9 Typical Beginner Mistakes When Taking Photos - And How To Avoid Them

Think of the last time you took a photo with your phone or even with your camera? I bet it was not too far ago! Traveling and taking photos goes hand in hand, I guess we can agree on that one. But there are certain photography basics which are disregarded by a lot of people. Are you maybe one of them?

It is absolutely easy to avoid the most common beginner mistakes by paying a bit of attention, taking some time and maybe most important knowing about those mistakes when taking photos.

All of us are doing it - taking photos while we travel

Let me first get one thing straight. I am anything but a professional photographer. I am sure that I don’t even qualify as a hobby photographer. In fact, the camera I used up until now is so outdated that any smartphone nowadays has a better camera and some of the photos on this website are… well not professional I guess.

However, my biggest problem was that I have been using my camera for so long and I had no idea about all the little mistakes that I made. Then I spent a bit of time on some photography basics and did some research.

And suddenly in situations where I was asking someone else to take a picture of me I noticed they often had no clue as well. A lot of people are getting little things wrong without any need to do if they would simply pay a bit more attention to it.

Photography - the most common mistakes

It all started with the situation stated above. Only that time I was the one taking a photo of someone else. After I got a great (or so I thought) snapshot of a friend and proudly presented the result to him he asked “Why are you cutting my legs off?”

Say what? Well, he was in the picture, but only about 90% of his legs were visible. So, while sometimes cutting parts off can be on purpose, this clearly wasn’t. And moreover, that problem didn’t even seem all that new to me, I had just no idea I was doing it. This is one of many mistakes others constantly make as well.

So, here I want to present you a list of common things a lot of people get wrong. Of course, there are many more and I want to keep it very simple. And if all of this is not new to you then you are not a complete rookie, but maybe you will find one thing or another that is going to be useful for you.

As I said I am anything but a professional photographer, so I won’t give advise on technical topics and image editing software. Feel free to search the web for more comprehensive information on that.

1. Cutting parts off

Where are those feet? The person taking this photo didn't know about that mistake.

This one is a classic and many people don’t pay attention to it or don’t even know about it. Often parts of someone’s body are cut off. The person you took a photo of can be seen in the picture, smiling, all great, but wait… What happened to their legs? Or their arms?

The same thing applies if you take a snapshot of a building and cut off some part of the roof and many similar scenarios. It is not so much an issue if you clearly didn’t intend to get the whole object in the frame in the first place.

However, you can see it obviously is a mistake if you might have just as well been taking one step further back. Another way to fix this issue is to simply shift the whole frame a little bit to get the whole object in the picture.

While sometimes it can be done on purpose it often is not. So this is an easy to avoid mistake.

2. Wonky horizons

Tilted horizon
Typical mistake messing up the panorama - a tilted horizon

This is a big one. And unfortunately also a very common mistake that a lot of us make. And often we don’t realize it or don’t even know about it. Once you know about it you cannot stop to not notice it. It ruins every oh so beautiful landscape shot.

We are talking about ‘wonky horizons’. When taking a photo make sure you hold the camera straight and not on an angle. Take some point of reference to rely on like the horizon or the roof of a building. Just some line you know to be straight.

Again, there are some cases where this can be done on purpose, but more often than not this is not the case. While in some photos (with ocean in the background for example) this mistake is totally obvious it is not so much of a problem or even intentional in other pictures. Again, easy to avoid. However, it can still be fixed afterwards with editing software.

3. Thirds

Missing thirds in this photo
The photo is cut into two parts, each taking up half the space

Here we have one of the easiest guidelines to follow when it comes to composition. Divide your image into thirds, horizontal as well as vertical.

The picture below is separated into two parts, sky and ground, almost 50/50. So it is not clear which part the viewer is supposed to focus on. Do not do that. Rather stick to your thirds.

Yet there is of course always the exception to the rule where you want to do this on purpose. But in the example below you can see that there was no intention to do that.

4. The centre of attention

Boring - the object placed right in the centre of the photo

This one goes along with the rules about composition mentioned before. If you base your photo on a certain object, do not put it right in the centre!

That is anything but interesting. Shoot from a different angle, try new things. Whatever. Go crazy!

5. Trees growing out of heads

Got a tree growing out of your head?
Watch your background - do not have trees growing out of someone's head

Yet another mistake that is super easy not to make. All you have to do is to watch what is going on in the background and simply… well, simply don’t have trees growing out of people’s heads. That’s it!

6. Lack of framing

The light posts framing the Opera House
Light posts framing the Sydney Opera House

Sometimes you can make a photo more interesting if you just include something from your surroundings. Maybe all you need to do is to take a few steps back.

Look for objects that can serve as a frame for your photo. Whether it be light posts, trees, shooting through an open window, the possibilities are endless.

7. Tell a story

Completely random beach photo (Bondi by the way) without any story behind it

Don’t just take a picture of some random scene without giving it a thought. You shoud try to tell a story. Put the scenery into context with some person or animal or whatever you focus on. Give it some time! Patience is a virtue.

Maybe something amazing is going to happen. And when it does you hopefully manage to capture that moment.

8. Keep your focus

Blurry photo
Always have a steady posture - even when the sea is rough

No one likes to look at blurry photos unless it is done on purpose to give it that certain effect. To not end up with images that aren’t sharp follow these three rules.

First, make sure that you have a steady posture. You can place your elbow on your knee if you are not standing. Things like that. Ideally shoot with a tripod.

Secondly, try to avoid shooting in auto focus as this sometimes results in having more focus on the object in front of you although you wanted to emphasize the background or vice versa. Go for manual!

The third reason why your pictures might be blurry is a bit more complicated. Your camera settings are not adjusted to the circumstances. And fixing this demands more skills. For that you need a better understanding about light exposure, ISO, aperture and shutter speed.

9. Point of view

A church photographed from a common point of view
A church photographed from a common point of view - cut off as well

Most people often take photos from a very common point of view. Why not lie on the floor instead of standing? Or look at things from a totally different angle than all the others? Anything goes, no bounderies. Be creative!

Finally, I’d like to mention that I (your average backpacker taking mediocre photos) am guilty of having done all of the above. Well, except for the ‘tree out of the head’ thing. That photo I took intentionally, believe it or not.

And I am sure there are other travelers out there committing these photography crimes as well. But let’s just put an end to this! Or at least try it.

More information, videos and useful links

As mentioned before, these are only the very basic things that people get wrong and as I am on my way to become a little better at handling my camera myself I only want to give you advise on things that I know about and that I am somewhat qualified to give advise on, I hope.

There are many more things to avoid. So have a look at the videos below which are just some of the many very useful ones on youtube to give you more information on photography.

The first video will cover a few of the mistakes I mentioned before and also gets into some of the technical aspects.

The great thing about the next video is that besides some basic tips and tricks it covers topics that are essential to travel photography. So go for it and capture “the moment”!

The third video is totally awesome I think, because absolutely everyone can put these little tips and tricks into practice. This is not anyhow technical advise in the sense of which settings to use on your camera. It is rather about things like where to position yourself when taking that picture.

Well, as I said there are a lot of things I have to learn myself. So I don’t want to reinvent the wheel and rather want to raise awareness so people hopefully avoid these mistakes. For further information you can see the following links:

12 Common Newbie Photography Mistakes to Avoid

8 Common Beginner Photography Mistakes (And How to Avoid them)

9 Basic Photography mistakes (and how to fix them)

10 Embarrassing Mistakes I Made As a Beginner Photographer

 

So now, grab your camera, go outside (or even stay inside) and get some great snapshots. From personal experience I can only tell you that suddenly taking photos turns into… well, into something. You will stop just taking photo after photo and instead you will spend more time on every single one. You take pictures of the same scenery and you are going to have a look when you got it right. It is going to become way more fun!

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