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Do you want to understand your camera and take great photos today?

Yes Please

Sometimes, the more you learn, the less you know.

When I bought my first DSLR, I read the manual from cover to cover. I used to read it in bed and carry it with me whenever I was out taking photos.

It was a great way of learning to use my camera but doing this on my own left me with the wrong impressions, interpreting certain things in completely the wrong way.

These wrong impressions led to embarrassing mistakes.

There is now a sequel to this post! – 10 Embarrassing Mistakes I Made as an Intermediate Photographer.

Stop learning from your own mistakes, start learning from mine…

I Never Used Flash

If you play around with your pop-up flash, you’ll see why I made this choice. Whenever challenged, my reasoning was ‘I don’t like flash’.

The pop-up flash produces a harsh and flattening light that falls directly onto the subject.

I had no idea the potential of the camera flash… I just needed to use an external flash, preferably off camera.

It was only when a photographer I knew and trusted convinced me to buy an external flash that a world of opportunities opened up for me and my lighting. It was the Canon Speedlite 430EX iI.

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Constantly On The Wrong Focus Mode

One thing you can’t fix in post production (yet) is your focus.

That’s why it’s so essential to get this right in the camera. Often, time can be of the essence.

If you’ve ever noticed your camera constantly trying to refocus when you’re shooting a still object, or that your camera won’t track the focus of a moving object, it’s because you were on the wrong focus mode.

Super frustrating, I know.

Read this article on focus modes and you’ll get a much better understanding of how to fix that annoying problem.

The Wrong ISO

When I first went through my camera’s manual I learned that, the higher the ISO, the more digital noise there would be, therefore the worse the image quality.

So, naturally, I always tried to keep my ISO as low as possible, often around 100-200.

Guess what?

A ton of my photos were underexposed.

When I did boost my ISO to figures in the region of 1600, I would forget and take photos in bright sunlight with it still set there.

It’s easy to forget small details like this when you’re starting out and a little practice goes a long way in helping you to remember to check your camera.

The truth of the matter is that ISO is neither bad nor scary; it should be embraced. A high ISO can be used in all kinds of situations, even when using a flash, demonstrated in the photo below.

Always Shot In JPG

Listen, if you’re still shooting in jpg, pick up your camera now and switch it to RAW.

Not only is the image quality far superior but it allows a much broader set of options when it comes to post production.

When you shoot in JPG, your camera applies the white balance, sharpening, saturation, contrast and compresses the image.

Just trust me on this one.

A popular complaint from people who “don’t like shooting in RAW” is that the file size is much larger and they don’t have enough hard drive space. External memory is so cheap these days, there’s really no excuse.

I Didn’t Know About Bulb Mode

Ergh, this is embarrassing.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ll know that I love night photography and film photography too.

I knew what ‘B’ did on a film camera but, when I saw it on my digital, it never really clicked (literally!).

For those of you who don’t know, bulb mode allows you to take a photo for as long as you hold down the shutter release button (best done with an external remote).

No longer was I restricted to photos taken for 30 seconds or less.

This is useful for slow sync flash photography as it allows you to essentially customise the exposure length, making it whatever you feel like.

I Never Backed Up

This is probably one of my most embarrassing confessions: I was one of those poor stupid people who didn’t back up and I lost all of my photos to a horrifying little hard drive failure.

My photography was nowhere near as good as it is now so, looking back, it wasn’t as terrible as it felt at the time but it still really sucked.

Now my backup workflow is flawless; you can read more about how I do it here.

I Chose The Wrong Lenses

I remember seeing an advert for an 18-250mm lens by Sigma and thinking it was exactly what I was looking for; no more of this changing lens business that I’ve been putting up with!

I guess this was before I learned about image quality, haha.

A fixed 50mm lens might seem like an unusual choice but, when you understand aperture and optics, it’s clearly the right one.

As a fixed lens only really has one job to do, it does a very good job of it. A lens like the one mentioned above has to zoom through a ridiculous range, compromising on image quality. Sort of a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’.

This lens is on my list of ‘Top 20 Essential Camera Gear‘ and I couldn’t recommend it enough for beginners: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 ii.

It’s worth mentioning that I use much better glass these days but, for a hundred bucks or less, I think it’s a fantastic investment. 

I Transferred Over USB Straight From The Camera

I honestly couldn’t believe what I’d been missing when I bought a CF card reader for about £3 on amazon – the speed difference was shocking.

All this time I’d been transferring photos over a USB lead, experiencing slow transfers, wasting my battery life and experiencing cut outs during the transfer.

If you’ve got a newer beginner SLR, you’ll probably find that the camera takes SD cards; you may well have an SD card reader built into your laptop. You have no excuse not to use it.

White Balance Accuracy Was Baaaadddd

I sort-of understood white balance but it had never been explained in the way I’ve explained it to others in my tutorial. It was just what I could pick up from my camera manual, using words I didn’t understand.

I would almost always have my camera set to AWB (Auto White Balance) which resulted in wildly inaccurate colour accuracy, especially when I took photos inside: in tungsten light, all of my photos came out orange.

When you start to get your white balance right, you’ll cringe at some of your old photos.

I Used Free Editing Software

This is somewhat of a sin in photography; I was managing my library in iPhoto (back in the day – it’s now replaced by Photos) which was ruining the photos when I went to edit them.

Whenever I straightened a photo, it would automatically lose image quality, appearing much less sharp.

Ditch your free software and download Adobe Lightroom – my editing software of choice. 

Embarrassing Mistakes I Made As A Beginner Photographer

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Hey I'm Josh, I'm Photographer in Chief here at ExpertPhotography, and I'm in charge of making sure that we provide you with the best content from the most knowledgeable photographers in the world. Enjoy the site :)

  • Igor

    Pretty the same with me! Good article! Keep up the good work here!

    • Thanks, will do!

  • Yusrie

    Man, i cant thank you enough. Really appreciate what you do here, setting up blogs, articles, tutorial and stuff. hey do you got an fb version?

  • John

    Hello there,is it right that you shoudn’t reformat your sd card using a computer, you should always use the camera to do it, as you run the risk of corrupting the card. PS, I like the site keep going.

    • I haven’t used SD cards in a long time, so I’m probably not the best person to ask, but I should think it would be fine. If in doubt, use your camera. You shouldn’t really have a need to reformat it, just delete all the files and start over.

      • Brandon

        ^It usually is best to reformat the card in camera just so you know it will read the card. Although you don’t necessarily need to reformat after ever shoot. It is recommended because it supposedly lessens the chance of files becoming corrupted.

    • i only came upon this site via twitter or facebook several days ago… i’ve used sd cards since i started digital photography a few years back… recent experience with friend A borrowing the sd card from friend B, stuck it in her macbook, gave it back, and whoa: the sd card doesn’t work in friend B’s camera or laptop… what i did: i reformatted the sd card using my win7 os laptop, reformatted it AGAIN in friend B’s sony compact and, guess what, it worked fine… true, camera manufacturers warn against reformatting the memory card with a computer, but it could sometimes rescue a dead card…

  • dushki

    From this 10 mistakes I use Free Editing Software – Gimp.

    • I use Gimp too, but that’s not really a problem, it’s more about the basic editing from much simpler programs that you need to worry about.

  • Dan

    Nice site.
    I think you should make your in context links stand out a little more. They are hard to spot as is now. My 2 cents.

  • Megan

    Can I PLEASE tell you… You just took Everything that was in my head jumbled up and typed it out for me! I think I love you! I am bookmarking this site and expecting to read more from you!
    Thank you!
    PS…. I’m shooting a wedding Saturday and sooo needed this!

    • Haha, well we’d love to see your photos.

  • Hey, this is an amazing article. im new to Dslr photography and this is just the right advice i needed!, just one thing concerning the lenses. Besides the 50mm fixed lens, what zoom lenses would you recommend for a beginner? because my type of photography, usually is event/sports photography where i wouldn’t have direct access to my subjects. any help?


    • Telephoto is an obvious choice for you and it also looks great when you’re shooting portraits. Good luck – Josh

  • Alex

    So a few of my friends are into photography, and i just discovered
    My passion for it too, thanks to my art teacher…
    I’m so happy i found this site to help me understand the basics and stuff., keep it up and thanks so

  • Question: Do i even have a host if my camera isn’t super nice? I have a Canon, I can’t remember what model it is. It’s a model where I don’t have the ability to change the type of flash/lens, etc. It’s got a lot of different settings that I don’t understand. HOw can I learn more about that?

    • hello, wendi… i’ll tell you what i told donna… before digital while in university, i had my dad’s cheap-i-can’t-even-remember-the-name film camera… my first “serious” start with digital photography was with my Nokia 7710 mediaphone – sometime in 2006(?)… then a Nikon CoolPix S10 sometime in the early part of 2007, then a brief switch to a Sony CyberShot H9… resold that and got back to a secondhand Nikon CoolPix P80… then sometime February this year, i was able to get myself a Nikon D7000… FIRST: one doesn’t always need a dslr for every shot (unless of course you’re a professional)… practice with what you have, then you’d outgrow your current device – because you would then know all its functions and features, not because there’s a new model… SECOND: try the internet, search for keywords like “composition”, “rule of thirds”, “white balance”, and well “f-numbers”… THIRD: for inspiration, look at other photographer’s shots in magazines, galleries, and on the internet… wishing you good luck!

  • Donna

    I am an amateur photographer, and I don’t have a DSLR camera as of yet. I have been using a HP M525 Photosmart camera. I have been trying out the different settings on it. Most of my photos are just lucky shots, just happen to be in the right place at the right time. I do own a Vivitar SLR camera, haven’t used it too much, still don’t comprehend the f settings and apertures. Love your photos and website!

    • hello, donna… before digital while in university, i had my dad’s cheap-i-can’t-even-remember-the-name film camera… my first “serious” start with digital photography was with my Nokia 7710 mediaphone – sometime in 2006(?)… then a Nikon CoolPix S10 sometime in the early part of 2007, then a brief switch to a Sony CyberShot H9… resold that and got back to a secondhand Nikon CoolPix P80… then sometime February this year, i was able to get myself a Nikon D7000… FIRST: one doesn’t always need a dslr for every shot (unless of course you’re a professional)… practice with what you have, then you’d outgrow your current device – because you would then know all its functions and features, not because there’s a new model… SECOND: try the internet, search for keywords like “composition”, “rule of thirds”, “white balance”, and well “f-numbers”… THIRD: for inspiration, look at other photographer’s shots in magazines, galleries, and on the internet… wishing you good luck!

  • I sooooo agree with you on the 50mm f/ 1.8 by far my fav, it never leaves my camera….I feel that my next lens will most definately be the 50mm f/1.2 (saving my pennies!!!

    • Luke

      Many professional photographers use the 50mm f/1.4 instead of the f/1.2 because it only offers a slight increase in image quality, and indeed not any increase in quality at some apertures and so don’t feel this justifies the ridiculous jump in price. The best application is if you NEED the f/1.2. Just my opinion from what I’ve gathered.

  • First, thank you for setting up a blog for Q&A’s. That’s very thoughtful of you. I have been an outdoor photographer for the most part and recently decided to try indoor pet photography to help our local Humane’s Society increase their adoption rate with better photographs. I purchased a light box, reflector and have a speed lite for my Cannon 7D. With my flash used as a slave, inside the lightbox, it only flashes when my camera’s flash is up, reading an infrared beam. But my pop-up flash, even with a tissue over it, makes the pet’s eyes green. I was hoping that the tissue would prevent this. Do you have any tips for me? And have you photographed pets in a studio, and if so, what set-up did you use and what lens? Thanks.

  • Many thanks!!

  • Ellen

    Hi Josh,
    Happy New Year! I was in ugly Hedgehog forum and came upon your post. I have several editing programs that I use on my desktop but I really need to get a new computer resolution doesn’t look good. So I use my iPad to edit simple fixes, the program I use is photogene. Is this one of those programs that degrades the images?
    Second question I just purchased the nikon d7000 when shooting group shots 2,3 or 4 people at say a party do you still use AF- S mode the camera has 39 pts, should I have it on single 9, 21 etc.. It gets a little confusing. Thanks for the help! As always. Ellen

  • Tyffani

    What editing software do you recommend for people who DON’T use Apple?

    • Adobe Lightroom, there’s a Lightroom 4 Beta available at the moment for free if you want to give it a try.

      • agreed… as far as i can recall, most Asian countries, too, don’t/can’t use Aperture because most of the desktopss and laptops in the market here are pc/ibm-based… i’ve tried Lightroom 1 up till the current Lightroom 4 – i’ve seen many of the changes in them, but all of them are fantastic (although i also wish i could try Aperture)…

  • Pat

    Great article…thanks! I’m off to buy that fantastic-plastic lens!

  • Dave

    The Professional canon 50mm f1.2 when compared with. the 1.4 or 1.8 is build quality folkes. The lens costs that much because it is dust and weather resistant!!all canon L lenses are however, the glass in the 1.4 is no different to the 1.2! the slight gain in speed is neither here nor there too!!
    Remember all full frame cameras are expensive due to there build quality!! and they do not have idiot modes, (only AV< TV< M<P modes) so its good to think that in the hands of a beginer these cameras will not produce better pics unless you know what your doing!

    good article again Josh

  • eileen

    thanks 4 this great page keep up the good work

  • Awesome write up. Lol soo many of my first mistakes too! Especially leaving the Iso up when I should have changed it!
    Another big mistake I think is always keeping my aperture at the widest, because i wanted shallow depth or field everywhere. Only now I realized the power of f4, f8, f11 and even f22!!

    • hello, erwan… i’m on a similar page here – mostly using the widest aperture i have… but only because i consciously choose to do so with my “style” of photography… have fun experimenting with the various apertures, of course… cheers!

  • Ian

    Where is your white balance tutorial you mentioned?

  • Dan

    It’s always better having a high ISO-noisy shot (Bad quality) wich grants you a faster shutter speed, than a low ISO (High quality) slow shutter speed, blurred shot.
    Lower quality good picture vs Good quality bad picture.

    • i agree… much like the proverbial photography “rule” of taking a noisy/grainy shot versus NO shots at all…

  • Nadia

    Do you know me or something??? hehe… Thanks for all the tips, I
    just bought a camera {canon t2i}, and all I see is a bunch of symbols,
    and most of the time no idea what they mean!!! But your way of
    explaining stuff it’s really easy to understand, and gives me hope.
    I’ve had like three photo sessions… Even though I knew I wasn’t
    prepared, my friends insisted. I KNOW the pics weren’t good at all, and
    In the future I’m gonna deny I took them! Lol! Thank you, and I will
    {really try to} read everything you post!!!

  • I agree up to “I Used Free Editing Software”. Having a preference of Aperture over iPhoto is fine, but please don’t lump all “Free Editing Software” together.

    • hello jason… i’m from the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom side (not officially connected to Adobe and its subsidiaries, don’t worry), and i think i understand why “free” software is sometimes not the best thing – they do alter the pixel information in every image you tweak – with every single tweak you make… in comparison, Lightroom (and i suppose Aperture, as well) is non-destructive in that it never touches the original pixels or other data in your image (unless you purposely alter them within the software, of course); what you see onscreen as you edit is simply a “smart preview” – until you “export” them as jpeg images… two immediate benefits: you wouldn’t clutter up your hard drive as quickly with lots of extra copies (as what happens with most image editors), and your original image will always be there just in case you want to re-edit… which brings us to another point: backing up… most of my original images are in an external hard drive and my edited (exported, in Lightroom lingo) one can stay in my non-system drive on my laptop… then i periodically burn copies of my originals (even some of the not so good ones) onto 4 or 8 gb dvd discs, so even when the hard drive crashes i still have the original copies in my dvds to start with…

      • by the way, it’s only sometimes – critical events or mixed/poor lighting conditions – that i shoot RAW (and i think that’s what Lightroom and Aperture are mainly about), but Lightroom is virtually jpeg-friendly…

  • These aren’t (or shouldn’t be) EMBARRASSING mistakes… they’re part of learning. If some had just said always to this, that, and the other thing – you wouldn’t understand WHY you should be doing those things.

    • hello colin… perhaps one limitation of language is the semantics or contextual component… for josh (author), he may be simply looking back at those “mistakes” and considers them embarrassing, now that he knows much better… don’t we all have this tendency? hehe… but i also agree that we do need to make “mistakes” in the process of learning something – we don’t always have the luxury of a mentor with everything we do; constantly having one following us around would be, in the least, a dismal existence… cheers!

  • I’m sorry, but that ebook isn’t free!!! It looked to charge me anyway! Why do you say its free???

    • JoshDunlop

      It is free, when you sign up your email address, you will be emailed a link.

  • i twitted (@wrSurya) the link for this page/site, and i posted the same on my facebook page (wahid roshan surya)… more of this, josh…!

  • BeatSuite

    A good list of fundamental pointers I’m learning to understand as I go. Still don’t like flash yet! But I appreciate how it can be used well if you use it right and have the right set up.
    Mark at

  • Even the most experienced photographers can experience any of these. Number 8 is my worst problem of the bunch.
    Rohit Kothari

  • Dark Penguin

    With regard to free editing software, when you say you lose resolution when “straightening”, do you mean only rotating a picture by a few degrees or do you also include shear or perspective alterations? Using GIMP 2 I have never noticed the issue. Microsoft Office Picture Manager, which barely deserves to be called editing software, on the other hand, does cause a loss of clarity when the picture is straightened.