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What Are the Worst Habits a New Photographer Can Have?

What Are the Worst Habits a New Photographer Can Have?

If you're on this site, you're likely a photographer or interested in becoming a photographer. In either case, if you're new to this wonderful craft, there are some bad habits that can really hold you back, and they're worth noting. Here are five I think you ought to be wary of, but make sure to add your own in the comment section.

There are a lot of bad habits in any craft, and photography is no different. That said, not all bad habits are created equally and you can find yourself with some negligible ones, but some can be rather pernicious and affect you long-term. The earlier you realize you're settling into ways that aren't in your best interest, the sooner you can correct them. So, here are five common bad habits. This is, of course, far from an exhaustive list, so make sure you leave in the comments some you have either found in your own work or seen in others.

Shooting on Auto

A bizarre example for this section, but the first one that came to mind. This beautiful Maine Coon was sat in a shaft of daylight, surrounded by relative darkness. Auto would strip out any atmosphere in order to either expose purely for the cat or for the scene. Neither would have been right.

I have nothing against shooting in auto per se, particularly given how intelligent cameras have become. It isn't always a bad habit, and it isn't always bad, but it depends on the shooter's aspirations with their camera and what they're trying to achieve in their current photography.

One of the greatest areas of photography to master is the trinity: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. There are, of course, myriad other influential factors, but understanding and utilizing these three settings is crucial if you want to improve as a photographer and be able to shoot in challenging conditions. Auto mode is powerful — very powerful, perhaps — but it can't do everything you're going to want to do, so ensure you use it as little as possible.

No File Management System

I won't name names, of course, but I had a photography student a few years ago who more or less prompted this section alone. He was particularly interested in wildlife photography, loved shooting birds, and was dedicated to getting better. He was the exact sort of person you want to tutor as, although he had only just bought his first camera, he was desperate for knowledge and experience. In fact, he was shooting far more than most people do, spending many days at the local nature reserves practicing.

There came a point where I wanted to discuss the other side of photography: the post-processing, the online portfolios, the file management systems, and so on. Well, as I'm sure you can infer from the heading, when I looked at his PC, I saw a modern-day horror story. All of his photos were in random, poorly named folders, sitting on his desktop, burned to discs (yes, those shiny circles we used to use), without a modicum of order. This is untenable! Create an image library and tend to it; you'll reap the benefits.

No Backups

It won't come as much of a surprise that this section follows on from the last. While that photographer did indeed need to resolve both bad habits, this one was more preventative. However, far too many photographers don't have cloud and hard storage-based backups of their images, and it invites disaster. If this is you and you feel you just can't be bothered to go to all the effort of backing everything up constantly, I won't try to scare you straight. I'll just explain one element.

Some years back, I signed up for Backblaze and installed it on my PC. I set up all the drives I want to be backed up, and I leave the software running 24/7, 365. I will never think about any of my files unless I need to recover some. I just know that I can. It's a monthly subscription that is a waste of money until it isn't, then it's the best money I've ever spent.

Fixing in Post

There is nothing wrong with fixing parts of an image in post-production, but I believe there comes a point in every photographer's life where fixing in post feels easier than fixing it on location. This is a terrible habit to get into for so many reasons. Firstly, it's almost always the case that if you can fix it in camera, it's better than fixing it in post in terms of the final result quality. Secondly, not learning how to fix what you need to when shooting means you won't learn and grow as a photographer at the rate you ought to be. Thirdly, the budgeting of time becomes far more difficult when your post-production to-do list is growing exponentially.

Zooming Rather Than Moving

This is a common issue with beginners and one I believe to be particularly damaging. A zoom lens is often on the menu for newer photographers, either through a kit lens or through the purchase of one seen as a necessity. While they are useful, they can lure photographers into the habit of always adjusting the framing by zooming. I prefer shooting with prime lenses partially because I can't do this. Grab a cheap prime (the nifty-fifty always does well) and practice moving to get a better angle (where possible) rather than simply zooming. It's hard to unpack the value of this until the photographer has tried it and seen the benefits, but it's worthwhile.

What Are the Worst Bad Habits You Have Seen in Beginners?

I'm not sure what the worst bad habit is, and I'm not sure it's on my list, but the above five are certainly common and can be heavily detrimental. What bad habits have you suffered from that you had to correct? What is a common bad habit you have seen with photographers, particularly newer ones? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Robert K Baggs's picture

Robert K Baggs is a professional portrait and commercial photographer, educator, and consultant from England. Robert has a First-Class degree in Philosophy and a Master's by Research. In 2015 Robert's work on plagiarism in photography was published as part of several universities' photography degree syllabuses.

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The worst habit I see from beginner photographers is always shooting wide open. They will shoot photos where only a tiny part of the main subject is in focus and ooh and aah over the 'gorgeous blurry background'. It's hard to progress as a photographer until this particular habit is overcome. All photos, no matter how uninteresting will seem great if you're overly obsessed with blurry backgrounds.

Also beginners who edit their photos, seeing for the first time how impressive shadow recovery is and end up creating flat edited photographs with no depth. I was particularly guilty of this as a beginner.

The airy, wide open, shallow DOF is the look these days.

I am pretty "seasoned" but my file management system is pretty sketchy :^(

It is certainly a well overused look.

As was HDR and orange and teal a few years ago. Eventually the hot look will be something else. Maybe the f64 Group will return....

Guilty on all counts, your honor.
I’d like to add dumping all files from SD card to the computer’s hard disk and not purging any images out of convenience, too tired after long shoot, do it tomorrow …
Not using an import program which autofills metadata nor naming convention.
See also no backup.
Upon receiving notice disk is full, offboarding files randomly to various external SSD or USB devices to whatever has free space - see also no file management.

Hey, I could go on, but it would be excruciatingly embarrassing.

Would you offer tips on how to clean up the mess? Like a 12 step-program?

Hello, my name is Aleenia and I am a chaotic photographer.

PS the cat is gorgeous

Since going mirrorless, I've been experimenting with Canon's Fv (flexible value priority) mode, allowing you to go from fully automatic to fully manual as you're composing your shot. The more I use it, I like it as it affords ease of changing settings on the fly.

I think "Zooming rather than moving" deserves a big up vote.

It's an insidious little habit that forgets about the optical changes that happen when a zoom lens zooms. FWIW, I recently have been trying "only primes" when I go out, to force me to pay more attention to the choices and trade-offs that come with each focal length. It's challenging.

For a lot of what I do, you can't get closer so zoom it is.

Also, for what I shoot a lot of the change in perspective is a positive.

Yep! Those darned critters just never get close enough for me to use my favorite prime lens. And darn it, when I do have that lens on and I move, my subject vanishes. ;-)

Shooting in auto? It is part of the cost right but also gives RAW and then why not condemn aperture mode. It is kinda like having video mode and never ever using it! I think 1. camera cleaning and sensor cleaning as well as all photo gear. 2. understanding of SS, F/# and ISO and having a chart on hand. 3. Reading a book on the camera not just the folding paper inclosed, many great books that have examples of things most pro's never try or know how to do, example a National Geographic photographer always shot both jpeg and raw and sent both back to headquarters and wanted the raw PP to look like the jpegs, did not know about D-Range Optimizer affects jpeg but not raw and other settings that only affect jpeg and never could be done. 4. No one tells the new people about AWB and profiles are for jpeg that may look like the RAW but not and that Post Programs use a best guess of what the camera maker has for it. Use a grey card or better a grey dome best the data color cube (get the best exposure, black and color level even needing an extra image to link to it will be what the eye saw. Do you really remember the colors you saw at sunset or in the cave spelunking (Carlsbad uses just white lights, a let down)?

This is written for aspiring pros or semi-.pros. Amateur beginners are more likely to blur the image because they heard that ISO100 is the only setting for good images, or get an entirely wrong composition because they heard that only prime lenses are good lenses, and they have only one, or learn HDR techniques from YouTube and spoil the atmosphere in every image.

Actually is the old timers who remember shooting film and 100 was the standard and 400 was high speed film who shoot at lower ISO. The younger folks I talk to are comfortable in the 400-800 range.

That's right. I just saw this on an older guy's images. The young ones have their phones, and don't care about ISO at all.

Though not a beginner, one problem I have is not taking the time to add descriptive EXIF data to imports so I can search on images later. I'm changing. But, it's hard with all the import excitement

My statement is probably rooted in my age, 61, but here we go. A lot of things mentioned all have merit. What I see is the spray and pray tactic, laying on the shutter button then hoping you get something worth keeping. Second thing I see and this is probably an entire topic on its own, volume over quality. For some reason people seem to get caught up in how many images they go out and shoot in a day. I have heard people say they shoot hundreds of images when they go out and shoot, sometimes a 1000. I had one person tell me they have a goal of a minimum of 500 images when they go out to shoot.

As an active sports shooter I know that not every image is a keeper by any means and I cannot imagine shooting for 3 4 5 hours then going home and trying to cull through 1000 non-sporting images.

I grew up on Kodak Tri X 400 24 exposure rolls. I learned to be stingy as it cost money at that time. Yes, digital images do not cost money, but they cost time to cull and storage space. I have challenged new photographers that I have had in class at the local art league to go out with their digital camera and pretend they only have 24 or 36 "frames" that they can shoot. Makes one focus more on subject, compensation, lighting, etc and less on quantity just so you can tell someone you shot a 1000 images. My two cents...

For wildlife shooters, spray and pray can be the difference between a polar bear in the perfect position. Better yet, BIF. I'm not good enough to be able to time a shot perfectly to get that wing, head, and talons in the perfect position with one click. My camera shoots 7fps. There are plenty of times that had I had 16fps, I would have gotten that perfect shot. I guess I'm just not that skilled, so I have to use the tools I've chosen to compensate for my lack of hand/eye coordination.

I see no problem with "spray and pray" technique. Many times the best picture is the instant after what I aimed for. I have 0% problem looking at a group 10-15 shots and picking the best peak action or fleeting expression. Why not take advantage of technology.

What I don't get is the wedding shooters with 4-6k pictures to deal with LOL

When I go out shooting street photography I never ‘spray and pray’. Having to deal with hundreds of photos is not my idea if fun. I like the old film camera approach of learning to anticipate and nail the shot. It helps to get better skilled at photography and not rely on the technology so much.

I get wedding photographers needing so many photos as they need to make sure they get the critical shots and they can’t retake the shot. If I miss a good street photography shot, it’s not a total disaster like it would be for wedding photographers who are being paid handsomely to capture a couple’s special moments.

I am also a sports photographer and I get the "spray and pray" concept as well. The article referred to new photogs so I was somewhat directing my response to them. I can shoot up 10fps with the gear I have now and yes, there are limits to 10fps in todays world. So as I have gained experience I have learned to plan better. If a runner is on first for example I will prefocus on 2nd base and either catch the steal shot, tag or safe. I will lay on a sequence as well but usually no more than 7 - 8 frames. What I guess I am trying to say is people new to photography oftentimes misinterpret how an experienced photographer gets the shots they get. I also photo birds and I get spray and pray in that field as well but along the way as one gains experience one is able to take different approaches to getting better shots.

In this context:

1. Shooting something and immediately posting it to socials as evidence of photographic know-how.

2. Technically: Using wide focal lengths on people real close.

3. Sticking everything flat in the middle of the frame and calling that a composition.

Good points! and somewhat related to your #2 you might as well add not holding wide lens level so all buildings or vertical lines get distorted (whether intentional or not).

People who think cameras need the ability to upload to the web like a smartphone. I shoot in RAW so always edit first before doing anything else. Photos always need a bit of editing first anyway, especially if I take a photo in bright light and underexpose to make sure highlights aren’t overexposed.

To build on the last point of "zooming rather than moving" I'll add that many newbies with a zoom lens are guilty of zooming in too much. I am guilty of this too and have to remind myself to zoom out a bit from what I *think* is a good shot so that I have a bit of wiggle room for editing or re-composing the shot in post.
Or am I the only one? haha

My only editing in camera are to fix the settings and delete bad shots. Otherwise I need a large screen to see fine details. It took me awhile to figure out a logical filing system that worked for me. Thank goodness Adobe Bridge has multiple ways for me to access old files, other than the cutesy names I assigned to my shots when I first started. Date is a great way to locate these badly named-files that I used to create. I think taking too many shots of the same thing at the same angle was a big mistake I used to make. It's hard to find that ONE good shot when you take two hundred shots that are nearly identical. Spray and pray is not focused enough on the composition.

Gear acquisition. Only if I own THIS I can proceed........

Heavy use of vignettes. When I started I put them on everything - even studio shots. I still use them sometimes but only to the point where if I can see them I know I’ve gone too far.