Common Photography Mistakes and How to Fix Them

March 12, 2012

in Jean Smith, Photography Creative Team, Photography Tips, Photography Tutorials

I Heart Faces - Common Photography Mistakes {Part 1}

We are excited to welcome Jean Smith Photography who is  sharing some of the most common photography mistakes in a series of photography tutorials here on I Heart Faces. This is the first of a 4-part series. You can read the other parts here:


In this age of internet and digital everything, tutorials and how to’s are available with a simple Google search and click of a button. How to get a better focus. How to find the light. How to shoot in low light. How to pose high school seniors. And so it goes.

But, what about the “no-no’s” and “don’ts” of photography? The I-wish-someone-would-have-told-me-about-this-earlier mistakes? We all make mistakes…beginning or seasoned photographer. It is how we learn and grow. But, what if we could side step some of the more common mistakes out there as we strive to make our way to photography greatness?

Photography Mistakes and How to Fix Them | Part One – The Basics

This is a first in a four-part series. In the coming weeks, we will discuss common mistakes and fixes with lighting, posing, and editing. Today, we are focusing on 10 general photography mistakes and how to fix them. These can be applied to all genres of photography.

Mistake #1 – Assuming it can be “fixed” later in Photoshop.

I would dare say this is one of the biggest mistakes made while shooting. Fixing mistakes in post processing that could have easily been done right in camera is a huge pain and time waster. Most importantly, remember that no amount of post processing can fix bad light.

The Fix – Before you start shooting, do a quick check for the basics…white balance, possible color casts, lighting, proper exposure, and distracting objects on subject or background. If you look at your images and find that you are unsatisfied, analyze the reason why (no light in eyes, red color cast to skin, etc), and find out how to fix it for next time. Realizing your mistakes and then working on them each time you shoot will give you the skills to become a better photographer. Don’t allow yourself to keep making the same mistakes over and over.

I Heart Faces - Common Photography Mistakes {Part 1}

Mistake #2 – Keeping your camera in “auto” or “program” mode.

When you constantly sit it auto mode, you are letting the camera survey the situation and decide what it thinks is best. Your expensive SLR camera has become a glorified point and shoot camera. Although it usually does a pretty good job of getting a proper exposure, you are missing out on the tools and settings your camera allows you to create your own vision.

The Fix – Start with a vision. How do you want your image or set of images to look? You want to focus on your baby in the foreground, but have your children in the background out of focus? Set your aperture to as wide as it will go (lower the number) and get close to your foreground subject. You want to show your son in motion during his soccer game? Set your shutter speed to a lower number (ex: 1/30) and adjust your aperture and ISO to get a proper exposure. YOU decide how the image is going to look and adjust your settings.

Mistake #3 – Thinking that more expensive equipment will make you a better photographer.

The Fix – It is true that you can’t achieve a distorted, wide-angle shot with an 85mm lens, and if your camera can’t handle a high ISO, you may not be able to shoot in a low light situation. Those are part of a VERY short list of reasons to need new equipment. Mastering your current equipment and learning the components that make great photography…light, shadows, depth, movement, composition, and mood…are what will make you an amazing photographer, not a new camera body.

Mistake #4 – Overdoing the camera tilt.

The Fix – People don’t want to have to cock their heads to view their images or figure out why it looks as though they are sliding out of an image. However, there is a time and place for camera tilt. Use it when people aren’t standing in a perfect pose looking at the camera. Camera tilt looks amazing in images portraying motion (child running, bride and groom kissing, etc), as well as closeups. By tilting your image, it changes the story you are telling, so be sure you know what story you are trying to tell.

I Heart Faces - Common Photography Mistakes {Part 1}

Mistake #5 – Not recognizing and fixing color casts when shooting.

The Fix – When shooting, always be on the lookout for colors showing on your subject’s skin. Green/yellow tones on the skin are common from placing your subject in a grassy area, especially in shade. Easy fixes for this would be to use a light, reflective surface (such as a reflector) on your subjects face, or turn your subject toward the light source, even if subject is in the shade. Another nightmare color cast is the magenta/red tones from buildings or clothing. Easy fixes for this are to use a white reflective source (sunlight hitting sidewalk, reflector, etc) on your subject, and for you to NOT wear something red, purple, pink, or other bright color. The color of your shirt can easily show up on your client’s skin while you are standing close.

Mistake #6 – Centering your subject in every frame.

The Fix – I am a huge believer of centering…and then not centering. A little of both gives you a big variety of images and ups your creativity. Center your subject. Beautiful. Then put your subject somewhere within the rule of thirds. Perfect. And then do neither and get creative in your composition. Fabulous.

I Heart Faces - Common Photography Mistakes {Part 1}

Mistake #7 – Always taking horizontal images.

The Fix – Admit it, you are guilty just like me. Take your horizontal shot. Then immediately follow it with a vertical shot, framing it a bit differently. You will be surprised at how different they look and will most likely love the new creative shots coming from something as easy as turning your camera.

Mistake #8 – Not making your subject feel their most comfortable.

The Fix – Whether it is a child, parent, bride, or high school senior, remember that everyone feels uncomfortable in front of the camera. Silence and continuous checking of your screen makes them feel uneasy and therefore they may not perform well. Keep talking. The entire time. Weather, your dog, their hobbies, it doesn’t matter. Just keep talking. COMPLIMENT them from time to time. If you check your screen, follow immediately with something like, “Awesome, I absolutely love what you are doing.”

Mistake #9 – Showing up to a shoot without backups.

The Fix – Backups are important for every shoot, but MANDATORY for weddings. If you are already shooting or thinking about shooting weddings, don’t show up to the wedding without backups of camera, flash, camera battery, double AA batteries, and memory cards. If you don’t have backups of these things, consider purchasing, borrowing, or renting them.

I Heart Faces - Common Photography Mistakes {Part 1}

Mistake #10 – Shooting your subject with a wide-angle lens.

The Fix – For portraits and headshot images, stick with 50mm or longer to flatter your subject’s features and body. Anything with a focal length less than 50mm is going to distort your subject, so avoid using a wide-angle lens to photograph men, women, and high school seniors.

As I said before, we all make mistakes. But at least you can now avoid the most common ones by using the above tips.

* * * * *

Stay tuned each Monday during this month for the next part of Jean’s series of tutorials that she’ll be sharing with the I Heart Faces community!

Jean Smith Jean Smith is a portrait, wedding, and commercial photographer in New Hudson, Michigan. She has a super rad husband (also a photographer) and four awesome little boys who keep life fun and VERY busy! To see more of her photography, visit her website, blog or follow her on Facebook.

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Kim December 18, 2014

Hi. I just wanted to take a sec to say THANK YOU for your great tips!!!! I try to read tips to improve my photos (just of my kiddos and life) and they are always the same and never really helpful BUT yours were VERY helpful! They got me thinking of new things to try (3 pics of each – centered, thirds, none of the above) and the horizontal then vertical pics. I’m excited to try them out soon.
Thanks again for the GREAT information and a fresh and helpful perspective!!!!


Kelly Whitman October 11, 2013

Thanks so much Jean! I love your tips, they are very helpful! I’ve only been doing portrait photography about two years now. I have a family shoot tomorrow, so I have been reading your articles to brush up on skills! Thanks again!!

-Kelly (also from Michigan!) =)


Christopher Johnston November 30, 2012

#the5 10 Common Photography Mistakes and How to Fix Them


Toad Hollow Photo October 27, 2012

A four part series that every photographer should read!! – "Common Photography Mistakes and How to Fix Them"


Michelle g October 21, 2012

Great reminders for all photographers! Especially the ones about don’t assume you can fix it in ps and assuming better equipment makes you a better photographer. Thanks!


Susi October 21, 2012

This is such great advice, especially to someone like me who is just starting out and learning/ reading everything I can get my hands on. I find myself remembering and looking for things like this each time I pick up a camera. Thanks so much for sharing!!! 🙂


strivingmom August 16, 2012

Great! Thanks for sharing!


Bobi July 19, 2012

I’m so grateful for these tips, some of the mistakes I’ve made plenty of times but one that just opened my eyes is the color cast thing when shooting in the grass and shade thank you so much.


lanny April 24, 2012

ive been behind a lens for 40 years now, this is all good advice… except for one gripe. there is no mention of the UTMOST priority regards shooting with RAW as opposed to Jpegs. yes, its fiddling about, time consuming and gobbles up memory space like it was going out of fashion. live with it. put simply, heres why.

a RAW file is like a negative. wysiwyg. which can then be adjusted, just as if you were in a darkroom. now that Corel has released after-shot pro, tweaking hundreds of raw files, is no longer a tedious task. it did 1350 shots,(13mp) in under 3 hours, with one click. using jpegs is a bit like buying a ferrari, and putting remoulds on it… or a hassleblad, and ONLY shooting budget film, processed at snappysnaps.

photoshop et al is NOT the work of the devil, ADAMS, and WESTON both did post processing… PS is a tool. like a hammer. you only get the best out of it, when you know how to use it properly, and, if you know your camera, you wont hardly need it at all.


Jean Smith April 7, 2012

Colleen…LOL! I would love to see you show up with notes written up and down your arms. Thanks everybody!!!


Colleen April 7, 2012

just read this…again! I feel I need to read it before every shoot. Part of growing as a photographer is recognizing things one never saw before…clawed hands, color casts, etc. I’m becoming more aware and appreciate these excellent tips. Can I write them up my arm as crib-notes before my next shoot :-)?


Holly March 14, 2012

Haha…was definitely guilty of some of these as a newb! Also glad that you are a wedding photog that recognizes the value of portrait AND landscape composition for the same pose…that has posed more than a few issues for me trying to print my own wedding photos for the walls!


Berts March 12, 2012

10 Common Photography Mistakes and How to Fix Them via @zite


Laura Prichett March 12, 2012

Great article – I never noticed how much I did that tilting thing when I first started out – I look back at photos from that time and I’m kind of horrified – glad I’m not alone!


Patrizia Corriero March 12, 2012

Common Photography Mistakes and How to Fix Them {Part 1}


Kristie D March 12, 2012

Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. I’m working on correcting some of these items as we type. I took a short class this weekend that focused on manually setting your camer for taking Northern Lights pictures. It was great for just getting used to manual settings. And I was put to the teset on Sunday. The Pastor of my church phoned just before leaving for the service and asked me to take pictures of our services for our website. I can’t say I got it right, but I’m taking those steps. Now to get back at figuring out the crazy bad lighting at my church for the next time.
Thanks again!


Amy Locurto March 12, 2012

Love this new photography series by Jean Smith Photography over on I Heart Faces!


Amy Locurto March 12, 2012

RT @iheartfaces: Common Photography Mistakes and How to Fix Them {Part 1}


Angie March 12, 2012

Great reminders for all photographers! –>RT @iheartfaces: "Common Photography Mistakes & How to Fix Them"


Tracy P. March 12, 2012

Thanks so much for the great food for thought. The comments are interesting evidence of personal preference. I tilt my camera sometimes to include details that won’t fit in the frame when horizontal or vertical, plus, I really like the sort of fluid feel. But, if I had clients that I was serving, it would be really important to show them some examples beforehand and ask their preference. You did a great job of pointing out that they have a place, but it should be an intentional place. That point of being thoughtful and intentional rings throughout your post. Glad to hear there is more to come!


Jean Smith March 12, 2012

Maryanne…I totally agree that wide angle lenses are awesome and I actually adore my 14-24 and 24-70 lenses so much! I use my wide angles on people often, but when I do, I am very aware of the effect the wide angle is going to produce and am going for that look when using those lenses (being very aware of how it is distorting and changing features). I agree with you 100% that it is a style and the way a photographer views the world. I wasn’t saying that using them is wrong, I was just making a point that as a general rule, when doing a portrait shot or headshot, 50mm or longer is safest to keep features real and minimize distortion (especially on teens and adults). Cheers!


Heather March 12, 2012

I am guilty of some of these. I think EVERY photographer or someone wanting to learn needs to read this! Much needed information in this post.


Kristie March 12, 2012

Great tips …. I am planted pretty firmly in the realm of quasi-professional-hobbyist and don’t do photography on a super-regular basis, so I feel like I am in constant need of refreshing myself on the basics before each and every shoot. Several of these are very good reminders for me. Looking forward to the rest of the series!


June March 12, 2012

Great reminders for all photographers!! We are constantly striving to get the image right in camera and I wish it was something we learned a long time ago. It saves so many hours of editing and allows us to do other things besides sit behind a computer. What photographer wants to sit behind a computer?


Tammy March 12, 2012

I can’t stand the slanty pictures in any situation. To me, it seems like a bad, short-lived fad that will soon pass. I favor symmetry and the horizon. 🙂


Maryanne Gobble Photography March 12, 2012

It’s true about back up and weddings. I had no backup and my camera went out during the reception of a wedding several years ago! Argh!

As for shooting wide angle… I use 17-50 mm almost exclusively for people (and everything else). It’s more a matter of just being aware it can distort instead of giving up wide angle shots. They say everyone photographer “sees” the world through a certain mm in their mind. A good question to ask oneself.


Claire Bunn October 7, 2014

I agree Maryanne…great tips but that was the one thing that stood out for me. I use a 28 2.8 (not the fanciest of lenses but it gets the job done) all of the time with families. It is great for interacting with little ones and for getting the whole scene in the shot…esp indoors. I do not use it for head shots, etc but when used purposefully it works great on people.


Dana Suggs March 12, 2012

VERY well said! The camera tilt bugs me….and the thought that “I’ll just fix it in photoshop”! UGH! Of course, then there’s the people that just believe if they have the better camera, their pictures will be better too. LOL I guess they all bug me! HA!


Leave a Comment

{ 10 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: