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.
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. You can also check out our full article on fixing common editing mistakes.
If you’re a serious beginner photographer and looking for more handy tips, why not have a look at our review on Photzy Snap Cards.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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