Ok, we all make mistakes and that is how you learn in photography, but there are a few recurring ones that, if you stick with photography, will almost certainly make you cringe in a few years time. This is a rant… about those mistakes.
We’ve all made them – either from aesthetic ignorance or simply by a desire to simulate an effect that arouses our interest. Fortunately, when some of us mess up, generous peers help us notice those mistakes. The great difference between photographers who overcome errors and those who don't lies simply in learning to listen to this advice.
Some mistakes happen directly in the camera, others at the post-production stage. But if we consider the final photograph as a result, it matters little when they happen. We assume in the following list that all these mistakes are committed after the photographer has learned to expose correctly and basically knows how to use a camera.
Excessive use of HDR
Some years ago, the HDR technique became quite popular, and honestly, a good HDR shot can produce pleasing results. The important thing is to understand HDR as a way to level out the exposure of the entire scene to get the highest dynamic range of tones throughout the scene. This includes shadows and highlights.
If we look at the work of Ansel Adams, we can appreciate the result of his meticulous zone system, which is the beginning of the quest to achieve a high dynamic range in a photograph. The problem with the excessive use of HDR is that it generates a strange image that ends up looking like a digital painting.
I'm not exactly sure when selective colour was born, but the technique doesn't add anything to the meaning of the image, and its use is pretty tacky. Avoid it, no matter whether it’s done in the camera (since some cameras allow it) or during post-production.
Cutting off limbs in odd places
This is a recurring theme in photography, especially in street photography. When you’re doing things quickly, the door is wide open to mistakes. This was perhaps one of the most important observations a friend/photographer made about my work. I wasn't aware of this flaw, especially regarding people's feet. There are many types of framing, but when you crop a portion of the human body in a strange and even uncomfortable way, you make this mistake.
There has been much talk around this, and even some images by Henri Cartier-Bresson exemplify this mistake. Personally, I think it’s a mistake you should avoid.
This is one of those mistakes that happen during post-production. People tend to see blurring (any type of blurring) as way to fix skin imperfections. This may be true, but when it’s overused, it becomes so obvious that the result is very unappealing. The important thing here is to learn how to use postproduction tools properly to achieve a specific result, especially if you’re working in commercial photography.
Improper focal length for portraits
It’s well known that the lens focal lengths that present natural results with a minimal distortion of reality are those longer than 50mm, especially between 50mm and 85mm. If we use wide-angle glass such as 16mm to take close-up portraits of a person, we get extremely strange results that affect the appearance of the subject's anatomy in a way that can seem satirical or mocking. Extreme care must be taken when choosing a lens for a portrait.
Technology has allowed cameras to shoot a large number of frames per second, and this sometimes results in photographic disaster. This is commonly known in the photography world as “Spray and Pray”. By reducing the rate at which we shoot, we become better photographers. We also reduce the time it takes to choose and edit the images we wish to present to the world.
Bokeh is a peculiarity generated by a lens' aperture. We must learn when it’s necessary to use – but remember that not all images need an extremely creamy bokeh (as some new photographers seem to think).
Invasive watermarks can reduce an image's personality and aesthetics. And a watermark on an image doesn't automatically make us a professional photographer. Over the years, I have reduced the mark I use on my work in my Bēhance profile and on other networks. And I have eliminated the signature in the images on my website. I invite you to think about whether watermarks are necessary for your own photographs. If you don’t want anyone to steal your work, then show it offline only.
Rule of Thirds = Composition
We have previously discussed the importance of composition in photography. And many elements beyond the rule of thirds can add to an image’s aesthetics. That’s why it’s a mistake to believe that the rule of thirds is a compositional absolute. If you learn to make images with alternative compositions that add to its aesthetics, you’ve gained a lot.