Whenever I teach, I get a lot of requests to review images. Over time, I’ve started to notice that a majority of the mistakes I see come from the same small group of errors that are repeated constantly, particularly by less experienced photographers.
Please keep in mind that all of these common mistakes can also be advantages when done well and with purpose. This article is not about those times, but is an observation about how often I see them done the wrong way. As a photographer, you need to build the right foundation of skills before you can successfully veer away from them.
The Most Common Technical Mistakes
Chinatown at Night, NYC. Subtle but strong and natural colors.
1. Colors are too strong or unrealistic
Unrealistic and strong colors are often a fantastic creative choice. However there is a noticeable difference between when it is done purposely due to experience, and when it is done through lack of knowing any better or poor color management.
The first thing you need is a good monitor that is color calibrated. Without this, you are working on your images blind. I see photographers share images that look good to them on their screen, but they look off to everyone else. This is because their screen is the problem. How can you retouch an image if you can’t see the true colors or tones?
There is also a common tendency of newer photographers to try to make their photographs look like paintings. Once again, this can be done well, but the way I usually see it done is where people raise the saturation slider way too far. It may make the colors stand out more on a monitor and be more noticeable as a thumbnail in Facebook, but it just makes the image look fake. In a print, the colors will end up even more extreme than they do on a monitor. When you print images with natural and subtle colors those colors will look incredible and much stronger than you think. This look can sometimes be hard to notice on the monitor.
Instead of raising the saturation slider, find images where the natural colors in the scene are already strong. Find a subject that is a bright color surrounded by muted tones. Shoot at the golden hour to let the colors naturally gain strength. Instead of raising the saturation slider if you want the image to feel like a painting, overlay a specific color onto the image. Or try creating a moody image with subtle and natural color, print it out, put it on your wall, and shine some light on it and you will see how powerful that subtle color can be. That can feel like a painting too.