Do this simple test below. See if you have developed some of these nasty habits. They are easy to pick up, but hard to shake off! For each bad habit, give yourself a test score. Finally, resolve to drop at least one of these habits this year.
01 LEAVE THE CAMERA AT HOME
The best camera is the one you have with you – even if it’s on your smart phone. Not every photo you take is photography competition material, or is of commercial value. Regardless, a huge megapixel count and optimum lens quality on a DSLR is useless if left at home.
02 RELY ON A SINGLE MEMORY CARD
Those little storage cards are hugely expensive, but the temptation to be frugal will bite you on the bum. Murphy’s Law states that your memory card will fill up precisely when you’re shooting that ‘money shot’; when the light is right; or when the entire group is all smiling at you. The remedy? Buy more memory cards.
03 DON’T BACK UP YOUR PHOTOS
I know a friend who fills up a memory card with images, then buys another, fill that up, then buys another – a dangerous habit! He recently confessed he’s lost some of his precious photos. Personally, I have experienced the pain of having a hard drive fail, losing more than a year’s commercial photography work. To be super-secure, you really should store your photographs in three different locations.
Constantly checking your images on the LCD display is called chimping. Nothing wrong with it, except if you’re into street photography, or at a wedding or party. You may miss that decisive moment, as you’re too engrossed in the perfectionistic tendency of chimping.
05 SHOOT FROM EYE LEVEL
Amateur shutterbugs tend to hold the camera at head-height. However, this will produce predictable results. When shooting in a location, learn to ‘work the scene’. Drop to your knees, or even lie on the ground, searching for fresh angles. An aerial perspective can be stunning. Remember that the best tool of composition is your feet.
06 FAIL TO CONSIDER THE BACKGROUND
Look for a simple background behind your subject. For example, avoid having a telephone pole (in the distance) that appears to protrude from a person’s head. If you have a long lens, you can employ a narrow depth-of-field to blur the background. This will isolate your subject from the clutter beyond, achieving a degree of separation.
07 CENTRE THE SUBJECT
Ignore the rules of composition at your peril. If you want your photos to stand out, learn and use the Rule of Thirds, rather than place your focal point bang in the middle, like most folks do, (in blissful ignorance). Or, add dynamic by tilting your camera at an angle. Don’t forget to try different types of framing: portrait orientation versus landscape orientation. Or even a really wide panoramic crop.
08 SHOOT ONLY IN BRIGHT DAYLIGHT
Confession time … I am guilty of this. Because I trained back in the bad old days of film, when strong light was necessary to capture good images, I became a fair-weather photographer. Also, I used compact digital cameras for a decade, which were hopeless in low light situations. So I was infatuated with clear, blue skies, as cloudy skies often washed out into a white haze.
However, under a harsh, midday sun, shadows are short and therefore objects do not look three-dimensional, lacking form. Human subjects may squint into the sun, or blink. Worse, they may have an ugly ‘sun-dial’ effect under their noses! Better to pose people in the shade.
Landscapers should learn to work with softer, diffused light – this is mandatory for waterfall scenes. Thunderclouds overhead will introduce a sense of foreboding that blue skies cannot. Golden hour lighting will exude warmer tones and longer shadows.
09 DON’T READ THE CAMERA MANUAL
Same old story: you buy a new camera, put the box away and the camera’s manual stays inside the plastic bag. Perhaps you were too eager to use your new gadget. Well, now it’s time to dig out the manual, and attack it with a highlighter pen.
Be methodical, and diligently work through each function of your camera. You may find features you didn’t know existed!
10 SHOOT ON AUTO
If you haven’t read the camera manual, your photos may suffer from the restrictions of shooting in Automatic mode. Modern cameras are amazing, and can produce great results on Auto, but not consistently. Better to take control yourself. Learn the semi-automatic shooting modes, such as Shutter or Aperture Priority. Then, if you are brave, try shooting on Manual.
11 THINK THAT POST-PROCESSING CAN FIX ANYTHING
This is a lazy habit to fall into. It’s much better to get a shot right in-camera, including the correct exposure, as blown-out highlights cannot be retrieved later. Another consideration is ensuring that the horizon is straight, or you will lose the edges of your image when rotating then cropping it on a computer. Use the 3×3 grid on your LCD display, or a spirit level fitted on the hot shoe.
If you shoot landscapes, buy some ND and ND Grad filters. The most useful filter is the Polariser, the effects of which cannot be replicated using software. Finally, it’s better to do a bit of gardening, removing distractions from a scene, than be forced to clone them out in Photoshop – tedious work!
12 SHOOT ONLY JPEGS
JPEG files are compressed. Unfortunately, this narrows the dynamic range of your photographs, and changes the colour, according to the camera’s presets. This can’t be undone. Shoot using the RAW file format, as this is more forgiving. RAW allows you the latitude to correct exposure and colour, as well as sharpen the image, on computer software. Think of RAW files as digital negatives, that need processing and fine tuning.
13 POST TOO MANY PHOTOS
We all take poor pictures, badly exposed or blurry … but there’s no need to inflict these on the unsuspecting public! Carefully select only your best images, then process these on the computer.
Also, display a variety of images on social media, or online galleries, but limit these to 3–5. Essentially, don’t submit minor variations of the same shot.
So, what’s your score? How many bad habits can you identify with? Tick these habits and tally up your total.
1–3 habits: Wow! You are disciplined, and must have done a few photography courses.
4–6 habits: Not bad. But there is room for improvement.
7–9 habits: Don’t despair; there’s still hope for you. 🙂
10–13 habits: You need professional help!