3 Dumb Photo Goofs I Vow Not to Repeat & How to Avoid Them

Photo by Michal Matlon on Unsplash.

Making an avoidable mistake can cost you a great shot, your precious inner tranquility, and sometimes cold cash. Everyone blunders now and again; missteps are an integral part of the trial-and-error method of learning (which I have always maintained is the best way to learn photography at the deepest level). But there are a few goofs that I hope I’ve learned to steer clear of.

No one likes to admit their failures, me included. Our elders told us to “learn from our mistakes” and clearly that makes sense. By sharing the circumstances of some slip-ups I’ve committed, I hope to help others be on guard against following in my errant footsteps.

Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash.

1. Dropped Camera
One minute the camera was securely in my hands, the next it was bouncing on concrete. I handle a lot a cameras every day, so inevitably I’d drop one, or so I rationalized. But instead of giving myself an easy excuse to salve my damaged ego, I instead decided to find to away to ensure that it never happened again.

Since that event, I always put the camera strap around my neck, even if I am sitting at my desk and an accident is unlikely to happen. I apply this policy when someone hands me their camera to inspect, too, even though it may look weird or suspicious.

So far, no more dropped cameras (knock wood). But there have been a couple instances where I slipped up and the strap saved me.

My poor dog has the blues. That’s okay; she was getting ready to bite me anyway. That snarl may be saying, “Check the White Balance, you dip.” ©Jon Sienkiewicz

2. Way Wrong ISO or White Balance
On more than one occasion I taken my first few dozen shots of the day in bright daylight with an ISO setting of 6400. Or in the dimly lit evening at ISO 50. Or my favorite—WB set for 2900 Kelvin indoor bulbs when I’m outside in the bright sun. These mistakes are not grievous, but you gotta agree they’re pretty damn dumb.

So now at the start every shooting session, I read the light with the camera and recite the exposure settings, usually out loud. I peek in the viewfinder and say, “f/5.6 for 1/125 second at ISO 125” or whatever. If the settings are weird, I readjust as necessary.

It sometimes makes the model think I’m mental, but I no longer waste time or potentially excellent shots.

You may already check everything first. So did I—usually. But before I began this practice of conscious recitation, I was sometimes caught up in the excitement and eagerness to get started that I overlooked the basic fundamentals.

Looked good on the 1.6-inch LCD, so I moved to the next flower where a bee had caught my attention. Ooops. Not sharp at all. ©Jon Sienkiewicz

3. One and Done
In the past I would sometimes (change that to “often”) capture a great scene and be so wrapped up in my success and good fortune that I’d move on to the next. Well, you know what had to happen during post-processing. Too often I realized that I’d miss-focused or included extraneous elements in the frame (or cut off the model at her ankles). If this has never happened to you, I’d be tempted to question your memory.

So now I always shoot at least two shots when I think I’ve captured something worthwhile. And often I slightly change or even totally reframe the composition for a couple more shots to confirm that I did my best with the scene that fortune provided.

I’ve done tons of tiny stupid things, too, but nothing as severe as the three above, and nothing I feared was a pattern of behavior. My photography has improved, at least the percentage of keepers has increased.

If you occasionally experience the same sort of bonehead miscues, you can fix things too. Identify exactly what you did wrong, articulate the problem, and devise a countermeasure. Trial-and-error only works if you track the errors and don’t repeat them.

—Jon Sienkiewicz