of the different modes is well worth the effort. The theory behind it may be just a tad technical, but you will really be putting your time to good use studying the subject and getting some hands-on experience.
Flamingos about to land. This shot is very close to being really good, unfortunately, the three birds are out of focus. A result from choosing the wrong focus mode. Too bad
The focus is precisely where it should be. It is placed on the most important element of the subject. The challenge is much the same as in the previous photo, the only difference is that the photographer has chosen the right focus mode.
Subjects in motion shot in a situation where the distance between the photographer and the subject changes during the shoot, will not be in focus if you choose the wrong program or the wrong focus mode. For this reason, you would do well to read the section on focus modes in your manual thoroughly, and give some thought to the purposes that the maker of your camera has intended for various tools. Doing this will significantly increase your chance of bagging perfect shots in challenging situations. Follow this link to read more about focus.
Composition – Remember the Message
In position number four is the problem about conveying messages with your photos.
No thought was given to composition when this photo was shot. The result is alright, although somewhat one the dull side.
For shooting this photo some effort was put into message and image design.
Getting the composition of an image right does not come easy to most photographers. Not just to begin with, but in general. Even professional photographers with life-long experience will sometimes find themselves challenged. There are awfully many rules regarding composition; elsewhere in our homepage we have gathered a few of the most basic and useful rules of composition. When we compose photos we often follow the principle that simplicity is good, follow this link to read more about the quality photo. We aim to tell the story of our subject in the most simple way in any situation. Even so, this is not necessarily the only recipe for a good photo, image quality is, to a large extent, a matter of taste. Nevertheless, to begin with it might be a good idea to reduce your images to the bare essentials instead of attempting to tell the whole story at once. This is a good exercise and a good way to start.
Flash – Avoid Disaster Light
In spot number five we find flash photography. Quite many photo enthusiasts are practically afraid of going anywhere near a flash unit. There are two reasons for this. One problem is that they are not able to control the flash light. The other problem is the way their flash unit is placed.
This is a good example of how disaster light can ruin a nice subject.
It actually takes very little effort to make the person in the photo appear in a much more positive way. For this shot the flash unit was directed at the ceiling and the portrait was exposed using the light that bounced of the ceiling.
Most cameras, by far, are equipped with a built-in flash unit, i.e. a flash unit mounted on the camera. This unit is generally placed right above the lens. Light that is emitted straight ahead from the camera, hits the subject and returns through the lens, has been nicknamed disaster light by professional photographers. Disaster light will ruin almost any given subject. This type of light is very hard and it will often cause deep shadows, red eye, as well as unfortunate reflections from skin, glasses, teeth, et cetera. The easiest solution to the problem is to find a way to soften up the flash light or alternatively change the direction of the flash light. Follow this link to read more about flash photography.
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