7 Photo Flaws to Avoid (or How To Become a Better Photographer Immediately)

Even people who are passionate about photography often make common mistakes that prevent them from reaching their maximum potential. No one is immune. To advance to the next level of proficiency, overcome the tendency to fall victim to these common goofs.

The other day a person I had just met asked me how she might improve her picture taking skills. In my estimation she had a good eye, but after viewing several of her better images I found some flaws that she could have avoided.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect. When the Lord passed out Perfection I thought he/she said “Infection” and I replied, “None for me, thanks.”

But if I’ve learned anything on this Earth, it’s how to improve. And I’ll settle for that, even on a good day.

Here are seven photo mistakes to avoid the next time you go out to shoot.

1. Centering the Subject
Not your fault, of course. Most cameras give you an aiming target right smack dab in middle of the viewfinder (or LCD monitor). Still, there are many ways to overcome this bad habit. Being aware of it is a big step in the right direction. Adjusting (or even turning off) your camera’s AF mechanism can also help, depending on which camera brand you use. In any case, take a quick look at the last 50 or 100 images you shot. If the primary subject is in the middle of more than half of the pictures, you have a problem.

Shot this with a film camera but that didn’t stop me from centering the subject directly in the middle of the frame. ©Jon Sienkiewicz

2. Using Auto White Balance
Don’t settle for good enough. If you don’t shoot Raw format, learn and use the Custom White Balance function on your camera. Better cameras allow you to set the White Balance to match contemporaneous ambient light. Review the Owner’s Manual and study how this feature is activated.

Woh, nice shot but awful White Balance. My bad. ©Jon Sienkiewicz

3. Using the Lens that’s Attached (instead of the right lens)
Too lazy to change lenses, that’s my excuse. Or too lazy to take the right lens with me in the first place. Even a versatile zoom lens isn’t always the best solution. Remember that the best part of owning a camera with interchangeable lenses is changing the lenses when the situation calls for it.

But take heart—the fact that you realize that using a different lens could have improved a particular image means that your compositional skills are solid.


This is a tough one. The shot turned out okay, but only because I cropped the hell out of it. I should have been using a long telephoto in the first place. But I gotta say, I do like the way the image—especially the ocean in the background—is distorted by the rising heat waves. And no, that is not a young Tommy Chong in the lawn chair. ©Jon Sienkiewicz

4. Leaving the Tripod at Home
Yeah, yeah, I know, tripods are big, heavy and ugly. Except, no they’re not. Tripods are the only accessories that can improve 100% of your images.

Take a look at the Tripod Buying Guide I wrote a few weeks back. The link is here.

No tripod, no sharp. (No typo.) ©Jon Sienkiewicz

5. Being Too Shy to Ask (or too shy to act)
Are you missing good shots because you’re timid about photographing strangers? Here’s a cure. Pick a friendly venue—like a local farmer’s market, for instance—and force yourself to ask the people at each stand if you can take their photo. Offer to send them the image of them with their wares. Most will say yes, and most appreciate the idea of having a shot of them at work. You’ll be surprised by how easy this is. Once you’ve cleared this hurdle, work your way up to engaging more hostile individuals.


Had I been too shy to ask these lovely hair salon workers for a picture, I would not have gotten this shot. ©Jon Sienkiewicz

6. Ignoring the Background
Haste makes waste and can ruin some photos—particularly portraits with overlooked distractions in the background. Take your time. Visualize the shot. Change angles.

The subject is fine but the background is distracting. Mea culpa. ©Jon Sienkiewicz

7. Neglecting at Least 25% of Your Camera’s Features
This is what I call the Microsoft Word Syndrome. Typical Word users need only 10 or 15% of Word’s features. So why bother to learn the others?

Begin by accepting the fact that A) your camera can do more than you are currently doing and B) the key that unlocks the missing features can be found in the Owner’s Manual.  Read the OM cover-to-cover and profit thereby. Then go out and experiment.


These deer follow me around like dogs. By using the built-in Panorama Function I was able to glom 10 of them into one frame (along with one tiny squirrel). ©Jon Sienkiewicz


Bonus: Leaving the Camera at Home
First, repeat after me: phones are for texting, cameras are for photography. I concede that cell phones can take pretty good pictures, and if you’re willing to settle for “pretty good” that’s none of my business.

One unintended consequence of technological innovation is that the end-users’ threshold of what’s “good enough” falls, even though the potential for higher quality continues to rise. Consider compressed music, for example; it’s lousy quality but it’s very popular.

If you want to become a better photographer, take your camera with you and take more pictures.

—Jon Sienkiewicz