Novice Alerts !

Lately, I have been asked the same question in many different ways –

  • What is it that makes a photographer look like a beginner?
  • What mistakes do starters in photography commit?
  • What are the signs that tell that a person is new to photography?

… and so on! First and foremost let me clarify, there is nothing special that tells who is a beginner and who is not. Second, the fact that a person is a beginner or has been in the field for donkey years, does not correlate to photography skills.


Bird using a Canon Powershot SX130 IS camera

(A sample image by a beginner using a compact camera. This is an endorsement of my statement that this article of mine has nothing to do with photography skills)


This article is there, not to hurt anyone’s feelings but to point out some of the obvious giveaways that make me understand that a person is a beginner. Once in a while, I venture out and correct the problem but usually the photographers with their new toys are so self-engrossed that it is uncomfortable for me to point out things to them.


Handling Camera, Recruit Style!

There is no good or bad about how a person handles the camera. Each one it to his/her own comfort level. Still, there are somethings that strikingly stand out –

  • Holding the camera body with both the hands. This just indicates that the person is new to holding a camera with a protruding lens. SLR and DSLR users try to place their one hand below the lens (even while using simple compact cameras). It is due to the habit formed when they hold their own cameras. No, I don’t give it much importance. After all, everyone has a right to choose their preferred camera and it may not be a body with a protruding lens.
  • Mounting the hood turned inside. This is good for storing the hood but definitely not while photographing. Hood is there for a purpose and it should be used as much as possible. Apart from preventing stray light, it also provides some protection to the lens. Yes, even in night shots, hood has a role to play!
  • Using Auto Mode instead of Program Mode. The green logo and the word Auto is quite comforting to beginners and so they prefer it to Program mode. Program Mode essentially does the same thing, except for raising the flash. Advanced photographers switch on Program Mode when they want the camera to make their decisions, but beginners switch to Auto!
  • Using the built in flash at night time to photograph landscapes. The flash is very weak. It does not light up the landscape. All it does is light up the dust particles on its way and provide a shine to the objects close by, thereby spoiling the photograph.
  • Shaky images, blurred images, wrong exposures… they all happen but then these are a part of normal learning curve. To me, these are not the things that point out a novice.


A Novice’s Body-language

The way recruits move around with their new possessions is yet another obvious give away. (It is somewhat similar to how most people in India flaunt their new cars with ribbons on the bonnet and plastic covers on the seats).

  • Beginners spend more time fiddling with their cameras rather than composing. For them playing with camera is more important than photography. Sure, new camera takes time getting used to it. I am not arguing that or looking down on it. It is just that it shows that the person is new to the camera. (I have also done it with new cameras)
  • Almost every photograph gets checked in the preview screen. This is called Chimping (To Chimp or Not To).
  • The cameras, after use, get very carefully packed in their camera bags. The shiny cameras in their shinier camera bags are a dead give-away. Some amount of care is fine but removing the lens from the body, placing back the body cap and rear lens cap, packing everything back into the paper-box and then the paper-box into the camera-bag. I am not joking. I have seen this happening! I also remember another novice who did not pack his lens and camera into the paper-box but he did keep his camera bag back into a plastic bag (in which it had originally come), all the while he traveled in his air-conditioned shining car.
  • The bounce in the steps while the camera bounces around the body is yet another sure-shot sign. It is hard to explain in words but becomes obvious as daylight when it comes in front of an aged photographer.
  • Using the zoom instead of feet! It may be due to the rise of zooms or it may be plain simple laziness, but to my mind this is a sign of being a novice.


The Photographs

  • If you happen to see a person using their camera in front of a beautiful scene and trying hard to capture a ‘selfie’… Novice Alert!!!
  • Trying to squeeze in everything into a single frame. The wider the angle, the better it is… more and more things can be squeezed in! … Novice Alert!!!
  • Using the camera lomography style. Click, click, click! Everything stays. Sure, lomography has its own charm, but, with a new DSLR?  (Lomography)
  • The photograph themselves of most beginners undergo extreme levels of adjustments on computer. Enhancing or suppressing colors, enhancing structure, excessive sharpening… and many other such obvious ‘going overboard with photo-editing’ effects. (Photography getting lost to Photo-editing)


The dialogues

A lot of things can be misinterpreted but it is when some of the beginners start to talk when everything becomes obvious.

  • The latest thing that I heard which angered me and also made me feel sorry for the photographer – ‘Let me capture as many shots as possible now and then I will let Photoshop bring out the photograph.’
  • Another similar thing that I heard – ‘Oh! the pic looks terrible. Fu*k it, let’s see how the Photoshop can beautify it. If nothing works, I’ll turn it to Sepia’.
  • One friend to other (overheard in a cafe) – ‘I have bought a DSLR now. I can now click superb photos of our outings. Maybe she too will be impressed’.


I too have been a beginner some decades back. I may not remember the things I did and said then but I am sure that I did do some of these things. I do not look down on the beginners but some of them really freak me out. The dialogues that I have included at the end are real things that I have heard and made me feel really sad for the photographer.

On the other hand, I have met beginners, eager to learn. They also give out signs of being a novice but they are also ready to learn. Given time and opportunities, some of these beginners may become the next masters in photography.

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