3 Common Photography Mistakes to Avoid

While there is so much that goes into photography (angles, lighting, timing, editing, equipment, settings, the list goes on), there are a handful of really easy ways to avoid painting the word "Amateur" on your forehead. Here are three common mistakes to avoid.

 

1. The Unicorn

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Our brains do this thing where they fill in the blanks of what we see to make a likely picture, even if it's not there (Gestalt psychology). Take this image, for example. You automatically see a triangle, even though technically the only shapes depicted are circles with pie chunks taken out. 

Your brain sees the whole picture, not just the sum of its parts. This is important to keep in mind when taking photos as well. The background of your image interacts with your subject. So if a pole or bush is lined up directly behind your subject's head, they're not just part of the background. You've created a unicorn.

The solution: scoot over.

WRONG

RIGHT

 

2. excessive Headspace

I've noticed this mistake most when I'm on vacation. I hand my camera to a stranger and ask them to take a picture of me, and after they've walked away, I realize there's a massive amount of unnecessary space above my head. White space is your friend. Head space is not. White space, or negative space, is when you purposefully leave a portion of your composition blank for visual affect. Head space is when you place the head of your subject on the middle line of your frame.

whitespace

WHITE SPACE

or negative space, is when you purposefully leave a portion of your composition blank for visual affect.

headspace

HEAD SPACE

Head space is when you place the head of your subject on the middle line of your frame.

Contrary to popular belief, your eye does not naturally rest at the center of an image; it goes to a third line (The Rule of Thirds). Your composition will be most visually appealing if your focal point (what you want to stand out in the image, i.e. a face) is on a third line or, better yet, a third intersection.

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THE RULE OF THIRDS

The solution: fill the frame, and place your subject on a third line.

Wrong

Right

 

3. Harsh light

It's a common misconception that a sunny day is the best light for taking pictures. This is not always the case, especially when taking pictures of people. Harsh sunlight casts harsh shadows, which (unless you've mastered the art of high-contrast portraiture) seldom flatter the face. I like to shoot portraits in solidly shaded areas (tree shade can be tricky, since little orbs of light often peek through and speckle your subjects like inverted dalmatians. I prefer the shadow of a building) or overcast days when the sky is a soft gray. While it may look yucky at the time of your shoot, hazy days can create some stunning photographs.

Harsh

Photo from  Erik Valind

Photo from Erik Valind

Soft

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You don't always have control of the weather or location, however. In these cases, you can use a reflector, or change your angle to use the harsh sun to your advantage. There's no one-size fits all solution for this tip. Just pay attention to the sun and how it interacts with your subject, experiment a little, and see what you come up with.


Ready to take your photography to the next level? Check out my Skillshare class: Learning to Look: An Intro to Taking Better Photos.