Mistakes are powerful learning experiences. As much as they feel like a failure, they are, in fact, growth in progress.
And for that reason, making mistakes as you learn photography is just a natural part of the process of developing as a shooter.
Here are 10 mistakes that many photographers make. They are ones that we’ve made ourselves – some of them, multiple times. So chances are you’ll face these yourself at some point.
And as much as they are learning experiences, they are not going to teach you the “right” way to do things. Instead, they will help you figure out who you are as a photographer, and how photography fits into your life.
So let’s take a peek at these mistakes. Reading about them here might help you avoid making some, though, like I said, making them is part of the growth process. So chances are you’ll still make them, and continue to make them throughout your career. But learning about them now will help you recognize the learning potential in them, and know that you’re not alone when you’re struggling with them.
1. Not Taking Enough Photos
This mistake creeps up on you. When you first get into photography, or first arrive in a new place, or first get a new camera (incidentally, here’s a guide about buying a camera), you’ll find it easy to take tons of photos.
But then the novelty wears off, and you start slacking. You start to leave the camera in the bag.
Part of being a great photographer is being able to maintain your curiosity and ability to see the world with fresh eyes. So if you find yourself starting to take fewer photos, think of ways to re-engage yourself. Give yourself a challenge. Travel in your hometown. Set yourself daily goals. Use these tips to find focus if you’re visually overwhelmed. Try something new and creative (take a peek at our Creativity Field Guide for tons of ideas and inspiration).
This is a mistake that you will probably face often. Finding your way out of it will be key to a long, happy photography life.
2. Taking Too Many Photos
As much as not taking enough photos is a mistake, taking too many can be a mistake too.
The big problem here is if you’re taking photos without thinking.
It can be very easy to fall into a pattern of just indiscriminately shooting, especially when there’s a lot of action going on in front of you, and you need to work fast.
But this mistake leads to sloppy photos, and a lot of them at that. Which results in more time spent sorting, editing, and trying to find a lucky good shot. Not fun.
I can tell you first hand that this isn’t fun, because this is one of my worst mistakes. I make it all the time.
When you’re shooting, really try to slow yourself down. Use your head before you use your trigger finger. You still want to capture lots of great moments, but make the photos you take count.
(This touches on the idea of being present. Click here to read about how it is the #1 way photography can change your life.)
3. Not Keeping Your Photos Organized
Our early years of photography were represented on our hard drives by mess. Chaos even. We recently had to spend days trying to clean things up and make it useable. All because we didn’t start out with a good organizational system.
And this cost us. There are some great shots from our early trips that we couldn’t easily access for ages. We had to spend so much time trying to find them, often even giving up because it was too disorganized.
This was a mistake we really had to learn the hard way, with the frustration of dealing with messy files, before we put the time into creating an organized system.
Try to be organized from the earliest point possible. You’ll want to be able to revisit your photos often – make sure it’s easy to do so!
4. Thinking A New Camera or Lens Will Improve Your Photography
When you’re feeling in a rut, like your photography isn’t where you want it to be, it’s easy to think buying a new camera or lens will get you where you want to go.
And I think this is something we all need to experience to really understand it. You buy that new camera/lens, you run out to shoot the photos of your dreams, and, well…it just doesn’t happen. Maybe the image quality is better, or you have better depth of field or zoom capabilities. And for a little while it’s exciting and refreshing.
But it doesn’t take long before the new gear thrill wears off, and you’re right back where you started. You could keep pouring money into new gear to keep the cycle going, but you’ll be a whole lot better if you stop, and look for ways to improve your images at the fundamental level.
(For more on this, check out The Dangerous Myths of Talent + Gear)
5. Neglecting To Study The Technical Stuff
I’ll be the first to admit that I much prefer focusing on the emotional side of photography – connecting with my subjects, finding stories that I want to tell, that kind of thing.
But here’s the trick. If you want to do the emotional stuff really well, you NEED to learn the technical side.
I tried to get by without really studying stuff like the exposure triangle (aperture, ISO, and shutter speed), lens perspective (how the focal length affects the way your image appears), depth of field, composition. And for a little while it was ok, and I got by. But before long I started to feel limited by my knowledge. My confidence was shaky.
Then I really dug into the technical side, and discovered that it wasn’t scary at all! In fact, the more I learned, the more creativity I felt I had, and I felt confident and in control of my work.
If you feel like you’re limited, or you just can’t seem to make your photos look the way they do in your head, dig into the technical side. I promise it’s not as scary as it seems, and it can open up a whole new world of opportunity in your photography.
(Click here to check out our super popular tutorial on camera skills, which makes it easy to learn about the exposure triangle, depth of field, lens perspective, and more.)
6. Copying Someone Else
When you’re first starting out in photography there are so many amazing photographers to inspire you. Sometimes you intentionally attempt to recreate their style, and sometimes it’s more of a subtle, subconscious influence.
And I think this is where most of us start. And that’s ok. Art is derivative, and we all have influences. Trying to recreate a favourite shot or aesthetic can be a great learning experience.
This turns into a negative however when you neglect to bring in multiple influences. If you just model your work on one other shooter then your work will never be your own. Great photography comes when a photographer brings all of their interests into their shooting.
So broaden your horizons. Draw inspiration from tons of shooters. Look to the historical figures in photography (like Karsh, Maier, or Leibovitz.) Then look outside of the field. Design, painting, dance, books, films, documentaries, comic books, you name it. Be your own, multi-faceted shooter – that’s what people want to see.
7. Not Backing Up Your Photos
It only took one scare, very early in our photographic careers, to get us firmly committed to a good backup system.
There’s just too much that can go wrong when it comes to your photos. You could lose your camera, or a memory card. You could accidentally erase a memory card that wasn’t downloaded yet. You could accidentally delete a folder on your computer (this was what happened to us, be warned). Your hard drives could fail. Your computer could go down in a house fire.
It isn’t hard to create a solid backup system (check out our tutorial that will walk you through the process of setting up a backup system, step by step). It takes time and investment in hard drives, yes, but the security knowing your images are safe is worth the work.
(P.S. This is one mistake that I would much rather you avoid than have to learn the hard way! You don’t want that stress, my friend.)
8. Not Sharing And Printing Your Work
How many great photos are on your hard drives that have never been shown to the world?
Too many, is probably the answer.
We’ve taken many trips and created photos that we really love, but we’ve never shared them. We haven’t put in the time to create a portfolio site for these images, and we feel guilty about that constantly.
But we still haven’t done it.
There’s always something else to do, isn’t there? But we need to make the time to share our work. Especially the work we do for ourselves. That’s the real gold right there, and while it can be scary to put it out there, it’s essential to growth as a photographer.
The same goes for printing your photos. When we shot weddings and portraits we had our photos on the wall, but they were of our clients, as decoration for our meeting room.
We didn’t have our personal work displayed anywhere, and it was sad!
Then, in the final days before our son was born and we were trying to find ways to pass the time waiting, we spent a day buying frames, choosing images, and making prints. In no time we had a wall gallery of some of our favourite travel images, and we enjoy it immensely.
Take the time to share and print your own work. Constantly.
(P.S. We’ve found having a simple printer that can do quick 4×6 prints helps us get into the habit of printing photos for ourselves and friends. This is the one we use and enjoy!)
9. Underestimating How Much Work Professional Photography Is
This is one of those mistakes that’s almost a good thing. If we had known just how much work it would take to become professional photographers, we might not have tried to do it in the first place.
No matter how much research you do, how much you attempt to understand what will really be required of you to start a business, it will still be more work than you expected.
But that’s ok. Roll with it. Know that it will get easier, more streamlined, more established as you grow (assuming you’re always working to improve and learn, that is!).
10. Thinking There’s Nothing Left To Learn
Which brings me to my final mistake. I’m sure we all make this one at some point, regarding some topic or another. We think we know everything there is to know about composition, business, subject interaction, cameras, light, and so on.
But the simple fact is that there is always more to learn. In any area of photography. Technology is changing so fast that it’s pretty near impossible to keep up with it! But it goes even further than that.
Even the unchanging fundamentals are always expanding in relation to your knowledge. For example, you may feel like you’ve really got a handle on depth of field. Then you head off to learn more about cameras and lenses and suddenly you have new understanding that lets you dig even deeper into depth of field than you previously thought possible.
Commit yourself to continual learning. Every day, every year, for your entire photographic career. Keep notes (try using Evernote and XMind!). And when you find yourself slipping into a sense that you’ve learned it all, just remind yourself of this:
“The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing.” – Socrates
So go out and learn some more, and enjoy it!