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Nov 2

In Uncategorized at 7:46am

My buds over at LIFE.com asked me to come up with a list of common mistakes folks make when starting out with a camera in their hands. Okay. No shortage of material here, right? And they came to the right source, ’cause I’ve made every mistake, basic and advanced, that one could possibly think of. Hell, I’ve even invented some mistakes. But they did a nice job, matching historical photos from the voluminous LIFE library with my ramblings. They also edited, well, some of my more irreverent language, which, this being my blog, I include below:-)


Don’t take just one picture, or two….shoot lots….if it was exciting enough to you to put your camera to your eye to shoot a couple of photos, then it should remain exciting enough to shoot 20, or, even, 200. Remember, pixels are free. This isn’t film. You’re not running up a bill anymore at the local CVS.


When photographing a person, relate to that person. Don’t hide behind the camera. Get out from that cubbyhole behind the lens where it’s warm and dark and you feel hidden and get out there in that vulnerable zone in front of the lens, and share and participate in the adventure with them. Let them know they are in good hands, and this is important to you, and because you are going to work really hard to produce a good picture, it will therefore become important to them. Remember, if you’re not confident, and you are visibly uncomfortable, they will be too. And, no, this doesn’t mean I was naked when I shot this.


Remember, the camera is a machine. It does not have feelings, and it didn’t go to art school.


Try not to shoot outdoors in harsh, bright, high noon sun. (At least most of the time.) The sun is a big dog, and you don’t want to fight with the big dog.


Don’t shoot everything from eye level! Get high! Get low! Climb something. Lay down. Get a different perspective.


Carry a camera. As famed photog Jay Maisel says, it’s hard to take pictures without one. (Pictured above is Carl Mydans, my personal hero, and mentor. Carl said, very accurately, “The camera is the greatest force for social change in history.” He was right. Carl was a historian, an orator, a gentleman, a scholar, a teacher, and a photographer. He was a photographer perhaps least of these things, and he was a great photographer. When he put his camera to his eye, the pictures that resulted had the beating heart of decency and sympathy for the human condition.)


Get it right in the camera, don’t say I’ll fix that later. Photoshop is not an emergency room for grievously wounded pictures. Work hard in the field to master the camera, the lens and the techniques of shooting. Unless you like being a mushroom, sitting in your dark basement in front of a glowing screen for hours on end, trying to take the exposure from frame 101, the composition from frame 209, the expression from frame 333, and also eliminate the tree branch growing out of the bride’s elaborate hairdo that she spent a lot of money on. If it looks like a problem, it is. In other words, if you see something in your lcd that is bothersome, it won’t go away, it will just become more bothersome when you look at it on your home computer.


Move yer ass!  (Another Jay-ism.) Zoom with your feet! Don’t stand there with all the energy and dynamism of a house plant. Move! The world moves, constantly. You must move with it. Zoom lenses are nice, but they don’t replace your legs.


Don’t forget to zero out your camera every day when you go out with it. Don’t use yesterday’s settings! You know, the ones that you programmed into the camera such as ISO 32,000 ’cause you were shooting in a coal mine. Reprogram the camera to a normal baseline and go from there.


Don’t think all the good pictures in the world live in Bali, or Antarctica. There are good pictures right under your nose. Shoot what and who you love. And shoot that which is easily accessible to you. If you constantly think you have to climb mountains or jump out of airplanes to get good pictures, it will become an impossible chore to pick up your camera.

And a few others….

If you’re unhappy, don’t keep shooting. A bad picture is a bad picture, no matter how many of them you shoot, or if you recompose vertically. Just stop, re-think, and go a different direction.

As my friend and fellow shooter Jim Richardson says, if you want your pictures to be better, stand in front of more interesting stuff.

Use your lens shade. Why is it on your lens, backwards? It’s there for a reason. Use it.

Have fun! This is not brain surgery, an admissions exam, or the stations of the cross.

Oh, and by the way, take the lens cap off:-)

More tk….

132 Responses to “Mistakes”

williamardrey says:

on November 8, 2010 at 5:30 am

thanks for the tips. This is a very uplifting and insightful article.

Phil says:

on November 8, 2010 at 8:42 am

I agree with much of the advice given, (especially about carrying your camera, great photo opps aren’t planned and if you don’t have your camera…).

However I think advice 1 and advice 7 are contradictions: Sure pixels are free but that usually means shooters are less likely to pick their shots. I would rather take 20 shots that are all good than take 200 and get 1 decent photo.

Julee says:

on November 8, 2010 at 6:11 pm

Thanks for the tips! It was quite inspiring and made me feel good. I am doing (or trying to do) what you had in your article. Don’t get me wrong – I make plenty of mistakes! But, at least I am trying! Thanks! Love reading your stuff!

Clif Page says:

on November 8, 2010 at 8:49 pm

The camera is a tool for sharing.

The camera is not a tool for seeing.

Lens choice. Lighting. Background. And most important subject help to make the photogragh.

The rest is up to you.

Dee says:

on November 9, 2010 at 7:48 am

Thanks for the great tips…this really make me thinking of all mistakes I did in my photography

Steve says:

on November 9, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Joe, I took your lighting class in Elmsford and speaking of mistakes, showed up with a Stroboframe, which you quickly disabused me of, one reason being that it made anyone using it look like a total dork, me especially. If I have to shoot a party, what setup would you recommend to get the flash off the camera? Thanks.

Charlie says:

on November 10, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Thanks for the tips and inspiration. Sometimes when I feel like I am not going good enough, I’ll remember these out-of-the-box messages.

Gonzalo says:

on November 12, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Great! Keeping these tips in mind definetly helps going out there to take some snaps. Thank you Joe.

Lina says:

on November 13, 2010 at 1:11 am

I have to agree with Phil. I to would ratehr take 20 shots that are all good than take 200 and get 1 decent photo.

Mary says:

on November 15, 2010 at 7:46 am

Thanks a lot for the tips. I try to make a conscious effort not to take pictures with annoying items in the back ground. I try to remind myself that when I post them on my gardening blog that they will be available world wide and it needs to be like a piece of art.

secyw says:

on November 15, 2010 at 11:35 am

Great tips!! :)

Red Kite says:

on December 2, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Great tips and very helpful article. I agree totally about getting it right in the camera. I much prefer to take the shots and see them as I want them on the computer, than have to fiddle around with them to turn them into something else. Apart from that, I don’t have the necessary funds to purchase all the editing programmes that people seem to use to get good pictures. If I see something worthy of a photograph it remains as I see it “au naturel”.. having said that I still have a LOT to learn.

Thanks Joe

AnnaMarie says:

on December 7, 2010 at 8:02 pm

Phil wrote, “I would rather take 20 shots that are all good than take 200 and get 1 decent photo.” My response – I would rather take 200 shots with one that makes me or someone happy instead of ZERO.

Jomi Garrucho says:

on January 3, 2011 at 10:58 pm

Pretty useful tips, Thanks Joe

Md Iskandar Jumari says:

on January 4, 2011 at 12:17 am

- Goodness gracious. Thank you for all the advices. I do appreciates it. And i agree all the above. It really motivate me to have my camera all times. Thanks once again. Cheers =)

Mel Reyes-Abbey says:

on May 12, 2011 at 11:31 am

Some great tips and advice! Thanks!

strobist 101 says:

on October 25, 2011 at 5:59 am

Amazing issues here. I’m very glad to see your post. Thank you so much and I’m having a look ahead to contact you. Will you please drop me a mail?

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