- Read your camera's owner's manual. Yes, boring I know, but beneficial nonetheless.
- Learn basic photography terms. Try this comprehensive list.
- Think about why you want to take photos. If you can identify an underlying purpose, you can more readily direct your learning about photography.
- Check out photos from other people. Doing so helps you identify what you like and don't like, and can inform you of the types of photography you want to pursue.
- Build Your Creativity With the 30-Day Creative Eye Challenge
- This Photography Challenge Will Help You Break Out of Your Creative Rut
Let's face it - photography can be tough to learn.
Not only is there a lot of technical stuff to learn like what camera settings to use in what situation and how to use artificial lighting, but there's also a ton of artistic considerations to make, too.
That includes how to pose people for portraits, how to use leading lines to create depth in landscape photos, and using unique angles to create eye-catching shots.
And on top of all that is learning what gear to use and what gear is best for you.
It's a lot...
In this guideline, I review critical beginner photography mistakes - most of which I committed at one point or another - in the hopes that I can help you minimize your mistakes and help you learn how to improve your photography.
Beginner Photography Mistake: Using Free Editing Software
Let me start by saying that while some free editing software - GIMP, for example - is actually quite good, most of it is definitely not.
To make it free, there's often tons of ads for web-based editors and tons of fee-based add-ons for software that you download.
And while that might not sound all that terrible, having reduced functionality and/or annoying ads popping up all the time can severely disrupt your workflow.
Editing is not an optional process - it is an integral component of creating dynamic, beautiful photos.
As such, get yourself the real deal - Lightroom, Photoshop, and so on - and avoid the beginner photography mistake of using free software that just doesn't cut it.
Editor's Tip: The worst part of using Lightroom is manually tagging your photos. Learn how to use AI to tag and organize the photos in your Lightroom libraries.
The Focus is Off
While today's cameras have incredible autofocus systems, they aren't infallible.
This is especially true in situations in which you're shooting through something - like the foliage in the foreground of the image above.
Instead of focusing on the model, in autofocus mode, the camera will likely focus instead on the plants in the foreground. This is a problem that is impossible to fix in post-processing, so learning how to avoid this mistake in-camera is critical.
It's pretty easy to get around, too.
Perhaps the easiest way to accurately focus on the subject is to select the autofocus point yourself, that way you're sure that the camera is focusing precisely where you want.
This is done differently depending on your camera system, but this tutorial offers a great general overview of camera focus modes and what you can do to increase your chances of getting the focus just right. You can also learn how to control the focus points on your camera in the video above by Photo Genius.
Skimping on Your Camera Strap
Image Credit: Brandon Burk
Back in the day when I got my first DSLR, I thought the camera strap that came with it was just fine.
But as I got more and more involved in photography and spent more time out shooting, I quickly realize how incredibly uncomfortable that strap actually was.
It cut into my shoulder like nobody's business, and as the hours dragged on, I simply didn't want to shoot anymore.
So, I set out to find a better camera strap.
Over the years I tried out dozens of straps. Some of them were terrible. Others were okay. And a few have been excellent.
Image Credit: Brandon Burk
One of the best straps I've used yet is the Holdfast MoneyMaker Solo shown above.
It's ideal for beginner photographers because it's incredibly comfortable, so you can shoot forever without getting fatigued.
It's also made of full-grain leather and has stainless steel hardware, so it's a durable strap that will last you for years and years to come.
But on top of all that, this thing is crazy functional. It has a stabilizer strap to keep the shoulder pad in place and also has a belt anchor that allows you to carry your camera on your hip and keep it there - unless you release the anchor, the camera stays put, even if you're bending over!
Image Credit: Brandon Burk
One of the first things that beginner photographers buy is a new camera, and that's totally fine.
But I've learned that the accessories you use can make a huge impact on your ability to take photos.
Believe it or not, a camera strap is one such item.
Don't make the mistake I made and try dozens of straps (and pay for dozens of straps). Instead, invest in the best and get yourself a Holdfast MoneyMaker Solo!
Not Understanding the Basics of Photography
You have to start somewhere when learning how to improve your photography, and your starting point should be with the very basics.
Before you ever pick up a camera and start to take photos, there's a few things you can do to build a solid foundation upon which you can learn:
These are super easy tasks that you can knock out in a few minutes a day over the course of a week.
And once you really start going with photography, don't be afraid to seek feedback and ask for help from other photographers!
Buying New Lenses
One of the best things you can do to improve your ability to take better photos is to invest in better lenses.
Don't get me wrong - the kit lens that likely came with your camera is just fine to learn with. But those lenses have their limitations that better lenses don't.
I'm a big fan of every beginner photographer investing in a 50mm f/1.8 lens for that reason.
These lenses are versatile, durable, and perform well in low-light situations. They can also be used for videography, so they pull double-duty.
The mistake that people make when buying lenses is that they buy brand new lenses.
Buying lenses is sort of like buying a car - if you buy new, you'll pay a lot more and its value will quickly depreciate.
However, if you buy used lenses, you can't save a ton of money and still get a lens that has a lot of life left in it. In fact, you might be able to find lenses cheap enough that you can get a couple of them for the same price as one new one.
So, avoid the rookie mistake of buying new lenses and instead find great deals on used ones.
But don't just hop on Craigslist or eBay to do so.
Instead, use services like Lensfinder, which was made by photographers, for photographers.
Think about it - Lensfinder has nothing but lenses, so you don't have to sift through a million unrelated products like you do on eBay.
What's more, Lensfinder is a one-stop shop, so you can search for the lens you want, ask the seller questions, pay for the lens, and leave feedback for the seller, all in one place.
It's just a simple, easy, secure way to get better gear and get it on the cheap!
Editor's Tip: Confused by all those markings on your lens? Learn what lens markings mean so you can get the most out of your photos.
Not Investing in a Polarizing Filter
Far and away, one of the best things you can add to your photography kit is a polarizing filter. That's especially true if you photograph landscapes.
Polarizing filters do amazing things for your photographs...
On the one hand, they minimize glare off of non-metallic surfaces, like water or wet foliage. That means that without the distracting glare, viewers can more thoroughly enjoy the scene you've captured.
On the other hand, polarizing filters also reduce atmospheric haze, so even though the distant mountain peaks look hazy to you, with a polarizing filter, your image of those same mountains will look crystal clear.
And that's not all - polarizers also boost contrast in the sky (as shown above), so any clouds in the shot will appear a brighter white while the blue atmosphere will be deeper and more robust.
That makes polarizing filters one of the most versatile photography accessories you can buy!
But don't just buy any old filter...
Cheap filters are a huge mistake because slapping a cheap piece of poorly made glass in front of your lens isn't going to enhance the images you take. Instead, it will merely detract from your images.
If you want a high-quality polarizing filter without breaking the bank, I highly recommend Formatt-Hitech polarizers.
These things are made to the highest standards with quality materials that not only make them durable but ensure high-performance, too.
With Formatt-Hitech's Firecrest anti-reflective coating, these filters offer you the highest contrast and fidelity for your images.
The glass is encased in a SuperSlim or UltraSlim rotating polarizer ring that's precision milled. That means they're easy to use, will help you improve your photography, and will last you a good long while as well!
Starting out in photography can be scary, especially when it comes to trying new things.
One of the worst things you can do as a beginner photographer is be afraid to get out there and take photos.
Whether you love portraits or landscapes, street photography or macro, or something in between, try your best to challenge yourself to find new and interesting ways to take photos.
That might simply be finding unique angles or just trying a different type of photography for a while.
The point is that there is always something to learn in photography, so don't be afraid to try new things, to mess up, and to take some epically bad photos.
You'll learn just as much - if not more - from your unsuccessful photos as you will from the good ones!
Not Completing the Process of Creating a Beautiful Image
I mentioned earlier that post-processing isn't an option - it's a critical component of creating a great photo.
But even once your image is completely edited, there still should be another step for your very best images - printing them.
Digital photography has been great in so many ways, not the least of which is opening photography to so many more people.
But in the digital age, we often take photos and forget them on our hard drives or cloud storage accounts. That's a mistake.
Excellent quality printing, superior build quality and A+ customer service. I wish I came to you first before trying others. Thanks CanvasHQ! - Eric S., Haverhill, MA
Your best images deserve to have a place on your wall where you and others can enjoy your handiwork.
But just like so many things in photography, trying to take the cheap way out is a big mistake.
I have dozens and dozens of prints in my home, most of which came from my favorite printer, CanvasHQ.
They're my go-to printer for a ton of reasons, not the least of which is the quality of the materials they use.
We're talking about archive-quality canvas, kiln-dried frames, and top-of-the-line inks that resist UV rays, water, and scratches.
Aside from the impeccable quality of these prints, I also appreciate how quickly CanvasHQ gets them made.
Often, I get my prints on my doorstep just a couple of days after placing my order. That's crazy considering I live in California and CanvasHQ is in Arkansas!
On top of that, the folks at CanvasHQ are just genuinely nice people that care about each customer. They make you feel as though you're they're top priority, and they treat your images with the love and respect that a dear friend would.
That dedication to quality and service should be enough to convince you that these guys deserve your business, but it gets even better...
CanvasHQ is affordable!
I cannot believe how easy it was to get my canvas from Canvas HQ! I submitted my photo on a Wednesday and my canvas was at my door on Saturday! And it was absolutely perfect! I will definitely order from Canvas HQ again! - Kara O., Manchester, IA
Their prints start at just $20, and if you ask me, that's a small price to pay for a gorgeous print of your photos.
It's just one more thing worth investing in, and another way that you can improve your photography while minimizing silly beginner mistakes, too!