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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”

Stefan says:

on November 2, 2010 at 2:19 pm

This was by far the best post ’bout photo this year!


Surly says:

on November 2, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Thanks so much, Joe.

Raymond Han says:

on November 2, 2010 at 2:43 pm


Great blog topic and content. This one”s a keeper for me. Valuable advice from a real pro.


Andrew says:

on November 2, 2010 at 2:46 pm

My mantra at the moment is ‘get names get names get names…’ I say it every day, 37 times an hour, to try and break my habit of taking a nice photo and walking away…

Love your work by the way!

Brad Scott says:

on November 2, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Thanks Joe, I generally fall for the lens cap one :) Gee it looks dark through the viewfinder!

David says:

on November 2, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Darn, I was hoping for your thoughts on Mistakes in Life :) LOL. Great photos Joe.

Laura Bergerol says:

on November 2, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Great post Joe; loved all of your suggestions! Especially loved yesterday’s settings since have been guilty of that one myself. Thank goodness for a quick look in LCD and realized that I was way off.

Steve Kingswell says:

on November 2, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Common sense answers to less than obvious questions, nicely put!

A few other common mistakes are not using a tripod if you want really sharp shots, I know you are a hand held fan Joe, but this a sure way for ‘most’ people to improve their photography. Secondly, get in closer, many beginners don’t fill the frame.


gregory peel says:

on November 2, 2010 at 6:05 pm

What’s a lens cap? lol, Isn’t that what a UV filter is for!

Andres Castaneda says:

on November 2, 2010 at 6:09 pm


Great tips to all photographers amateur or pro to get in the game and don’t compromise! Thanks again for the great posts.

Gina says:

on November 2, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Your best blog to date (because it’s the one I could relate to :-) ) Keep them coming (I mean the advice)

Scott C. says:

on November 2, 2010 at 8:19 pm

Loved your gig in Atlanta yesterday. Very informative and entertaining to boot!!

J W Nienstedt says:

on November 2, 2010 at 9:42 pm

Fantastic advise – I’m loving the new book, your photos are magnificent and your writing voice has been finely tuned!

German says:

on November 2, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Thank you so much for this post. It´s great to remember some of those things that you know but don´t always put to practice.

Eric Muetterties says:

on November 2, 2010 at 10:25 pm


I always find inspiration in your posts. They make me smile, which is so helpful in this world we live it. So many of us strive son much to be more than we were yesterday that we miss today and the moment in front of us.

Thanks for being there for us.

matt says:

on November 2, 2010 at 10:54 pm

you forgot the most important thing. all photos can and are usually photoshopped. you can fix or add anything.

Natalie says:

on November 3, 2010 at 12:06 am

haha – I will try not to fight the big dog…I live in Australia, I just wish my brides would stop dictating midday photo shoots…

Kris Doman says:

on November 3, 2010 at 12:40 am

I am printing this and putting next to my other scriptures. Thank you.

Jude says:

on November 3, 2010 at 12:49 am

There I was thinking the lens cap would save me having to buy a UV filter to stop me dipping my 24-70 in my tea (a hot european beverage)….Love the tips Joe, having signed up to kelby training recently I gotta say Joe you are a feckin kick ass light master worthy of all that head swellin praise…..from a FNG in Ireland….

Elaine Bylos says:

on November 3, 2010 at 1:55 am

You are such an inspiration Joe ….but I’m sure you’ve heard all of this crap a thousand times.


I LOVE your work and the energetic and entertaining manner in which you present your blogs.


John Graham says:

on November 3, 2010 at 4:01 am

Great advice and a nice way of getting it across.

Fraser Waters says:

on November 3, 2010 at 4:44 am

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


Yes, been there done that, got the crappy tee shirt.

Paul Hodgson says:

on November 3, 2010 at 5:40 am

One of the best blog post reads in recent months. Fab.

Sergei says:

on November 3, 2010 at 7:40 am

Humph.. I agree with everything but “pixels are free – keep shooting, shoot alot”. Practicing – yes. But being just trigger happy – hell no. Person who clicking that shutter like man posessed, just in hope of catching something – irritating and useless. You can not rely on luck. Luck is good, but you have to develop skill instead of “spray and pray” attitude.

Ivan says:

on November 3, 2010 at 8:01 am

I was shooting a big dog just the other day!

…he bit me.

Jared Earle says:

on November 3, 2010 at 8:13 am

One for the foot-zoom: Put a prime lens on your camera for a week and learn how to frame stuff by moving to the right spot. You’ll learn more than you thought you would.

Teisines paslaugos says:

on November 3, 2010 at 8:27 am

Great advice and a nice way of getting it across.

Stef says:

on November 3, 2010 at 8:39 am

Thanks Joe! Great words
I like the “This is not brain surgery” comment
I had brain surgery & I then picked up the camera!!!

Danilo Guilherme says:

on November 3, 2010 at 9:01 am

Though I’m on the other side of the hemisphere (Brazil), you do not know of my existence and I have never seen you personally, you have been my mentor, teacher and inspiration. Again thanks for all the tips!
I’ll be watching you on 03 December at Kelby training live.

Rendy Tendean says:

on November 3, 2010 at 9:30 am

Spot on Joe. To make a confession or emphasize your words, I did the exact mistake as you put it, while I’m in your seminar. I forgot to zero out my settings, and my pop up was still in commander mode with — register to it. When I got a chance to take a picture with you, the picture look so bad with the flash barely lit the scene. I regret it so bad and thus confess my sin. Like you said, zero out your camera settings. Thanks for sharing with us Joe.

Tim Siegert says:

on November 3, 2010 at 10:00 am

Thanks Joe,
It’s comforting to know that Pros make mistakes too!

fotoeins says:

on November 3, 2010 at 10:30 am

Thank you, Joe, for this post!

Amy Henderson says:

on November 3, 2010 at 1:25 pm

I am so happy to find this blog. Great post! Looking forward to reading more :)

Cindy A. says:

on November 3, 2010 at 1:39 pm

This was so valuable, thankyou for sharing

Allison says:

on November 3, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Joe, you always make me laugh. Love it!

Kris s. says:

on November 3, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Really great post! My new favorite quote:

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

I hope you don’t mind if I quote you…

Fran says:

on November 3, 2010 at 5:22 pm

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

My most common mistake hahahaha (really)

Thanks for this post Joe =)

Zulkifly says:

on November 3, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Now this is an eye opener for some of the photog out there including me :)

Michael Shi says:

on November 3, 2010 at 10:03 pm

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

Thanks, Joe. I need no D4.

Budi Halim says:

on November 3, 2010 at 11:44 pm

great post … trully inspiring as well as other Life’s articles on photography

Perry says:

on November 4, 2010 at 2:30 am

As always, enlightening and with a great touch of humour. Ever thought of doing stand-up for photogs? :)


yin says:

on November 4, 2010 at 4:23 am

Just coincidently bump into this post, and it really inspire me..

Inspiring advice!!!

sue t. says:

on November 4, 2010 at 9:10 am

Thanx, Joe! Good refresher on many points and good teaching on others. However, one of my favorites shots of my big dog was in the harsh, bright, high noon sun. So glad I took the shots because he unexpectantly died a week later. Sigh …

Philip says:

on November 4, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Thanks Joe,
your sense of humour is at least as good as your photography ! :-)

Tim says:

on November 5, 2010 at 12:41 am

I love the advice to “shot lots.” I often find myself in a hurry for no apparent reason. What’s the rush?

Andrew says:

on November 5, 2010 at 1:59 am

A couple of days ago I drove three hours (an hour and a half each way) for a picture. I already knew the composition I wanted from scouting the location, so I shot about 30 frames bracketing exposure, depth of field and orientation. On my way back I realised I still had the camera set to manual focus at the f/11 hyperfocal distance from a pano shoot the night before! Fortunately I was only 15 minutes from the location, and there was still light, so I was able to re-shoot. (The resulting image is “Valley of the shadow of death” on my flickr photostream link above).

Juergen Buergin says:

on November 5, 2010 at 2:06 am

Great stuff Joe, thanks!

Bryan Agoncillo says:

on November 5, 2010 at 11:59 am

Excellent information Joe, wasn’t too comfortable with the four men and their soccer balls LOL

Denzil Walton says:

on November 6, 2010 at 4:42 pm

You make some very useful points here Joe, thanks for the tips

Wally says:

on November 6, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Amazing what a little kick in the butt can do to make one realize you’re never too old to break bad habits.

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