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Mistakes, Pitfalls and Problem Solving


Mistakes will always happen.  The crucial thing is recognising what has caused the problem and how to fix it quickly.
In this section you will learn the most common mistakes made and their quick fixes.

Poor Focus


Poor focus might be caused by a number of things:

The camera has auto-focussed to the wall (which is lovely and sharp) but not to the face.

The subject or camera have moved between focussing and taking the picture.  Keep everything still and reduce the time between focussing and shooting.

The camera has focussed on the wrong thing.  Use the correct focus points and focus and recompose.  Pay attention in the viewfinder to the focus point the camera is using.

Insufficient depth of field; only part of the photograph is in focus.  There is too much separation between subjects in the photo.  Either move them closer together, or use a smaller aperture (a larger f-stop number).

The background is too much in focus and is distracting; use a wider aperture (smaller f-stop number) and focus carefully on your subject.

If your camera cannot focus in darker locations use manual focus.

If your camera cannot focus in bright situations then find a point of contrast to aim the camera at.  Focus on this and then recompose.

Poor focus can also be confused with camera shake. But camera shake usually has a direction to the blur whereas focus is blurred in all directions.

You know when you have camera shake because all elements of the picture are blurred.

Camera Shake


Eliminating camera shake:
1) Use a faster shutter speed
2) Use a better shooting posture
3) Squeeze the shutter release, not jab at it.
4) Use a tripod or monopod
5) Lean yourself or the camera against a wall.
6) Use image stabilisation on your camera or lens.

Motion Blur


Motion blur can also look a little like a loss of focus, but it should be apparent that all the blur is in the direction of movement. Use a faster shutter speed to remove motion blur.

Motion blur looks similar to camera shake, but only the moving element is blurred.

Red Eye


Red-eye is caused by camera flash reflecting off the back of your subject's eyes. You want to get the flash out of direct line with the camera if you can. This will give you a better lighting anyway. Some flash units have an anti-red eye option. This fires a bright light before the actual picture is taken, this causes the pupils to contract.

Failing any of those options most software packages have an anti-red eye function you can use.



Preventing over and under exposure:
1) Pay attention to the picture on your rear LCD screen
2) Look at the histogram and make sure it is not bunching too far to the left or right.
3) Adjust exposure through aperture, shutter speed or ISO to compensate.
4) If shooting in very contrasty conditions decide whether you want the light or dark to show detail.
5) Use the correct auto-exposure metering mode, evaluative, centre weighted or spot.
6) Do you need to use flash, either as your main light source or as fill-in?
7) Position your subjects with their back to the sun.

An under exposed image

Lens flare adds to this image, but often it flares where you don't want it.
© Dan Foy

Lens Flare


Lens flare is when light bounces around between the glass elements in the lens. This can be attractive but more often just gives a washed out look. This is more common in cheaper and older lenses. This is most commonly seen when the camera is pointing close to the light source.

1) Use the best lens you can
2) Point the camera further away from the light source
3) Put a shade between the light source and the camera - it doesn't have to be in shot
4) Use a lens hood (in fact use a lens hood all the time).

Unwanted Reflections


Preventing unwanted reflections.
1) Can you change your position?
2) Can you change the position of the light?
3) Can you move whatever is being reflected?
4) Use a polarising filter.  Rotate it until the reflection disappears.

Rather than wrestle with the reflection instead the photographer has used the reflection as part of the story of the image.
© Vamsi Krishna

Poor Composition


Avoiding poor composition:

Failure to spot the sign behind the subjects head!
At a basic level you need to be checking not only your main subject, but also everything else in the picture.  In particular make sure nothing is growing out of your subjects head!  Look around the edges of the frame, make sure they are clear.
Can you zoom in or out for a better composition
Can you change position?
Are you using the rule of thirds or any of the other "rules" of composition?

Is your camera at the right height?   
  1. Get low to emphasise height.    
  2. For head shots shoot at eye level.
  3. For full body shots shoot at chest level.
  4. For children and pets get down to their height.
  5. In crowds hold the camera above your head.

Look for crooked horizons and pay attention to what is in the viewfinder.   Check both horizontal and vertical lines in the picture.

Remove unwanted details in software afterwards.

Common Flash Problems


Common flash issues:
1) The image is very dark.  The flash did not fire.
2) There is dark stripe on the edge of the image.  The shutter speed is too fast.
3) The image is a little dark or light.  Adjust the aperture, ISO or flash power.
4) Exposure is very variable.  You have left a polarising filter on your lens.

This half exposed shot with flash is because the shutter speed is too fast.

This daylight image was shot using a badly set white balance adjustment.

Colours Look Wrong


Colours look wrong:
1) Check the white balance setting on your camera
2) If there is a strong block of single colour then set a manual white balance preset.
3) Most colour problems are caused by artificial light.

Photographs Look Flat


Photographs look flat:
1) Nearly always a lack of shadow in the image.
  • a. Change the position of the subject
  • b. Change your position
  • c. Change the light position.
2) You may need to add more contrast and/or sharpness in software afterwards.
3) If the colours look flat then add saturation afterwards.

Photographs Are Noisy


Photographs are noisy:
  1. ISO is too high.  Reduce the ISO (lower numbers) and use a wider aperture or slower shutter speed to keep the exposure correct.
  2. One or two single spots on the photo may be dirt on the lens or the digital sensor.  Clean the lens with a proper lens cloth.  Clean the sensor following the manufacturer's instructions.
  3. Dirty or cheap filter on the lens.  Try cleaning it, try removing it.

You can see noise throughout this image.  If you look at the magnified section you can see the noise is much worse in shadow areas.


Bad Weather


Fog can add a lot to a photograph depending on how dense it is.  Definitely don't be put off by shooting on a foggy day.  Look for lights in the fog - they can be exciting.  Look for mist lying in fields or over water.

Rain can be very troublesome.  While your camera may have some level of weather protection this is not the same as saying it is waterproof.  Keep a plastic bag with your camera so you can always protect it just in case.
If you want to shoot in rain then be very quick.  You can also buy rain sleeves which fit over the whole camera and lens.  These range in price from 10's to 100's.
Catching a good photograph of rain is actually quite difficult; with slow shutter speeds the rain disappears, with fast shutter speeds they look like small dots.  Finding the sweet spot can be hard.  Try and illuminate the rain from the side or rear.

© Dj Ecal

Images Look Bad on the Web


Images look OK on screen but bad on the web:
1) Most social sites like FaceBook let you upload images but then provide some processing of their own - usually extra sharpening.  This is the usual reason images might not look their best.
2) Resize the image to the exact image size recommended by the site
3) Use less sharpening before uploading
4) Try using PNG files (a different file format).



We photographers are very bad at looking at our mistakes.  When we get home from a shoot we are always looking for our best shots and ignoring those that didn't work.
Go back over your saved images and look for pictures that did not work successfully.   Examine each picture and work out what went wrong and how to fix it.
It might just be an uninspiring picture - in which case how could you have shot it differently to make it interesting?