7 Mistakes Every Photographer Makes


We’ve all been there, when you make that one mistake. The mistake your obnoxious friend warned you about a hundred times. The mistake they’ll never let you live down. Or worse the mistake you bragged to everybody about, saying, “Oh, I’ll never do that. I know better.” But now here you are, in a big puddle of embarrassment.

Like any trade, photography has a few of these classic mistakes that are almost guaranteed to happen to you at some point.

You may look over the list below and think they’re all amateur mistakes that you’re far beyond, but I promise even the most seasoned pros fall into these traps. They are the great equalizer in a way, no matter your skill level, experience, or preparedness they are bound to get you at one point or another.

But what’s the point of making mistakes if you don’t learn from them, right? So lets all laugh a little bit at our collective misery as we take a look at a few mistakes every photographer makes.

#1: Working for Free


I don’t know a single photographer, pro or hobbyist, that hasn’t done a job for free when they clearly should have charged for it. Some people will read this and ignore it thinking their instance is a special case but I assure you you’ll come to regret it.

Assuming something doesn’t go wrong and you have somebody mad at you for doing them a favor, you’ll still most likely end up spending money (gas, food, etc) to work during your time off. So now you’re actually paying to work. And what’s worse, you’ll set a bad precedent as being cheap and easy. Nobody wants that reputation.

The solution is simple, just don’t do it. Even if all you get out of it is a returned favor from whoever you’re helping, at least that’s something. Heck I charged my little brother $75 to take his picture for Facebook. I’m just kidding of course, it was $50.

#2: Being Afraid


For me, what mostly comes to mind when I think of this one is being afraid to approach someone on the street to take their photo, something I know I’ve been guilty of numerous times. However it could easily apply to any number of situations. Being afraid of getting too close to an event or performer, to intrude on a private moment, to let your subject know you’re photographing them, to ask a model to do something daring.

What you may notice about all of these is that they’re all very valid fears, the real trick is knowing when it’s truly something you should avoid and when you’re just being overly cautious.

#3: Shooting in the Wrong Mode


It could be due to a finger bump or simply not being careful enough to double check your settings but it’s inevitable, you’ll probably shoot in the wrong mode at some point. Or what’s more common among anybody shooting video with a DSLR, shooting at the wrong frame rate.

I just recently made a small blunder and shot at 30fps instead of 24 because I was rushing and pushed a button one too many times. Luckily I caught it pretty quickly but still, it happens more often than we’d all like to admit.

#4: Not Cleaning the Lens


I honestly thought this would never happen to me. I’m pretty neurotic about cleaning my lens and pretty much feel naked without some spray, towel, or tool on me to help get the job done (side note: if you breathe on my lens I will slap you). Then a little while ago I finished filming something and decided to look back over the footage and there it was. Just off center. A speck.

I hated that speck. It mocked me and my obsessive cleaning. Apparently at one point I had switched lenses for just a couple shots and had picked up a small piece of dirt. I even went back and checked the lens after watching the footage but it had already fallen off, just my luck it was after I had filmed with it.

#5: Not Bringing Enough Memory Cards/Batteries


Whether your card is full or your batteries run dry, finding yourself in a situation where you literally can’t continue shooting is one of the worse feelings in the world. The only real way to prevent this is to stock up as much as possible and bring everything you can when you’re going out for extended shoots.

There’s always the option of bringing a computer or photo drive to dump cards on, but it’s never fun to have to erase a card with the photos only backed up in one spot (see below). Despite all your precautions, sometimes it’s just a case of an unexpected situation or simply being limited by your finances.

Regardless of the reason, at one point in your life you’ll likely deal with this issue. And it will of course happen 15 seconds before the perfect photo presents itself to you.

#6: Not Properly Backing Up Your Photos


This could very well be every modern photographer’s nightmare. The digital age has done a lot of things for photography but when it comes to safe guarding your archives of photos it has failed miserably. At least with film you had to suffer a real catastrophe like a flood or fire to lose everything, now all it takes is spilling your morning coffee on your laptop.

That is, if you don’t properly back up your photos.

You may laugh at people who back their files up on up to five different hard drives, one of which is always kept in a fire proof safe off location, likely at a private island or underground compound, but one day when you lose the last five years of your work you will invest in a secret fortress in the middle of the desert to keep your photos safe.

#7: Breaking Your Camera

It’ll probably happen at some point in your life. See here.

Image credit: 7dc_c155187-tuna-afraid by Wolfgang Lonien, Dirty Lens by hectorir, No Memory Card by Pat Hawks, Five Days’ Backup by daryl_mitchell

  • Brett

    I’m rather meticulous in taking care of backups and my gear and so far #1 and 2# ring true for me for the most part. I’ve done #3 but only to the point of me noticing I’m about to shoot in the wrong mode and fix it and there is no issue.

  • DafOwen

    Ah the old work for free or not issue – always seems to make it to these lists – so much so I’m rather bored of it.

    Such a suggestion doesn’t take into account all levels of ability, experience or doing things for friends and favours in return.

  • mark eric

    In some fields, especially anything that’s paid, I”d add “not bringing back up equipment” to this list.

  • Indy

    Not taking the lens cap off and spending five minutes twiddling knobs trying to work out why you can’t take the damned picture!

  • Adam Cross

    I’ve never backed anything up, ever. not once has any of my laptops/PCs/hardrives ever died on me (thank you, Sony, for making such reliable equipment) – if you’re the kind of person who spills coffee on your equipment – stay away from your stuff while you drink coffee! idiots.

  • Jared Monkman

    yep, or doing things for charitable organizations, etc

  • Jared Monkman

    I don’t know a single person who has lost a harddrive or some other piece of equipment because of spilled coffee. There are so many other reasons things malfunction.

  • MickO

    Don’t ever work for free, you photographers! But, yes we’ll be happy to use these photos that you’ve chosen to share for free. But you shouldn’t have taken them! But, thank you for doing so. But, don’t do it again!

  • Sitt

    Not knowing how to hold a camera properly, like in the opening photo.

  • DafOwen

    Standard hard drives have moving parts – they eventually wear out and die.
    But there are other issues other than hardware failure e.g. theft or issues like house fire etc

  • oldtaku

    I remember a half day of shooting at ISO 800 from the night before, back in the days when ISO 800 was absolutely horrid and the setting was buried in a menu with no indicator. The day was so bright that it took me too long to cue into the fast shutter speeds, and it was a fairly new camera/lens (D70). Now I’m paranoid – first thing in the day, check your modes.

  • Guest

    Next week there will be an article about personal projects where it’ll suggest collaborative work with others i.e. “free”.
    What I’m suggesting is that there are many cases where such a hard and fast rule doesn’t really apply.

  • oldtaku

    I just had a drive in my array fail last month. No obvious reason, name brand manufacturer. Or course I had a backup, or that would be 2TB of RAWs down the drain.

  • fahrertuer

    1) Sony doesn’t produce HDDs.
    2) I’ve had 8 HDDs die on me in the past 20 years. #1 died of old age, #2 died a week before the manufacturere initated a recall due to faulty bearings . #3 and #4 died of old age, #5 and #6 died in a powersurge, #7 died of (ab)use (laptop being lugged around a lot) and finally #8 died of old age (the venerable age of 15 years)
    3) Idiots are people that don’t do their research
    4) lost data: about 10GB in total due to insufficent backup methods in my first years

  • rchrdfrdmn

    The stupidest thing I ever did was shoot video with my DSLR holding the camera in portrait r/t landscape mode. The entire shot had to be rotated 90 degrees in post, which took some time. Never again.

  • Glenda

    Yep, just did this today … had my aperture set to F22 taking reference photos prior to cleaning the sensor this morning. Forgot to change it back before taking a few photos of the front of a house (I’m a real estate photographer). Couldn’t retake the photos because I had the owner move his car out of the way while I took the photos, then he moved it back and left town on vacation. Haven’t downloaded the images yet … fingers crossed that they’re usable. :-)

  • Old-Skooler

    The caption for the top photo should be: “Not knowing how to hold an SLR correctly!”

  • Mark Dub

    Lol! Good luck with that!

    I have worked in IT for 22 years. Fact: Hardware fails.

  • DesertandSeas

    You were funny up until the name calling.

  • Adam Cross

    my parents have an old Dell desktop that is almost 10 years old, their standard harddrive hasn’t died yet. If a professional is using a standard hard disk drive for storing photos on for longer than 10 years then they probably deserve to lose their photos, just like upgrading camera equipment, upgrading your laptop/PC or its major components etc is pretty essential.

  • Adam Cross

    me either, I was just referring to the article =)

  • MikaelGramont

    Ever heard of Karma? If not, just wait.

  • Adam Cross

    nope, never heard of karma

  • Adam Cross

    I’ve had pretty good luck so far!

  • Adam Cross

    no Sony doesn’t (I don’t think I said they did?), but they make the laptops that I use and they’ve never died, crashed or needed any kind fo servicing, that’s what I was referring to. My harddrives are Solid State Drives by Kingston

  • fahrertuer

    I’ve noticed two things about hard drive failures.

    Either they fail within the first 6 months (faulty parts) or they’ll fail after more than 6 years (worn out) without external influences like vibrations etc

  • Adam Cross

    you mean people who spill coffee on their stuff aren’t idiots? my mistake

  • Alex Krylov

    I did all of it in a past year. And in a big scale… :(

  • Mark Dub

    Luck: Success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions.

  • fahrertuer

    Your post implied Sony HDDs.

    Enjoy the SSDs while they last. They are getting better every day, but I still don’t trust them enough for storage purposes. They may be tougher to damage but each time an SSD is accessed it wears out

    And no hardware is perfect. While my old VAIO is still working it has to be kept in one piece by half a roll of duct tape and a few tubes of superglue (on the other hand: it’s now 8 1/2 years old and was schlepped around for 6 years through school and university, wore out 3 sets of batteries, the hinges broke, several keys from the keyboard fell out and there are 5 large fractures in the case. But it’s still a decent media center)

  • bob cooley

    Anyone who reads this is definitely chuckling right now. Because it WILL happen eventually, and if you have no backup solution, you will not only be very sorry for the loss, you’ll remember how glib you were in this post…

  • Mark Dub

    You are correct Fahrertuer. A simple google search says 17% of people have had an SSD fail.

  • Ralph Hightower

    #5: Not Bringing Enough Memory Cards/Batteries
    Never happened to me. I 6V battery in my camera lasts a year without recharging; 12 AA batteries in my motor drive does about the same. I replace the batteries once a year, whether I need it or not.

    Memory cards? My camera doesn’t use memory cards. But I have never run out of film for an event that I was shooting.

    #3: Shooting in the Wrong Mode
    Most of the time, I shoot in [P], sometimes [Tv] or [Av] and on occasion, full manual for moon photography (Sunny f/16 rule) or for panoramas. Once at a night baseball game, I switched the mode to [Av] and to f4.5, the fastest of my zoom lens and just let it choose the shutter speed; I was using Kodak TMAX 3200.

  • Adam Cross

    I apologise for the implication! I should’e been clearer. And of course no hardware is perfect, but I do believe regular gear upgrades are key – just like we upgrade cameras and lenses.

  • Adam Cross

    i’m sure it will happen eventually, but i’ll deal with that if and when it does, until then I’ll rely on my current good fortune! =)

  • Carlee Keppler-Carson

    I don’t know if it’s the way #2 is written, but being afraid isn’t my problem, however, I always ask when so many others don’t. And the lack of respect for a private moment by many many photographers constantly astounds me.

  • Caitlyn Chapman

    that was my first thought when I saw the article! I thought it would be top of the list! Ha!

  • Charyl Idia

    How are you supposed to ask for money when you are just starting out and doing work for charity and other non-profits? How are you supposed to ask for money when you haven’t worked for money before?

  • zeptom

    Yes I have worked for free if free means doing work without getting paid with money. But I wont and haven’t done work where I haven’t got anything in return.

  • D.G. Brown

    I’m finding many of the comments in here pretty funny since I think engineers run into this discussion all the time.

    When you start using stuff like FMEA, you inevitably get someone saying “But why do we need this? Let’s just do things in a manner that won’t fail.” or “Everything we have is reliable and hasn’t failed yet, so why do we need this work?”

    As photographers (especially those that others have entrusted to do a job), we should always both be finding the best ways to mitigate our chances or failure, but also working with the expectation that we will fail at some point and have a plan for recovery.

  • Abacus

    Don’t feed the trolls.

  • Abacus

    Don’t feed the trolls…

  • Adam Cross

    yeah, trolling, that’s exactly what I’m doing…

  • Lefty12

    back in my photography days.. the closest i came to working for free was taking a handful of photos in exchange for an ice cream sundae. it was really delicious .

  • Jim Banzai McClain JR

    I preflight my gear every week. Includes cards, batteries, spare lens and body, and then seal zipper with tape tag indicating last check date, etc.

    I also ensure my press badges, etc. are in the bag and ready to go in outer pouch, not on dresser or desk. When I go, I go.

    I have my b.s. cards in my wallet, aka business cards, being ret military, former cop, medic trained, aviator, diver, disabled vet, it lists all those things. It opens doors that are closed to others.

    I have a space blanket, small first aid pouch (from mates at base nearby), extra pair of glasses, throw a way phone just in case.
    I research the event and sometimes volunteer to work it or be the official photog.

    I am ready to go, no hesitation or backing out. No fear. And I will go on military time. Show up to an hour early. (wear working clothes as jeans and boots if outside event. I’ve shown up to shoot in weather while others had sport coats, etc. and weren’t taken as they weren’t seen as ‘experienced’. Other hand, I keep a set of clothes in bag in suv from formal to grunge.

    I will have extra cards to give to press guy who forgot, didn’t preflight, ran out with no hesitation or charge. Networking pays off later.
    As for the shoot. I contact event staff 2 weeks prior at least and get paperwork from them for access vs word of mouth or press pass.

    And, I always check the camera before shooting. Settings, power levels, etc.

    As in diving and aviation, it’s the basics that will kill you.

  • Nathan Blaney

    Yep, that’s about it!

  • wilmark johnatty

    I was expecting a hell of a lot more useful list.

  • Oana

    No #3 should not apply, as a photographer always uses Manual settings.

  • Charyl Idia

    thanks. thats actually helped.

  • hessu

    I have only had the memorycard problem, everything else is always checked out the night before the shoot. Actually, a protip which everyone should remember is to always bring a lot of AA batteries for your flashes. Shooting in daylight blows throught them like nobodys business.