Photo DOs And DON'Ts

Written by Mihajlo Filipovic |

Maybe this would be of help to newcomers in photography.

Photography is best described as a Language Of Light. We take photos to comment upon our World, or at least a part of it, by giving the viewers an insight into our way of seeing it.  These comments are therefore much more about us, the authors of photos, than about the scene we have framed in our photographed views.

The process of taking a photo (the DO part) goes perhaps as follows:

I see something which appears interesting within everything that surrounds me at some given time and place. It can be the whole, which I’d try to gather in a panorama, or it can be just a part which fits the angle of my lens… or it can be something minuscule, a small detail that triggered my interest. In all cases, there is this wish to collect that visual aspect of the timeplace, and there is this camera with its available technical potential. Almost always there will be more than one choice, but we only take one photo at a time.

I remember the reason for taking that picture. The very first thought activated by what I saw should be remembered, since it will determine the way of picture acquiring. Within this impulsive thought there may also reside the image title that I want to use for that image.

I study the object of my interest, noticing its shapes, its shadows, its texture, the kind of light it appears in…  and whenever possible, I try also to see it from other angles, other POV’s (points-of-view) so to also take some alternative pictures. It will help me choose the approach to this particular theme, and to arrange the camera settings to record what I see in the way I think of it, and as correctly as can be done. A photo has to be well-taken; post-process is mainly for corrections.

Now,  the books dealing with how to take correct photos are so plentiful that there really is no need to describe the actual photo-taking.  What is not so abundant is how to form the way of thinking about it. The technical part of photo-taking is readily available in User Manuals, and one should read those with care and concentration, possibly more than once. Every camera nowadays can do much more than snap off a shot at its Auto setting, and photographers should not dismiss all the other valuable info by thinking “it can do everything by itself, mine is to point and press the trigger”.

So we come to the DON’T part, and it may be of even greater importance. What should not be done?

Well, photos should not be just snapped in the “off-the-hip” manner, thinking “something will remain” or, God forbid, “my camera will do it correctly – it says so in the advertising”!

True, some photos at some moments will be shot in the gunslinger's fashion, but only if there is no other way to react. These moments are pretty rare. So, anticipation and readiness also appear to be an important part of photographer’s thinking. But in absolutely no cases will a photo taken that way be exempt from some post-process corrections.

Some people seem to think, “only out-of-camera photos are genuine, all post-processed images are manipulated and thus falsificates”. Is it really so? Do not forget that your camera has been pre-programmed. What arrives to the memory card has been very much processed in the analog-to-digital route between the sensor data and the final file! In other words, there are no “genuine” pictures on any memory card anywhere. And this programming goes all the way from lens construction, type, coatings, shutter type and speed, aperture setting, to sensitivity setting, etcetera… Thus, what you see and what the camera gets differs a lot.

The long and short of it is, every image needs post-processing corrections, and there is rarely an image that appears optimal straight from the memory card. What’s more, the same goes for analog cameras too, since even the smallest differences in film or print processing inevitably changes the final outcome. And there were, and still are, some ways to influence even the slide films, otherwise known for the minimum of chemical processing these required.

CrossPics: an exercise in photo-editing


So, among the first DON’Ts there is this one: 

DON'T believe that your camera has an in-built WYSIWYG principle.

Use an able photo-editing program and learn how to PP (post-process) your images. Some of the very good ones are freeware (like PhotoScape), so take advantage of it. Note that the most usual errors in beginner’s PP is the lack of measure in effects applying; post-processing tools should be used in small increments, to aid rather than overwhelm the initial visual appearance.

DON’T forget the first-impulse thought that caused you to take a picture.

You can use it to point at your visual commenting intentions, if the image doesn't quite do it by itself. Put those thoughts as titles to your pics, make them as short as possible, and use them to hint at your way of seeing what the other viewers should see.

DON’T upload without prior checking for the correctness of all...

... and especially the added text. Many otherwise good images are marred by added hilarious misspellings, typos or wrong choice of words, and it does utterly destroy the intended visual impact. There is no need for speed, but there is a great need for correctness! Above all, your pictures do present you, the author.

DON’T trust any automatic translators...

... and especially not with sentence constructs! Translators are still long way from perfect, and in some cases worse than worthless. A translation is much more than word substitution, since it has to convey an original meaning. So if your image title depends upon some precise expression, it would be a better idea to consult a language expert.

DON’T upload fuzzy, unsharp, or overly noisy images!

There are ways to correct in PP many of the camera or situation shortcomings. Above all, do not try to hide a mishappen picture behind outrageously overdone PP! Such work is very visible, and badly taken picture can’t be miraculously turned good, whatever you do. A correctly taken picture is the basic requirement, even for the most far-out PP finalisation.

DON’T forget to apply the “Golden Cut”, or the “Rule Of Thirds”

... if possible right in the picture-taking phase, and especially to those images containing static objects (e.g. where you have had time to compose the frame layout). It adds dynamic flow to the picture, and tells a better story.

DON’T center your theme in the frame!

There are reasons for putting elements at certain places in your photos. The correct layout of image contents will add easiness of readability for the viewers (see above).

DON’T leave horizons inclined, especially the watery zonal borders!

Make the effort to level the horizon; it is horizontal by default, and this helps the viewer appreciate the angles of other objects, since we psycho-visually know that water horizontality is normal. Tilted horizons denote unstable point of view , like in pictures from banking airplanes or taken from the boat riding strong waves… Such horizons are then intentionally inclined, to show just that. Pictures with tilted horizons taken from stabile standpoint are just seen as sloppy, pointing at the fact that their authors do not care what they show, and such pictures should be corrected prior to making them publicly visible.

DON’T create black-and-white or monochromatic pictures by just converting the color images to B&W!

Black-and-white pics should be photographed that way. Remember that certain hues of green and red (for instance in an apple tree) can appear just the same shade of grey, and this takes away an important part of the image information. But if you photograph your B&W themes while looking at your camera monitor set to B&W, you will immediately be able to notice whether that particular scenery will be correctly presented! So, let's forget the hype that B&W is “artistic”, and that it is made by converting color images. It is not. This will depend very much upon your theme and circumstances, and many times those can’t be easily recognized by watching colors on the monitor.

DON’T upload just about everything you have photographed!

Many pictures are usually just versions of one and the same theme. Pick the one that best expresses what you wanted to show, PP it correctly, and then upload. Of course, there is this trend to upload just anything, as long as it is fast… and this is wrong. See how your pictures are actually presenting you. You would not want to be presented as superficial, sloppy or clueless, right? After all, you wanted to say something more than “look what I saw”, and show more than “look what my camera just grabbed”! A photographer is a person, not ever a camera. And a camera is a tool, not ever a creator of thought! What a photographer displays is a thought presented in the Language Of Light – a photo without a thought behind its gestalting is really not worthy of anyone’s attention.

DON’T think of Art.

Don’t attempt to "create art" at all cost! Art will reveal itself when it thinks you’re ready. Fake art is abundant nowadays, and very, very distinguishable from Art. There are many people who discover photo effects and think “that’s how Art is made!”. Aside from being wrong, it is also visible, and laughable in a sort of sad way. Spare yourself the embarrasment of appearing as one of such superficial wannabes. Think about how Nature creates Art everywhere and at all times. The Art does not really exist, except in the way we see our World. An artist enjoys everyday things, finding unusual in the mundane; thus, it’s a way of appreciation and selection, rather than an effort of creativity. The most important aspect of Art is that it can not be forced, not in any way that would make it genuine.

DON’T cram your picture with too much content.

Concentrate upon one thought that you want to express, and fill your frame with it. Someone said once that the best picture is the one that can carry a single-word title. So, this is yet another among plenty situations where “less is more”.

DON’T spoil your pictures by splaying watermarks all over the frame.

It just ruins the view. It does not really help, as watermarks are all too easily removed, and in many cases it will only scream “vanity”. If you are concerned about your images being stolen, the best way is not to post them up in the first place. You should take care not to upload hi-resolution images, so they won’t be of much use if stolen. Anyway, once they’re on the net, they’re available. If you want to sign your work, do it decently small, and put your mark in some place where it doesn’t interfere with the image theme. Also, there are invisible watermarks which offer more protection, though.

DON’T spend a day without trying to learn something about photography.

Learn from texts, advice, constructive comments… above all, from photos! When you see a photo which appeals to you, spend a minute to think about why you like it. Note the theme, the way it has been laid out, the quantity of information, the quality of emotional transfer, the finesse in detail, light, and how the frame encompasses the whole story, and not cuts the image at the margins, making you wonder what’s been left out. Then try to remember and apply all the qualities you have noted to your own approach to the creative photo-thinking and taking.

DON'T mix an image theme with image quality!

Some pictures we see do not exactly correspond to what we think of as beautiful, or proper, or decent, or even acceptable. But do see whether such pictures have been done in photographically correct manner - and also vice versa! If a picture presents something pleasant but photographically inept or sloppy, it is then not a good picture. One good example is forensic photography. Those show the brutally real side of our everyday life. Our ethical sense might try and reject such pictures, but nevertheless, such pictures are a wealth of useful information for many a specialist! Thus, there are ugly themes in good images - and there are beautiful themes in badly made images, too. Distinguish it well.

DON’T quit taking photos if you find them inferior to someone else’s work!

Photography is a never-ending learning process, and it takes time, effort and patience. The best World’s photographers will never assume they know it all. People behaving as if they do, they have reached the end of their creativity.

Believe me, nothing worse can happen to a person.

Enjoy - and have a Good Light!

Typical layout grid: help in image composing

Copyright ©

Author: Mihajlo Filipovic
Retired pro, but a lifelong amateur at heart. Also a diver with decades of experience, and still addicted to underwater photography. I never go to water without a camera, to be able to record the beauties of the submerged Nature. Which, as you well know, covers the largest part of the Earth. I will enjoy what our wonderful Earth offers to our eyes and mind for as long as I can.


Please Login to Comment
No comments have been posted. Be the first.

Hire a Writer