12 Photography Blunders to Avoid

This week we’ll take a look at 12 of the most common blunders photographers make when starting out.

1. Missed or Incorrect Focus

Imagine focussing on the rock and not the turtle

Many beginning photographers set their cameras to ‘Auto Everything’ and therefore let the camera make all the decisions. This can be fraught with danger, especially in the case of focus, or more particularly grabbing the wrong focus. Telling the camera where to focus is critical is certain circumstances, whilst auto focus or a combination of both is fine in others.

e.g. Take a situation where a bride is in a line along with her bridesmaids and due to the creative nature of the pose, one of the bridesmaids is closer to the centre of the image. If left to auto focus, the person in focus may be the bridesmaid and not the bride; no bride wants to see this in her wedding photos. Manually moving the focus point to the bride’s face will rectify the issue.

A great deal of development has gone into the technology surrounding focus in recent years and photographers can get some excellent results with improvements such as eye focus, though in cases with multiple faces in an image make sure you check to see which face it has grabbed and move the point accordingly.

2. Auto Modes ... I'm all in!

You’ve gone out, bought a decent camera, set everything to ‘Auto’ …. What’s wrong with this picture?

If you're serious, or becoming serious about your photography, forget about the automatic modes. The semi-automatic modes such as Aperture and Shutter Priority are very useful in a number of situations as the photographer provides what they see as the most important information for the shot and the camera will provide the rest to produce a properly exposed image.

In many cases, full auto will struggle to cope with an image of high dynamic range and may well lead to clipping in the highlights or shadows. Similarly, in scenes with low light, auto will often use very high levels of ISO, resulting in very noisy images.

All in Auto mode would struggle with the high dynamic range found in this scene.

3. Where's Your Subject?

While this may be a fun game if you’re looking for someone in a red and white striped shirt, it is no so productive if someone picks up one of your images and is left wondering what is the purpose of the image.

Know what subject you’re shooting and don’t clutter the frame with distracting information that makes the photo too busy.

4. Do You Suffer from Blurred Vision?

Fast shutter speeds will freeze the action

At some stage we’ve all thought we ‘nailed that shot’, only later to get that sinking feeling when we realise it’s blurred. Normally this occurs because our shutter speed was too slow.  As a general rule, the shutter speed should be at least equal to the focal length at which you are shooting.

e.g. if your are shooting at 200mm focal length, you should have your shutter speed at a minimum of 1/200 sec.

If you’re shooting in low light, or wish to slow running water in your image, you must use a longer shutter speed which introduces the risk of camera movement. In this case using a tripod may be a wise choice in that it allows you to shoot at much slower shutter speeds.

5.  It's ok .... I'll crop it later!


There’s an old adage that states you should get it right in camera; very much a theory to which I subscribe. Many people think ‘I’ll just shoot as wide as possible’, or ‘Shoot multiple panoramic frames’ and just crop to save the piece of the scene I want to keep. This can be a dangerous approach as in many editing programs the crop tool is destructive and therefore deletes all of the pixels you have cropped.

The biggest problem with this approach is that large crops may lead to a dramatic loss in the story of the image or poor composition

6. Composition ... but it's not in the centre!

The little Hoiho Penguin walks through the frame

As a general rule, it is not best practice to place your subject in the centre of you image. While you’re wondering why, let me  help. As a story teller, you want to move the viewer of you images through the frame, touching on all of the details you’ve included and want to point out. Similarly, not having the horizon line running through he middle of your image allows you to place emphasis on the most significant portion of your image.  Placing the subject off-centre allows the eye of the viewer to wander through the frame but the photographer’s task is in telling the viewer how to wander.

This is where the using of leading lines, rule of thirds, power points become significant and turn what was a wander for the viewer, into more of a guided tour.

Don’t forget …. Some subjects or scenes beg to be photographed vertically and become much more powerful images when done so.

7. Are you Shooting in the Wrong Format?

Probably a better question is ‘Why are you taking this photograph? Knowing whether to shoot in RAW or JPEG format, or both can often come down to why you’re taking the shot. If you want to fully process the image later, with fine tune adjustments for temperature, colour, shadows, highlights, etc. then you want to be shooting in RAW.  A RAW file preserves all of the information from the scene and allows the photographer full control to manipulate values to reproduce the scene as they remember viewing it. 

If you wish to shoot a scene an immediately upload it to you social profiles, then shoot in JPEG. When shooting in JPEG, the camera essentially makes many of the processing decisions for you before providing the image. It chooses the colour temperature, based upon white balance settings, and its perceptions of the scene in terms of highlights/shadows, etc.  Importantly, once the camera processes and produces the JPEG a large amount of information is discarded.  This results in much smaller file sizes compared to RAW files, but also means that this information cannot be included in manually processing the image.

If wondering when a combination would be useful, many studio or commercial photographers will take both a RAW and JPEG image simultaneously, with the RAW file used to full processing after the shoot and the JPEG being immediately displayed to a client, via way of a monitor or similar, who wishes to have creative input into the shoot.

8. Horizon Not Level

Do you ever have that sinking feeling …. A horizon that is not level can often be the first sign of an inexperienced photographer; the good news is that it can be fixed! Even the most basic of editing applications has a ‘Straighten or ‘Level’ tool, my suggestion is use it!

While these tools exist to help the errant photographer (and it’s a mistake we all make), it is best to get it right in camera. There are a number of ways to get it right the first time:

      - Scroll through the display options on your LCD, quite  often you’ll find a built in level;

      - Make sure your tripod is level (may tripods have a built in bubble level);

      - Pay the $10 and buy a small bubble level to sit on your camera.

I’ll finish this week’s blog with, Intrepid, as a reminder to get out there and shoot, even if we’re on our own; but always remember the first  rule to shooting in challenging conditions is to keep safe!

9. Don't Shoot the Same as Everyone Else

A different perspective

Many photographers, especially less experienced ones, become captivated by what the photographer next to them is shooting. 

      - What are your settings?

      - Where are you focussing?

      - What's your composition look like?

These are all common questions I hear from photographers shooting on workshops and while there’s no problem with this, as we all learn and get ideas from one another, your image is your vision, not somebody else’s vision. Don’t try and replicate the person next to you.

Look for an interesting perspective - get down low and shoot up, turn your camera and try a vertical shot, you know the rules for composition but don’t be afraid to break them once in a while.

Left: While this may not be the world's most interesting shot, a different perspective of the Kauai coastlines a nice reminder of the doors-off chopper flight I took with my wife. 

Remember: Your images = Your vision

10. Are You Strangling Your Subject?

If you are shooting a moving subject, vehicle, wildlife, your children at the park, give them space in the frame in which to move. If they are moving right to left, don’t have left hard-pressed against the left edge as if their next step will be out of the frame. Using the rule of thirds in this scenario will assist in showing movement while still allowing space in front.

11. Do You Spray and Pray?

Often photographers will use the Spray & Pray technique where the High-speed Continuous mode is selected and we hold down the shutter button praying we will end up with one good shot. Yes, you might get a good shot once in a while, but this is not a technique that you can rely upon for continued success.

Normally photographers will select Continuous Shooting mode when shooting some form of action or activity and there is nothing wrong with this. My suggestion would be to choose your framing and composition, knowing where you’ll get a good exposure and then shoot in a quick, short burst as the subject is in the desired framing. You won’t get as many images to select from but you will greatly enhance your ability to get that one really good one!

12. That's Not the Ratio I Wanted!

When choosing the ratio in which to shoot, it’s a good idea to have in the back of your mind what you are going to use this image for. For some people this is not a consideration and they leave their camera set to the default value, which is generally 3:2 or 4:3.  Other popular ratios are 16:9, 1:1 and 3:1

What ratio you select really depends on  what you're going to do with the image. Importantly, you can always crop to another ratio in post-processing but remember this will have an effect on your your composition. Let's have a quick look at when you might choose a particular image ratio.

      - 3:2 is most commonly used as this was the ration most often used by painters and early artists, as it is said to be the best ration to utilise  

        the compositional tool of the golden ratio;

      - 4:3 quite popular for use on standard electronic displays ie. popularity grew due to display on the standard computer screen;

      - 16:9 presents a more cinematic images and is a standard fit for many newer TVs or computer displays;

      - 1:1 square format very popular due to its use on many social platforms;

      - 3:1 often seen to be a standard in panoramic images, though 3:1.5 is commonly accepted.


  •   Plan

      Scout your locations beforehand so you know what to expect with the light; in-person is best, though Google Earth can be a great asset if your time is limited. Photographers are aware that the best light comes around blue hour and golden hours associated with sunrise and sunset, though shooting some locations at these times may not be totally suitable. A good example of this is Loch Are Gorge on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. This is best shot during the hours of 10am - 2pm if you wish to avoid the heavy areas of shade and shadow due to the geographic nature of the location.     

  •   Watch Your Background

      Be careful that your background does not ruin your image.  We would have all seen the photo grandma took at the family picnic (or maybe we did ourselves) that looks great except for the fact that Uncle Arthur has a telephone pole growing out of the top of his head.