I’ve been using a DSLR for over 13 years now, but only in the last four years have I progressed, evolved even, from the bad photography practices of my wayward youth.
Here’s five beginner photography mistakes that I have since learned were not ideal.
1. I shot in JPEG instead of RAW
When I started out, all I had was a 4GB CompactFlash card for my camera. I couldn’t afford a larger one, and besides, you can fit so many JPEG images on a 4GB card! Why shoot in RAW when they take up 20 times the space?!
I was also editing destructively. I had no originals. I was just editing over the original JPEG and saving it. Cue crying face emoji.
I had no idea the power of a RAW file over a JPEG. White balance correction, exposure adjustments … I had no idea what I caused myself to lose by shooting only in JPEG.
A RAW is like a cube filled with not only the settings you used, but a wide range of variations of the settings above and below what you used. The JPEG is like a slice through that cube, a square that represents a single cross-section of settings, with basically no power to adjust up and down without losing data.
2. I used Photoshop to edit huge batches of photos
I used to wonder how wedding photographers did it. How did they develop huge batches of hundreds of photos, giving each one a consistent appearance, without it taking a thousand years?
That was because I used to develop by hand in Photoshop. I used to tweak the exposure, white balance, contrast, curves, everything, one photo at a time in Photoshop. Then I would save that photo, and move on to the next. I’d try to match it up, manually, flicking back to the saved JPEG of the first photo (remember, I was still shooting in JPEG at this point too).
I was doing it all wrong. There are so many reasons why developing like this was a huge waste of time. Just as one example, if I changed something about my develop style in photo #73, I’d have to go back and manually change all the other photos (open, edit, save again) so that they would match. I didn’t even use actions. Even thinking about it now gives me the horrors.
I knew Lightroom existed but I genuinely had no idea what the point of it was. I actually thought it was just for applying Instagram-style filters on my photos, and I thought to myself: Why would I want to do that!?
It was years — literal years — before I decided I have to learn what the deal with Lightroom is. And when I did: Wow. So many hours of my life wasted. Batch developing, metadata, non-destructive editing … it was a crime I had not explored it earlier. One of the pitfalls of being self-taught: you don’t know what you don’t know.
3. I didn’t name my files with a reverse timestamp
When I first picked up a digital camera, for longer than I’d like to admit, I manually renamed every photo to what it contained. As in: Jemma and Jake.jpg and Jemma smiling.jpg and so on. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t!
I wasted time trying to find photos because once renamed, they were out of chronological order, and I wasted time when trying to turn those photos into printed albums for the same reason.
Naming photos, and the folders they are in, in reverse chronological order is a much more effective way of sorting and storing long term. I name my folders as: YYYY-MM-DD Brief description and photos within the folder are named YYYY-MM-DD-timestamp. This puts everything in chronological order automatically.
I use the free software Bulk Rename Utility to rename my photos after copying them from my camera memory card. You can set up a profile to pull the date and time from the photo’s EXIF data automatically.
4. I didn’t buy a quality strap
For years I battled with bad straps that just didn’t fit how I shot. I love a good hand strap (my favorite now is the Peak Design CL-3 Clutch Hand Strap), so naturally for years I just wrapped the standard Canon strap around my wrist in a bulky mess that make accessing buttons an irritating chore.
Oh, also I dropped my camera onto its lens as a result. Yay!
It also really hurt my back. Having a camera hanging around my neck was a physical problem too, especially when I started doing longer shoots.
Now I shoot with a Peak Design CL-3 Clutch Hand Strap plus the Peak Design Slide Camera Strap as a cross-body. Or if I’m doing a full-day wedding with two cameras, I have my cameras on the SpiderPro Camera Holster Dual for DSLR, which is incredible and if you shoot with two cameras. It’s a must. Trust me, your spine will thank you.
5. I didn’t put my camera in a waterproof bag
And then on top of everything I went on a hike through the rain and snow on my honeymoon with my camera in a non-waterproof bag.
My bag had a rain shield, which I had on, but it just didn’t cut it for, well, sliding on my butt through rocky waterfalls or hiking six hours in the snow, you know? Gee, I wonder why.
I tried drying everything out in front of the fire in our little honeymoon cabin, which didn’t work, and my lens grew fungus inside it and all the electrics of everything just started going bananas. I recovered the camera with an expensive service by Canon, but the lens was a write off.
I’m sorry, camera. It wasn’t your fault I was so careless with you. I promise to do better in future!