The Mistakes Every Beginner Photographer Makes

January 7, 2021

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re going to make a few mistakes at the beginning of your photography career. You just will! Take it from someone who has made *plenty* (almost daily) over 10 years of growing and running my business—it doesn’t matter how skilled or passionate you are, you’ll […]

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I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re going to make a few mistakes at the beginning of your photography career. You just will! Take it from someone who has made *plenty* (almost daily) over 10 years of growing and running my business—it doesn’t matter how skilled or passionate you are, you’ll experience hiccups and bumps in the road.

But, that’s not to say you can’t be informed and prepared to handle mistakes well and move through them as smoothly and quickly as possible! In fact, I totally believe that the more well-informed you are, the lower your chances of making (and repeating) several common mistakes beginner photogs make on the reg. And if you do experience them? You’ll have a better idea of how to pick up the pieces and fix the issue rather than feeling shocked and blindsided that it happened to you.

So, while I don’t want to go all ~doomsday~ on you, I do think there’s a perk to understanding potential risks and what to do to avoid them. And today? We’re going to walk through some of the most common for early-stage photographers, and how to embrace their solutions. 

1. Failing to back up your files.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a 30-minute mini-session or a 10-hour wedding day, you have to, have to, have to back up your files immediately after a shoot. Digital photography is FABULOUS for so many reasons… but it has its downsides, and I’ve heard a few too many horror stories about photographers getting home from a long session to find a whopping zero photos on their memory card.

You can invest in cloud storage or external hard drives that allow you to save images right after you take them. Actually, I’d recommend considering two places to save them, just in case (like two hard drives, or a hard drive and the cloud). Trust me, it’s worth it! When your business is built on photos and client experience, you don’t want to risk both by not being prepared for the worst. Save, save, and save again.

2. Centering your clients in every image.

There’s a lot to think about when you’re photographing your clients: lighting, posing, their surroundings, and beyond. So it can be easy to accidentally point and snap them smack-dab in the middle of the frame in every single image. Don’t forget about the rule of thirds, though! You want them to be the main feature of the image, but that doesn’t mean they need to be front and center in every photo.

Breaking the frame up into thirds and playing with where your client appears within the frame will create more diversity in your images, as well as more opportunities to play with light and the surrounding environment.

3. The tree-in-head snafu.

Even if you prefer your clients to do more of their own thing in front of the camera rather than strict or controlled poses, you’ll still want to guide and direct them based on what’s around them. There’s nothing worse than *thinking* you got the magic shot, and then getting home to edit only to find a tree or light pole appears to be sticking straight out of your subject’s head. Whoops.

On that same note, make sure the surroundings aren’t taking away from your client in other ways, too. You can be shooting on a gorgeous beach or stunning mountains, but be sure to avoid overly distracting backgrounds like big crowds, busy-looking decor, or crazy-stunning scenery that takes away from your client’s personality and beauty! Remember, these images are about THEM—the environment should always reflect that, not distract or take away from it.

4. Using the same settings for every shoot.

I remember when I bought my first camera kit from Costco 10 years ago and felt like I was learning a new language with all the different buttons and settings. I quickly discovered that the smallest tweaks can greatly impact an image, and I dove head-first into tons of YouTube videos to learn the simplest way to use my camera well and take gorgeous photos.

Yet, I know in the beginning that it’s tempting to learn a few settings that seem to work well, and assuming those will work well every time you shoot. Not so, my friend. So many factors impact the settings that you need to adjust on your camera: the weather, the lighting, the colors, the distance between you and the clients, the movement. And so. much. More.

Really dig into all of the different features and invest your time into soaking up different tutorials, tips, and how-tos. It’ll be worth it for your confidence, and the practice will make it feel so much simpler and even second-nature in the long run.

5. Forgetting to turn your camera.

This might seem silly… but turn the dang camera! Horizontal shots are amazing and all, but just like you want diversity in where you place your clients, you also want diversity in the shape of the image (i.e., vertical vs. horizontal). 

On that note, try to always take as straight of photos as possible, without chopping off feet or getting funky angles (like where it looks like a subject is floating rather than standing on a hill). Editing can save you sometimes—for example, with a slightly crooked photo that needs straightening—but you’ll save tons of time on your edits if you can snap a straight, clean photo from the start.


6. Do. Not. Panic.

Trust me, I have had my fair share of kids melting down, or light just not working with me, or rain coming out of NOwhere. Issues will arise in your sessions all the time, but it’s better to be prepared and breathe through it than to freak out.

Come with reflectors or additional lighting if you know you’ll be shooting indoors somewhere with limited windows or natural light. Bring ideas for how to cheer up kiddos who just aren’t having it (hint: making a game of things and finding ways to make them laugh goes a LONG way).

And if worse comes to worse, I’d rather reschedule a shoot if I know that the weather or lighting might not cooperate than try to power through. Your clients will appreciate your commitment to your craft, as well as the beautiful images that rescheduling a session will allow for!

Above everything else, just know that mistakes happen. You’re human, and no matter how prepared, skilled, and passionate you are about photography, it’s also totally expected to come across “oops” moments! Just roll with them as much as you can, learn from them, and move on as quickly as possible with as much transparency as possible. You’ll make fewer mistakes over time as you gain more experience and confidence, and each and every misstep will end up being worth the learning opportunity they bring!

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I’m Jillian Goulding, a photographer and educator raising babies and building my life in Sacramento, CA.

Over the years, I’ve transformed my side hustle into a thriving photography business that has taken me and my camera to the beaches of San Francisco Bay, the pages of People Magazine, and the screens of Extra TV.

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