I’ve been receiving emails asking for more Beginning Photography articles and videos. This is one of the first articles I wrote for my old website. Basic stuff but important!

While teaching photography over the years, I’ve seen people make the same mistakes over and over. Surprisingly, many of the mistakes are easily corrected. Today we’re going to talk about three common mistakes and how to fix them.

Straighten That Horizon


A Nice Picture Ruined By The Crooked Horizon


This is my personal biggest pet peeve. Over and over I’ve seen what could have been a great landscape picture ruined because the horizon was crooked. Actually, it isn’t a problem relegated to landscape photographers as I’ve seen wedding pictures where the altar was not level or the wedding party looked like they were standing on a hill.

Years ago when there wasn’t any such thing as a digital camera and bokeh wasn’t even a word, I decided to take a bunch of my slides and mail them to a stock photo agency — yes our photographs were taken with slide film and we actually mailed them at the post office to the agency. As I recall, I sent 50 of them with the idea that I was going to be rich and famous. 47 were returned to me with the terse note, “Reshoot, straighten horizon”. Ever since then I’ve been a stickler for making sure that the horizon is straight before I squeeze the shutter.

Today, there really isn’t a viable excuse for a cockeyed picture because it’s so easy to correct in post. But, why not shoot it level to begin with? When framing a shot, push your eye deep into the rubber cup surrounding the viewfinder and look over the entire scene from the extreme left to the extreme right. Don’t squeeze the shutter until you’re sure that the horizon, ground or alter is perfectly level.

When using a tripod, get one of these:

Hot Shoe Level
Click on image to buy

It’s a simple bubble level that slides onto the hot shoe of your DSLR and with it you can make sure that while using your camera on a tripod, that it’s perfectly level with the ground.

So take that extra second to make sure that the horizon is level. If you still make a mistake, straighten it in post processing. Doing that one simple thing will improve your photography and save you from getting a terse note like I did.

Make Sure The Eyes Are SHARP

The Pin Sharp Eye On This Cinereous Vulture Makes the Photo


This one is actually very easy but many photographers don’t bother doing this. In normal photographs, the most important part of the subject — it doesn’t matter if the subject is a human or an animal — the most important part of the subject that must be in pin sharp focus are the eyes. Look at great photographs in National Geographic and you’ll quickly notice that the eyes are super sharp. It might be an elephant or a snake or a human being. The eyes are the sharpest part of the picture so take care to make sure they’re the sharpest part of your picture as well.

Use spot focus and place it over the eye nearest to you then hold the shutter half way to achieve focus. Once focus is achieved, keep squeezing the shutter half way down while you recompose your shot then push the shutter down the rest of the way to take the picture. You’ll be amazed at how much your portraits will improve doing that one simple thing.

Shoot What You Love


While the first two things to do to improve your photography were technical, this one is more emotional. Too many times I’ve seen photographers trying to be something they’re not. I was one of those photographers — for a few years I was a wedding photographer. I hated it! I loved photography but hated taking pictures of people’s weddings. Tons of pressure with so many people relaying on you. I didn’t like it and suddenly photography went from being my passion, to being my job, and I didn’t like taking pictures.

If you like wedding photography, by all means do it. If you like landscapes or abstract or iPhone photography, by all means, do what you love. Don’t make yourself do a type of photography that you don’t enjoy because you’re a “Photographer”. The quality of your work will suffer and it won’t take long until you lose interest.

Follow your passion and ENJOY it. Your photography will reflect your passion.

That’s it! Three things that are simple and easy to accomplish. If you take care to do these three things your photography will improve dramatically.