Are You Making These 7 Common Photography Mistakes?
Editing, Manual Mode

7 common photography mistakes

We all make mistakes when we start learning anything. Mistakes are good because when we learn how to correct them then we can see progress in our work. What’s funny is we don’t even know they are mistakes until we learn what we are supposed to be doing. What is it that Oprah says “When you know better, you do better”? I have made my fair share of photography mistakes. What’s funny is 9 times out of 10 I didn’t even know it was a mistake! I learned about my mistakes and how to fix them in the many Clickin’ Moms workshops I have taken over the past couple of years.

1. Limb chopping. I was and still am the worst about this. I am constantly telling myself to take a step back so I don’t chop off the top of someone’s head or their hand. Honestly, I didn’t even know this was a no-no for MONTHS!

2. Not correcting white balance. Again, who knew that yellowish tint to your photos was fixable? I remember staring at photos trying to figure out where I had gone wrong. Thank goodness for Lightroom and the ability to fix white balance so easily! It’s best to nail it in camera and using Kelvin’s can help.

Read more: Comparing different methods of white balance

3. Over vignetting. Oh man, oh man! When I learned about vignetting I went BANANAS!! I thought it was the coolest.thing.ever! Come on, a way to draw your viewer’s eye into your subject, yes please! However, if you are too heavy handed with the vignetting you actually draw your viewer’s eye to the vignetting instead of your subject. A good rule to remember is if you think the vignetting looks good then pull it back just a little. Better safe than sorry.

4. Crooked horizon. This is another one that I never noticed until it was pointed out to me and now it drives me crazy. I am a constant camera tilter so I don’t think I could get a straight horizon if I tried :O) What a difference it makes! It can prevent your image from making your subject look like it is falling right off the picture.

5. Putting subject in dead center of the image. Remember the rule of thirds? It’s there for a reason :O) It helps to add a little more interest to your image. I have so many pictures of when Ian and were first married and going on trips. There is one picture of me (dead center) in front of something and then the exact same picture of him. Wish I had known about the rule of thirds back then.

Read more: Different composition rules and ideas

6. Shooting what you “think” you are supposed to shoot. Follow your heart. If you want to only shoot landscapes, then do it! If you just want to shoot macro, then do it! Just because you see a lot of portraiture photography doesn’t mean that you have to shoot that. If you don’t like shooting babies, then don’t. If you only want to shoot Seniors and couples, then do it!

7. Not committing to manual mode. Okay, this one may hit a nerve with some of you. When I first learned to shoot in manual mode, my friend and patient teacher, Megan Cieloha, told me I was not allowed to switch it back to auto. I laughed and told her she was crazy. However, I’m a rule follower so I listened to her. If you force yourself to learn, I bet you will pick it up a lot faster. I did cheat though at first on big occasions like a birthday or something I didn’t want to miss because of my fumbling fingers. After all the practice though, I couldn’t imagine going back to auto now.

Can you think of any common mistakes you made when you were starting out??

52 Comments
  • October 4, 2011 at 8:12 AM

    I think the ultimate rule is to break all the rules! I have been shooting for 2 years now and have started my own business, I never follow the rules and I get some amazing shots! :)

    • May 3, 2012 at 10:36 PM

      What Wishful Lamb forgot to mention is that you first need to really understand what the rules are before you can break them. Beginners who are still struggling with composition and lighting are not going to know, as an example, that there are ways of shooting into the sun that will give amazing results. To say that breaking all the rules is the ‘ultimate rule’ is misleading. Though some ‘rules’ can be broken they are compensated by modifying or adding additional ‘rules’. For example, while it is a common rule to not shoot into the sun, it can be done by introducing fill lighting and watching the angle of your lens. To break this ‘rule’ you have to apply additional rules on lighting.

      • Laura
        July 22, 2013 at 5:41 PM

        I have to agree with Tat2Duck here. Simply breaking the rules leads to BAD art, of any kind. You have to INTELLIGENTLY break the rules, which requires a lot of learning of the rules.

        There are three basic steps:
        1. LEARN the rules.
        2. MASTER the rules.
        3. Intelligently BREAK the rules.

        That second step is a doozy. But it has to be done. Otherwise, when you just have a passing understand of the rules and decide you can break them, it’s going to be noticeable. And not in a good way.

  • October 4, 2011 at 8:20 AM

    I’m still starting out so I make tons of “mistakes!’
    although I LOVE the fact that LR fixes your white balance so easy. I can make my indoor photos look sooo much better! :)

  • October 4, 2011 at 8:33 AM

    I have been in my own business for 4 years and am always still learning …. and still learning from my “mistakes”! I use Aperture for my editing and love it — and couldn’t work without it to help my crooked beach portraits, lighting, ect.

  • Danielle
    October 4, 2011 at 8:38 AM

    I’m totally guilty of chopped limbs and crooked horizons! I’m working on it though :) One of the best decisions I ever made was to switch to manual and LEAVE it there. I received my 35mm prime lens in the mail on June 16th, switched my camera to manual and never looked back. It has really forced me to learn fast and to keep learning.

  • October 4, 2011 at 8:42 AM

    Very very helpful. Thanks for this list! :)

  • Emily H.
    October 4, 2011 at 8:44 AM

    Oh, I am so guilty of quite a few of these! Mainly the cropping, horizon, and definitely the vignetting to name a few! I’m glad that there are articles like this on out there to constantly remind me that, while they may look neat to me in the moment, others eyes won’t be as pleased with the finished product. :)

  • October 4, 2011 at 9:56 AM

    Yep, do quite a few of these. i am becoming more conscious of limb chopping, but sometimes still do crop a bit of the head on purpose. Not sure if that is good, but sometimes I like the effect. I have never really checked my horizons…I bet i will start obsessing over that. :) The vignetting makes me chuckle. I have seen loads of dark images with a tiny hole of light! Thanks for the list that helps us mentally take note of our areas to improve! You blog has been so helpful!

  • Megan
    October 4, 2011 at 11:03 AM

    I made and still make some of those mistakes! My biggest mistake – get a nifty fifty lens that opens up to f/1.8 and proceeding to shoot wide open ALL the time! I’m still trying to break that habit! Focus isn’t all that great that opened up!!

  • October 4, 2011 at 11:09 AM

    I dont know about the limb chopping rule…LOL! That picture of your daughter is ADORABLE, limbs or not :)

    • January 23, 2014 at 4:10 AM

      Agreed, the limb chopping rule should be dispensed with. Chop away!

  • Michelle
    October 4, 2011 at 11:44 AM

    Guilty of limb chopping and crooked horizons over here too I think! And I think I need to try harder to get my composition right in camera instead of cropping in photoshop later. My proudest photography moment was resisting the urge to switch back to auto when shooting a friends wedding, even though I was brand new at manual!

  • October 4, 2011 at 9:28 PM

    Guilty as charged BUT I have managed to NOT touch the auto setting I actually can NOT do it anymore. hmm Vintage junkie here Ha.. :)

  • October 4, 2011 at 10:51 PM

    about the limb cropping- sometimes you have to- but I have learned from many professionals that it’s ok as long as you don’t crop at the joints- if you don’t crop at the joints (ankles, fingers, knees, wrists) it doesn’t draw the eye right to it. I find that if my subject (usually my own kids) are of the wiggily variety, I am guilty of limb chopping more often, but if the facial expression is particularly cute, the limb chop is almost always forgivable. . . (but of course I don’t charge for my photography yet so I have a you get what you pay for mentality…)

  • October 5, 2011 at 2:16 AM

    I have been glad that I have switched to manual mode until the last few months and now I have missed several precious memories due to my continuous fumbling fingers almost 1.5 years later. I must admit I was full on manual mode for 1 year and the last 1/2 year I have used S, A, and P modes, in addition to manual.

  • Absolutely! Over the years, I’ve gotten better and it’s become more natural to take better care in my photography. But Gosh I remember each and everyone of these and they still crop up when I sit down to edit. Dohhh!!!

  • October 5, 2011 at 9:25 AM

    Great list Courtney, I think we’ve all done some of those.
    I think overdoing eye sharpening in editing is a common beginners mistake, I know I did it. I hope I’ve learnt to pull back.
    I’m reminding myself all the time to watch that the horizon is parallel to the camera guides, as I tilt my camera all the time then have to straighten and crop in editing.
    I think with # 7 definitely committing to getting out of Auto, but you know I spent a long time in Aperture priority and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with not going straight to Manual. It’s a lot to get your head around in one jump.

  • October 6, 2011 at 4:58 AM

    Oh boy- 1. I didn’t know about the limb chopping. Mental note. 2. I am famous for not following the rule of thirds- like really really bad about that. I am always centering my subjects- I have to get over this feeling of the image being balanced. But I am happy to say that about 6 weeks ago I switched to manual/ RAW & have not changed back. I feel so liberated & couldn’t imagine going back.

    • January 23, 2014 at 4:16 AM

      I have always been aware of this ‘not centering’ rule and when I started out I tried to follow it but to be honest I don’t think it matters. As long as the composition is balanced and you think everything works I’d say go for it!

  • October 15, 2011 at 8:30 AM

    I’m such a coward when it comes to manual mode – I tend to switch back to auto pretty quickly when things get difficult. Good tips, hopefully will help my photography.

    • October 21, 2011 at 1:25 PM

      You can do it!! I challenge you to shoot manual for a whole week :O)

  • March 11, 2012 at 11:14 AM

    I started shooting manual back in October because of this post, thank you!

    • Courtney
      March 11, 2012 at 12:33 PM

      That is awesome to hear!! That makes my day!! So glad you took the leap!

  • Debbie Panton
    March 11, 2012 at 3:10 PM

    I’m all about the vignettes and crooked horizons…. Funny though, when I let my son who’s 8 take pictures with my camera, he tilts the camera on purpose to take an angled shot… somehow his pics always come out very well…. mine …the people look like they should fall off the picture. I’m working on the horizons but still not sure what is a good amount of vingetting to add. Trying to work in manual most of the time..really have to review some of those posts.. I still only have the kit lens so a little limiting trying to adjust for some pics. The of the fastest fixes ever though was WB… I just thought that yellowish colour was a fact of life… so happy when I first read this post… especially this time of year when so many pics are taken indoors and it’s dark so. early. Can’t thank you enough for that.

  • March 11, 2012 at 8:35 PM

    I think I need to get Lightroom. I can play around with a few of these things in what I already have on my computer but it’s not enough.
    Oh, and I’m terrible about limb chopping. That sounds terrible if taken out of context.

    • Courtney
      March 14, 2012 at 2:01 PM

      ha ha it does sound bad huh? I asked one time if people liked to shoot babies. Someone pointed out how bad that sounded as well :O) I LOVE Lightroom! Really and truly! It saves me so much time and I felt like it was super user friendly. I think it’s on sale right now through Amazon :O)

  • February 5, 2013 at 12:46 PM

    I also love Lightroom. I got the trial version of it, and I definitely plan on getting it. Google Lightroom promo code; I found a 23% off deal! As far as the mistakes go, I feel like I am making pretty much…all of those. HA! I did not know about the rule of thirds until today…I just recently learned about CWB. I didn’t know that you had to go into your camera after taking a picture of a white piece of paper and set it up…haha I just thought it did it automatically…[don’t laugh at me too hard!] I’m enjoying reading through all of these articles. I honestly feel like I am learning a ton of information. I think the biggest thing I am struggling with is WB, so now that I’ve read about how to fix it, I think I can improve! I also get a little sad when I see these amazing, edited photos. I think I am putting a little too much pressure on myself and my photo-taking abilities because I am expecting these super spectactular photos SOOC. Also…I’m still learning all the acronyms =]

  • February 7, 2013 at 3:10 PM

    I love that you felt the need to admit to cheating :)

    • Courtney
      February 7, 2013 at 3:12 PM

      You know me, a rule follower and honest gal :)

  • February 7, 2013 at 3:51 PM

    Oh yes Ive made every single one of these listed at some point and even now still I still have to remind myself to step back – love this :)

    • Courtney
      February 7, 2013 at 4:23 PM

      Me too!! I am constantly saying that to myself ;) Maybe someday we will have that one figured out :)

  • February 8, 2013 at 3:42 PM

    totally guilty of the crooked horizons and the limb chopping. I’ve been told a million times but I need to remember while I’m shooting.

    • Courtney
      February 12, 2013 at 4:01 PM

      Limb chopping gets me too!! :)

  • Heidi
    April 14, 2013 at 3:36 PM

    I just came across your blog a few days ago! I must say…I am addicted! I’ve learned so much in the past few days just reading your blog! Your tips are amazing & I laughed when I came across this post because I am so guilty of limb chopping HAHA! I have, however, turned to manual mode since reading this blog. I will never go back to auto. I am determined to learn, even if it requires taking a few bad photos to get there! You’ve gained a new fan & thank you so much for sharing all of your amazing tips & experiences! I can’t wait to try some of them out :D

    • Courtney
      April 16, 2013 at 2:04 PM

      Yay! Thanks so much for your sweet words! I’m so glad to hear that you tried out manual mode and love it! Whoo hoo! Let me know if you have any questions along your journey :)

  • Teri
    January 22, 2014 at 11:26 PM

    I do the chopped limbs all the time. I make myself step back and still find myself wanting to get closer by cropping afterwards. Its a constant battle with myself.

    There are 2 that I am surprised you didn’t mention.

    Over-shooting. I seriously struggle with this. I love shooting soooo much.

    And over-editing eyeballs. This drives me friggin insane! Some of the pictures I see out there are so over-edited in the eye area that the subject looks more like a robot or alien than anything else. Eyes can sparkle… but beaming like headlights is too much.

    Thanks for the thoughts and input. I enjoyed this one.

  • January 22, 2014 at 11:30 PM

    At this point my co workers thing I’m doing a dutch tilt on purpose! I’m constantly having to work on holding my camera level. I think I just get too excited about the shot and don’t worry about it lol. I need to really work on that!

  • Amanda
    January 22, 2014 at 11:46 PM

    I’m one of those that don’t follow the rules. :-) I do limb chops sometimes bc honestly I don’t want to see my preschoolers sticky hands or her bruised arm from playing on the swing set. I don’t want her whole body in the pic sometimes. I love the rule of thirds, one of my most favorite pics is of my daughter where she is in the left side of the picture. These are great guidelines, but at the end of the day, photography is art, which means whatever makes your heart smile is going to be beautiful.

    • January 23, 2014 at 4:18 AM

      Well said.

    • January 27, 2014 at 2:54 PM

      I’m so glad to hear you found a style that works for you. That is key :) I agree that correct limb chopping is definitely necessary. Photography is an art :)

  • January 23, 2014 at 10:02 AM

    I just came across your site very excited to learn new photography tips. Thank you for taking the time to share.

  • January 25, 2014 at 7:20 AM

    great tips!! thanks… I feel like I’ve come so far since switching to M on my camera! Emily

  • March 27, 2014 at 9:10 AM

    Some great tips, but, remember, don’t live and die by these rules. “Limb chopping,” for example, can add some great interest. Look at published images in magazines, on the covers of magazines, and other published work and you’ll see what I mean.

  • Lorna
    April 21, 2014 at 5:15 AM

    My BIG mistake when I started out in photography was having objects growing out of people’s heads. This is fixable in Photoshop but not so much in LR so now I make sure I ‘get it right in the camera’ then you can spend so much more time getting out and enjoying taking your photographs rather than sitting indoors on a beautiful spring morning working on photo software.

    • April 21, 2014 at 11:30 AM

      Yes, definitely anything you can do to save time post processing is key :)

  • Stacey H.
    February 23, 2019 at 3:37 PM

    When taking a picture, make sure your reflection is not visible in windows and mirrors.

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