18 Simple Photography Tips for Beginners: What NOT To Do

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Photography can be overwhelming and frustrating when you are first starting to take it seriously.

So many rules, so many things to think about and so many mistakes to make.

You wouldn’t believe some of the terrible pictures I took at the beginning (I hope they aren’t out there somewhere)!

A couple of weeks ago, I shared 14 Simple Photography Tips for Beginners.

I hope that post has helped you know what things you can do to improve your photography.

But today, I want to go the opposite track — what not to do!

Kinda like the old show What Not To Wear. Do you remember that show?

If I can help you avoid some of the common mistakes in photography, hopefully it will get you to where you want to be faster.

So let’s get started.

18 Simple Photography Tips for Beginners: What NOT To Do

1. Don’t spray and pray.

Spray and pray is a photography technique where you take a ton of pictures of a situation and hope that one or two come out good.

This has grown popular since the digital age allows us to take almost an unlimited amount of photos at a time.

But this type of unintentional photography doesn’t have a story or vision. That is not where you want to be.

2. Don’t wear red in a photo shoot.

I made this mistake in a photo shoot for back to school pictures.

I wore a bright red shirt and didn’t notice until I got home and started editing. It wreaked havoc on my pictures.

Problem #1: red leaves a color cast on your subject.

Problem #2: a red shirt makes the subject look like they have red eyes without any flash.

Just don’t do it!

3. Don’t only shoot from the side of the road.

When shooting landscape photos, it is tempting to hop out of the car and shoot your photos from the side of the road.

And while you may get some good shots that way (especially in National Parks), in my experience the shots are much better just a little off the beaten path.

This doesn’t mean you have to go on a 10 mile hike (even though I know the photos would be beautiful there too). I just means that you step out of the car, off the road and get a better view before you take a shot.

4. Don’t use just any available light.

Light is key in photography. And not all light is created equal.

So when you are thinking about taking a picture, think about the quality of the light (not just the quantity).

This may mean moving your subject into better light, or coming back to the scene at a different time of day.

Getting better light will make all the difference in the quality of your photos and the story they tell.

5. Don’t put your subject in the center of the photo.

When you first start taking photos, it is tempting to put your subject in the middle of the photo.

But this is probably the least effective place to put them.

Instead, put them to the left or right (following the rule of thirds). Or look at them from a different perspective to make the photo more interesting.

I discuss this more in the photo tips blog post linked at the top of this post.

6. Don’t say “cheese”.

What do your kids do when you say “cheese!”?

Mine give me the cheesiest (pun intended) smile or face you can imagine.

Definitely not an authentic expression.

Instead of cheese, see if you can tell a joke to make them laugh. Or have them look at each other and make a genuine smile.

Almost anything is better than a photo shoot full of cheesy grins!

7. Don’t shoot at high noon.

The hardest time to shoot outdoors is in the middle of the day. Especially if the sky is clear.

It can be done, but it isn’t something you want to do at first, if at all possible.

With the sun directly above your subjects, there are harsh shadows that can wreak havoc on even the most gorgeous person.

If you have to shoot in the middle of a clear day, try to find open shade to give your photos more even color, less shadows and a more flattering look.

8. Don’t spend too much money on photography equipment.

Repeat after me — Equipment doesn’t make the photographer.

It is tempting to buy high end equipment (if you can afford it), when you first start out.

After all, better cameras take better pictures, right?

No. Today’s digital cameras can make incredible photos, even at the entry level price.

Buy a low level DSLR and learn how to use it.

Then only upgrade once you hit the limits of that camera. Not before.

9. Don’t go to a photo shoot without a plan.

No matter if you are getting paid or just doing it for fun, showing up without a plan is not okay.

Do some research. Find out when the best light is available. What are the best places to shoot?

Have some props or backgrounds in mind.

Going to a shoot and winging it (especially in the beginning) is the best way to get flustered, frustrated and not get your best images.

10. Don’t over edit your photos.

Photoshop and Lightroom are powerful tools that can do amazing things to your photos.

But overuse of editing can ruin your photos and make you look like an amateur.

So keep it simple. Stay true to the original vision of the photo.

Small tweaks can go a long way to increase the quality of your photography.

11. Don’t shoot at extremes.

By extremes, I mean when things are too dark or too bright. This will cause you to either lose texture in the shadows or blow out the highlights.

While some people use these things as part of their style, when you are first starting out you should look for more even light. This helps bring out the colors and makes the photo more appealing.

12. Don’t shoot crooked horizons.

As a landscape photographer, crooked horizons make me crazy.

A crooked selfie is acceptable, but if you are trying to take a meaningful photo it should be straight.

Crooked horizons or walls leaning on people are distracting to the overall photo. Don’t do it!

13. Don’t shoot everything wide open.

It is tempting when you are first learning aperture to want to shoot everything wide open (with a low number aperture).

After all, isn’t that blurry background what everyone wants? Yes and no.

Blurry backgrounds are great on portraits. But they don’t work for everything.

If you are taking a sweeping landscape photo, you want everything in focus to see as much as possible.

So don’t just shoot wide open because you think everyone else is doing it. Think about your vision of the photo and set your settings accordingly.

14. Don’t forget to pick your subject to focus on.

A good photo has a clear subject. If you are just taking pictures without a subject to focus on, they will fall flat.

You can focus on your subject with settings, composition and light.

Your subject can be big or small, but it needs to be clear and in focus.

15. Don’t have trees growing out of people’s heads.

Distractions in the background of a photo can ruin an otherwise good shot.

So before you click the shutter button, look around the back of your photo and see if there is anything that needs to be removed.

Whether it is a tree (then you will need to move your subject), or dirty laundry, it doesn’t matter. By moving your subject or the distractions, you are saving time in post processing later by fixing it in camera.

16. Don’t try to shoot at low shutter speed without a tripod.

Shaky hands make for blurry photos.

You need to know how low you can go before you introduce blur, even on a still object.

Then once you find that number, don’t go below it without a tripod.

Don’t have a tripod? Use any steady surface to lean against or put your camera on to reduce shake.

This is such an easy fix, so don’t be stubborn about it.

17. Don’t give away (or sell) unedited photos.

Photography is art, so don’t give away the rough draft.

If you are taking photos that you are hoping are more than snapshots or selfies, then you need to make them the best they can be.

It doesn’t matter if they are iPhone photos or taken with a DSLR. Edit them first before you send them out into the world. Always put your best foot forward.

18. Don’t use the on camera flash.

Learning how to use flash correctly is a skill that can be learned.

But if you just turn on the flash and use it in auto mode, you photos are most likely going to turn out terrible.

Instead of using the on camera flash, adjust your settings or lighting to get the same result without the harshness of flash.

By avoiding these mistakes many new photographers make, you will be one step ahead of the competition. You will also be able to move along easier in your photography journey.

Actions Steps:

  1. Read thru these tips and choose a few to implement into your photography workflow.
  2. Be aware of what you are shooting in camera so you don’t have to overly edit your photos.
  3. Keep trying, shooting and critiquing your photos so you can continue to get better.

It takes years and lots of practice to become a good photographer. Trial and error with many mistakes is just part of the journey.

Hopefully, I can help you avoid some of the mistakes with this post. So get out and practice for improved photography now.

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What other photography tips do you have? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!

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