questionshow do i avoid rookie mistakes when taking…

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No selfies.

Also in your free time you could always take a course with your own camera so that you are comfortable with all the manual settings.

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Don't throw in a flash bang grenade before entering a room unless your subjects are heavily armed. Accurately aimed gun fire will inhibit good photography and should be actively discouraged.

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Here's a couple pages dedicated to common mistakes.

http://www.expertphotography.com/10-embarrassing-mistakes-i-made-as-a-beginner-photographer/

http://www.picturecorrect.com/tips/top-10-mistakes-of-beginning-photographers/

http://nikon-newbie.blogspot.com/2011/12/20-photography-mistakes-im-happy-to.html

In my personal experience, I can offer one suggestion. Take as many pictures as you possibly can of the subject at different times and angles. You would be surprised when you go back to review those pictures what subtle differences there are. If taking pictures of people, differences in facial expressions can make the difference between a horrible picture and an awesome one. You cannot tell if it's a good picture by looking at the LCD screen. You need to import it into your computer and view it at native resolution.

Use a tripod if you can. It will reduce some blur from you shaking the camera unless you use a fast shutter speed and an image stabilized lens.

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In short, the only real way to avoid rookie mistakes is practice. Lots of it. :)

Obvious things to avoid: always centering your subject (learn when to use the rule of thirds to make things look a little nicer); not understanding exposure (how shutter speed, ISO, and f-stop all combine for the shot you want); thinking the gear makes the photo (good gear will take good photos, but it will also take bad photos. Master photography, not photography gear)

Those are the basics. Photography's about sharing your view of things. Examine, first, WHY you want to take a picture of something, then understand what's important about that picture when you show it to others, THEN take the picture. Over and over and over. Get creative, but don't lose sight of the reason for the shot (i.e. are you taking pics of your niece's birthday? Then it probably doesn't need to be professionally lit and bizarro artsy).

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I am not an expert but by experience with having children I have learned:
do not use flash with great distance
low light use sport settings
in gyms change the white balance and take sample
check if in sports take sample pictures and modify camera settings
take unexpected huddle, group, dugout, bench type pictures
group photos, rapid fire pictures, but then take 2 more with flash in case of raccoon eyes
take a few pictures of the warm up, relaxed smiling swings/shots/jogs/serves
learn the delay of your camera

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Poke around kenrockwell.com - I am also new to photography and have found his commentary to be useful and easy to digest.

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Take lots and lots of pictures. Storage is cheap nowadays for most photo takers, unless you're trying to stick with film (hint: don't as a beginner)

You aren't going to be published in National Geographic by using the quantity over quality approach, but you WILL get a few gems in there.

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I always remember a quote from Joe Rosenfeld, the AP photographer famous for (among others) the picture of the Marines raising the flag on Mt. Surabachi:

"If your pictures aren't very good you are too far away from your subject"

What is the subject of your picture, and how much of the frame is contains the subject? Aside from the above (take lots of pictures) when I'm framing the shot I'm asking myself "what am I trying to show here?" Often that helps improve the shot. And, along those lines, landscapes and scenery are the hardest to shoot, because it is very difficult to show what you want to, so I would save those until I'm good at everything else.

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@ki4rxm: What's wrong with duck faces? Here's one I took on Saturday.

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This isn't sophisticated advice, it's just hobby travel photo tips, but it has helped people I know. This one seems obvious but a lot of people don't know it -when shooting through glass do not use the flash. I was taking photos just after sunset from the top of Sydney Tower and I had to keep waiting for these people's flash to clear so I could take my shots. I finally got them to look at my flip screen and see the photos I was taking without the flash to convince them to quit it. Press the lens right up against the glass and it will become invisible to the camera. This works well in aquariums and glass submarines. I carry an alcohol wipe in my camera bag to wipe fingerprints off glass I'll be shooting through. Also, lower the camera when shooting live subjects near you. People and animals usually look better shot from about their sternum height.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/20261001@N08/5046734694/in/set-72157626799029848/lightbox/

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Beware of reflective surfaces when taking pictures in the nude.

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@moondrake: One of my photography lessons focused specifically on taking pictures through glass and using a flash is appropriate in many cases.

A good example is if you have a subject in front of the window and you want both the outside and inside subjects to be exposed correctly. First, you do an exposure lock on the outside and use a flash fill to expose the indoor subject. Do it on an angle so the flash doesn't reflect back at you and show hotspots on the window. The flash will not be bright enough to have any effect on the outside lighting but will make a drastic improvement on the closer indoor objects.

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Avoid using built-in flash on any camera. If you use a built-in flash, make sure you're at least 6 feet away from your subject. With add-on flash, you have the choice of aiming/bouncing your flash.

Don't put the subject in the center of the frame - learn the rule of 3rds as a starting point. If there's motion or a turned head, leave space in the picture in the direction of motion.

Take as many pictures as you can. Just try all the angles. What's hard is learning how many ways you can break convention successfully and how many variations you can achieve. There's a big difference between zooming and just moving the camera closer - most importantly, it can affect the depth of field (how much of the foreground/background is in focus). Take pictures of a subject from the ground, from high above. Think about silhouettes, prevailing shapes in the frame, shadows.

Look at other people's photos. Some shots by my sister in law:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/124580185621/photos/

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I agree with "take a lot of pictures".
I have only a few good pictures [url] http://thormj.dreamhosters.com/GoodPics/ [url] out of over 4000 so far...

Reading Popular Photography provides some insights as long as you can keep "camera envy" at bay.

The other unfortunate bit about composition for me is that I seem to be drawn to panoramas... terrible to print and not very pleasing in an arrangement, so ymmv. The largest "issue" with a panorama is that you need to focus on keeping the photo interesting and not letting the "whoa - it's a panorama" cloud you judgement.

If you have SLR, you can do nice depth-of-field things that pocket cameras struggle with. Shoot in good light so you can have a low F-Stop, make yourself much closer to your subject than the background and you can throw the background out of focus. Otherwise, make sure the background doesn't create a "tree growing from the head".

Next post for lighting...

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The best tips on lighting I have:
1. Don't use the flash. Don't use it yet -- the flash-on-the-camera tends to make terrible pictures because it's "right at the subject" instead of being bounced in a creative way. If you've gotta use a flash, use a piece of paper (bonus if it's a pink post-it -- that "warms" the subject a bit) to bounce it towards the ceiling.

2. If you can set white balance, the WhiBal [url]http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/controller/home?O=&sku=768395 [/url] is a godsend. The "auto white" in cameras doesn't work nearly as well as a true reference. If the camer doesn't have a manual white balance, shoot with a whibal in the same light and use picasa or something to "set the white balance." If you want "warmer", put a pale blue cellophane over the whibal.

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3. Get a set of reflectors (or a white / gold sheet) and bounce light from below the subject to lighten up faces. Flash fill is usually to powerful (and most cameras don't give adequate control of the flash).

4. Look into video lights. One of the great things about video lights (LEDs are great because the don't melt your subjects like old-skool lights) is that you can see the results [somewhat] in the viewfinder before the shot is taken.

5. Remember what I said about "Camera Envy"? After you get a ways in, I think that better gear starts making a lot of sense -- in the lighting arena, you get much better capabilities if you use better gear (my EPL1's stock lens only goes to F/4 -- not so good for indoor use)... and you'll spend more money on lenses than the camera over time, so look for an upgrade path.

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To address some previous comments:
Yes, you can use flash when shooting through glass but it is complicated and is an important thing to learn but when first starting out, you will want to avoid it until you get the hang of it.
On-camera flashes can be useful so do not avoid it. However, an off body flash is MUCH better and is a very worthwhile investment.
Yes, do take a lot of photos. In this digital world storage is cheap and you are not wasting any money on developing film any more so go ahead and shoot and shoot... Experience is a really great teacher. Make sure you go back and look at your photos, pay attention to the settings in the EXIF (Note: also learn how to read the EXIF data) to see what worked and what did not.

Everything else appears to have been covered already except for two of my pet peeves. When you are more than ~15 yards away with an off body flash (~5 with on body) don't even bother with a flash. Never put people against a wall. You arent a firing squad.

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On special capabilities (eg, sweeping panoramic, etc) -- worry about those later. And remember your PC has tons more power than the camera (eg, for panoramas I use Autostitch -- not limited to 1x3 panoramas [my toronto nightscape is 20x4 wide), so chances are if you want to do something really special, you ought to use the camera "for the picture only" anyway.

OTOH, I've been having a lot of fun with my DSLR EPL1 using video... normal "video cameras" have small lenses, so they're not good about throwing the background out of focus. Used to be, that was something "the pros can do, but you cant", and nowadays... DSLRs are impressive and the pros use them too for their portability.

So... I don't know why my composition is ok, and I'm exploring lighting, but got sidetracked by video....
And I'll second the KenRockwell site. And third it.

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Oh wanted to add one more thing. Pay attention to the subject of your photo. One of my favourite places for lunch has a picture of the owners dog up on the wall, at least I think that is their intention. In reality it is a picture of a driveway that happens to have two dogs in it. The point here is if you are photographing the dogs make them central to the composition of the photo. Fill your frame with them, not with a lot of distractions that do not contribute to your intent. The photo I mentioned is probably 90% driveway and 10% dogs where it should be the inverse of that. I see this type of shot quite frequently with beginners.
One thing I learned from a photography instructor quite a few years ago: If you are shooting something and are concentrated on what is in front of you, take a minute to look around and see what else is happening. One of my favourite shots was when I was shooting a sunrise in Hawaii, turned around and snapped one of a couple snuggled up in a blanket.

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Oh - and some simple gear oddities I've discovered:

A. Little Mentos Tubes & Large Tictac boxes make great SD Card holders. I use a Green one for "empty cards" and a Red (strawberry) one for "full cards" (~45 minutes of video fills up an 8 GB card).

B. The EyeFi stuff is awesome (get the ProX2's -- they're much faster than the other ones)... but syncing video over wifi is too tedious.

C. You can never have too many batteries. Seriously.

D. Video without a tripod is usually a mistake. Check the "stabilization" before you believe it will work (EPL1 / Kodak - no good. Lumix - Passable.)... small beanbags or "stress balloons with sand in them" work well in a pinch.

E. Postprocessing for video is tedious... it takes me ~4 hours to "produce" a 2 hour baseball game. Erf.

F. Back up your computer really. The drive will die, and will take your photographs with it...

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These are super helpful regarding the technical aspects of photography. I'm pretty good with shutter speed, ISO, aperture and line, form, color, and shape. But, all the knowledge in the world do not protect a person against bad taste!

I, for one, am sick of pictures of women touching trees. Sorry, but women don't hang out in forests, molesting the vegetation, with coy, shy, or longing expressions. Unless she is a nymph. In which case, I'm pretty impressed you got a picture in the first place.

Also sick of the cherry/apple tree, shot from underneath, with a sun flare, against a blue sky. Total clichee.

What other subjects do you find tired?

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Now that you have lots of photo tips, let me answer your very first question. Yes, it's too soon, and it's not funny.

If you're going to criticize your students for their peculiar capitalization habits, I hope you use a spell checker and review your grammar before writing comments on their papers.

And keep your kids off my lawn!

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Be aware of the background. For example, a great picture of the family can be ruined if there is a cell phone tower in the background, poking out from behind someone's head.

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@magic cave: I did not understand what you were so upset about until I just saw the question by rayray about human trafficking and I swear to you it did not occur to me that my joke was in the same vein. I thought it was about the Fritzl case (not that that's much better). I recognize my error and I am asking mods to delete it. I do feel as though there are nicer ways to bring this up, but point taken. The comment put me on the defensive instead of helping me to understand where I went wrong. I would have requested that this be taken down sooner if I understood why, rather than simply getting defensive.

As for my questionable grammar, I draw a distinction between online message forums and student papers submitted for a grade. But I do recognize the irony.