Photo by Scott Bourne - Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons

Photo by Scott Bourne – Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons

You’d think that some people WANT a bad photo. While there are no real rules in photography – that pertains to what you SHOULD do. When it comes to what you SHOULD NOT do, well pretty much everyone (except the most pedantic of the pedants) agrees that there are several things you should NOT do. So if you find yourself doing four or more of the things on this list and you’re not happy with your photos, at least you now know why.

1. They worry more about low-light camera performance than they do finding a compelling subject with a nice background – or finding something to photograph that they are passionate about. To all you who are of the religion of low-light I got news for you. You’re traveling in the wrong direction. As photographers we WANT light. We look for it, chase it, pray for it, beg for it, and when necessary make it. We don’t try to shoot a black cat in a black barn at night when the moon is obscured by clouds. Worship the light. Don’t obsess over low-light camera performance. Go find a nicely-lit scene and any $500 camera will make a great image if it’s operated by someone who knows what to look for and how to execute.

2. They put bright shiny objects in the scene that have nothing to do with the subject. Remember that the human eye goes to the brightest part of the scene. If that’s not your subject, you got issues. Crop out any bright spots that might compete for your viewer’s attention.

3. They sleep in and go to bed early. Which means they rarely shoot at sunrise or sunset thereby avoiding the sweet light that goes with each of those events. This isn’t rocket science folks. You have two chances each and every day to get the sweet light that surrounds sunrise and sunset. Get out of bed and go shoot when the light is nice. And tell the corporate guys who want their portraits made at Noon outdoors in the summer in the middle of a parking lot to get up early and join you.

4. They shoot against a cluttered background. I can’t tell you how many horrible backgrounds I shot before I understood this. Once I got it, my pictures improved 100%. As you are shooting, keep saying to yourself “background, background, background!” This will remind you that what’s behind the main subject can be just as important as the subject itself.

5. They include everything they see in every shot. I’ve said it here 100 times. The difference between a professional and an amateur photographer is that the pro knows what NOT to include. When you think you have your subject. Get close. Then get closer. Then get closer still. Then you’re almost close enough. Eliminate anything and I mean anything that doesn’t HAVE to be in the photo to tell the story you want to tell.

6. They apply a shotgun approach to their photography, randomly selecting their subject, light, location, gear rather than applying a thoughtful, deliberate, well-thought-out approach. If you want award-winning photos, expecting to find them by accident is like expecting to become rich by winning the lottery. Try a little planning, preparation, patience and practice.

7. They forget that photography is a 2D medium representing a 3D world. Adding interesting foregrounds AND an interesting subject AND an complimentary background will result in a better image than a flat, 2D approach. Try to find a way to lead your viewers into the photograph, hold them there and then give them a place to bail out. Make looking at your image an experience they want to re-live.

Obviously there are more mistakes than those I have listed here. If you manage to go out and shoot every time without making any of THESE, it’s highly unlikely that any mistake you do make will have a major impact on your shot’s success.

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