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4 Mistakes I Made When Starting Out In Photography - and What I Learned From Them

Mastering photography is difficult.

There is a lot to learn and always a new challenge to overcome.

I have made many mistakes while learning photography.

Many of these are mistakes that are made by most novice photographers and, for me, these are the mistakes that have led to the greatest learning opportunities.

I’d like to share 4 of the most common mistakes I have made and what they taught me.

Mistake # 1. Not keeping it simple. In other words, I often ended up with a cluttered image, one in which there was no clear subject and which had too much going on in the frame, as in the image below.

When the image has too many elements they compete for the viewer’s attention resulting in no definite place for the eye to look. The obvious answer to this mistake is to try and simplify the image, although this is not always easy to do. There are many questions to answer, such as, where do we position ourselves to eliminate unnecessary elements in the scene and what do we include and exclude? At the location where the above image was taken, I also took some images which were not as cluttered and which had more definite subjects. These images are more pleasing to the eye.

In this image I wanted to frame the tree in the background with the two trees in the foreground so I moved closer to exclude some of the surrounding trees from the frame.

Paying attention to depth of field can also have a bearing on reducing clutter in an image.

In this example I chose one flower to concentrate on and used a narrow depth of field to blur the background, resulting in a simplified image.

With a simplified image it is easy to apply a radial filter in Lightroom and invert to darken the background.

Making this mistake has helped me to start to think differently.

It has encouraged me to try to ignore the larger vista and concentrate on individual elements within a scene.

It has introduced me to photographing more intimate landscapes and to paying attention to how I compose my image rather than just quickly taking a shot.

It has helped me to simplify. Mistake #2. Poor composition

This is one of the more serious mistakes we make as learner photographers.

As I said above, I had a tendency to take my shots quickly, without taking time to compose the elements correctly in the frame.

They were usually snapshots rather than photographs.

The result was images that I didn't like and that I didn't want to show to anyone else.

The reality is that a badly composed image will not be pleasing to the eye so it is not likely to attract viewers.

For this reason it is vital that we pay attention to how we compose our images.

I have put a lot of effort into improving composition, and even though there is a lot more to learn I have grasped some of the essential concepts.

I try to incorporate the use of leading lines, natural framing, rule of thirds and include foreground, middle ground and background in big vista images where appropriate.

I also take more time with each photograph and I am more mindful about how I arrange elements in the frame.

Using a leading line adds a sense of depth to the image.

In this image, rather than simply take a snapshot of Marlay house, which is close to my home, I tried to incorporate some of the elements of composition.

I used the trees to frame the house and moved to the left to ensure that the trees would not obscure part of the house.

I also included the stream and flowers in the foreground to give context to where the house is situated.

Another simple composition technique is to ensure that a person (or animal) is moving into the frame rather than moving out of the frame as the latter draws the viewer's eye out of the frame too.

Something moving into the frame (right) is considered to be better than having something moving out of the frame (left).

Here the swan is gliding right into the frame, which gives a pleasing composition.

The heron is looking into the frame rather than out of the frame.

I previously wrote a post outlining some of the essential aspects of composition which I have worked on.

I am aware that there are many other layers of composition which I have not yet mastered. Some of these are quite complicated and will need time and practice if I am to master them and improve at composition. However, despite the fact that I still make some basic composition mistakes, I do find that I am gradually training my eye to intuitively know what makes a more pleasing image.

Mistake # 3. Not paying attention to light

It goes without saying that light is of vital importance in photography.

Often I have no choice but to photograph in flat light and I must accept this.

The mistake is made when there is light and I don't know how to make the best use of that light.

It's a part of photography that I struggle with and many of my photographs have been spoiled by not positioning the light source correctly in relation to my subject.

For a photograph to succeed it must resonate with the viewer. It needs to evoke some emotion in the viewer and nothing does this so effectively as the way in which light is used.

What I have learned from making mistakes with light is simple - I need to master light if I want to master photography.

I need to use the qualities of brightness, contrast and direction of light to complement my subject and to convey emotion and mood in my images.

I need to fully understand light and the effect it has on my images.

I have experimented to some extent with light.

I enjoy making images where the absence of light in part of the image conceals information and conveys a sense of mystery in the image.

If I want to reveal the beauty of early morning, light shining through the trees can do this well. (Unfortunately, my struggle with using light is obvious here and requires more learning. A smaller aperture could have produced a sun star!)

Contrast between light and dark can be more effective in an image than the same image taken in flat, uniform light.

Sometimes I am attracted to soft, diffused light, which is common on an overcast day. It can suit a quiet, gentle landscape.

On this particular evening I was attracted to the shaft of light beaming down.

On this day in the bluebell woods I got a lot of flat images because there was no light. And then the sun came out!

There are a lot of ways in which light makes a difference to our photographs.

The direction of light is an important consideration.

Experimenting with the direction of light will produce different results and convey different moods in our images. We can have side-lighting, overhead lighting, front lighting and backlighting.

Since there is so much to master in relation to light, and since it is such a vital element in successful photography, my learning about using light is ongoing.

Sadly, so also are my mistakes.

Mistake # 4. Including distractions in the frame

This is a common mistake, and one which I made frequently, but with a bit of care it is easy to correct.

In this image I failed to notice the van and small tree at the right of the image. While it was possible to eliminate them somewhat by cropping the image, it wasn't ideal as it left the tree on the right too close to the edge of the frame.

It is preferable to get this right in camera.

What I have learned from making this mistake is the importance of checking the edges of the frame before I take the photograph. It is always better to remove distractions by moving slightly at the time of making the image rather than trying to remove them in post processing. Leaving unwanted elements in the frame speaks amateur more loudly than anything else.

Sometimes it's hard to know if something is a distraction or if it actually adds to the image.

When I was taking the image below I was concentrating on the man with the red jacket and his reflection in the water, particularly since he was starting to move out of the scene. I didn't notice the boat coming into the frame. I could remove the boat in Photoshop but my gut feeling is to leave it there as it was part of the scene when I took the image.

Making the mistake of having distractions in the frame has a simple solution - pay more attention when capturing the image! A simple solution that can be difficult to remember!

I hope that, by pointing out some of the common mistakes I make in my photography and how to avoid them, it will help you to make better pictures.

Is there one simple mistake that you commonly make? Tell us about it below.


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