Seven Mistakes Made By Beginner Photographers and How You Can Avoid Them

I’ve written this article to help beginner photographers avoid some common but crucial mistakes that are usually made by beginners. I see a lot of people making these mistakes and to be frank, I made them too when I started out. This e-book will ensure that you start your journey flawlessly and in a more efficient manner.

So let’s get started:

Mistake 1: Shooting only using the automatic mode

This is perhaps the biggest mistake a beginner photographer can make. Using the camera’s automatic mode is how most people shoot because it’s the easiest way to start using the camera.

You don’t have to worry about anything as the camera takes care of everything once you press the shutter button to take the shot.

But shooting in automatic mode can be thought of as a being a boxer who is only allowed to use one hand to punch.

In other words, unless you learn how to shoot in the manual mode, you will never fulfil the potential of your DSLR camera.

For instance, let’s take the example of the two shots below:

The picture on the right looks much better even though it’s of the same waterfall.

That’s because the shot on the right has been shot in the manual mode where the photographer was able to change the shutter speed of the camera.

What shutter speed is and how it functions is something that is a part of learning the manual mode.

Basically, in the manual mode, there are three main settings – Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO, that come under your control.

And once you know how to use these settings, you can create ANY kind of shot that you ever wanted to.

The silky waterfall shot above can NEVER be achieved when shooting in the automatic mode. In the auto mode, you will always end up getting the image on the left.

Similarly there are other types of shots that you can only get when you know the manual mode, like the shot below:

Here, you can see that the image on the right looks much better as the photographer has been able to blur the background effectively and hence there are no distractions.

Again, this may or may not result in auto mode.

But in manual mode, using the aperture setting, you can get this shot 100% of the times because you know exactly what you have to do.

Changing from Automatic Mode to Manual Mode

Most people don’t learn the manual mode because it’s a little technical.

This is where we, Creative Pad Photography, come in.

We conduct workshops across Pune where we teach you how to shoot in the manual mode and much more.

To know more details and the schedule of these workshops, click here.

We’ve also developed a comprehensive e-book titled Photography for Beginners (E-book with Videos): The Easiest Way to Learn DSLR Photography from the Comfort of Your Home.

This e-book consists of everything you ever wanted to know about DSLR photography. It will make sure that your transition from shooting in the automatic mode to the manual mode is really easy.

It contains both text and videos, so it makes it very convenient for the reader to follow everything. It has plenty of hands-on exercises and everything is practical and action oriented. It even consists of an editing and post-processing section.

You can buy this e-book using the link below:

Click here to buy this e-book


Mistake 2: Not zooming in when shooting

Zooming in just means you increase the focal length. It’s similar to the ‘Towards’ and ‘Away’ feature on normal cameras.

When you rotate the zoom ring on your lens, you increase the focal length and you can get closer to the subject that you are trying to shoot.

While most people only zoom in when they notice they are far away, experienced photographers know that the function of zooming is more than just getting close to the subject.

When you zoom in, you compress the subject and the background. And when you zoom out, you widen the subject and see more of the background.

A compressed subject looks natural and the fact that very less of the background is visible, makes the subject stand out as there are no more distractions.

To understand this, look at the picture below:

Here, you can see that the all the six shots are of the same model and in the same location.

But you’ll see that the first shot looks the worst and the last shot looks the best.

Why is this?

In the first shot, the photographer is using a lesser focal length, i.e, the photographer is zoomed out. When you are zoomed out, you have to physically walk close to the subject to get close to them.

But the lesser or wider focal length has had two bad effects:

1. It has widened the features of the model, and you can see that she appears almost concave-like.

  1. It has widened the background so most of the background can be seen, which looks distracting.

Now, as the photographer keeps on increasing the focal length, you’ll notice that the shot keeps on becoming better.

Look at the last shot at 200mm.

It looks great.


Because when you zoom in from far away, you compress the subject, so the subject looks more natural. So the model looks good here.

Secondly, it also compresses the background, so less of it is seen. Just compare the background in the last shot to the first shot.

You can see that you can’t even make out anything about the surroundings in the last shot as so less of it is being seen.

And this makes it a really good shot as there are no distractions and the model looks natural too.

So what is the lesson to be learned?

The lesson to be learned is that on most occasions, it’s always better to go away from the subject and then zoom in and shoot.

When be buy a DSLR, the kit lens that usually comes with these cameras is the 18-55mm one.

So the maximum you can zoom in with that is to 55mm, which may not always be enough.

If you want to be able to go more far away and shoot, you need to purchase a zoom lens, like the 55-200 for Nikon and 55-250 for Canon.


Mistake 3: Not Including the Foreground in Landscape Shots

This is one of the biggest mistake made, even by experienced photographers.

How most people shoot landscape shots is that they just hold the camera in their hands and then take a shot.

Problem with this approach is that the resulting shot is taken from the eye level.

When the shot is taken from the eye level, it fails to capture one of the most important parts of a landscape photograph, which is the FOREGROUND.

What is the foreground?

Foreground refers to the part of the ground which you are standing on.

It’s a must to include foreground in most of your landscape shots. Most people totally ignore this important part and only bother about the middle ground and the background.

To understand this, look at the picture below:

In the sunset shot above, you can see that the main subject of the landscape shot, i.e, the sunset, is clearly visible.

I was on top of a hill when I was taking this shot.

In the first shot I took, I made the mistake of taking this from the eye level. As a result, only the far away trees (middle ground) and the sunset and sky (background) came in the shot.

I knew that something was missing.

Then I realised that I was missing the foreground.

I saw that I was standing on a rocky surface. The rocky surface is my foreground, so I needed to include this in the shot.

So I used my tripod, stretched it fully till it was almost flat on the ground and then mounted my camera on it and then took the shot.

The result, as you can see above, is that the rocky surface that I was standing upon, has come into the frame too.

And this instantly adds depth to this picture.

It gives the viewer a 3D-like feeling.

Remember this thing – You should always include the foreground in a landscape shot so you can give the viewer the feeling that they can step in to the picture.

In this shot, it feels like the viewer can walk into the picture using the rocky foreground because it feels so close.

Here are some other shots which make use of the foreground:




So, next time you try to shoot a landscape shot, make sure all the three elements, i.e, the foreground, middle ground and background are included in the shot.

To get the foreground like in the shots above, you have to place your camera low on the foreground, preferably on a tripod. For example, look at the shot below:

Here I’ve lowered the tripod all the way down, like shown in the image below:

This the reason why it’s important to buy a tripod that extends sideways too.

Almost all tripods extent downwards but only good tripods allow you to extend them sideways, thereby making it possible for the photographer to really get the tripod to almost ground level.

One of the best tripods out there is the Vanguard Alta CA 203AGH.

I use this tripod myself and can vouch for its quality and sustainability. It’s not only sturdy, but also offers the stretching feature so you can extend its legs and take it all the way down.


Mistake 4: Not shooting during the golden hours

What are the golden hours?

In photography, the term golden hours refers to two hours in a day – one hour after the sunrise and one hour before the sunset.

During these two hours, the light coming in from the sun has to travel a greater depth of the atmosphere, and hence loses its intensity.

When light loses its intensity, we refer to it as soft light.

The opposite of soft light is hard light.

When light is harsh (like in the afternoon), it produces a lot of bad looking shadows near the objects it falls upon. That is why, if you see a garden during the evening time, it instantly looks more pleasing and beautiful than in the afternoon, like in the images below:

You can see that in the first image which has been shot during afternoon, there are a lot of shadows everywhere and the bright parts look too loud.

In the second shot, the location is the same. The only difference is that it has been shot in the evening, when the light is soft.

So one of the most important principles to remember in photography is that you should always shoot outdoors during the golden hours.

You don’t have to restrict yourself to only the two hours precisely. An hour here and there is ok, but you should definitely avoid shooting when the sun is shining very brightly, like during the afternoon.

Even for portrait shots, you have to make sure that hard light doesn’t fall on the face of your subject. See the shots below:

Look at the image below:

You can see that the shadows on the subject’s face are very prominent and the visible contrast between the bright and the dark areas makes the picture look very poor.

This is because it’s been shot during afternoon, when the intensity of sunlight is high. As we learned in landscape photography, this type of light is called as hard light.

You can see that this hard light has rendered the part on which it is falling very bright and the opposite side in dark shadows. Even her hair strands are casting shadows on her right cheek and the left one seems underexposed. Even her head is casting a shadow on her left arm.

Now, see an image that has been shot during the golden hours when the light is soft:

You can see that this image looks way better than the first one. The only difference in both the images is the quality of light. This image has been shot during the golden hours and hence the light is soft.

As learned before, soft light makes the contrast between highlights and shadows lesser and hence everything looks smooth.

But let’s say you cannot shoot your subject during the golden hours due to time constraints and you are forced to shoot during times when the light is harsh. Then what do you do?

One way out of hard light is to find some shade and shoot the subject. Look at the shot below:

You can see that in this case the subject is in direct sunlight and the image does not look good.

Just a few steps ahead of her was a shady area, so I just asked her to take a few steps forward. Let’s see how this changes the shot:

You can see that just by taking a few steps forward and getting her into shade, we have eliminated the problems that hard light brings. Here is another shot where I was shooting at afternoon but managed to solve the problem by finding shade:

One problem with using shade is that you have might have to settle for a less than satisfactory composition. Like in the shot above, I have been able to blur the background effectively because we were lucky to find a spot that was in shade and where the background was far away as well. It’s not always easy to find spots where both these criteria will be fulfilled. For instance, in the full body shot below, we were unable to find a spot where there were less distractions in the background:

You can see there are a lot of things in the background which makes the shot less appealing. So even though the location had plenty of spots where we could have had better results, we could not use them because the sunlight was falling onto those areas.

Overcast days solve this problem as they guarantee shade everywhere.

Another way out is to shoot against the sun so that the harsh light of the sun does not fall directly on the face of the subject. So the photographer will be facing the sun.

This eliminates the problem of harsh sunlight falling on the subject’s face, like in the shot below:

You can see the sun hitting her hair, neck and shoulders from behind. But at least it does not fall on the face which is the main part of the portrait.

These type of shots are referred to as back-lit shots.

The same thing applies to landscape shots. Landscape shots look very poor when shot in hard light. So always wait for evening time or rise up early when you intend to shoot landscape shots.


Mistake 5: Not following the rule of thirds

Rule of thirds is one of the most important rules in photography.

When we are beginners, it is our tendency to always put the subject in centre of the frame.

While this approach is ok when you are filling the frame with the subject, it can result in a poor shot when both the subject and surroundings are in the frame.

Rule of thirds says that you should place the subject on one side of the frame and not in the centre.

For instance, look at the shot below:

In this shot, the man is not the only subject of the picture as it’s not a shot that is zoomed in. The background is an important part too.

So according to rule of thirds, a balanced composition would be when the subject is placed on one end of the picture and not in the centre, as you can see here.

If I would have taken this shot with the man in the centre of this frame, it would not look good.

But placing him on the left instantly improves the aesthetics of the shot as it gives the subject some space to breathe.

Rule of thirds is a rule that can be quite tough to adapt to when you are a beginner because beginners fail to immediately see the effect it has on the shot.

It takes time to understand that the shots look better aesthetically when this rule is followed. So the best way to make you understand this rule is to show you shots where the subjects follow the rule of thirds:

You can see that in each of the above shots, the main subject is either on the left or on the right, but not in the centre. This is because the background is an important part of the picture too.

So following the rule of thirds not only gives the main subject some space to breathe, but it also shows more of the background as there is no obstruction in the centre. This makes the shot look balanced.

Just imagine any of the above shots with the subject in the centre of the frame and you’ll realise that they won’t look as good.

Even in landscape shots, you can follow the rule of thirds by placing an element using the rule of thirds, like you can see in the shot of the beach above, in the section Mistake 3: Not including the foreground in landscape shots where I have placed the coconut shell using the rule of thirds.

The exceptions to rule of thirds are when you zoom into the subject and fill the frame with mainly just the subject. In that case there is no room to follow rule of thirds.

Another exception can be if the surroundings around the subject are symmetrical in nature. In that case it’s fine to put the subject in the centre.


Mistake 6: Always Shooting Up-to-Down

Just like it is our common tendency to always shoot in the centre when we are beginners, another common mistake is to always shoot subjects from an up to down angle.

We do this because it’s easy for us to shoot something which is at a lower level than us.

Shooting down-to-up or at a parallel angle would mean that on most occasions we would have to bend down to take a shot.

But this effort is worth it because your shots will improve drastically.

The best example to understand this is that of shots of beautiful flowers.

Let’s take a look at the two shots below:

While both shots are good in their own way, if you had to pick a winner, it’ll have to be the second shot.

And it’s not only because the flower looks more beautiful.

The reason the shot really looks good is because there is a good isolation between the flower and the background in the second shot.

Now what has happened here?

Everything in photography works by where you focus, i.e, where your focus point is when you take the shot.

When you focus on something, that part will be the sharpest and the parts ahead of it and behind it won’t be as sharp.

The more the distance between the focused part (the flower) and the unfocused part (the background), the more the isolation.

Now in the first shot, the photographer is shooting from an up-to-down position, so the background of the flower is the part which is just underneath the flower.

This means that the background is very close to the flower and hence the isolation is not good as some of the background also comes within the focus area.

But in the second shot, the photographer has shot the flower at a parallel angle. Therefore, the background immediately changes to what is behind the flower, not what is underneath it.

This instantly increases the distance between the flower and the background, and since the background is far away from the area of focus, it is thrown into a blur.

When you learn to shoot in manual mode, you also come to know how to further increase this blur using the concept of aperture.

One of the shots where the up-to-down approach results in poor shots is when shooting children. Since children are smaller than us, we tend to shoot them from a standing position.

But this doesn’t make them the dominant figure in the shot.

A better shot can result from getting down and being at the kid’s own eye level.

For instance, in the shot below, I sat down with these kids and then took the shot from almost ground level.

This instantly makes the shot look good as the kids now dominate the shot. If I had shot this from a standing position, it would have just looked like an ordinary shot.


Mistake 7: Not learning editing and post-processing.

While editing a picture is no substitute for getting your fundamentals right when it comes to actually taking the picture, it can go a long way in improving the shot as far as the following things go:

  • Exposure (the brightness)
  • Contrast
  • Colour
  • Noise (the annoying grains that you see in some shots)
  • Sharpness

..and a lot more.

For instance, look at the before and after versions of the shots below:

In all these shots, I’ve been able to dramatically improve the shot because of the editing techniques I know of.

We comprehensively cover various editing and processing techniques in  both our workshops as well as our e-book

Photography for Beginners (E-book with Videos): The Easiest Way to Learn DSLR Photography from the Comfort of Your Home.