How many of us have left a memory card behind or not charged a battery before heading out with our cameras? It’s nothing new. Years ago, a relative took a camera to a wedding, only discovering afterwards there was no film in it.
A classic mistake in photography is a wonky horizon. Skewed seascapes look like the water should run off the photo’s edge. Many beginners don’t notice it, but it is something that can make or break a picture. Fortunately, virtually all editing apps can straighten horizontals and verticals.
Composing pictures requires both technical skills and an aesthetic awareness. Applying basic techniques such as the rule of thirds and leading lines can improve an image. However, often overused they can seem obvious and clichéd. Look at some of the greatest photographs of all time.
Ignoring many common compositional guidelines, they employ less obvious image structures instead.
Poor focus is less of an issue than it once was as autofocus is so fast and accurate. But there are still problems to overcome. With portraits photographs the focus should be on the eyeballs and not the tip of the nose, the model’s glasses, or even the ends of the eyelashes. Focusing on the eye is also important with wildlife images and especially macro. Many butterfly photos don’t work because the ends of the tentacles are sharp, but the eyes aren’t.
Images also need depth of field considering. A photographer deciding whether they have enough of the image in focus is both a subjective and creative decision. Having only part of the subject sharp, or the entire image in focus, or somewhere in between can change the feel of a photograph. With portraits I like the whole face back to the ears to be acceptably sharp, whereas it is a common trend for the nose to be out of focus. The focal depth of an image is important for landscapes too. Often, I’ll see images where the focus is on the horizon, so the image lacks much needed sharpness in the foreground.
Heavily cropped photos of distant subjects rarely look great, whatever the camera’s pixel count.
Exposure is an often-misunderstood concept. Although cameras are great at predicting the correct overall exposure, they don’t always get it right. Counterintuitively, a bright scene is likely to cause the camera to underexpose and make the image too dark. A scene that is mostly dark will overexpose so blacks appear grey and highlights blow out. Understanding the histogram and good use of exposure compensation will fix this.
Unwanted distractions in the frame are another common issue. We’ve all seen portraits shots with lampposts or trees growing out of someone’s head, or politicians standing in front of insulting words. Paul Simon’s song Poem on and Underground Wall was inspired by an album cover photoshoot. At the end, they looked back at the wall behind them. There was written what Art Garfunkel described as “The old familiar suggestion.”
Animals are often bisected by twigs or grass. Bad portraits show loose hair running across the subject’s face. Although easy to fix in Photoshop, it is always so much better if the photographer gets it right in camera to start with. Avoiding common mistakes turns your snapshots into works of art. Join the conversation in the Northumberland Camera Club and let us hear about things that trip you up when taking photos, and ask there about how to improve your photography. Find us by searching on Facebook or by typing the following into your browser: www.bit.ly/PicNland.