There are a lot of ways to ruin a photograph, but when you take enough photos you will come to be very familiar with a few problems that seem to recur. These common problems can be a real pain, but luckily a lot of them have quite straight forward remedies. Here are a few of the more common problems you are likely to run into and what to do about them.
Correcting Washed Out Photos
Usually washed out colours in a photograph are a result of poor exposure. Sometimes, such as in the photo below, it is an intentional effect, but often it's something you will want to correct.
While Shooting: Watch your histogram and be careful not to over-expose. If your histogram is stacked up against the right side, then you're going to lose some highlights (ie. the pixels will be pure white which is most often undesirable). Even if it's significantly to the right of center, you're going to end up with mainly light tones. If you are looking to correct this, then pull back the exposure – faster shutter speed, smaller aperture etc.
In Post Production: Depending on how washed out the image is, you may be able to correct it in post production. Adjusting levels in Photoshop, Elements, GIMP will often correct the problem. Even a free online tool like Picnik will allow you to adjust exposure, contrast, highlights and shadows and all of these tools have a handy “autofix” option that will fix most minor exposure issues.
What to do About Noisy Photos
Noise often makes an unwelcome appearance in low-light photos when you have pushed the ISO up. Due to the higher sensitivity to light, unwanted speckles of light show up in the image caused by heat, contaminated photosites on your sensor and general gremlins.
While Shooting: Keep your camera cool (no car boots). Be aware that the longer you open the shutter at higher ISO, the more likely you are to encounter noise problems. If your subject has large areas of dark tones, you might also start to run into these problems. Don't forget to read our guide to reducing noise in photos withouth software too.
In Post Production: There are many programs that have automatic noise reduction features which are usually enough to improve minor noise problems. If you want a more manual and intensive approach, then you should also read Christopher O'Donnell's guide to reducing noise with Photoshop. There are also several tutorials for various programs listed on our comprehensive guide to minimising noise in photos. As with any post production technique, if you are looking for natural results, then you will need to use a light hand.
Watch Out for Crooked Horizons
The bane of photography instructors everywhere, crooked horizons are obviously mainly present in landscape photography. Unless they're an intentional compositional element they can drive some people to despair.
While Shooting: If you're using a wide angle lens to shoot landscapes, it's sometimes surprisingly difficult avoid crooked horizons. If you are using a tripod and head, be sure to look at the level (if it has one). Next, try to use the view finder marks to line up with the horizon. Avoiding crooked horizons while shooting is really just a matter of common sense. Having a mental checklist of things to check before you take the shot also helps so that you don't forget to check.
In Post Production: Even after taking every precaution, it is still quite possible that you will end up with a horizon that is slightly ajar. It is a very common problem. So common in fact, that almost every post production program has a very easy and prominent tool to straighten horizons. In Photoshop, just click on Image > Image Rotation > Arbitrary, then set the degree of rotation. In Lightroom, simply use the grid tool and use the mouse to rotate the image until it lines up with the grid. Other free online tools like Picnik can also handle this.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of the problems that you're likely to encounter as you take more and more photographs. But they are some of the main ones. Watch out for more in this series on how to correct common photography problems.