7 biggest mistakes new and amateur photographers make

7 biggest mistakes new and amateur photographers make

7 biggest mistakes new and amateur photographers make

Thinking you need to use manual mode all the time

If your subject matter sucks, it sucks regardless of how much effort you put into shooting in manual mode. Sorry.

Auto is smarter than you are. It knows what kind of aperture/iso/shutter speed you need to take the picture. Don’t worry about it. Point your camera at something interesting and press the button, even if you’re in “dreaded” AUTO. That includes shutter priority and aperture priority, which I personally use all the time because my camera is smarter than I am.

Oddness of India

Shot in shutter priority, one of my camera’s AUTO modes.


Thinking you need to buy (even) more gear

This series of shots has quickly risen among my personal favorites. I shot these on film with a <$100 camera while riding a commercial airliner as a passenger. The camera is from the 1980s, it was marketed to consumers and not pros, and the lens cap says 1984 Olympic Games (which is badass in and of itself.) Taking these pictures for far less than the price of most insta-crap cell phones says it all.


Sunset on Velvia 50


Thinking you need the best and newest lenses

You need fast lenses that can help create interesting pictures, not expensive ones. You need lenses that are capable of isolating your subject against the background, that are also versatile enough to shoot with everything in focus. You need lenses like Canon’s $120 50mm f1.8 and Nikon’s $120 50mm f1.8 lens. You can take all kinds of pictures with these lenses without breaking the bank.


India, with the $120 Canon 50mm f1.8 lens.


Thinking you need to shoot RAW

RAW is fine. It’s just not all that much better than JPEG, which takes up a fraction of the memory space and provides more than enough data to digitally dodge/highlight your photo to any reasonably amount. RAW does not make a better picture. Better pictures make better pictures.

Stars over Annapurna

This was shot on JPEG. Okay, 400 of ’em over the course of 8 hours, but still…JEPG.


Thinking you need to edit the crap out of everything

Seriously, please don’t. HDR is the visual equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.


Istanbul, basically unedited. This picture, like most, would suck ass if it was HDR’d


Thinking one battery and one memory card is enough

It’s just not. Enough said.

Thinking a nice camera will get you good pictures

The camera really, truly doesn’t matter nearly as much as the effort you put in. A picture in broad daylight with harsh shadows and ugly colors is always going to be worse than a beautiful sunrise shot of the same scene. A better camera helps you take higher quality images of the same things you’ve always been shooting. Your attitude and work ethic – putting in the time and effort – helps you take better pictures regardless of what kind of camera you have.

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Comments ( 11 )

  • Dan Thompson

    Amen and amen. Good write up.

    I particularly love the Manual Mode vs Aperture Mode / Shutter Mode conversations…. which I find myself in quite frequently. f/2.8 at 1/30th is the same whether you got there via manual, aperture, or program mode. The point is that you know why you’d use it and how to get the outcome you’re hoping for. I do use manual mode often, but my default is aperture mode with some amount of compensation dialed in. Quick and easy.


  • Megan

    Thanks so much for this post! Especially the RAW vs. JPEG debate. I was shooting in both for so long and found that I was never touching the RAW files because the JPEGs looked pretty great. I recently stopped shooting in RAW altogether because they just take up entirely too much space. (The only time I’ve regretted it was while shooting stars, but I’m not sure that the RAW images would’ve been much better anyway.) It’s great to hear a photographer say that RAW is not always necessary though. šŸ™‚

    • Ed Graham

      Thanks Megan. JPEG provides more quality than the vast majority of edits will ever need. When you *need* RAW, chances are you are editing too much.

  • Lindsay

    Thanks for these tips! And the reminder to go out and buy a new memory card today šŸ™‚

  • Sasha @ The Curious Zephyr

    My go-to lens just died (technically it died last summer, but super glue provided a 1 year resurrection) … I think I may look into your Nikon recommendation rather than just buying an unbroken version of my current lens! Why do you like those lenses so much?

    • Ed Graham

      Hey Sasha, I like the 50mm lens (or really any fixed focal length lens) for two reasons:

      1. the aperture opens much wider than comparable zoom lenses, meaning you can get shallow depth of field effects and use the lenses in lower light

      2. using only one focal length helps fine tune my personal ability to see photographically, that is to imagine what might work on a 2 dimensional image. When you use a zoom lens, it is far more difficult to see photographically, and you might actually end up with LESS good looking photographs even though you can take pictures of more things. Hope that makes sense (?)

  • Suki F

    I must confess that Iā€™m guilty of tons of these.

  • Jeff | Planet Bell

    I couldn’t agree more with the over-editing. (spellcheck just tried to change that to over-eating, which would have been confusing to you.) I see people take acceptable photos and ruin them with editing.

    I also agree about the cheap 50mm lenses. I bought my 50mm canon 2 years ago and I absolutely love it.

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