The Seven Deadly Sins
There are all sorts of missteps and mistakes possible when trying take good photos. Some bad habits are all too easy to fall into but aren't necessarily easy to realize you are doing so. Here are my top (or bottom) seven.
Obsessing Over Gear
We all love a cool camera or lens. Admit it. I'll go ahead and admit I do at least. These days, everyone's talking about mirrorless. Or if you haven't gotten hooked on that, you can geek out over higher and higher resolution sensors. Or ISO sensitivity so amazing you can shoot handheld in complete darkness. Or whatever. If you're missing out on these, don't worry, there will always be some new cool gear to lust over. It keeps the camera companies in business, and it's called progress. And we're all the beneficiaries of this steadily forward march of technical innovations, so I'm more than OK with that. I may have an occasional nostalgia for the old days just because, but I welcome what progress makes possible. Better gear enables better images. But it's not a substitute for doing my part and using my gear to the best of my ability. If you don't get a shot, don't just automatically blame your gear. All the lenses and cameras in the world are just tools. Good gear doesn't make you a better photographer. It enables a better photographer to be able to take even better images. There is a difference.
Lack of Preparation
Beginning photographers fail to prepare because they don't realize they should. They tend to be reactionary shooters, snapping photos in response to what they find of interest. More experienced photographers fail to prepare because the feel they know what they are doing and don't need to. Good photography may not depend on preparation, but it just might be even better photography with some added up front. Being in the right place at the right time shouldn't always be matter of just luck. And having practiced a given technique will better enable you to make use of it should the situation arise. That old motto of being prepared really is good advice. Don't wait to be standing in front of your subject to start thinking about what to do next.
Looking at Your Surroundings Rather Than the Image
Anyone who has ever been witness to a sunrise or a beautiful fall afternoon under the autumn leaves knows how amazing it can be to be surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature. But no matter which direction you point your camera, it only sees a limited slice of what you experience. The resulting image may remind you of that day, but others who weren't there too won't have the same memories you do. When they see your images, they can only judge by what your camera saw, not by the totality of what you saw and heard and felt and remember fondly. Include what should be included in your mages for each one to stand on its own. Also remember that you can solve at least some compositional problems simply by cropping out distracting elements. Coming to terms with the limited frame seen by your camera can be both frustrating and at the same time liberating. Ignoring it can leave you with images that may be meaningful to you but fail to connect with others. The image is what falls within the frame, not everything else that may have been going on when you shot it.
Assuming You Can Fix It Later
Digital photography is amazing. As the marriage between cameras and computers, photography doesn't have to end when you press the shutter release. But because this is so, it's tempting to assume you can make up for at least some problems by fixing them later in Lightroom or whatever your preferred image editing software may be. Apply a filter or wholesale repaint some section and you can fix things. Of course, this is true to some extent, but does have its limits. The digital darkroom should be used to augment good camera technique, not stand in place of it. Get good enough at Photoshop and maybe you don't even need a camera at all I suppose, but then what would be the point of calling yourself a photographer?
Over Sharpening or Over Processing
The digital darkroom can be both a blessing and a curse. Just a few clicks can work wonders to make an image look better. Enough further clicks though can leave you with an over-sharpened, garishly saturated mess. You may not even notice this in your own images, but you probably have when scrolling down your Facebook feed. So, are you sure you aren't occasionally guilty of this sin yourself? Every time we make an adjustment, the tendency is to compare what came immediately before to what the image looks like after. Just one more click and that image will pop even more. And another. And another. While working on an image, the eye becomes acclimated to what it sees and compensates. It can be deceptively difficult to realize the net effect. It's only when you compare the final result to the original image does it become apparent just how far you've pushed that image. Sometimes, we end up pushing an image over the cliff when all it really needs is a small tweak. Photoshop and Lightroom are powerful tools, and with great power comes great responsibility.
Sticking with the Tried and True
Even with all the advances in digital photography, it can still be a difficult skill to get the hang of fully. Once you do master a certain type of image or a particular skill, it can be tempting to rest on your laurels and repeat what seems safe. While this may help to prevent further disappointment, it can also keep you far away from learning anything new and growing as a photographer. Especially in this age of digital photography, experimenting and reaching for something more is easier than ever before, yet not everyone avails themselves when the opportunity presents itself. Give something new a try. If things don't work out as you hoped, you can always delete the results and no one else will be the wiser. But regardless, your efforts should get you that much closer to gaining proficiency with something new. And that's a good thing.
Trying to Live Up to Other People's Expectations
Trying to create photographs to satisfy others can be a fickle pursuit. Not everyone likes the same thing, so you end up chasing the shifting winds, first this way, and then that. But if you instead shoot to satisfy yourself, your viewpoint will grow more consistent, and your images will become more expressive and compelling. Over time, others should notice. And even if they haven't yet, you'll be having fun.
So, there you have it. My list of the "seven deadly sins" of photography. No doubt you can add a few more of your own if you take a close enough look at where your personal sticking points are. Please, do. You can thank me later.