Five Common Photo Mistakes

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Learning from the pros is always a great way to improve your skills. That's why we read books and watch videos, like the ones I highlighted in "Treasure Trove of Photo Tutorials." It's always instructive to see how the masters work and try to emulate them. But there's a lot to learn we can learn from the exact opposite--by studying the things that can go wrong.

This week, let's look at the five most common mistakes I see in everyday photography, and learn how to avoid them. And while you're at it, you might want to peek back at my recent "Getting Started in Digital Photography" for some more basic tips.

1. The Subject Is Underexposed

Underexposure--in which the subject is too dark and lacks detail--is the most common kind of exposure problem, usually because of a phenomenon called backlighting.

Consider how you generally frame a picture of someone: Often, you'll take a portrait with someone near a window or outdoors, with the bright sky in the background. Your camera measures the light in the scene and takes the picture, trying to get a good shot of all that light in the background. Unfortunately, that means the subject, who is not nearly as well lit as the background, gets underexposed.

There are a few ways to combat underexposure. You can avoid taking portraits in front of bright backgrounds, for instance. Another approach is to use your camera's exposure adjustment to overexpose the scene a little and add more light to your subject. If you want to really get fancy, try using your camera's spot meter mode to set the exposure based on the subject's face. For more tips on dealing with backlighting, see "Make the Best of Difficult Lighting."

2. The Photo Is Blurry

Blurry picture are the bane of every photographer. But diagnosing the problem isn't always easy, because there are many reasons for indistinct photos. For example, it's possible the image wasn't in focus, or that the shutter speed was too slow.

The solution to out-of-focus photos is to make sure the autofocus mechanism is locking in on the subject, not some other part of the scene. You could also switch to manual focus and set the focus by hand to the part of the picture that you want to emphasize.

The photo might also be blurry because the shutter speed is too slow to freeze the action. You can fix this by using Shutter Priority mode to control the shutter speed and increase the ISO, if necessary, to give the camera a faster shutter speed to work with.

3. The Subject Has Red Eyes

Ah, the old Zombie Eyes. Red eye almost always happens when you shoot in low-light conditions with a camera-mounted flash. The solution is to turn up the lights and turn off the flash. Shoot outdoors in daylight whenever possible. When you have to shoot indoors, make sure the camera's red-eye reduction mode is enabled. See "Avoid the Red Eye Effect" for all sorts of tips on avoiding this problem.

4. The Photo Is Too Cluttered

Novice photographers don't pay a lot of attention to the background. The more photos you take, however, the more developed your photographic eye will become. As you shoot more pictures you'll get a sense of how the foreground and background get compressed in photos: Busy scenes tend to look bad

Moving just a few feet to the left or right before you take a photo can make a lot of difference. If you can get a less cluttered background, you can better focus on the subject. Another important tip: Learn about the Rule of Thirds and practice it to help your viewers see the most important parts of your images.

5. The Photo Is Loaded With Gimmicks

Last but not least, let your photos speak for themselves. Don't embed the date and time in the corner of your image--it's distracting. As I love to remind you frequently, the date and time you took the photo is always available in the photo's metadata, easily viewed in any photo organizer.

And I'm not a huge fan of fancy frames and borders, either. Occasionally they can enhance a photo--and subtle effects like a light drop shadow (see "Make Photos Jump Off the Page With Drop Shadows") can be tasteful--but I'd caution you from adding graphical embellishments to your photos.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This Week's Hot Pic: "Sunset Leaves," by Vincent Mariano, Plantation, Florida

Vincent writes: "I was photographing a sunset when I accidentally put my lens out of focus. I liked what I saw, so I reframed the scene and took this photo." (Vincent used a Nikon D40.)

This Week's Runner-Up: "Daddy's Sunday Girl" by Peggy Laurel, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Peggy writes: "I captured this scene of a dad and his tiny daughter taking a much needed rest after spending Sunday afternoon at the Birmingham Zoo in Birmingham, Alabama."

To see last month's Hot Pics, visit our slide show. See all the Hot Pic of the Week photos online.

Have a digital photo question? Send me your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have Digital Focus e-mailed to you each week.

This story, "Five Common Photo Mistakes" was originally published by PCWorld.

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