Top 10 DSLR Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

June 25, 2009 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | 45 Comments | |
Top 10 DSLR Mistakes and How to Avoid Them Image

We've all been there - the light is perfect, the subject is willing, the moment is just right - when you suddenly realise that you're not going to able to capture that award-winning shot after all. Here's a handy list of the most common mistakes that DSLR shooters make, and how best to avoid them.

1. Left your kit at home

As your photography equipment expands, it can be easy to leave something at home that you thought would be insignificant but actually turns out to be vitally important. We're not suggesting that you carry everything with you every time you venture out the door, so it's important to take a few moments, "visualise" your next photographic trip, then pack a bag accordingly. Or you could work out at the gym and take everything bar the kitchen sink...

2. Not recharged the batteries

This is perhaps the most frequent mistake of all time, and almost always results in a despondent trip home. To avoid this, buy a spare battery, no, make that two, or better yet, choose a camera that uses easily-accessible AA batteries. Always recharge the batteries the night before a shoot, even if they were charged the last time you used your camera. And whatever you do, don't combine mistakes 1 and 2!

What I carried around this weekend. What I carried around this weekend. by

3. Set the wrong ISO speed

Being able to change the ISO speed at will is now an accepted part of photography, as natural as changing shutter speed or aperture (the days of having to wait until the end of the film are long gone). With this new-found freedom comes the danger of leaving your camera on the wrong ISO setting for the current situation, which tend to happen especially in-between shoots. So make sure to always triple-check the ISO before you get started, and you'll never have an unwanted noisy image again.

4. Left the lens cap on

Wondering why the frame is dark and the camera is suggesting a 30 second exposure? Quick, check the front of your lens! This is the one mistake that makes you look most foolish, especially in front of another photographer...

5. Forgot to reset Exposure Compensation

Picture too dark or light, and you have no idea why? You've almost certainly forgot to reset the exposure compensation after that last difficult exposure, or you've accidentally changed it to an off-the-scale value. If you're shooting in RAW and the photo is too dark, you may be able to recover it - massive overexposure is a different story...

???N ???N by ColdCatCola

6. Shot in JPEG instead of RAW

Not the worst mistake in the world if you and the camera get the exposure right, but very annoying if the photo is underexposed, the white balance is wrong, or you just usually shoot in RAW and enjoy its many benefits. You can convert an image from RAW to JPEG, but not the other way round, so if you want to get the best out of your photos, double-check the image settings.

7. Chimped a prize-winning picture

The recent advent of bigger, brighter and clearer LCD screens has made it easier than ever before to review, sort and delete, known as "chimping", your photos in-camera. STOP! Don't do it! Fight that compulsive urge and wait until you can look at them on that nice 24 inch monitor in the comfort of your own home. Memory is incredibly cheap nowadays, so invest in some rather than inadvertently delete that prize-winning picture (probably without even knowing it).

8. Blurry pictures

You could have sworn that the picture looked sharp on the LCD screen, but at 100% magnification on a decent monitor, there's no getting away from the fact that it's just plain burned. Delete. Another one for the Recycle bin. If you're hand-holding the camera, always use a shutter speed that is faster than the focal length - so use 1/400th second or faster for 300mm, or 1/80th or faster for 70mm. Better still, use a tripod, the mirror-lockup function and a remote release, and never have to worry about blurry pictures again.

Camera Shake Camera Shake by Keith1999

9. Spent more on a camera body than the lens

Photography is one of those rare combinations of art and science, but it can be easy to forget the former and spend all your money on the latter. Photographers' just can't resist lusting after the latest DSLR cameras, which promise more features, faster performance and better images than the previous model. But it's actually a wiser idea to start by upgrading your lenses, rather than the body, especially if you're still using the cheap kit lens that came with the camera, as the lens has the most influence on image quality.

10. Didn't check the memory card before formatting

Check, check and check again that you've transferred all the photos from your memory card to your computer BEFORE you format it. There's no worse feeling than realising that you've deleted all the photos from your last shoot. On the other hand, make sure you do format the card in-camera after you've copied your photos. If you format it on your computer instead, there's a greater risk that it will eventually become corrupted, and you might lose some photos from an error.

Have you got your own top tips for avoiding common DSLR mistakes? Share them with everyone by leaving a comment below...

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camera, dslr, digital slr, how to, mistakes, avoid, top 10, errors

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#1 Norway Photos

I have done several of these mistakes on several occasions. I also often forget to empty my memory cards so I have to delete a few pictures before taking new ones..

12:50 pm - Thursday, June 25, 2009

#2 bigpeeler

Given the lead photo in the article, I’m guessing Tip #11 is “Remember to attach your lens.” :-D

1:07 pm - Thursday, June 25, 2009

#3 Nigel Pond

Make sure you actually have a memory card in the camera…

1:44 pm - Thursday, June 25, 2009

#4 Christopher Harland

Don’t wear coats with metal buttons or zips! Barbour etc. They can have a serious effect on your camera generally and the LED screen in particular.

2:07 pm - Thursday, June 25, 2009

#5 Digital Cameras

What Mr. Harland mentioned about metal buttons and zippers is so ironic….who would have known. Keep in mind, alot of metal also contains “zinc coating” to precent oxidization….this being the case, zinc coated material may lend themselves better for the active wear of a photographer. I learned this on my own. But his comment stuck out like a sore thumb. In general, anything covering metal will act like lead aprons in an x-ray room…same effect.
And the lust will continue now . . .

3:24 pm - Thursday, June 25, 2009

#6 DaniGirl

Make sure you put the memory card in the camera!  This is the one that’s been my downfall more than once—forgot to pull the memory card out of the slot on the laptop after the last image transfer and didn’t realize it until it was too late.

4:59 pm - Thursday, June 25, 2009

#7 Doug

Must add: Using your DLSR can be a mistake itself.

Sometimes, you DON’T want to risk your nice camera. That’s when you need to be wise enough to use a cheapie.

For one shoot, a toddler grabbed my camera, licked the lense, and dropped it in a random place. That was OK, as I was using a cheapie around this toddler exactly because toddlers grab and mangle things.

5:52 pm - Thursday, June 25, 2009

#8 keith

how can you forget to leave the lens cap on and still take a picture on a DSLR ???????????

7:40 pm - Thursday, June 25, 2009

#9 ms

I am very guilty of leaving my memory card at home or not checking settings correctly in camera, as well as leave lens cap on (thats so easy to forget if you are rushed). I have also not charged a battery before. It sucks, lol

5:13 am - Friday, June 26, 2009

#10 powershot

Nice list. Instead of not recharging a battery, I forgot it at the hotel one day when I went to the Disney World. How stupid!

5:46 am - Friday, June 26, 2009

#11 Mei Teng

I have been guilty of some of the mistakes listed. Have learned and I am still learning. Great list. Thanks for sharing.

7:01 am - Friday, June 26, 2009

#12 fin_photog

Fine list, but way too gear-oriented.

Considering strictly people photography, I would say that the #1 reason for a failure has nothing to do with gear.

If you fail to establish a connection with the person you´re photographing, the photos will not turn out good.

9:39 am - Friday, June 26, 2009

#13 Paul Manoian

Similar to #6 ... accidentally shooting in a lower resolution mode.  There’s nothing worse than getting home to discover that you’ve shot everything in a space saving 2 megapixel JPEG mode when you were expecting to see your 20MB RAW files.

4:03 pm - Saturday, June 27, 2009

#14 Paul Manoian

Similar to #6 ... accidentally shooting in a lower resolution mode.  There’s nothing worse than getting home to discover that you’ve shot everything in a space saving 2 megapixel JPEG mode when you were expecting to see your 20MB RAW files.

4:49 pm - Saturday, June 27, 2009

#15 Colin McGraw

A good habit is to bring a trash bag or plastic grocery bag with you in the field. Just stuff it in your pack.

I’ve been in some snowing situations, just beautiful and have had that bag. The bag protected my camera from the water and produced some fine pictures!!

6:44 pm - Saturday, June 27, 2009

#16 jacky

I never sot in RAW…Am I missing something ?
Is there a way to learn how to use raw?
I must sound very stupid…

3:23 pm - Sunday, June 28, 2009

#17 Peter Bayliss LRPS

A photographer since 16, now at 67, mamber of the RPS and local photo society, yet recently moved from my film nikons to a simple digital - nikon D40. Know it uses nikons own RAW. (NEF)Can they be treated like RAW and used via photoshop ?
  Also all pics i`ve taken are seen as, i think, JPEG`s and i have been very happy with, but would love to use in photoshop, so JPEG`s will not do.
Reread ( perhaps too quickly) the booklet but none wiser, don`t even know how to get NEF pics !
I`m stupid i know, awarded by the RPS (using film)
want the next move up from the D40 to D60 - but want to use photoshop on some of my images….help somone please !

8:53 pm - Sunday, June 28, 2009

#18 Aaron Brethorst

On Tip #8: that should be “if you’re hand-holding the camera, always use a shutter speed that is faster than the [reciprocal of the] focal length”: i.e. 1/300s on a 300mm focal length or 1/50s on a 50mm focal length,

10:14 pm - Sunday, June 28, 2009

#19 Francesco

Nice list!
Turning on strictly shooting mistakes, it’s very easy to forget to reset your previous “exotic” settings, such as 1600 ISO, sepia filter, -2 ev, 10000k temp, and so on…
I have many birthday pictures with my grannies looking…“strange”....!!!  :)

Good Job!
Thank you

11:56 am - Monday, June 29, 2009

#20 Mick

Remember to watch your surrounding also!

-Don’t step on the icy cliffs your shooting (done that, hitting the lens in the rock).
- Don’t over do your macros and have ants pissing on your lens (done that).
- Don’t get caught in the tide photographing the nice beach sunset (friends done that).
- Don’t get run over by a bus doing some street shooting (not planning to :).

11:40 am - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

#21 MaxiiLS

To Peter Bayliss LRPS.

You need to change the ‘image quality’ setting on your camera from JPEG to NEF (RAW) or NEF RAW + JPEG Basic - the second setting stores a jpeg thumbnail of the raw image for viewing in explorer (assuming windows user?).  Photoshop should just open NEF files as raw if you have any trouble you may need to look at file association.

The only trouble I had when starting to use NEF was that windows by default does not display nef thumbnails or filmstrip view so you will need a NEF viewer or to download a windows hack to get it to show them.  I use ViewNX (version 1.3 is free to download).

Let me know if you need any more help. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


12:12 pm - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

#22 Nodrog

Some useful tips above. I find lens caps a nuisance. I prefer a filter to protect the lens, even a neutral one if you do not want to influence your shot. I adopted this practice many years ago, in the ‘film age’, after losing several lens caps.

12:59 pm - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

#23 Suzy

Reply to #17: Peter, check out It’s a site for people worldwide who own Nikon equipment and who want to learn more about using their equipment. You’ll find Nikonians to be a very helpful and friendly place for everyone from beginners to pros. And, yes, D40 RAW (NEF) images can be processed in Photoshop (I have the D40 and use PSCS2). Nikonians will help enormously with all of your questions.

4:19 pm - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

#24 Peter Bayliss LRPS

Have had great advice from 2 folk, great, i think i can proceed with confidence. Now there may have been other answers to my question, only spotted two, already forgotten their names….except i see `Suzy` but somone else was very helpful too, sorry i cant thank you too !    Peter.

5:53 pm - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

#25 Suzy

Reply to #24: You’re very welcome, Peter. Best of luck and success to you in your photography! :-)

6:31 pm - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

#26 Vaibhav

I always carry an empty memory card in my kit.

And one of the earliest purchases was a battery grip which allows me to swap my Canon batteries with normal AA cells in an emergency.

9:04 am - Friday, July 3, 2009

#27 peter k.

I would add: don’t forget the charger!!!...I forgot it in the hotel room, so I had to buy another one in the afternoon (when I found out) and it costed me quite a little fortune!

9:22 am - Friday, July 3, 2009

#28 Dominic

This is quite a basic, simple list, so would have been nice to get something original.

To those who find themselves messing up I’d suggest adopting 2 steps in your rountine:
1) Crucially: Before putting your camera in it’s bag take a photo, zoom in and check it. This’ll flag up lack of battery, memory card, exposure, iso settings, etc…

2) After downloading photos to your computer delete them from your memory card. That way you won’t be wondering if they’re safely saved when you next plug that card in.

And if you’ve splashed out for a dSLR spend just a little bit more on at least 2 spare memory cards to tuck into your camera bags. If you can then stretch to spare batteries as well.

3:18 pm - Thursday, July 9, 2009

#29 George

Regarding tip #10.. card recovery is an easy process.

Awesome article!

7:28 pm - Thursday, July 23, 2009

#30 Mangrove

Check memory card after removing and before putting back in to the camera, the lock tab on the side of the memory card can easily get moved to the lock position making picture taking impossible.

5:18 am - Tuesday, August 4, 2009

#31 Peter Bayliss LRPS

As before i am using Nikon D40, its very good, must admit to using a number of cameras before turning to nikons. F601, F80, but now D40.
Getting to the point of doubting if i`ll ever get another camera except the D60….trouble here seems getting one !
  I am assuming that the D60 is like my D40, just that the images will enable pics that could be bigger (than A4) or croped more when printing.
Is the sudden lack of stock by many dealers because 1. they have proved so popular, 2. they have been found poor in quality so reduced in sales 3. nikon want to concentrate on selling the more top range cameras.

Now i would love to get one of these cameras, as i said i must then cutdown on my photography spending…...

Has anyone used a D60 ? Is it as good as i hope for, remember i am happy with the D40,  no need to go `up market`.            Peter

2:57 pm - Tuesday, August 4, 2009

#32 samantha

I have a Nikon coolpix 8400, (love it) and it seems that one of my little girls got a hold of it and busted the case of my pop up flash. Almost $200 to repair. Seriously? Should I just buy an attachment flash? Any suggestions?

3:50 pm - Tuesday, September 22, 2009

#33 Peter Bayliss LRPS

Have not used or handled this camera so i dont really know….but if no-one else answers your question may i ask if the flash works at all, ie
still flashes but without direction. If so then a separate slave flash (any make) will help, hold it yourself or better get someone else to hold it high and a bit to one side - that gives a better pic ! But if the flash is dead, then i doubt if another flash unit could be used…..but i dont know the camera.  Hope someone with more knowledge answers your question.  Photopop

5:12 pm - Tuesday, September 22, 2009

#34 Victoria

Great post!

In response to “If you’re hand-holding the camera, always use a shutter speed that is faster than the focal length - so use 1/400th second or faster for 300mm, or 1/80th or faster for 70mm.”

Just want to add something that people never mention..

Don’t forget to account for your crop factor if you’re like me using a crop sensor body. For this case the shutter speed should be faster than the focal length multiplied by the crop factor!

2:09 am - Thursday, September 24, 2009

#35 santacruz

#1 is critical, you should not left your kit home or sell it. In some situation you will have to use it as back up.

1:32 am - Thursday, November 26, 2009

#36 nodrog

Hi Peter, over the years I have owned 20+ cameras, most of them Nikon. I got the D60 last year and it is very good, typical Nikon quality. I can recommend this camera but, as you are probably aware, when Nikon introduce a new model it usually incorporates a few subtle changes from it’s predecessor. So, the choice is yours. If you do decide to get one I recommend the SB-400 flash unit which is a great improvement on the built-in flash. Look through the AP. there are still quite a number of D60’s available. Oh, I endorse the comment by #23 Suzy, the Nikonians website is a must. Good Luck.

2:31 pm - Thursday, November 26, 2009

#37 Jordan

Forgetting to reset the white balance before you shoot a different scene.

1:30 am - Sunday, February 14, 2010

#38 David Hardwick

Thanks for the information. I have made some of the errors myself. I think that I should commit to memory the points that you make.

12:35 am - Tuesday, February 16, 2010

#39 Dave Lapham Photography

This is one of the most common mistakes done by amateurs.  Learn this simple rule and you will be golden!!!!

“If you’re hand-holding the camera, always use a shutter speed that is faster than the focal length - so use 1/400th second or faster for 300mm, or 1/80th or faster for 70mm”

4:13 am - Friday, August 6, 2010

#40 jeremy

Attention: Peter Bayliss


I’m working on a documentary and we have come across some photos of the band - The Police that were taken by Peter Bayliss. We would love to use some of these for our film. If you could send me an email confirming that you are the photographer that would be great!



4:34 pm - Tuesday, August 31, 2010

#41 digital slr

recharging the batteries was my biggest problem

12:40 pm - Saturday, September 4, 2010

#42 Shannon

You really wouldn’t want to leave your lens cap on by mistake in the company of another photographer, ESPECIALLY if he is good photographer!!!

1:55 pm - Sunday, July 22, 2012

#43 Smithe121

Very nice! dedbfgadab

6:51 am - Saturday, March 29, 2014

#44 Pheobe

Surprised White Balance didn’t make the cut.

10:18 pm - Thursday, May 1, 2014

#45 Wynand

My biggest mistake was forgetting to reinsert the memory card back into the camera after I copied my photos to my laptop. I took a perfect photo of a Orange Breasted Bush shrike sitting in perfect sunlight close to me (which i have been hunting for months already) My oldish camera not having memory on board then informed me that there is no memory stick inserted after I took the shot. Obviously the bird was gone after i ran to fetch the card. I will regret this until I find that bird again, but i think its going to take a while.

8:34 am - Saturday, August 22, 2015