My Top 5 Photography Mistakes

Every Photographer makes mistakes, especially starting out. I’m not proud of this, but if I can help someone not make my mistakes, I’m okay with it. So here’s…

MY TOP 5 PHOTOGRAPHY MISTAKES

#1: Over-Processing

If certain old classmates of mine are reading this, you know my struggles.

In college, I knew a lot of good techniques and effects I could apply to make images look finished. My struggle was that I was unable to pull away from my work and see the big picture from a strangers point of view.

You absolutely have to be able to take a step back, because when you’re too close to a project, you can’t see your own mistakes. When you spend hours upon hours layering an image, masking certain parts and effects to create a vision in your head, everything you do starts to look like a good step towards that goal. This started to become a problem for me about 2 years into school when I started to really get in the swing of layers, masks, and effects.

I did make an attempt to find one of these abominations, but I couldn’t. Not from when I was actually in college after high school. I did, however, find an image from when I dual-enrolled to my local community college during high school, so you can see I had over-processing issues even when I was 17/18.

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For my small defense, this was when I first learned how to manipulate the curves and was seeing what they could do. To completely undo my defense, I actually turned this in as part of my finished project. Andy, if you’re reading this and remember, let me know.

#2: Centering

It’s usually not a good thing to put your subjects smack dab in the middle of your image, which I used to do. Luckily this wasn’t as much of an issue as over-processing, and it was at an earlier stage, but it was still an issue.

In certain circumstances, centering is absolutely fine. Headshots, some portraits, landscapes, it all depends on what’s going on, what your subject is, and what the feel of the portrait is.

I did find an example from my college years on this, and luckily it was more for an example of image manipulation than for a finished project, because it would have failed as an image by itself. It was for a “Fears” project. I have a notorious dislike for spiders, so I transformed myself into a spider.

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Other than that it’s totally centered, I cut off one of my own feet! I also didn’t clean the studio floor, whether in person or in post. So this image is an all-around failure. I think my masking was pretty decent though. So I give myself credit there! Thinking about it, this might be fun to redo now that I’m a few years older and more experienced. Maybe I’ll have myself climbing a wall or something. Anyway, on to the next!

#3: Poor Composition

Composition can be difficult to learn. The best way to do it is to look at successful images by other photographers and just get a feel. It’s something that’s picked up over a long time and by intuition. You have to make sure the background isn’t too busy or too simple, that there isn’t too much or too little empty space, the subjects are well-framed and positioned, and 1001 other considerations.

That being said, this “alter ego” project from when I was 19 showed that I still had a lot to work on.

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Too much space at the top and bottom, not well lit, not well planned.

#4: Too Much/Little Contrast

Now, the image I have here is just going to be a failure all around, but it was properly exposed and edited, maybe if I’d cleaned up the floor a bit more (in post or in person) it would have been better. Also the background of pure white is contrasting with how dark I allowed my subject to be.

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Also this was something I used to market myself when I was 20. I’m very disappointed with myself as of 6 years ago.

With contrast, make sure the image looks good and there’s nothing clipped in the histogram. I’m pretty sure I have a lot of clipping here…

#5: Unfinished Images

I used to leave a lot of my images unfinished. Well, at the time I thought they were done, but they turned out to need more work. Here’s one I did for a photojournalism project.

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Now it’s almost a good image of a family looking at Best Buy on Black Friday, just before they open their doors, but let’s take a few things into consideration.

  • The shadows are too dark (which should have been fixed in Photoshop RAW).
  • The top third of the image adds absolutely nothing and should be cropped out.
  • You can see a security camera in the top and can’t really see what it’s hanging from, so it’s distracting.
  • You can see the grain in the image (should have been fixed in Photoshop RAW).
  • There’s a dark vignette mark in the lower left for no reason.

If those edits were done, this image would be a lot more successful. Of course when you’re shooting for journalism, it’s bad form to manipulate the image by taking things out, and all that should really be done is adjusting the light, color, etc, of the image to preserve the actual scene that’s been going on in a truthful form.

When I was working in genres I was uncomfortable with, this started becoming a problem. I would just snap the shot, load it into photoshop, do a few quick adjustments and then call it done.

I don’t really care for any journalistic-type shoot (weddings, events, etc), but that shouldn’t have mattered to me even in college. When you’re doing these, you do them to the best of your ability, you edit to the best of your ability, and you give your best image possible to the client (teacher, paying client, friend, etc) and then you’re done.

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