How to Eliminate the Three Biggest Photo Mistakes

Today’s e-letter is really a pop quiz. Last week, I sent you a list of three common mistakes we often see our workshop attendees making on the first day of our live photography workshops. (Problems they get into the habit of eliminating after a day or two with our pros at their elbows.)

Today, I want you to look through the photo challenge entries on the website and see if you can spot these three common problems.

Now, I hate to pick apart someone’s much-loved photo. But we are here to help. And one way I know we can help you is to point out common mistakes and show you how to fix them. So, go ahead and take a minute to flip through the photos in the photo challenge and try to decide for yourself what the problem is in each image.

Here, again, are the three common mistakes I gave you before:

** 1. The photograph is overexposed -- there’s too much light and the colors are washed out.

** 2. The image is underexposed -- there’s not enough light and the picture is dark with deep black shadows.

** 3. The photographer didn’t get close enough. Or, he got in too close and unintentionally chopped off pieces of the subject.

Take a minute to look through the photos in this month’s Challenge and see if you can spot these three common mistakes. Then, when you’re finished, scroll down for Shelly’s tips on how to improve images like these.

Lori Allen
Director, Great Escape Publishing

P.S. Anyone can point a camera and hit the shutter. But taking a saleable photograph involves consciously composing the photo and making sure it’s properly exposed. It’s not difficult to do. You simply need the right “toolkit” to pull from. Whether you’re selling your photos as stock, fine art, or combined with your travel stories, one thing’s for sure: You’ll sell a lot more of them if they look better than run-of-the-mill snapshots.

You can learn how to take amazing, saleable photographs in a matter of days. Join us on our next workshop and watch as your photos improve by the hour. Plus have a lot of fun while you’re at it.

April 19, 2009
The Right Way to Travel

By Shelly Perry in Portland, OR

I don’t like to take a negative approach when I’m critiquing photos. At the same time, I want you to learn. So, as Lori asked me to profile three pictures from this month’s Photo Challenge that violate one of the mistakes she wrote about last Friday, here goes…

This is a great example of a picture that’s overexposed:

Eliminating Common Mistakes

The details of the white shirt are all but gone, and the older woman’s hair has areas that are solid white with no details, which means this shot is overexposed.

You’ll find instructions for dealing with overexposed images in Photoshop, here.

Keep in mind that only minor corrections and adjustments can be made when you post-process overexposed images. If the image is so overexposed that there are no details in the image capture, there is no way to bring back details that simply are not there in the image data.

Since you need original files to bring back any highlight details, I couldn’t do a whole lot with this image, but take a look at what just a few quick edits can do to a file…

Notice how the image has more color and less of a “foggy” look. However, the blown out highlight areas (the shirt and the woman’s hair) are still just as white as they were before. The image data just isn’t there… which is why you need to make sure to expose properly in-camera as much as possible.

And here’s an example of an underexposed image:

Notice that the subject’s face is in shadow and most of the image, besides a few highlight areas, is dark.

To fix the problem, I opened the image in Photoshop and adjusted the Levels and the Curves. (Read more on adjusting levels and curves in Photoshop, here. )

Doing these two adjustments only brought the image closer to “proper exposure.” It’s still not perfect, but it’s better.

Notice, however, that now some areas in this shot are bright white with no detail. Even though the main subject and the overall image is underexposed, this image does have areas that are overexposed, which is probably what fooled the camera meter in the first place and underexposed the overall image.

And, in this final image, the photographer could have gotten closer to the subject and the action:

So, I cropped this image to eliminate the other elements that distract from the subject:

Keep in mind that while you can fix certain problems in post-processing with Photoshop or Lightroom, you should still try to aim for proper exposure and composition in-camera.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.  Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]