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Mistakes

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:-)

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”

Lewis W says:

on November 2, 2010 at 7:55 am

Thanks Joe.

Michelle Jones says:

on November 2, 2010 at 7:58 am

Lovely post Joe, thank you for reminding everyone that you should be shooting because you love to shoot, if it becomes a chore then perhaps you shouldn’t be shooting :)

Tim Skipper says:

on November 2, 2010 at 8:07 am

As always a great blog to take a moment to read.

Shawn says:

on November 2, 2010 at 8:22 am

#2 (Relate to your subject) is a big one for me. I do that… stand behind my camera hiding from the person in front of it, expecting them to be brilliant and charming and look perfect through my lens. But more times than not they are visibly uncomfortable or uneasy because of the aforementioned detachment. I have noticed a significant change in mood when I become more engaged, even if it is as simple as small talk, or commenting on the obvious weird situation we are both in. Walls drop, a smile becomes a bit easier to coax, etc. I need to make a concerted effort to do this more often because it makes a huge difference, that and taking my lens cap off!

Thanks Joe.

Michael Guminski says:

on November 2, 2010 at 8:31 am

This is one I’m going to be sharing with my fellow photography classmates this week. Thanks.

Robert Pljuscec says:

on November 2, 2010 at 8:44 am

Great post!

José Barceló says:

on November 2, 2010 at 8:45 am

Thank you Joe for your always wise and helpful advice

Stephan Mantler says:

on November 2, 2010 at 8:50 am

Got a little addendum to #1.

Pixels are free, but the patience of the viewer isn’t. So for the sake of all that is holy, PLEASE EDIT. Vigorously. Stop briefly to note what you do and (even more importantly) don’t like with each frame, and then eradicate all but the photos you are really, really satisfied with.

Your viewers will praise you for the exceptional quality of the handful of images that remains, and hold you in MUCH higher regard than if you’d subjected them to all 250 shots you made on that trip.

Cheers
-step

Fabien G. says:

on November 2, 2010 at 8:54 am

I love the “Carry a camera” advice, ahah!

Thanks for this post.

JerseyStyel Photography says:

on November 2, 2010 at 9:01 am

Joe, you’ve written a lot of great posts over the past couple of years.

This one may be the best.

Leslie Willard says:

on November 2, 2010 at 9:15 am

Hey Joe!

I really enjoyed this and your workshop yesterday! I had to wake up at 2:45am to get there and loved every minute of it. You opened up a whole new world of possibilities to me, and I can’t wait to go play! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and your passion. You ROCK!

Leslie

Lucille Galleli says:

on November 2, 2010 at 9:20 am

Another fabulous post Joe! Thanks for sharing your learning and inspiring us to be at least an average Joe!

Trudy says:

on November 2, 2010 at 9:25 am

I love this post…especially the note that you don’t need Bali or Antartica to shoot interesting pictures. Culture is EVERYWHERE and so is beauty, not just at anywhere we aren’t at. Hehe. Love all the tips. Thank you.

Bob DeChiara says:

on November 2, 2010 at 9:31 am

Good stuff to think of Joe, thanks! Especially zeroing out the camera. I always seem to forget something. Usually its the ISO.

Craig Howe says:

on November 2, 2010 at 9:37 am

Thanks Joe. I should read these rules every day.

Mark Vesterskov says:

on November 2, 2010 at 9:44 am

Another very inspiring article from you mr. McNally. Thanks for the reminder on why we shoot pictures.

Guess i’ve got to find more interesting stuff to stand in front of..

Steve says:

on November 2, 2010 at 9:49 am

“There are good pictures right under your nose.” is a good one. Sometimes I get down because I see other photogs shooting in exotic locations. I have to remind myself that Central Wisconsin is exotic to to some people as well.

Scott LePage says:

on November 2, 2010 at 9:56 am

Yup. I think ya got it. I love the Richardson quote!

Joe McNally says:

on November 2, 2010 at 10:00 am

good point Stephan…thanks for chipping in…Joe

Joe McNally says:

on November 2, 2010 at 10:01 am

From an exceptional shooter and blogger such as yourself, K-man, especially with your Jersey style aplomb, high praise indeed…many thanks for reading….Joe

Viveca says:

on November 2, 2010 at 10:05 am

Another excellent article, I really like this one! *Love* that photo of the press photographer captioned “carry a camera” :)

Robert says:

on November 2, 2010 at 10:36 am

Interesting …. except, I shoot film, only film. However, I don’t let that stop me from shooting whatever I need.

Paul Timon says:

on November 2, 2010 at 10:38 am

All good stuff that we all know but choose to forget/ignore. Thanks for the reminder.

jim markland says:

on November 2, 2010 at 10:39 am

One to pass on…thanks Joe

Swan says:

on November 2, 2010 at 10:39 am

Your posts are always so very entertaining to read. I enjoyed that this wasn’t one of those “follow the rule of thirds” kind of post, but rather more about feeling what goes into a photo. That’s what I got out of it anyway, thank you!

Katrina Flynn says:

on November 2, 2010 at 10:40 am

Well done Joe !! I enjoyed this very much ! All so true ! = )

Will Fong says:

on November 2, 2010 at 10:40 am

“Use your lens shade…” This one hits a bit nerve, along with people trying to bounce a flash from the sky.

I think the “carry a camera” is the best advice ever. Even a simple P&S would suffice.

Great article!

Qayyum says:

on November 2, 2010 at 10:43 am

thanks for sharing..

Drew Gurian says:

on November 2, 2010 at 10:49 am

Hey Swan! Hope you’re doing great, and thanks for posting.

frank maniscalco says:

on November 2, 2010 at 10:57 am

Thanks Joe…..have a great day

Eric Geidl says:

on November 2, 2010 at 10:57 am

Haha, another great post, Joe !
It is exactly your unique mixture of humor, knowledge, experience and nonsense sometimes, that gives it so much fun to learn from you.
Thank’s a lot!

Wayne Berry says:

on November 2, 2010 at 10:57 am

Great blog post. Thanks for all you do.

Andres Fernandez says:

on November 2, 2010 at 10:59 am

i am going to put an additional point.
“a picture of a beautiful thing, is not a beautiful picture”, it is because the people think that the beautiful pictures are the pictures of beautiful things.

Razib says:

on November 2, 2010 at 11:05 am

Joe,
I just love your blog. Its very helpful to me. I can’t tell you how happy I am to read your tips and advice. I really like ‘camera is a machine and it didn’t go to art school’ and ‘sun is a big dog.’ Thanks very much from the deep of my heart.

Razib

Danielle says:

on November 2, 2010 at 11:09 am

Okay, maybe I won’t get to Bali or Antarctica, but maybe I can do the almost naked waterpolo players. lol :) Great inspiration, Joe!!

Cathy Pate says:

on November 2, 2010 at 11:14 am

OMGosh! I loved this article. I actually laughed out loud a few times! Love the personality and the humor. Wonderfully written. I will be looking for more fron you.

Diane says:

on November 2, 2010 at 11:15 am

Thank you…

Les Doerfler says:

on November 2, 2010 at 11:23 am

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

Sometimes the easiest thing to achieve is the one that gets left out. I hope I always have a smile on my face while the camera is on my eye.

I hope you two are having a great time in the land of the bearded sage and the overflowing mugs of Newcastle.

Amie aka MammaLoves says:

on November 2, 2010 at 11:27 am

Wonderful reminders for photogs at every level. I love the shots you paired with your advice! For some reason, the water polo team is my fave.

Bran Everseeking says:

on November 2, 2010 at 11:44 am

There are few cases that “zoom with your feet” is workable. If zooming in or out gets the shot moving will destroy the particular perspective of the position you are in.

Move to get the image and framing you want is very different than zoom with your feet.

Geir says:

on November 2, 2010 at 11:52 am

I agree about almost everything here, but: Pixels are free, but storage isn’t. It takes a h… of a long time to go through the excess RAW file images you shoot and don’t need, and it hogs up all the storage space I’ve got. I would change your advice to “take the pictures you need to take”, as there is a big difference between 20 and 200 when all you’ll ever use is one.

Gregg says:

on November 2, 2010 at 11:52 am

Dammit man, where was the irreverent language?

Girish says:

on November 2, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Wonderful post.

Worth every point. Important lessons.

Lorraine Daley says:

on November 2, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Great advice for amateurs and pros alike. I don’t know how many times I had the camera on the wrong iso and realized it 100 shots later….or realized that i don’t need to be on the other side of the world to go out and snap some images.
Thanks, Joe.

Alfonso Silóniz says:

on November 2, 2010 at 12:48 pm

I liked where you say:

“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.”

In one training I get some years ago, traineer said one thing I liked it a lot:

“A mad person is such that thinks that doing the same wrong thing continuously, the result will be different”. But is something very common in the human being :)

Andre says:

on November 2, 2010 at 1:13 pm

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

Awesome advice Joe!

Demarcus Bowser says:

on November 2, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Great advice, especially the last one – for me. Thanks for bringing that to the forefront.

Dean says:

on November 2, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Great post Joe, thanks very much.

Paul Glover says:

on November 2, 2010 at 1:54 pm

Ah, now I know why my subjects are so uncomfortable. Mental note to self: remember to wear pants for all photo sessions!

Seriously though, good reminders of the things it’s so easy to forget. I definitely do need to work on not looking like a short, overweight humanoid with a camera for a head. Way too easy to hide behind the machine.

Mike Neale says:

on November 2, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Thank you annie and drew,…etal,…so many to make these industry tenets all come true,…and btw, thanks joe,…;-)

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