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

  • wilmark johnatty

    You are right that this should not be one of the common problems. But many photographers use Av and Tv and AutoISO. I dont think that shooting in manual makes you a pro.

  • wilmark johnatty

    I think this is a terrible list so I’ll fix it!!
    1. Going on a set changing a lens and going for the shot and its dark – you didnt take the cap off – it happens especially if its a long lens (like the first image above, it happened in the 2012 Olympics it can happen to you).
    2. Going hurriedly to a scene and you take the camera and your memory card is left on the card reader on the computer, absolute bummer. Solution – always keep a smaller memory card somewhere where you’ll always get it.
    3. You dont take an extra battery for the camera or for your flash (in the day of cheap 64GB memory cards, its easier to run out of battery than memory card, Sorry petapixel)
    4. The day you leave the tripod home you decide its the day you need it.
    5. Going to shoot a critical event (like a wedding) with one body. (well not a mistake but a bad strategy)., or the wrong lens combinations. (Important for those who shoot weddings – not me)
    6. Choosing to go strapless on the wrong day and some kid at a sporting event hits a ball and strikes your 2000$ DSLR out of your hand. (Happened to me at a soccer match)
    7. Leaving your camera bag in plain view in your car with 6000$ worth of gear on the front seat in the mall carpark. Bad idea. The good – the cost of changing the broken window is alot cheaper than your gear. Solution – put your cam equipment out of sight – take it with you or put it in the trunk.

  • Ivor Wilson

    /hopes you’re not being serious

  • akaawol

    Nice post, I’ll be sure to keep these in mind.

  • Sky

    Just think how often your parents are using PC and how often you are using your PC. Especially in terms of HDD usage.

  • Alex

    I would add #8 Shooting with wrong ISO…

    Happend to me and all of my Photographer Friends… Shot at High ISO at Night. Forgot to check it the next day. Shot a couple of good Photos on High ISO by Day before realizing it…

  • DafOwen

    Have had 2 fail due to use. (PC has been moved occasionally but not just prior to fault)
    Think they were about 3 and 6 years use.

  • Dave

    Because what you mention is so easy to do, I have a routine to check all of my main settings whenever I begin a new session of shooting. I STILL miss a setting or so now and then and get burned.

  • Dave

    After seeing the photo at the top of this article I thought for sure one of the mistakes that would be mentioned would be holding the camera like an amateur. With this new crop of beginning photographers that have flooded the scene, you can pick out the inexperienced ones just by how they hold a camera. Focusing a lens overhand like that, instead of cradling the lens and supporting the weight of the lens, instantly outs you as a beginner.

  • Alex

    I also check my settings everytime… But as I said… Sometimes you forget to check it…

  • Lief

    It’s always at the beginning but I still forget the lens cap, actually use it as an ice breaker… Pretty harmless fun, if your ego can handle it…

  • Zhemin

    I use my breath to cleaning my Summicron and sometimes spit on my shirt if my lens is very dirty, no problem thus far, I dont see the point of babying your gear so much, just use it and stop worrying so much.

  • Hope

    I have done nearly all of these (Including the opening photo LOL) I will never forget my #5 moment, although it was in 1993 with a film camera. Our high school was hosting a professional acting company to perform “The Diary of Anne Frank.” They had given us permission to photograph the performance and my drama club had appointed me to take the pictures. I was so thrilled! I was clicking away, enthralled with the performance and my task. I realized I had hit the “36” mark and was still clicking. Something was not right. I stopped and realized there was no film in my camera. Needless to say I got a bit chewed out by my drama club and was completely mortified!

  • Ranger 9

    #1: I never work for free, but I usually work for no money. There’s a difference. As long as you feel you’re doing something worthwhile, it’s not “free,” even if no money changes hands.

    #2: Being afraid is better than being a jerk. I’m still haunted by a time when I was photographing some kids laying sandbags to protect against a flood, and one of them said, “Why don’t you put the camera down and help us?” I didn’t; I should have.

  • Ranger 9

    Mistake #8: Wasting your time reading the comments in photo forums. Yeah, I admit I’m part of the problem, but…

  • Kiriako Iatridis Photography

    There is nothing wrong with breathing on your lens

  • Lukas Prochazka

    the number one i think is question of character…money is not everything…i would never make my brother pay me or friends…idk it is just ridiculous for me, its like you are pro and you cant just take picture you are too good for it to do it free…

  • Kiriako Iatridis Photography

    you both must live in some sort of utopia… in a two month span I lost 2 MacBook Pros …one to a coligue spilling his beer on it. and after his insurance replaced that one, the replacement was stollen from my car within 2 weeks of getting it. ….over the past 7 years of my career as a photographer, I’ve also had multiple external and internal hard drives corrupt on me and loosing everything on them. but I learned my lesson after the first time it happened, and since became an anal backup nazi.

    …my point being, just because it hasn’t happened to you yet, doesn’t mean it wont.

  • Don Tusk

    “If you are good at something never do it for free”

  • Martin Lillepuu

    just use crashplan or time machine for backing up. they will complain until you plug in the external hard drive and be done with it

  • wilmark johnatty

    I Posted a very cool list that I think is better than Petapixel’s. I see – its waiting moderation. Next time ill think twice about posting thoughtful comments.

  • Shivas

    How about holding your camera the wrong way. The model used at the top of this is a good example. His left hand should be under the camera lens as it adds to support and steadiness. It only takes two fingers to zoom or focus, the rest of the hand can be used for support. This is a typical amateur mistake.

  • Rudy Torres

    Most charities are driven by vanity not altruism. The business of charity is well funded. I raise my rates for charity not cut or forgo them.

  • Rudy Torres

    Everyone loves having a photographer for a friend, if they respected you and your craft they would pay you.

  • Jared Monkman

    That’s a blanket statement if I’ve heard one. Maybe you live in a cynical place, but the charities I deal with are in it for the cause. You just gotta pick your battles. Working for free isn’t the end of the world.

  • Jared Monkman

    Seems to me like you lost 2 macbooks to carelessness.. but I see your point. I’ve lost a couple hard drives, both to power spikes, and I final caved and bought a power surge protector.

  • wifiwaves

    I’m a professional construction detail photographer. I bring more to the job than cameras. I bring knowledge of the construction process, and what is important to document in that process. THAT is what my clients pay me for…

    Bring something more to the job than a camera…be more than a ‘button pusher’.

  • nikonian

    #7 Wasnt a mistake…

  • No, not really.

    Not me, man. I’m aw3some and never make these dumbass errors.

  • Antonio Carrasco

    the work for free issue is kinda the most important issue in the photo industry at this point.

  • Antonio Carrasco

    nah, he’s right. Here in Hollywood it’s appalling what you will see in the name of “charity”

  • mermaldad

    “Excuse me, sir, could you take our picture? Here’s my camera. You just push this…”
    “No problem, I’m a professional photographer. I think I can figure it out. Okay, move in a little closer. Lift your chin just a little and smile.” Click!
    “Thank you very…”
    “That will be $49.95.”
    “That will be $49.95. It’s the sitting fee for your photo. I told you, I’m a professional photographer. Oh, and the photo, well, since I’m the one who took the photo, I hold the copyright to it. If you want to make any prints, or share it online, you’ll need to pay me a royalty. Fortunately, I have a contract right here…”

  • Sid Ceaser

    I know the Fear thing all too well.

  • Sydney Chandler

    MacBook Pro is welded. No screws, keyboard isolated from the hard drive area, thus spills (mine was a Hansen’s soda)do not get into you inner workings. Had this happen and spray cleaned the keyboard with warm distilled water, used q-tips and a hair dryer to dry it out, repeated the process 3-4 times and all is well. :-)

  • Sydney Chandler

    Look it up. You’re taking a huge risk. And I am amazed at how unaware you are concerning the importance of backing up your work. A Sony laptop is not invincible. What you are not doing is ludicrous. Your work is evidently not that important to you.

  • Sydney Chandler

    Good advice Abacus. He’s not getting it.

  • Sydney Chandler

    I cleaned up my MacBook Pro keyboard after spilling a soda on it. Spray bottle of warm distilled water, q-tips and a hair dryer. Still working just fine.

  • Adam Cross

    (I was being sarcastic), and you may think I’m taking a huge risk – but then it’s my risk to take, glad to see you’re so worried for me, though!

  • Adam Cross

    of course I get it, I just have better things to spend my money on at the moment – food, for example.

  • Adam Cross

    or you could just not be careless enough to spill things on expensive equipment? that would work better than distilled water.

  • dsadsads

    i only do 2 of them….. you are wrong.

  • Sydney Chandler

    You’re right. However accidents happen. And distiller water worked. I can’t believe I did that as I am very meticulous where my equipment is concerned.

  • Sydney Chandler

    Hard to tell with the written word when someone is being sarcastic. :-)

  • Adam

    Wow, it took this long for the film snob to chime in. Thanks dude.

    For the record: my 120 MF kit doesn’t use batteries. Not a one. But I don’t go around bragging about it on a digital photography blog. I do, however, keep my batteries for my digital SLRs charged and ready to go. because I’m smart, and not a douche.

  • Rabi Abonour

    Non-profits rarely have money to spend on media. Think of work for them as charitable donation. Do it for free and build up a portfolio, then go to commercial clients asking for money. The beauty of photography is that you can make a portfolio commercial clients will notice without taking on commercial work.

  • Rabi Abonour

    I consider myself to be a very competent photographer, but I’d be lying if I said I never run into this one…

  • Rabi Abonour

    That’s not the point. Obviously you can take pictures for friends and family for free. But taking commercial work for free just devalues yourself.

  • Rabi Abonour

    Can’t upvote this enough. This reminds me of the post here about passport photogs losing work. Being able to operate a camera is not enough to make it as a photographer in the age of digital photography. You have to add value. Pushing the button should only be a small part of what you do.

  • AbstractRealist

    I’d definitely add that one too… extra batteries, an extra flash, extra lenses, etc.

  • AbstractRealist

    One of my biggest paying jobs so far was a charitable organization. 8o)