Ed Mercer,
Chief Photographer/Editor


Sin 1: Blowing Out the Highlights

Highlights are the white areas of your photo. When the highlights are “blown,” that means they are over-exposed. 

That’s a problem, because you can lose a lot of detail in your photos, as seen by the over-exposed photo to the top right. 

When the photo is correctly exposed, as is the one to the bottom right, you’ll see lots of detail in the white areas.

The solution? It’s pretty simple.

If you’re photographing a scene that contains a lot of white (highlights) make sure you always take a couple of additional photos – one at one f-stop under the metered exposure and another at two f-stops under the metered exposure. 

This way, you’re sure to get one that’s well-exposed. 

It’s much easier to bring up the highlights in a slightly underexposed photo with post-processing than it is to correct for overexposure. Once the detail in a photo is blown out, you can’t get it back.




Sin 2: The Subject of Your Photo is Square in the Center of Your Frame

Another thing you want to try and avoid is composing your photographs with the main subject directly in the middle of the photograph like I did with the photograph on the bottom right.

It’s just not as pleasing to the eye when as when the main subject of a photo is placed smack in the middle of it.

Compare this to the shot below:

In the photograph to the right,  the main subject, the train, is off to the right in what is considered a more powerful area of the photograph’s composition.

This follows an important rule of composition which is called the rule of thirds. 

Imagine your image is divided into 9 equal squares. Try to make it so that your main subject falls into one of the intersecting lines in the image.



Here’s an example that illustrates the Rule of Thirds. As you can see by the diagram to the right, there are 9 equal squares in the frame, and the intersection of the horizontal and vertical lines are highlighted. 

If you place the subject of your photo at the intersection of the horizontal and vertical lines, you’ll create a photo with more impact. As you can see in the photo of the hockey player to the right, he is is well positioned on the intersection of these two lines. 

Many camera viewfinders have an option to show gridlines so you can perfectly line up your subject before you press the shutter button. Check your camera manual to see if this option is available to you. 

hockey-guy copy


Sin 3: Your Photos Aren’t Correctly Focused

Of course one of the most important elements in photography is to make sure your photos are in focus.

With most cameras now having auto-focus features that shouldn’t be a problem anymore. However, you can’t always rely on your camera to focus for you. 

The first photo on the top left is an aerial picture and that photo is an easy one to focus. From high above you can set your camera on auto-focus and the camera will do all the work for you with great depth of field.

Depth of field is what is in focus in front of the camera or in back of the camera.

 The aerial shot has lots of depth of field because everything, front and back is in focus. 

The picture of the butterfly has minimal depth of field.

This is where the butterfly is in sharp focus but everything behind the butterfly is out of focus and almost a blur.

This is something you see a lot in sports photography, so the emphasis is on the subject, and distractions from the background and other players are minimized. 

The last image of mountain is considered maximum depth of field, similar to the aerial shot.

Instead, in this case, you would shoot in aperture priority mode with a high f-stop such as f-16 or f-22 so everything is in sharp focus.




Sin 4: You’re Not Sure If You Should Crop Horizontally or Vertically

Another dilemma we have as photographers is how to crop your photographs. Sometimes we’re not sure if we should crop vertical or horizontal or crop wide or move in tight. 

I was in Las Vegas recently and took a long walk just to take photographs to discuss in this article. I came upon a scene that illustrates this point perfectly. 

In front of Caesars Palace there was a very colorful and busy looking scene, not to mention the fact that there was a distracting sign in the back left.

So if I wanted to keep the scene as it was I would need to Photoshop out the sign in the back, which is the first option. 

I may do that in the future.

The second option was a tighter vertical crop to eliminate the sign. You can see the results to the right.

The third option was a tighter horizontal crop to also eliminate the sign. 

So since everyone sees and interprets everything differently, there is no right or wrong answer.

Whenever I have this decision to make, I just take multiple shots and make my decision while I do post processing in Lightroom or Photoshop.








Sin 5: You Didn’t Pay Attention to the Background

When you’re excited about taking a shot, it’s easy to forget about what might be in the background of your frame. 

Sometimes all you have to do is move to a slightly different angle to eliminate a distraction and or crop your image in post processing.

Other times you eliminate background distractions by making the background out of by setting your f-stop wide open and creating a minimum depth of field situation so there is no background problem.

The focus here is on this refreshing beverage, not on the background. 

Sometimes you can look for a great background and see if you can find a great scene to play out in front of the background like I did with the image of the pier set against the sunset.

And if you aren’t able to find a great background, you can create one in Photoshop or Lightroom or any of the other great editing programs.








Sin 6: Your Horizon is Crooked

I really enjoy photographing seascapes, landscapes, and sunsets and try to be very aware of keeping the horizon line straight in my photos, but I still miss from time to time as I did in the image below.

So always try to keep your horizon line straight in these situations, but if you should miss, not all is lost.

As you can see below, all you have to do is fix it in your editing program. My program of choice is Adobe Lightroom.

All I did was open the image in Lightroom in the Develop module and clicked on the lens correction tool and the grid tool (highlighted in red) and with the rotate feature, I just moved the slider till the grid lined up with the horizon. 




Sin 7: You’re Copying Everyone Else

One of the things I always try and do is get a photograph of a subject in a different way than everyone else photographs the same subject.

Whether it be using composition, with leading lines, vibrant colors, there are so many ways to separate yourself from the herd. 

I am not saying to not get your bread and butter, post card, tourist-type shots, because those are great also.

But if you want to stand out as a photographer, you need to think outside the box a little, and test your creativity in order to get those shots no-one else sees. 

The shot on the top right is an example of what everyone else will take a picture of when they see this scene, so you can take it too.


But then get right up to the subject and in this case look straight up and take the shot this way. 

Not many people will do this and that is ok, but I like having lots of options and I do like this one better.

This also gives you all kinds of creative options to do fun things with your post processing, like adding in different skies, or possible scenarios that you can create with multiple images.


That’s it. If you pay close attention as you’re pressing the shutter button, and avoid these “sins,” you should start seeing results almost immediately. Trust me, I have committed all these sins and most photographers have at some point too! 

That’s why I’m so glad I got to share this article with you today, in hopes that these mistakes will soon be a thing of your past. 

 Tons of folks have gotten results from these tips and I can’t wait to hear about yours!

Ed Mercer.

Chief Photographer/Editor,


PhotographyTribes.com|Copyright 2016|All Rights Reserved|Privacy Policy