Photography for beginners: Are you making one of those beginner mistakes?

Photography for beginners, lesson 1: Your first 10,000 photos are the worst, you can throw them all in the trash.

Too hard? Maybe, but that’s what Henri Cartier-Bresson said. That’s what Henri Cartier-Bresson said. Many also blame this photograph quote on Helmut Newton. No matter who said it first, I believe that every photographer who gets to 100,000 photos has made enough mistakes to come to exactly the same conclusion. I count myself among them 🙂

But what exactly is a “mistake” in photography?

Does such a thing even exist?

Yes. But they may be others than you think.

We’ve all had no idea about photography at some point, except that it tempts us to know and get really good. This motivation and this enormous burst of energy is usually the main reason why you get through the early days and don’t give up frustrated and demotivated.

I think, if you know the worst mistakes in photography at least from the beginning and if you take care not to fall into these traps, then you save a lot of time and you have more energy left for the learning process.

That’s why I would like to list the 7 most painful mistakes you can make in photography at the beginning. And of course ways to avoid them and make photography much more effective for beginners.

  1. photography for beginners Fundamental: Take your time and conquer the sweat of fear
    Sure, when you learn something new, you want to be fast, you want to take better pictures tomorrow than today and you want to feel good about it. Admitting a series of mistakes, starting all over again and taking time for every camera angle doesn’t feel very good at the beginning.

“What do the others think when I turn my camera around forever, I look like a beginner”.

Yeah, and that’s okay, why wouldn’t it be?

It’s better to spend a few seconds or even minutes more with it, but calmly and concentrated when good pictures are at the end, than fast, hectic and with a sweat film on your forehead waving at the camera and not getting a good result.

Photography for beginners is a marathon, not a sprint. So take the time to learn the basics and really understand them and then – just as important – take the time to apply them to every picture.

You’ll quickly become on your own with time!

And please do not be afraid of “mistakes”. Always remember that you are not a pilot or a doctor, there are no human lives in your hands. If a photo goes bad, nothing happens, except that you get a chance to learn something from it.

A very simple saying helps to slow things down and not to rush – “Photography takes time. If you don’t want to take it, you can take pictures”.

A great exercise that will help you as a beginner, I have summarized in this article. This is also about basics, although not technical (but much more exciting)

  1. the most expensive mistake: investing too much money in technology
    Of course, we love photography because of the beautiful pictures, but it’s the great cameras that supposedly promise us that better, more beautiful photos will automatically come out of it. Decades of marketing have taught us that.

But that is not true.

Quite the opposite.

Photography for beginners is a bit like motorsport.

Cameras are like racing cars. A Formula 1 car has none of those cosy and pleasant features that make driving easy and enjoyable for you. On the contrary. To drive a Formula 1 car at high speed you need experience, skill, knowledge, fitness, etc.

I haven’t heard that you have to go to the gym to steer a family van. Try that with a Formula 1 car 😉

It is similar with high-end cameras. The more professional the camera, the more the person operating it has to be able to do. No high end camera will take pictures for you, no matter how much you might have guessed because of the enormous price.

So better start with what you already have, or a cheap SLR for beginners or a mirrorless camera.

Concentrate first on the basics of the technique, on your own eye, your perception, around all the other countless areas of photography. In short – learn to take pictures, not learn what equipment is available and hope that it does the job for you.

You will need expensive equipment much later, when you are really “underchallenged” with your equipment. A good photographer can satisfy his customers with a cheap camera. A bad photographer cannot get good photos from the most expensive camera.

What is the minimum you need to get started?

A smartphone.

I took this photo of my wife with my smartphone:

Would this have been technically better with an expensive camera?


But is that the most important thing? Of course not.

Everything that takes pictures these days works. And at least a smartphone with a camera, you probably have it with you all the time. Even beginners can take pictures with it.

You can use it to take care of the most important element in photography: your eye, your perception and attention.

Much more important than the camera.

If you want to buy a new camera – Before you put too much money into a new camera, ask yourself these questions I have put together to find out which camera might suit you. Maybe you don’t have to invest so much. Click here for the article with the test and video.

  1. stop with zoom, movement is needed!
    Of course a zoom on the lens is practical. If the picture does not fit completely, you can easily help yourself by simply turning it and changing the detail.

Zoom makes sense.

But if we are talking about photography for beginners, I would specifically recommend not to use it.

Actually the zoom should only be used to work with a different focal length. A photo with wide angle looks different than one with a telephoto lens. Shorter focal lengths create more intimacy in portraits, longer ones more distance. Longer focal lengths also create more depth of field, etc … And there are a lot of other rules for this than just cropping.

Then you should use the zoom. Not out of convenience.

If you just want to change the focus, you better move. That’s why I always recommend to buy a fixed focal length (e.g. 50mm) at the beginning of my workshops and courses. It simply forces you to move, which brings new perspectives to the surface. This not only keeps you fit, but also makes your photos more lively and varied.

And don’t worry too much about what focal length might be the right one now. Let me tell you – if it’s completely unclear to you which focal length you want to use, anything between 24mm and 80mm focal length will be fine for the start.

50mm lenses are usually quite cheap despite good speed. Or just take what you already have. The main thing is that you move.

  1. photography for beginners: get out of the automatic mode
    I wouldn’t really need a whole paragraph here anymore. The auto mode is already the error itself. The easiest thing to do would be to get rid of it. Of course it’s not possible. And you think I’m too strict. I know what you mean. But what can I say? Auto mode is not something that makes photography easier for beginners.

In fact, it makes it more difficult.

If you want to develop photography in the least (just reading this article is enough) you should ban automatic mode immediately.

It promises you to do everything yourself and to get the best possible result from your camera. But this will only happen in very few cases and only by chance.

The camera cannot take your decisions.

It always tries to find a middle way and it rarely fits. Learn how to use aperture, ISO and exposure time and leave the automatic mode behind before you have done that, nothing you can learn about photography will ever really get you anywhere.

(Because there seems to be some confusion – automatic mode is not the same as semi-automatic. AV/TV/S etc. are perfectly fine because you leave a part – aperture or shutter speed – to the camera and do a part yourself. I am talking only about full auto or program auto)

By the way, the same applies to the automatic autofocus. Autofocus is ok, you press the shutter button halfway down and let the camera focus. But choose the focus point WHERE the camera should focus always manually, never automatically. The camera doesn’t know exactly what you want to focus on, you have to decide that all by yourself.

Does it sometimes take longer? Yes, back to point 1 – take your time!

  1. flash on or in the camera
    I would like to have one Euro for every scene that I have observed when tourists have photographed a building or even a mountain and flashed out of full tubes with their compact camera. This is similar to trying to water the garden with a straw.

That simply does not work. No matter how hard you try.

And even if you don’t count yourself among these extreme cases, sooner or later we all had that moment where we tried to take a good picture with the internal flash of the camera (or in the best case with one attached). But that will not work. Internal flashes are “emergency lamps”. With them you can make something bright what was dark before. If it is close enough. Done. Really good flashed photos can only be made if you deal with this topic.

But if you are still at the very beginning, I would advise you to ignore the flash completely for the time being and learn how to handle the camera properly. Later on you can learn the subject of flash and you will see that it will be much easier for you!

  1. post-processing? Surely not, that must come from the camera.
    A terrible misunderstanding in digital photography and especially when we talk about photography for beginners. I don’t know who started it, but you can hear the internet roaring over and over again that a good photographer doesn’t do post-processing but takes the good photo directly in the camera.

To bring this to a truthful level is difficult. Because yes, of course a good photographer does as much as possible already in the camera. That means he thinks about the composition of the picture before he takes it, instead of cropping it afterwards. He thinks about the colours in the picture and what information is in it, instead of retouching or repairing for hours afterwards. Above all, a good photographer knows how to deal with light, because there is not really much possibility to repair it in the editing.

Nevertheless, a certain amount of elaboration is necessary. In former times, by choosing the right film, one has decided how the colouring and the mood of the photo should be. With the laboratory, later on, during the processing, one also reworked, thus some areas in the picture were brightened or darkened, they were more or less present in the photo, etc. It is simply a big mistake, resulting from half-knowledge that “in the past everything was better because nobody worked on it”. That is simply not true. Photography Error deluxe.

Here is a good example of an old, analogue photo by James Dean:

  1. too much in the picture
    Yeah, sure, what’s “too much”?

At this point I’d like to throw in a word – there’s no arguing about taste. I just want to build a kind of “scaffolding” for you to orientate yourself by, when the frustration grows and the pictures don’t get better. Never forget – rules are always there to break. Just to break them properly, you have to know them first.

As already mentioned in point 6, a good photographer considers beforehand what will be in the picture and what will not. A classic mistake for beginners is the “crowded” photo. If you put a lot of information in a picture, too many people, too much distraction in the background etc. are in the picture, then the viewer’s gaze is not clearly directed to a main motif.

The less in the picture, the clearer the attention, the better the viewer perceives the photo. Less is actually more in this case. Later on, one can add content to the picture one after the other, and you will then also learn that with the “great old masters”, even when there was a lot to be seen in the picture, not a single part was there by chance, but was very precisely planned and intended.

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