55 reasons your photos aren’t working (and what you can do about it)

We’ve all been there: playing back pictures on a digital camera’s rear screen or checking them over in your photo management software, we notice that all is not well. The composition looks baggy or the exposure’s duff. Maybe the picture isn’t as sharp as a tack, or the colours don’t look quite right. Whatever it is, you can’t quite put your finger on it – but something isn’t right.

Here, we’ve produced a list of 55 common reasons that your photos may not be working, with advice and tips on how to do something about it. Naturally, we don’t expect you to suffer from all 55 right now, but we guarantee that you’ve encountered at least one of these problems in your lifetime.

We’ve covered problems in photo exposure, photo composition, focusing, lighting and photo editing.

Let us know which ones ring true for you in the Facebook comments below…

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Your photo exposures are failing because…

55 reasons your photos aren't working (and what you can do about it)

1. Your camera’s LCD screen is too bright / dark

Your DSLR’s rear monitor can give you a basic idea about the exposure of a picture, but not if the screen is set too bright or too dark. There’s an option to calibrate its brightness level for the conditions in the camera’s menu.

2. You’re not making the most of the histogram

Don’t rely on the camera’s LCD screen alone to judge exposure. View the brightness histogram alongside it, as this gives a measurable guide to how bright or dark an image is, and whether you need to make any adjustments.

3. You’re not using exposure compensation

Although you can make a picture brighter or darker when you process it in software, this can degrade picture quality. Instead, get it right in-camera using the Exposure Compensation function (look for the button marked ‘+/-‘).

4. You’re not resetting exposure compensation

Once you’ve taken a shot with exposure compensation dialed in, get into the habit of automatically resetting the compensation to zero before shooting a different scene. Otherwise there’s a danger you’ll add compensation on top of compensation on top of compensation…

5. Your whites are turning grey

Large expanses or white or light tones in a scene can cause a camera to underexpose the picture. If the histogram doesn’t almost touch the right side of the graph when photographing a bright scene, dial in some positive exposure compensation and take another shot.

6. The highlights are blown out

It can be tough to rescue highlights that have been seriously overexposed. So switch on your camera’s highlight warning and check the histogram to make sure detail isn’t falling off the right of the graph.

7. The shadows are turning grey

Large expanses or shadows or dark tones in a scene can cause a camera to overexpose the picture. If you’re shooting JPEGs, dial in some negative exposure compensation and take another shot.

8. You’re not shooting in RAW

Although the histogram you see on the back of the camera gives an accurate indication of exposure when you shoot JPEGs, if you switch to your camera’s RAW format, you’ll actually capture more information across the image. You’ll also be able to make exposure adjustments after you’ve taken the shot.

9. You’re using the wrong metering pattern

Your camera’s default Evaluative or pattern metering takes an exposure reading across the whole season, whereas spot metering takes an exposure reading from a very small area. If your pictures are grossly overexposed or underexposed, check that you haven’t accidentally selected spot metering.

10. You’re using the wrong exposure mode

If your camera’s mode dial doesn’t have a lock, it can be easy to accidentally set a different exposure mode as you take the camera out of a bag. You might think you’re shooting in Aperture Priority, but the mode dial may have shifted to Manual mode, and the aperture and shutter speed settings might be completely unsuitable.

11. You’re using a shutter speed that’s too slow

To control the exposure on your camera, you need to balance aperture, shutter speed and ISO. The choice of shutter speed is critical – too slow, and you risk blurred photos from camera shake and/or subject movement. To get a faster shutter speed, use a wider aperture setting or increase the ISO.

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