1. Shooting in auto mode 100% of the time
“Relying on auto camera settings and not learning how to shoot in manual is one of the most common mistakes I see,” the Brooklyn-based photographer Gretchen Robinette says. “Today’s DSLRs and phone cameras make it easy to get ‘correctly exposed’ images, but they can’t predict one’s creative vision when shooting moving subjects and in mixed lighting.
“Understanding the exposure triad is a necessity. Once you master that relationship, then you can break the rules.” Getting the perfect exposure might be more challenging than it would be in an automatic mode, but once into the habit of adjusting your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO manually, you’ll have full control of elements like your depth of field, motion blur, and noise grain.
2. Focusing too much on gear
“One of the most common mistakes I have seen in my career as an artist is the emphasis on gear and technique,” the photographer, filmmaker, and mixed media artist Asiko tells us. “Don’t get me wrong: these are important and foundational building blocks to creating meaningful work. But I come across quite a few photographers who spend copious amounts of money on gear, and I don’t believe having the greatest gear inherently makes our work better.
“I’ve never had clients or galleries ask what camera or lens I’m using; these are essentially tools, like a hammer or spanner. Photography is so much more than bells and whistles and f-stops. It is a conduit to communicate with the world and a visual language to build a narrative. Clients and brands are ultimately more interested in creatives with something to say through their work than they are in expensive gear.”
“Photography is so much more than bells and whistles and f-stops. It is a conduit to communicate with the world and a visual language to build a narrative. Clients and brands are ultimately more interested in creatives with something to say through their work than they are in expensive gear.”
3. Forgetting about the background
“Photography is a game of subtleties, and it’s the smallest of details that separate the good from the great,” the London-based photographer Sam Gregg tells us. “Two photographers can be given the exact same scene, and the advanced photographer will always come out on top due to two factors: background noise and light.
“My first piece of advice for beginning photographers is to be hyper-aware of your background. Noisy backgrounds can distract the viewer from the subject and add an unnecessary layer of messiness to an image. Look intensely through the viewfinder and try to place the subject in a position where there is a clean separation from background to foreground.
“When shooting in the street, I prefer darker backgrounds, such as walls, that allow the subject to pop out from their environment. I also quickly scout the area before approaching a subject so that I can move them into better lighting if needed. Look for pockets of light, and, if possible, shoot later in the day when the light is softer and warmer.”
4. Standing too far away
“I often see some hesitancy among newer photographers,” the Maine-based photographer Heather Perry says. “So many photographers stand way back in an attempt to ‘sneak’ or ‘grab’ a photograph. The distance—and the hesitancy of the photographer in that moment—is always evident in the frame. It creates an invisible barrier between the scene and the camera.
“None of us are immune to self-doubt, but over-thinking, pausing, and second-guessing can hamper the flow of energy that brings a photo to life. Presence is often our best and most important tool. Making a photograph of another person is a commitment to a relationship.
“Whether that relationship is 30 seconds or 30 years, it should always be approached with integrity. Be brave. Get in close. Immerse yourself in the scene. Wear a mantle of authenticity, and make sure that anyone who looks your way can easily discern your intention. Receive what comes with openness.”
5. Trying to be perfect
“Looking for perfection in your work is the first mistake any photographer can make,” the Nigerian-born photographer and artist Danielle Mbonu says. “Before I started photographing professionally, it was just a hobby. I loved capturing moments with friends and family. A lot of these images from my childhood were not perfect, but after my dad died, I realised how grateful I was to even have those memories to look back on, imperfection and all.
“I used to be obsessed with over-editing my images, erasing everything I felt was a mistake, and removing every little accident in the background. But then I realised I wasn’t being true to myself or documenting my reality. Even when you have a vision in your head of how you want your image to turn out, it’s never going to reach that level of perfection. You might not love your work sometimes, and you might not feel like you have the best equipment or gear, but you’ll be thankful to have those images and be able to see your growth over time.”
6. Paying too much attention to trends and fads
“I think the most common mistake beginning photographers make is mimicking or trying to imitate each other’s work,” the California-based photographer Simrah Farrukh tells us. “Photography can be intimidating, and you may feel pressured to find a ‘style’ right away, but when it comes down to it, it’s all about what you’re interested in and how you can uniquely capture that interest.
“When you go out and shoot without any bias or preconceived notions of how you should be taking a photo, you’ll create authentic and beautiful work. As cliché as it sounds, your vision is your own, and it’s what is going to make you stand out, more so than the latest trends.”
7. Never breaking any rules
“Something that I did ‘wrong’ in the beginning of my career was caring too much about what other people think,” the fashion photographer Claudia Fischer says. “I tried to fit into perceived standards of what is considered ‘professional’ rather than just going with my gut and shooting how and what I actually wanted to shoot.
“Over time, I had to learn that it’s okay to say ‘no’ and to set clear boundaries as an artist. Picking the right team with similar styles and ideas made a huge difference, as well as clearly communicating the direction we’re going for beforehand.
“Still, I wouldn’t say that taking on shoots that weren’t necessarily ‘me’ early in my career was a ‘mistake.’ After all, they did give me a lot of tools and experience. As long as you remember where you ultimately want to go with your photography, I think it’s important to try new things, while keeping in mind that most ‘rules’ only exist in people’s heads.”
8. Deleting your images
“Photography is all about experimenting, making mistakes, and learning to embrace the magic of the medium,” the Australian photographer Drew Hopper says. “One common thing that I’ve noticed among many new photographers is their fear of failure, and sometimes that fear causes them to discard great images.
“I’ll be honest: you will fail multiple times throughout your career, but that’s nothing to be concerned about, as it’s totally normal and part of the journey. The best thing to do is experiment with your work, try new things, push personal boundaries, and challenge yourself. When you start doing that, you’ll eventually begin to discover your voice as an artist.
“The best thing to do is to experiment with your work, try new things, push personal boundaries, and challenge yourself. When you start doing that, you’ll eventually begin to discover your voice as an artist.”
“Be patient and kind to yourself, and archive all your images, even if you believe they’re average. Come back to them at a later stage—weeks, months, and years down the line. I can guarantee you’ll notice things you never saw at the time of capture.”
About the contributor
Feature Shoot showcases the work of international emerging and established photographers who are transforming the medium through compelling, cutting-edge projects, with contributing writers from all over the world.