Mistakes, Mess-ups, and Missteps: It Happens to Everyone

One of our key missions here with the No Fear Photography blog is to teach photographers to take more creative control of their cameras in order to make stronger photos because taking the camera off full-auto-everything puts the power of shutter speeds, ISO and F-stops firmly in your hands. There’s many more variables, too, such as white balance, single/continuous Autofocus or manual focus, and so on to be tweaked and tuned. And the more controls you adjust, the more chance there is, that at some point in your photography, you are going to miss a shot due to operator error.

Over exposure
This was supposed to be a photo of two ducks. It was captured at 1/60 second at F2.8 ISO 100 in broad daylight, which was absolutely not the proper settings for this situation! (look very closely near the middle of the frame and you can just about make a few dark smudges of tailfeathers…)

Don’t worry too much about it. It happens to everyone, every now and again.

You may forget to change from single to continuous autofocus before tracking birds in the sky, or maybe a setting got switched accidentally while grabbing a camera from the bag and, really, you didn’t want to be in ten-second timer mode right now as those dolphins are playing in the surf.

Here’s four oystercatchers flying in a pattern that aren’t sharp since I had switched the camera over to manual focus a few minutes earlier and hadn’t switched it back before tracking birds in the sky. The acronym OOF! for “out of focus” seems like a fitting onomatopoeic exclamation to describe this, doesn’t it!

Maybe you just got so excited to fire off those first few frames that you didn’t realize that the proper settings for a nighttime cityscape exposure and daylight birds are pretty much completely and totally nowhere near enough to somehow salvage the shot.

It happens. To everyone.

To wit: Those three examples above are drawn from the silly goofs I’ve made in the past few months.

OOF again! Here is a lovely photo of a patch of sand in sharp focus, with a very blurry plover in the foreground. I had switched my 120-300mm F2.8 to manual focus and completely missed the mark on this one!

And even when you’ve got the exposure and settings just right, it’s still always possible to miss focus, or to cut someone’s head off in the frame, and any of the thousands of ways to make a photo a miss and a “meh” instead of a frame-worthy keeper.

It’s always a good idea to review after the first couple of shots to make sure you’ve got the settings right, but don’t get so hung up on clicking the “PLAY” arrow after every single frame because that’s also a way to miss shots by taking your eye off the subject.

Here we’ve got two American Oystercatchers in mid-flight, but the bird on right is closer to the camera and off the focal plane. This photo never sat right with me. I asked friends if it was bothersome and it was resoundingly agreed that the out of focus right bird created serious issues with this shot. It was expressed best by a photographer friend who perfectly explained why: “the soft bird is closer, and lends to wanting to be the focal point, So it can lead your eye through the composition. The focus on the rear bird makes you look past the first bird, making the viewing more cumbersome.”

The most important thing is to learn from the experiences. Try to get in the habit of checking the camera settings before the big moment to make sure everything is set how you’d like. And of course, the more you practice and get into the habit, the easier it becomes to quickly run through the checklist, and correct any mistakes and mis-settings as necessary.

Here, moments later, everything came together for me. This pair of Oystercatchers decided to fly across my field of view perfectly parallel to the focal plane, my exposure settings were right on, and my autofocus setting was perfect for this shot!

Every photographer has a percentage of misses from each and every session. But the more you practice and hone your skills, the more likely you are to get some of the shots just as you’d hoped and envisioned.

When you get home and see a shot where everything comes together–framing, exposure, focus–it’s a great feeling, and all those misses don’t matter nearly as much!

The most important things to remember are that everyone makes mistakes and misses shots, and whenever possible, learn from your mistakes–what can you do differently to achieve better results for the next shot or the next time around?

And if nothing else, you’ve got a photographer’s version of the Fish Tale––the one that got away.


Published by

Jack Howard

Jack Howard is a lifelong photographer and author of two editions of the how-to book, Practical HDRI. Based in Central Jersey, Jack's go-to photography spots are backroads and beaches of his home state. He loves to travel far and wide with his wife and daughter, visiting national parks, museums, tropical islands and more along the way.

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