5 Common Technical Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. I make them too. Even the most advanced of photographers make mistakes. The mistakes are usually due to an oversight and sometimes due to tiredness. So, here is a list of common technical mistakes and how to avoid them.


Snow covered chairs

(Snow covered chairs – Aperture priority mode at f/8 on Auto ISO and Exposure Compensation of +1 EV.
Situations like these lead to errors in the photographs clicked at a later time, in this case, if the EV+1 is not changed!)


Mistake 1. Wrong camera settings
So you took the camera out late yesterday night and did some amazing available light photography. Now in the morning, the ISO is set at 800 or still higher. Say hello to super noisy pictures with a false feeling of comfort on seeing high shutter speeds or small apertures. (and no, the noise will not be less since the exposure will be calculated as per the light meter ruling out any overexposure)

Lot of things can be set wrong but these are the common settings which end up spoiling some photographs –

Remedy – If pilots can have a pre-takeoff checklist and hospitals can have a pre-operative check-list, why can’t photographers? Make your own check-list based on the camera settings that have messed up your earlier photography attempts and check it religiously before every photography session. Getting friendly with the camera and its various settings is the first step towards nirvana in photography. I make it a point to check all these things before any photo shoot. (My checklist on settings consists of – ISO, Camera Mode, Exposure Compensation & Metering Mode.)


Mistake 2. Blurred subject
The phantom of camera shake strikes again! This is a major mistake that even the best of the photographers make. For advanced photographers it is the over-confidence in the stability of their hands which is a common culprit and for beginners it is usually ignorance about the lowest shutter speed to try out. I too make this mistake sometimes. Quite frequently it is an oversight. A quick preview on the camera also does not show it unless viewed at hundred percent magnification.

Remedy – For beginners keeping shutter speed above the inverse of focal length is a good rule to start with. (If the focal length is 50mm, keep the shutter speed above 1/60 sec, similarly if the focal length is 105mm, keep the shutter speed above 1/125 sec). Default Auto-ISO setting while on aperture priority (Auto ISO) also takes this into consideration. When I was young and used film, I was able to hand-hold the camera at insanely low shutter speeds and get away with sharp images. Now I prefer to review my images once in a while (To Chimp or Not To), and make a rational decision, based on the preview at hundred percent magnification. (Do read this too – Flash and Tripod – Not allowed !)


Mistake 3. Extremes of exposure
Our eyes have a very high dynamic range and when combined with the various support mechanisms, it is a wonder. ( Our Eyes vs Camera ) Our cameras however have a limitation of dynamic range. A good camera can represent about 9 levels of exposure value. Some high end cameras and film can go upto 10-11 levels of exposure value. In other words, the brightest scene that a good camera can capture without the highlights getting blown out is 9 exposure values above the darkest part of the image which shows any details. Quite frequently such subjects end up looking terrible when photographed. Some amount of post-processing to recover shadow and highlight details helps but it also ends up spoiling the contrast of the whole image.

Remedy – Going back in time, Ansel Adams came out with a very simple tool called ‘Zone System’. To use this in today’s era, switch to spot metering, meter the brightest part of the scene and note the exposure value and then meter the darkest part of the scene and note the exposure value and then expose according to the best settings that can cover both of these. Once again, with the facility of image preview in cameras, zone system in its pure form is hardly used.

Another tool which photographers quite frequently use is to take multiple images with varying exposure compensation (usually by varying shutter speed) and then superimposing the images to create a high-dynamic range (HDR Photography) image. Some recent cameras are also capable of doing it.

(High and Low Key images are different. They look good the way they have been composed and exposed. More about them – Low and High Key)


Last rays of sunlight on NandaDevi

(Nanda Devi peak lit by last few rays of sun – EV-1 was used. The same setting on the first image of this page would have been catastrophic)


Mistake 4. Wrong equipment for the job
Try bird photography with a 50mm standard lens or portraits with a wide angle lens. I know. Some photographers do it and create wonderful images but it is not the usual case.
Camera’s built in flash for low light photography is a complete no go zone in my opinion.
Using VR lenses while using tripod is counter-productive.
Manual focus lenses with no focusing aid is like driving your car on a highway at night with no headlights.

Remedy – Get a fair idea of what you are going to click and then plan your equipment accordingly. Sometime back, I was on a photography assignment but the briefing did not discuss about low light scenarios and I ended up without a flash (A Series of Unfortunate Events).


Mistake 5. Overuse of post-processing
With great powers come great responsibilities. Very true when it comes to image editing programs (Photoshop, Lightroom, Darktable, Gimp etc). First change should be to shift to raw images from jpeg if any post-processing is planned. jpg are good when the intention is to directly use the images from camera. If they are going through a computer, it pays to click raw and post-process. Excessive use of sharpening, saturation, shadow and highlight detail recovery, changing curves…. all end up spoiling the image.

Remedy – Retain the looks of your photograph and follow these guidelines while post-processing – Post Processing RAW. My advice is to keep it far less than what you feel is fine.


Further Reading:
Avoid these 5 mistakes! (Not related to camera)
Top 10 Photo-editing Traps


2 thoughts on “5 Common Technical Mistakes

  1. One of the methods I use to avoid making some of the mistakes you mentioned is to use the setting I use most frequently as a custom setting. The mode dial allows C1, C2, C3 and these stores my 3 commonest setting for a variety of situations. Whenever I start shooting, these settings are my starting point. That makes sure I won’t be having the setting from previous days shoot. Whenever light changes I go back to these settings and dial in the custom setting I want. Nice article.


    • So, basically you have shortened your checklist to just one item – checking which mode you are on (C1, C2 or C3)! What happens if you happen to change the settings while inside any of these modes? I am not a Canon user so don’t know much about how the change in settings while using affects these modes. Does the change gets automatically saved or does the user mode resets to the original settings when you change the mode or switch off the camera?


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