The top 6 mistakes everyone should avoid when taking a photograph

Published by Markus on

Markus Raab taking photo with his Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II banner cropped

The top 6 mistakes everyone should avoid when taking a photograph

Oh boy, I really start to hate already this “SEO optimized heading” and I feel a bit ashamed about it. I know, you can read it everywhere nowadays. However, it is a way for me to learn about SEO right? So please forgive me for a few articles like that, I’ll try to do more meaningful next time.

Anyway, let’s come to the topic. No matter if you take a photo with your DSLR, mirrorless camera, point-and-shoot camera or your smartphone, by avoiding a few mistakes you can already tremendously improve the quality of your photos. I am by all means not an expert but I decided to let people know about these mistakes I can see on a daily basis. That’s my contribution to a better photographic world. 

The ironic part is, that there is always another person on the next level (talking about photographic and artistic skills here) who would share with  me my personal top 6 mistakes I make. I am always happy to learn, so I try hard to receive any critic or feedback as a learning opportunity. Let’s jump right in.

1. Please, please have a look at the horizon

There are tons of photos from stunning places and so many of them are not leveled with the horizon. Not taking care about it always means post-processing work afterwards. I know, some apps on the so smart phone suggest those corrections automatically these days, but you will most likely loose information and cut off parts of the image. There are new features as “content aware fill” that come with professional software, e.g., Adobe Photoshop, and eventually they will also come with smartphone apps. Some apps will come with more and more AI (artificial intelligence) features. Often that term AI is only a marketing trick though. It just sounds so cool, doesn’t it. 

Whatever technologies and tools come and go it is always better to just take photos with a leveled horizon right away. Just activate those grid lines on your phone or smartphone. Do it now! From now on you will take care about the alignment of the horizon or distinctive object. No matter if you take a landscape or a portrait photograph. Save yourself the time and worry and do not forget about the horizon in the background.

2. Turn off the flash, especially when taking photos of landmarks at night

Yes, I admit it, it happened to me as well. I simply forgot to turn off the flash. Of course, it is sometimes useful to use a flash. When it comes to lightning there are so many different options and things to take care of. You can find entire chapters of books, tutorials and courses about it. 

  • Built-in flash
  • External flash unit and flash angel
  • Flash settings like slow-sync flash, front-curtain, back-curtain
  • Direct or bouncing flash 
  • Combination of available and external light sources
  • Continuous light
  • … and many more

What I want to say it, YES, lighting is among the most essential topics in photography. However, using the flash is best done if you know what you do. That brings me to my statement: Do not use your flash if you take photos of buildings or landmarks at night.

3. Care about light and shadow, especially when taking portraits

Again there would be so much to tell about light and shadow in photography. When it comes to outdoor portrait shootings, the best photos are simply taken in the so called golden hours. A few hours before and after sunrise/sunset the light is not too harsh. This means you avoid those terrible shadows in the face and the reflections of the harsh daylight. Of course good portrait photos can be taken in almost any setting. However, it requires more effort, equipment and knowledge. Shooting portraits in the golden hours makes them shine by itself.

4. Object out of focus – as known as “not sharp”

Similar to the topics about light, shadow and flash, it’s possible to fill an entire book with the correct application of focus. Manual focus, Auto-focus, focus points, single focus, continuous focus and subject tracking, face-detect, eye-detect. Oh, there are just so many terms you could study.

If you have a low shutter-speed it is more likely that you will shook the camera, thus the image won’t be perfectly in focus. If you would like to have a shallower depth of field to create a nice bokeh effect (background out of focus and therefore blurry) it is more important to exactly focus on your subject.

The bottom line for beginners: Let your smartphone or camera know beforehand on which area it should focus. Quite often it will guess right, but do you really want to risk that. You are the boss here. You take all those amazing photos, they look great on the small display and later on when you zoom in on your computer you learn that not one of those is in focus (imagine the faces of people are always a tiny bit blurry). 

5. Overexposed images – white sky

First of all, know that exposure basically is just a measurement that tells how much light is taken by the camera sensor when a photo is taken. Exposure basically translates into how bright or how dark a final photograph will be. Overexposure can happen in many different scenarios. Quite often we can see it when taking photos that come with an overcast sky. If the image is overexposed the photo is too bright, seems washed out and has very little details in their highlights. This basically means instead of showing all those details of the cloudy sky, you will just get a white area instead. First aid: Lower the exposer by changing your f/stop.

6. Cutting off things on the edges 

You take this beautiful photos of your loved one. You really take care that he or she is perfectly in focus. Beautiful light, lovely facial expression, the warmest smile ever. Then you forgot to look behind your loved one. There is the bench cut in half, the person jumping into your background, some annoying power grids, … you name it. Take your time to frame your photograph. Do not just press the button. Quickly analyze the scene by going over all the edges and area of the photograph. It’s better to have one or two good photographs than ten or twenty photos that you anyway have to sort out and delete afterwards. Enjoy the moment of taking the photo – and just do it good from the very first time

Photography can become rocket-science at some point. There is just so much to learn. Not everybody must be a photographer. Many photos are good enough by just taking them in automatic mode. However, even in automatic mode there are always things you must take care of. Do not be the person who ignores simple advice that can be so easily applied and make such a big difference. The world is beautiful and your photos should be as well. 

Categories: stock


Markus is a passionate photographer, WordPress web developer, Atlassian Confluence & Service Desk enthusiast, and a self-motivated lifelong learner. After different professional studies and some years on the corporate career path, he decided to try an entirely different approach and completely turned his life upside down. Pausing his career, going off the beaten path in life and on backpacking travels and discovering his true self.


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