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Common Photography mistakes by Beginners. Amateurs can overcome these to create beautiful pictures!

© Munish Khanna photography All Images on this Blog are photographed by Munish Khanna.

As a fashion and Advertising Photographer, I come across several assistants and my own students who are learning photography from me through my online and Practical Photography courses in Delhi. Some of the common mistakes these beginners make as a photographer are listed below. These are very simple yet very significant aspects of Photography that most of amateurs ignore or overlook. Amateurs spend more time on the technicalities of the equipment whereas the real art lies in developing your skill to portray your subject with the help of good light and composition. It's the content that matters more than the technical side of photography. It's not too difficult to get a good grip on the equipment but its takes a while to get hold of the aesthetic side and to create your own signature style in any creative art.

Getting too confused with WHITE BALANCE.

While I am not advocating that you should shoot with the wrong white balance but if you are not too sure about it, it's better to keep it at AUTO or DAYLIGHT. White balance is the setting on your camera which aims to produce technically perfect colours irrespective of the light falling on it. If you are shooting in "Day Light" the sensor expects "Day Light" to fall on it to produce white as White. If the colour temperature of the light falling on it is higher than the day light, then the colours shift towards more warm tones. And if the colour temperature of the light is less, then this shift is towards the Blue and the image appears cold.

If you have shot in RAW, you can certainly fine-tune the white balance on your computer at a later stage as well. "Daylight" is closest to shooting on Film and AUTO works quite fine in most of the situations. Earlier, in the film era, broadly speaking there used to be two film types, Daylight and Tungsten which would produce the correct white balance in their respective light sources. This is why, for more critical tasks, it is advisable to use an artificial and controlled lighting setup so that the color temperature of the light source remains constant during the whole duration of your shoot. In outdoors, the color temperature of the light continues to change with the changing conditions and environment. If its cloudy, it should give the feeling in the photograph that its cloudy and that will help create the right mood but if you set your camera at "Cloudy" it will correct the white balance instead and whites will appear white.

know more about White balance in Photography

This image has a warm cast all because it has been shot during the Golden hours of the evening. It is desirable to keep this warmth instead of opting for a technically perfect while balance. Photograph by Munish Khanna

Not keeping the Horizon straight in photographs.

It should not appear to be imbalanced except when you intentionally due to compositional reasons deliberately keep the camera at an angle for impact. However, it should never be off balance accidentally.

All modern cameras now have a balancing scale on the LCD screen or in the viewfinder itself to help you balance the horizon. The cameras also have the option of using the grid which is quite helpful in shooting interiors and if you are shooting stuff like paintings and carpets where you need to align both verticals and horizontals. However, do keep in mind that your composition should visually look balanced and not just technically be balanced. Sometimes, while shooting interiors you may be able to align properly only the verticals or horizontals and not bot. so, train your eye to visually balance different elements in your viewfinder.

Learn the art of composing better photographs

The Horizon occupies a very small portion of the Photograph but it's extremely important to keep it straight especially when its water. Photograph by Munish Khanna


It's just not fine to shoot a blurred or an out of focus image. It simply can't be corrected at a later stage so it's very important to ensure that you shoot it right. Your focus should be correct and the image should be sharp straight out of the camera. While the most basic camera would have one main focusing point in the centre, all cameras now have a number of focusing points around this main focusing point and these can be selected based on where your subject is in the frame. Make sure that you have selected the correct focusing point when shooting. The focusing point must overlap the main subject and not somewhere in the background. Since the main focusing point in the centre is the fastest, you can focus on the main subject with it and quickly recompose your frame if the main subject is not framed right in the middle. Sometimes, this is a quicker way of focusing as compared to manually rotating a dial or adjusting the joystick to shift the focusing points. Do remember that the exposure calculation of your camera is most biased towards the chosen focusing point and this works well in majority of the cases.

If you are focusing too close make sure that your subject is at least as away as the minimum focusing distance of your lens. All lenses have a specific minimum focusing distance and one cannot focus within this range. So, you simply cant step closer and click. The image should be focused as well and you can makeout the same in the viewfinder and also generally get a beep sound when the subject is focused.

And focus on the eyes, when shooting a portrait especially at a very close distance.

common photography mistakes

This image is of no use as it is not sharp. As you see from the viewfinder make sure that you actually see a sharp image as you turn around the focusing dial. If your eyes are week and you wear specs, every camera has the dioptre setting in the view finder, which helps you adjust the power in the viewfinder so that you can see clearly even without your spectacles.

All about Photography Lighting explained by Munish Khanna

You should be in complete control of where you have focused. If the focus is intentionally on the mobile phone, it's perfectly fine but if its accidental and you meant to focus on the real person instead of the image on the mobile screen, it won't convey what you intended to. So, this photograph is not bad at all but the point is, did the photographer meant to keep the focus on the mobile or the person.

While taking a photograph with the subject not in the middle, chances are the camera will focus at whatever is in the middle overlapping the focusing point of the camera. Either change the focusing point to overlap the face or focus on the face and recompose your shot to frame it the way you wish to. Do remember, the exposure when shooting or Aperture or Shutter priority is linked to the focusing point and priority will be given to that specific tone.

Mistakes in Photography

Yet another example, where the person is not in the middle and the Photographer missed the focus as the focusing point in the center overlapped the window behind.

Not emphasising enough on COMPOSITION

Composition is important and takes care of it for every image that you shoot.It's not an easy skill to master and the rules are very relative at times from shot to shot. Follow the rules, till the time you have gained enough experience to understand the situations in which you can override the rules and the photographs still look great and in fact sometimes the photograph is good and unique because it does not follow a conventional rule. The biggest mistake on the part of a new photographer is that he spends way more time on the technical aspects of the camera as compared to developing his compositional skills. Concentrate more on your subject rather than the camera.

learn the skill of composing better photographs by Munish Khanna

Photograph by Munish Khanna

Shot in Phuket, Thailand the image is not only compositionally strong but having a subject makes it more effective. Its always good to wait and include a living person in your composition as that makes it more interesting and unique.

Online Photography course by Munish Khanna

Photograph by Munish Khanna

Munish Khanna Academy

Photograph by Munish Khanna

Trying to get PERFECT EXPOSURE at the cost of the actual shot!

Trying to get PERFECT EXPOSURE is important but not at the cost of the actual shot! Many beginners miss the shot because they are aiming at getting perfect exposure right there in the camera. Once again, there is absolutely nothing wrong in getting the right exposure to begin with but it's also not a crime if you did not get it absolutely correct and you were a bit on the under or overexposure side.

It was often said that a self-respecting photographer while shooting on film would take out several test prints before deciding on the final print to get the right tones, colour and exposure. Exposure is quite relative for that matter, I may like the colours to be a bit deeper so that they appear more rich and saturated but someone may prefer more bright and well-exposed colors and tones.

Remember, if there is a probability of going wrong while shooting, make the error towards the underexposure side instead of over exposure as it is more forgiving. It is easier to bring out detail in darker tones but is not possible to get the tones back when these are overexposed and washed out.

Learn about natural lighting techniques in Photography

Photograph by Munish Khanna

Ideally, there should have been detailing in the background grass as well but then that was not the Priority in this Photograph of a Model, shot in a monument. When one shoots modeling Portfolios, it's the model who is expected to get all the attention and the detail of the other areas is not really very relevant. I am sure unless this is pointed out, no one is going to notice it.

Struggling to shoot on MANUAL with the impression that it will make you a better photographer.

Shooting on APERTURE PRIORITY lets you take care of lot many other aspects of photography besides exposure. With exposure compensation, you still have all the control over perfection in situations where the camera's metering has the potential of going wrong. On the manual mode, one needs to change two dials. Ones for Aperture and one for shutter speed. Where as in Aperture priority mode, one can very effectively manage the exposure by changing only one dial, the one for Aperture. The Camera, based on the metering mode, sets the corresponding shutter speed to achieve the best possible exposure. In my opinion, this saves a whole lot of time and same can be used towards the subject, light and composition.

Habitually shooting at a higher ISO even when not required at all.

Do not hesitate to shoot at a higher ISO on a good modern camera but do not let it be on a higher ISO when not even required at all. The NOISE in good cameras these days is almost negligible and the higher ISO lets you shoot at a relatively higher shutter speed in low-lighting situations. But, this does not mean that you set the ISO high and forget about it. Always shoot at the lowest possible ISO and move upwards only if it's unavoidable. In a controlled environment, it's always a better idea to supplement the low available light with artificial light which continues to retain the original ambiance of the spot. Learn to balance the artificial and the natural existing light so that the viewer does not get the idea that there was anything added. Flash can very effectively be used for this purpose if used wisely. It can be bounced and diffused to ensure that it does not overpower the existing light.

If shooting in low light is one of your priorities, its wise to invest in a Good camera that is known for its capability to give excellent results in low light even at higher ISOs.

Common photography mistake explained by Munish Khanna

Photograph by Munish Khanna

This quick shot of a Belle Dancer in Dubai, UAE, was shot at ISO 5000 on canon EOS 5D mark II with the exposure of f4 and 1/40th sec. The exposure was intentionally kept 1 stop under so as to avoid pushing the ISO beyond 5000. For such candid shots one can't set up any flash or other external light source but has to manage within the available existing light. Modern cameras with good capabilities of Noise less images is a great advantage in such situations. One can use a lens with even more opened aperture but I generally prefer 24-105mm lens as it allows an additional range of focal length as compared to 24-70 with f 2.8

Photograph by Munish Khanna

She was photographed next to the lights of the makeup mirror at ISO 1600. The light is good and the aperture is quite opened up allowing the handheld use of the camera. This was just a quick shot in between the regular studio shots with mains-powered lights. Notice, that not correcting the white balance creates the required mood and warmth to the image. Focus is also specifically on the eye closer to the camera.

Photograph by Munish Khanna

The offices are quite well-lit. Even though we were well equipped with additional artificial lighting to supplement, I could manage this candid shot at only ISO 500. Shot on Canon 5D mark III with a 50mm f 1.4mm lens, the aperture was opened up to f2.2 to achieve a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second. The idea is to increase the ISO only to the extent that it allows you to shoot handheld. A shutter speed of 1/60th sec is optimum for keeping the camera stable with a 50mm lens.

Photograph by Munish Khanna

The Two girls on Phuket Beach were photographed at ISO 3200 with canon EOS 5D mark II. Increasing the ISO allowed a shutter speed of 1/10th sec at f/4. the Noise and slight blur give it a surreal and painterly effect.

ISO 6400 | f32 | 1/1000 | Doha - Qatar

Since it was Broad day light and there was no dearth of light for exposure, there was no need of an ISO setting of 6400. It is due to the unnecessary high ISO, that the Evaluative metering of the camera suggested to close the aperture all the way down to f/32 and 1/1000th sec

Don't forget to switch back to normal

Here, increasing the ISO is justified so that the images can be shot handheld without a tripod. But always switch back to normal settings after the shoot as one tends to forget when you take out the camera quickly to catch a moment.

Photograph by Shalini Khanna

This image on the beach was shot the next day without realising that the ISO was high from the night before. Do pause for a moment if you notice that the camera readings are not normal, the way these should be in the given lighting situation. But usually, if you do so you will end up missing the shot. So ideally, its best to switch the settings to the ones which you use in your everyday shooting.

Photograph by Shalini Khanna

The interesting thing about these photographs is that besides the fact that the ISO is unnecessarily high and there is quite a lot of noise but the images are nice because of the content. The Expressions, candid moment and composition make up for the negative contribution of high ISO.

Being too dependant on the Camera's LCD

Having an LCD screen on the back of the camera is a big advantage but develop an eye to evaluate the scene even before you release the shutter by looking at it from the camera's viewfinder itself. Many of us who started their careers in photography in the film era did not have this luxury and could not afford to randomly click images as these came at a cost. Not that quickly evaluating the shot on the screen is something wrong but you should not end up with the habit of checking out every shot that you click. You should rather be clicking your next shot at that time as the moment will not last forever. You might be missing something interesting during this period. Learn to quickly glance through the screen just to ensure that everything is fine but do not use it as a tool to further develop your shot in fast-changing situations.

yes, of course in more planned and controlled situations you can even have a larger additional screen connected to your camera to discuss and evaluate your shots along with your clients and the creative team.

Common Photography mistakes

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Using the LCD to frame instead of the viewfinder

This may not strictly be classified as a mistake but is more of a choice. As we progressed from the time when there were no screens available on the cameras and one had only optical viewfinders, we are probably more used to it. But it does have an advantage as it allows the camera to be closer to the body and this allows a more stable center of gravity as compared to the camera positioned outward and away from the center of gravity of the Photographer. You may need to shoot at a relatively higher shutter speed to avoid camera shake. Looking through the viewfinder also avoids any distractions and one can clearly see the subject irrespective of the existing light conditions.

Distorted images due to not using the correct Focal length.

majority of the new enthusiasts in Photography end up shooting at whichever focal length their camera was left at without bothering to really change it as per the subject. The biggest flaw being, when they step closer to the subject especially a portrait, to fill the frame. This could have been done from a distance by optically moving closer, that is rotating the zoom dial to a higher focal length. Step back and shoot with a long lens to avoid distortion.

Not keeping the subject involved.

We as professionals also sometimes need time with setting up the equipment and lighting but its always good to keep the subject you are going to shoot be involved and not get the idea that you are taking too long with your gear. talk to the person, check his or her body language and expressions so that you can bring out the best when your session actually begins. Even the most confident people may get nervous and camera concious when in front of lights and all the paraphernalia. If you have observed them well, you know their plus points and assets and help them relax and highlight the best aspects.

Not be prepared enough

There is no doubt that you should know your camera and lighting equipment inside out and be able to work n them flawlessly. Your fingers on the camera should move around and operate with reflex actions without any second thoughts. This is one of the reasons that street photography is a great exercise for developing your reflexes and to explore even unfavourable lighting situations and circumstances. You have nothing to lose while shooting randomly on the streets but it helps you develop all your skills which are required to undertake a professional paid assignment. Even if you aspire to be a fashion or an Advertising Photographer, it will definitely help you if you have shot enough on the streets.

Getting stuck up with the conventional approach.

A lot of photographer when they start developing this art, try to copy and imitate other well-known photographers. While there is absolutely no harm in drawing inspiration from others, but in the process to just copy someone blindly, you end up losing your own originally and very often your original style is even better than the conventional approach. Everyone has a certain style. There is a possibility that your style and the thought process of shooting is simply unique. By confining yourself with too many rules and looking at someone else's work as the standard, you may dilute your own originality.

I have come across so many of my students, who are good at composition as a default. They have this art of seeing which is sometimes inborn in us. I try to help them develop their own styles further with less botheration about the rules. Help them develop their technical skills so that these help and support in better expression of creativity.

Not Knowing what to shoot

Some people start with photography just because they find it very glamorous. Photography just as any other creative art is a way of expressing. A musician will do so with his instruments, a painter will do the same with his canvas and brush. You are trying to convey a story or a message or simply a visually appealing blend of various elements which either existed in nature or your meticulously planned and put them together. Start with whatever pulls you towards it. begin with what is around and available with you. It takes a while to develop this eye to see the extraordinary in the simple mundane elements. Photography is a journey and not a destination. Shoot whatever gives you the satisfaction and the feeling of pure joy as you release the shutter.

Photograph by Munish Khanna

There can't. be anything simpler than this. Yet, it's quitThe composition is not restricted to a photograph with a number of elements. Even a simple macro shot requires the Photographer to use his compositional skills. impactful and compositionally quite well balanced. Shot on Nikon D 100 this image was created with the elements placed on the glass. Because of the gap between the glass and the hand-painted background, the shadows give the feeling as if the elements are floating in the air.

Not able to stand out in the Photograph

Also if you have identified your subject, you should be able to showcase it clearly to your audience. You know that a particular element amongst a group of elements is your subject but not the viewer. With the help of the right lens, viewpoint, focus and other such factors you should be able to create a good photograph and not just another snapshot.

Street Photography techniques

Photograph by Munish Khanna

It's very clear who the Subject is in this shot of wrestlers in Jewar, a village in India. His face does not occupy a large space but the expressions do stand out. 70-200 mm lens at around 80mm allowed to isolate the wrestlers from the crowd in the background. Canon 5D mark III | f5 at 1/5000th sec

Not shooting enough

If you spot something good, do not hesitate to shoot more and more till you are satisfied. Only if you have more variations to choose from, you will have the best one out of the lot. If you shoot just one frame, that's all that you have anyways. So be your own competitor. In photography, especially in the fast-changing environment, you get opportunities which do not last too long. make the best of this window and get as many variations in your pictures as possible with the available time frame. As mentioned earlier, do not go on and admire every shot that you click but shoot more and capture every changing moment of the scene. I personally do not shoot on Burst mode but many people do do. I prefer to release the shutter fast enough to ensure that I do so when I wish to.

On the other hand, if you know that there is no scope of getting a great shot in a particular scenario do not waste your shots. You should be able to previsualize and evaluate how your images are going to appear.

Munish Khanna Photography Academy

Photograph by Munish Khanna

I like to click just at the right moment. In fact, when you release the shutter just before the right moment, you are almost sure to get it right. Even with great experience, its difficult to judge the right moment especially when everything is changing too fast. One, you should shoot as much as possible while the opportunity lasts and second, you must not waste a moment by turning down the camera to look at the rear LCD screen.

Making things Difficult

Taking a more Difficult path to begin with is one of the most common mistakes of a photographer in his or her initial days. KISS is the formula here. Keep it simple, stupid! Once you begin with simple stuff, you will progress faster without any hiccups. Keep all factors favourable and step out in good natural daylight to click photographs. You have better chances of getting good shots as compared to making a start in bad low-light conditions. Continue to concentrate on the composition and the aesthetical aspects of photography as these take quite some time to understand and develop as compared to the technical. You don't straight away dive into the ocean to learn to swim, then why the same in Photography? Take simple gradual steps, make your foundation stronger and you will certainly go a long way ahead.

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