As a photographer, you are not new to the frustration of conceptualizing a great picture and realizing the camera didn’t capture what you had envisioned. A lot of beginner photographers think that a beautiful landscape will look just as well on a picture as it does in real life.
What many fail to remember is that successful photography is a craft. Other than a hunch for good pictures, you need to have a good understanding of the technicalities as well.
In this post, you’ll find out what common photo mistakes prevent you from becoming more expressive with your camera.
By the time you’re done reading, you will have a clear idea of how different camera features work, what the general rules of composition are, and how to start taking better pictures.
Lighting empowers all photography. No matter how expensive the equipment is, it will not help a photographer in pitch-black darkness. The way the light is captured on camera is crucial and adds texture to a photo — be it a haunting vibe, a bright summery spirit, and so on.
As photographers underestimate lighting, it often gets in the way of capturing the image in a way its creator envisioned.
How the Position of Light Affects Photography
Depending on the way a ray of light falls, different facets of the room will be hidden or accentuated. Let’s take a look at the lighting-related digital photography basics for beginners:
- Front lighting creates more focus on the object in front of the camera. For a beginning photographer, positioning the light this way is the safest option — there are no shadows or blur. Professionals, on the other hand, might find front lighting a trivial and boring way to shoot.
- Side lighting allows photographers to take advantage of shadows. It creates an additional feeling of depth, helps you accentuate selected areas of the room or body parts, concealing others.
- Back lighting. Beginners should steer clear of shooting with the light in the back as there are high odds of ending up with a blurry silhouette instead of a high-detail image. Professionals learn to adjust the camera in a way that allows profiting from the ‘halo’ effect.
Ways to Fix Bad Lighting
Photographers all agree that the golden hour is the best timing for taking pictures. The thing is, most professionals can’t cut the shooting time to two hours in a vain hope to chase the best light.
What do you do when there’s too little light to use or it’s positioned in a disturbing way? Here are a few tips on how to make your photo look better.
- Using a reflected light. Ask your partner to hold a portable reflector for you to redirect the ray of light onto the object. The technique is helpful for backlight shoots as you will be able to ensure a person you’re shooting will not come off as a blurry silhouette. Moreover, a reflected light creates additional softness in the eyes and along the facial lines.
- Change composition. If lighting gets in the way of your idea, reinvent the shot. Zooming in on the object, changing camera angles, or the framing are all creative ways to salvage the picture.
- Use the black-and-white style. This way, you will reduce the effects of flat light. In case you’re working on a full-sunshine day, consider exposing the highlights of the frame and fully shadowing the background. This way, you will be putting more emphasis on the main idea, and the viewer will no longer be distracted by the background.
- Use filters. To get more control over the light, photographers use neutral graduated filters or polarizers. The first one is helpful if you want to capture a water reflection, reduce the brightness of the sky, and so on. The latter reduces the glare in the picture.
Blur is another issue that holds back photographers from expressing the world the way they see it through a camera. While there are many reasons why a picture can get blurry (including lighting), most have to do with focus. Usually, photographers don’t get enough clarity in pictures due to one or a few of the following reasons:
1. Improper focus
Most focus issues are rooted in a photographer’s deep reliance on autofocus. For most shots, it’s better to trust the camera instead of using manual focus. It is not true, however, for pictures that place the object to the edge of the frame. To keep the focus clear with unconventional placements, choose single-point autofocus (AF) mode and choose the point the camera will focus on.
2. Pushing the shutter button too forcefully
If a photographer sees a picture-worthy object passing by and wants to capture it as soon as possible, slamming the shutter button with excitement is a common mistake. If you press the shutter too quickly, the camera forcefully moves, resulting in a blurry image.
3. Motion blur
Low shutter speed is another factor that reduces the overall sharpness. The rule of thumb for quality pictures is that shutter speed equals 1/the lens’ focal length. Thus, for a 100-mm lens, use a 1/100 shutter speed.
4. Diopter adjustment issues
A diopter helps adjust the focus of the image as a photographer looks through the viewfinder. Before taking a picture, scroll the diopter wheel till the picture in the viewfinder looks sharp.
5. Shallow depth-of-field
While a thin depth-of-field helps smooth the background around the picture subject, sometimes it leaves part of a face out of focus. Don’t shy away from reducing the aperture when shooting portraits if it helps portray the entire face in greater detail.
Tips for reducing image blur
Now that you know what issues lead to blurry photos, consider using the following tips for how to make a photo better quality:
- Use a tripod to stabilize the camera. Be sure to place it firmly on the ground to avoid shakiness.
- Use remote control. This way, a photographer eliminates the risk of moving the camera when pressing the shutter button.
- Increase shutter speed. The faster the object in focus moves, the higher the shutter speed needs to be to capture it clearly.
- Double-check the focus. You can improve the AF quality by slightly pressing the shutter button. Also, it’s easier for a camera to focus on objects that are closer to the center of the frame.
- Choose a smaller lens aperture. Keeping a steady focus is challenging with a shallow depth-of-field. If you’re failing to create a sharp picture, pull the F-stops down to reduce the aperture — it will make a grainy photo look better.
White balance helps photographers adjust the ‘temperature’ of the color and ensure the picture palette is not too warm or cool. It is common for the whites in the frame to look a little more yellowish or bluish depending on the way shade or sunlight falls.
To adjust the white balance properly, you need to understand photography basics for beginners — including color temperature. Measured in degrees of Kelvin, it correlates with how the changes in temperature correlate with the way the object looks.
Here are the colors that different sources of light tend to adopt:
- Candlelight: 1900
- Incandescent light: 2700
- Sunrise/golden hour: 2800 to 3000
- Halogen lamps: 3000
- Moonlight: 4100
- White LEDs: 4500
- Mid-day: 5000 to 5500
- Flash: 5500
- Overcast/cloudy: 6500 to 7500
- Shade: 8000
- Heavy cloud cover: 9000 to 10000
- Blue sky: 10000
Sometimes, a photographer wants to change a color cast to either reduce or increase warmth or cold. Here are a few ways to control the color temperature using the white balance.
1. Using an auto white balance
Auto white balance is the safest way to get an image that’s close to the real-life one. Most modern cameras do a good job of analyzing the shooting scene and adjusting the settings accordingly.
On certain occasions, auto white balance tends to backfire. To name a few:
- When a frame contains no white;
- Where there are a few sources of different light;
- When the picture has one dominant color.
2. Change a white balance preset
Depending on the scene, use presets to adjust the camera. There are dozens of options to go through — you’ll be able to cool down the colors in a warmer room or warm up a ‘cold’ scenery.
To choose a preset, hold the white balance button labeled ‘WB’ — you’ll be redirected to the preset directory.
3. Choose a photo to use as a reference point
If you want to create a custom preset based on your last picture, here’s a step-by-step guide on setting it up (works for most models of digital cameras):
- Open the camera menu;
- Find the ‘Custom WB’ tab;
- Press the ‘SET’ button;
- Use the last photo you took as a reference.
Now the camera will use the reference picture as a preset. You can replace a reference photo anytime.
4. Post-process photo and correct white balance with a photo processing software
If there’s an area in a photo that should be white or gray but has a color cast, you can balance the photo’s overall color. Sometimes color casts are caused by lighting conditions—for example, a photo may have a yellow or orange cast from the light fixtures in the location where the photo was taken. By changing the white balance, you can remove the color cast and make white areas appear more white. Use photo processing software to fix white balance of a shot on post-processing stage.
Shooting at the Wrong Time
Not knowing about the struggles of shooting at different times of the day can compromise a picture. While there are ways to get impressive shots at any time of the day, follow these digital photography tips for beginners to get the desired output:
The sought-after time for photographers — an hour after sunrise and before sunset is known as the golden hour. During this time, creators benefit from the reddish glow the sun gives off, an evenly spread light with no shadow. You will need little-to-no equipment aside from the camera when shooting during the golden hour.
During high noon, the light is undiffused, so your pictures are likely to come off flat. Due to this, most photographers avoid shooting this time around. The only type of pictures that benefits from the morning time are the shots of reflective surfaces — glass, water, and so on. During this time, the reflections are clearer and more attractive than during the rest of the day.
General and portrait photography comes off well in the afternoon. At this time, photographers get to enjoy the warmth of skin tones, there are no harsh shadows, and the subject’s face is likely to get a glow.
Flat lighting is a chief evil for midday shoots. As a photographer, you have to be extra attentive to framing and composition to create a feeling of depth in the picture.
The blue hour, known for its cool color undertones, is an hour before sunrise and after sunset. The twilight provides photographers with low-contrast shots and subdues the horizon. To get a balanced picture that’s not too blue, consider using warmer filters during the shoot.
There’s no sunlight at night — it might be challenging for beginners. Nevertheless, nighttime is full of opportunities for photographers — that’s when you can capture city lights, and starry skies, shoot portraits with the shade of drama, and so on. There’s no lack of light sources either — feel free to use street lamps or even car lights.
Bad Work with Composition
While photography benefits from realism and unstaged scenes, it’s still wise to approach photos as artwork. Just as painting artists study the rules of composition to create balanced, appealing pieces, so too should photographers work to avoid common mistakes and blunders in positioning a subject or planning the frame.
Here are the most common composition mistakes beginning photographers make:
- Putting the subject at the center of the frame. While it’s a common rule in amateur photography, professionals shy away from focusing on the center of the frame. Instead, they prefer to leave two-thirds of the picture free to create a feeling of volume and depth.
- Empty foreground. Because of the fear of cluttering the image, most photographers don’t put anything in the foreground. Rather than letting the free space go to waste, come up with creative ways to use the foreground. The empty foreground is a big ‘Don’t’ for still-life shots.
- Shoot only from a standing position. By failing to change their perspective, photographers end up with the world’s most boring photo-book. There’s no harm in changing angles, lenses, or zooming in and out. On the contrary, trying out different perspectives is highly encouraged.
- Poor use of depth. It’s crucial to adjust the aperture and the depth-of-field to the type of pictures you plan to take. One of the tips on digital photography for beginners is to increase the aperture for landscape pictures, while portraits often require a laser-focused thin depth of field.
- No focal point. All captivating photos have the main idea that catches the viewer’s eye right away. It’s called a focal point. It’s crucial to decide on the eye-stopper for the picture before taking a shot so that you can plan the frame properly.
If you’re wondering ‘How to make my photo look better,’ apply the following tips to your pictures:
1. The rule of thirds
The rule of thirds states that the picture is more balanced when some of the main points are located further from the center of the frame. Beginning photographers are recommended to turn on the grid feature on their camera to clearly see the thirds of the frame.
2. Balancing the picture diagonally
To make sure the two-thirds of the image that don’t have important elements don’t unbalance the picture, add a few second-tier objects into the frame.
By placing two smaller objects to accompany the bigger one in a diagonal way, you will create an appealing geometrical play. The pictures that follow the diagonal principle are more interesting for a viewer to explore than those that only have one object in the frame.
3. Shooting from lower angles
By shooting from the ground, you create a viewpoint a viewer doesn’t get to see in real life. The fresh perspectives make photos look good and unique even if it captures a trivial object — a flower, a tree leaf, and so on.
4. Using leading lines
Leading lines guide viewers to the main object in the picture. Roads, river streams, bridges, telephone lines, or railway tracks can all be used as incredible leading lines. It’s a simple tip yet an impressive way to enrich the image with an additional visual impact.
5. Filling in the frame
Discussing the diagonal principle, we said that exploring a few things creates a stronger effect than focusing on a single point. Photographers that explored the idea to the fullest extent and filled the frame with dozens of small objects can benefit from complex geometric shots.
A failure to see things under a different angle often leads photographers to a dead end. If you feel that there’s nothing worth taking a picture of, try playing around with perspective to get creative shots in even the most trivial circumstances.
Here are a few tricks that help professional photographers make good photos:
- Approach the object above and below. Try to look at objects from a higher or a lower stance than you normally do. That involves tree climbing and crouching to the ground — but the result is well worth it. Picturing a place or an object from above gives more volume to the frame while approaching the scene from below offers an intimate feeling.
- Drone photography. This type of pictures is extremely popular now, so don’t overdo it. Still, using drones occasionally offers a unique look at streets and places that are familiar to the viewer. That’s why such pictures are exceptionally captivating.
- POV shots. The point-of-view perspective is a creative way to add a personal touch to the picture. It allows viewers to imagine what they would see riding a motorcycle or walking somewhere.
- The near-far technique. The technique implies that the closest object in the frame is just as clear as the most distant one. It requires high focus and composition proficiency, and the result can be amazing and surreal.
- Hyper-focal distance. Calculate the distance for your camera and use it to take sharper landscape pictures.
Not Knowing the Gear
Most modern cameras are powerhouses. Even a basic smartphone offers more than enough features to take impressive shots. The thing is, most photographers neglect their research and stick to the most basic features of their gear.
Depending on the price range your camera lies in, the range of settings will vary. Here is a rundown of the most important digital camera properties even beginner photographers can get the hang of.
Aperture has an impressive impact on images. Essentially, it determines the width of the lens hole. For a wider aperture, more light will get inside the frame and vice versa. When adjusting the aperture, photographers need to keep the numbering system in mind. The larger the number you choose, the smaller the hole will be.
Other than the amount of light, the aperture influences the sharpness of the image. A wide aperture reduces the sharpness of the frame and is often used to create a smooth, pastel undertone in the picture. For sharp lines and shadows, most photographers tend to reduce the F-stops (another name for aperture) to make sure they don’t overexpose.
2. Shutter speed
By definition, the shutter speed is the time for which the sensor is exposed to the light. Long shutter speeds create motion blur while short periods will result in sharper and crisper images.
There’s no such thing as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ shutter speed. A low shutter speed mode is often used to capture wind or cloud motion, a landscape with waves, and so on. Higher settings are crucial for portrait photography.
ISO determines how sensitive the camera is to light. The rule of thumb is to increase the ISO number when shooting in poorly lit environments or to aim for sharper lines. In a well-lit place, there’s no need to turn ISO all the way down to 100 — better to keep the number at 800 or 1600.
4. White balance
White balance adjusts the warmth/coolness of the colors in the frame. Beginner photographers should consider sticking to auto WB until they get a better grasp of color temperatures as well as more field experience.
When taking pictures, photographers are battling against dozens of factors they have no control over — like the light or the environment. More often than not, the pictures a creator gets out of shooting are a far cry from perfection. That’s when post-processing comes in handy and helps photographers further express their vision.
Depending on a photographer’s proficiency, they might use different post-processing digital photography tools for beginners and professionals — from advanced programs like Lightroom to basic web apps like Canva or Picmonkey.
There are dozens, at times hundreds, of features that post-processing software introduces photographers to. Here’s the list of the most impactful tools that help fix a blurry digital photo and enhance the brightness in the picture.
- Adjusting exposure;
- Saturation and vibrancy;
- Sharpening the image;
If you are new to photography and are looking for a post-processing tool, give Phototheca a try. This platform walks the line between a full professional editor and a package for amateurs.
Advanced photographers will benefit from a wide selection of light and color correction tools, while newcomers can use basic filters to instantly increase the quality of the picture.
Here are a few of the features that will encourage you to give Phototheca a try:
- A wide range of instant filters;
- The option to adjust the contrast, exposure, and white balance in one click;
- Tools for digital noise reduction;
- The ability to Improve the definition of your pictures;
- Sharpen the image with a dedicated toolkit;
- Structure and organize pictures with keyword labeling.
Phototheca is an easy-to-use software that has all the tools for post-processing with a simple, yet powerful user interface that doesn’t create clutter.
Improve the quality of your pictures in seconds with Phototheca. Download Phototheca to boost your photography skills and take post-processing to the next level!