Three mistakes all beginner portrait photographers make, and how to fix them

Nov 28, 2017

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Three mistakes all beginner portrait photographers make, and how to fix them

Nov 28, 2017

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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We all make mistakes in the process of learning. But some mistakes are more common than the others, and there’s probably no photographer who hasn’t made them at some point. Sheldon Evans talks about three most common mistakes beginner portrait photographers make. What’s more, they even slip from time to time even when you have more experience. But in addition to talking about the mistakes, Sheldon also talks about the ways to avoid them and improve your photography.

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It’s important to note that these aren’t rules carved in stone. You’re free to experiment and see what works for you since every photo is different. These are mere guidelines, but in many cases, they could make your photos more visually appealing and balanced.

1.Forgetting the background check

This doesn’t apply to checking if your model has a criminal background (although you can do this as well). It’s about checking the background before taking the shots. You should avoid the lines that intersect with your subject’s head and body. They can be distracting and look like they’re splitting the model.

I often forget about this when I take photos in a forest. So, I still sometimes end up with “trees growing out of someone’s head” before I realize what I’m doing:

To avoid this mistake, try moving around and finding a different angle. Another solution is to use a wide aperture and blur out the background. Or, you can use the lines to your advantage and incorporate them into the shots. They can become elements of composition, or create “a frame within a frame.”

2. Not enough “breathing room”

When your subject is facing one edge of the frame and they’re placed too close to this edge, it can make the photo look “boxed in” and claustrophobic. Sheldon explains that this is because the viewers don’t know what’s outside the frame, so the edge acts kinda like the barrier between the image and the exterior. Another problem is the opposite – leaving too much headroom for the subject.

Avoiding these mistakes calls for recomposing the shots. You should recompose them and give your subjects more space when they’re facing the edge of the frame. Or if you left too much headspace, you can also recompose the shot or crop it in post to give the image more balance.

3. Amputations

When photographing people, avoid cropping the frame at their joints. This suggestion leans onto the previous one: the viewer doesn’t know what’s outside of the frame. So, for example, if you crop someone’s hands at the joints, the viewer needs to conclude whether or not there are hands outside of the image. I made this mistake with one of my favorite portraits. My friend Milica Vujicic and I were taking photos of each other, and in the midst of playing and having fun, I didn’t pay attention to proper composition. So, her hands ended up being cropped (I still love this image of her, though):

If you are cropping the images, you can play safe and crop in the areas between joints or mid-abdomen. You can also shoot wider and include more of the subject within a frame. When taking headshots, include the subject’s shoulders in the image, so the person doesn’t look like a floating head. Also, don’t crop too far down on their forehead.

Sheldon points out to take everything he said with a grain of salt, and just go out, shoot and practice. And although I’m always up for breaking the rules when it comes to art, remember – you need to know the rules before you start breaking them.

[3 BEGINNER MISTAKES Photographers Make – PLUS How to Fix Them!| Sheldon Evans]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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10 responses to “Three mistakes all beginner portrait photographers make, and how to fix them”

  1. Duncan Knifton Avatar
    Duncan Knifton

    mistakes…or personal choice? ;)

    1. Edoardo Avatar
      Edoardo

      mistakes.

    2. Timothyf7 Avatar
      Timothyf7

      You don’t have to follow rules. It is your own decision. If you like what you shot – that is fine… If you want others to like what you shot – keep rules in mind!

  2. Joni Dalia Avatar
    Joni Dalia

    The joy of photography is making plenty of mistakes, the so called rules gives us the room to experiment with them and find out something about ourselves and in the process of time improve our life and craft.

  3. Tym Kucharski Avatar
    Tym Kucharski

    Make more of them mistakes. Create your own rules and style.

    1. Leo Falcon Avatar
      Leo Falcon

      That usually works once you know the rules and how to apply them. Even Picasso knew how to paint “realistically” before going full nuts. Rules are made for a reason, they work and are a safe zone for training and getting better.

  4. Kriztoper Avatar
    Kriztoper

    “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
    ― Thomas A. Edison

  5. Fernando Adrian Avatar
    Fernando Adrian

    very useful, this explain a lot of things when I see some of my photos that dont ended up liking me. I often see my past work and realize the mistakes I done.

  6. Mark Niebauer Avatar
    Mark Niebauer

    Dont get a woody if your model is HOT! lol

  7. Gabriel GORGI Avatar
    Gabriel GORGI

    I find that the breathing room has an incredible effect