Starting out as a photographer can be daunting. But fear not, here are 6 things that you should avoid

Photography is a wonderful hobby to start. But when you are first starting out will also be the time when you will probably make the greatest number of mistakes. But if you can avoid some of the errors below, you may just find that your photography improves much quicker.

1 Not reading your camera manual 

The Photographer. Photo by Tom Yeoman

It’s easy to feel excited when you buy a brand-new camera and want to dive into simply taking photos. But the best thing that you can do when you first buy a new camera, is to read your camera manual cover to cover. Camera manuals are almost like small pocket-size photography instruction books these days. So not only will you learn how to use all the different settings and functions of your camera, which is essential when you are shooting, but you may even get some tips or advice on photography itself.

And once you have read your manual, keep it to hand or even pop it into your camera bag. That way every time you struggle to find the settings that you are looking for you can have a look through your camera manual. Don’t worry, the more you use your camera the better you will get to know it, so you won’t need to keep checking your manual. But to start with it’s a great wealth of information.

2 Buying too much photography gear

Set of vintage and new cameras. Photo by Deyangeorgiev - f/6.3 | ISO 250 | 1/200s

I always find it surprising when I see people with mountains of photo gear. They have a lens for every scenario, even the ones that they will never likely shoot. I ask them why and to this day haven’t had an answer that satisfies me. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with having the right equipment for the type of photography you enjoy, but if you barely ever take wildlife or sports photos, you don’t need a super-telephoto lens.

I only have 4 lenses these days in my permanent kit. These are the 17-35mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm and 150-600mm lenses. Anything that I may need others than these from time to time, I rent. So don’t get hung up on buying lots of lenses or the newest camera, instead spend your money to actually take photos. For example, go on a photo tour or take a few days off work to focus on your photography instead of buying more camera gear that you don’t really need.

3 Not challenging yourself

Photographers demonstrating on Trafalgar Square. Photo by Ralf Zeigermann - f/6.3 | ISO 800 | 1/100s

Photography is like any other skill, if you don’t practice it regularly you won’t improve. And a big part of this involves working on things that you may struggle with. For example, when I first began travel photography, one thing struggled with was handholding my camera in low light conditions. I found myself unable to take sharp enough photos because I was too worried about my ISO being too high. So I set about mastering this by specifically practising low-light photography at home and outdoors at places like covered markets. Not only did this teach me some valuable lessons, and I discovered some handy techniques, but it also taught me a lot about cameras and how much I can push them.

I still use some of the things I found out even today. For example, whenever I buy a new camera, I always test how much noise appears in my photos at different ISO levels by taking some test shots at home. Doing this means I know exactly at what ISO there is an acceptable level of noise.

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4 Settling for a photo

Landscape photographer. Photo by Ian Francis - f/4 | ISO 100 | 1/90s

I’m sure you have all been in that situation when you have arrived at a location, looked at the scene and the light available and thought this isn’t ideal. But how many times have you then taken a photo and said to yourself, “well, it’s not perfect, but it’ll do”. This is what I call “settling for a photo”. It’s when you know you may be able to do better by waiting around a bit longer, but you can’t be bothered or you don’t have enough time.

The problem with settling for a photo is that if you do it often enough it will become the norm and your photos will all suffer as a result. So, always stand by the mantra of capturing the best photo that you can at any given location. That means waiting around if you can for a better photo if that’s a possibility.

5 “Fixing it” in post-production 

Photographer at sunset. Photo by Kenny Riley - f/6.3 | ISO 800 | 1/3200s

Another bad habit that you should avoid getting into is relying on editing software too much or even trying to save your photos all the time. Editing is a big part of photography and I believe that every photo will benefit from some level of post-production. So I’m not saying you shouldn’t edit your photos. But rather, don’t rely on it if you can get things right in camera at the time when you are taking the photo. It will stand you in good stead in the long run and will teach you to be more of a perfectionist.

Also, keep in mind that sometimes a few extra minutes on location will ultimately be much quicker than having to spend hours retouching.

6 Listening too much to other people 

You've been zucked. Photo by Tim Constable - f/1.8 | ISO 20 | 1/200s

Unfortunately one of the downsides of today’s digital world is that it is much harder to just focus on your own work. We are all influenced by what we see and hear around us. Most of the time this is positive and can help inspire us to create great photos. But sometimes it can have a detrimental effect, especially for newbie photographers who may feel pressured to have to fit into what others see as great photos.

So my biggest advice for someone who is starting out is to not listen to other people all the time. Of course, constructive comments or feedback can be good, but also be strong enough to follow through with your passion and vision rather than trying to please others.

Finishing thoughts

The most important thing when you are starting out is to have fun and try to experiment and learn as much as possible. Don’t worry if you make mistakes and try not to listen too much to the negative voices out there. Shoot what your passion is and try to create your own style. And if you can avoid the mistakes above at the same time, even better.