11 reasons why your photos are average and how to fix it

May 03, 2022
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Creative Photo Folk
11 reasons why your photos are average and how to fix it

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Love photography but sick of taking average photos that don’t make an impact and don’t stand out? Discover all the reasons photographers get stuck taking average photos and how to take more impactful ones.

Every now and then we run a Facebook ad called ‘break the curse of the average photo’ to promote our free ’52 creative photo ideas’ guide. And that ad is quite popular which suggests there are a lot of photographers out there who believe they take average photos.

Every photographer goes through this average stage while they‘re learning, but not many realise it’s absolutely normal and assume there’s something wrong with THEM. So today I want to break down all the reasons why you might be taking average photos and how to work on fixing them.

1. You haven’t mastered your camera.

Your camera on auto is just not set up to take great photos. Its primary purpose is to get the correct exposure and it often does this by lengthening the shutter speed to let in more light, meaning camera shake is all but guaranteed. Your camera is designed this way to help you focus on refining your composition at this early stage so that you learn to love the process of capturing photos. But it’s almost impossible to nail shots that are creative unless you just happen to hit upon the right conditions, which is a game of chance you really don’t want to play. In this stage I encourage you to focus solely on practicing framing and composition until you can confidently capture interesting subjects. When you reach the point of wanting to more control over how your subject is shot, that’s when it’s time to master manual mode.

2. You’re using your camera in manual but it’s not yet second nature.

When learning your gear you are so focused on getting the technical aspects right that it’s far too much of a burden to also try and be creative. There’s not much point anyway if its creatively strong but the exposure is terrible. It is expected and encouraged to take average photos in this stage because you need to fail to learn. Every mistake you make teaches you what to try next time. It’s a process of experimentation and elimination. And this stage is really important because as you continually fiddle with dials you’re creating muscle memory so you can reach for the right ones instinctively, while also learning the parameters of your settings to see what works best in different situations. But please don’t expect anything but average results in this stage and only practice on subjects that aren’t important or there’s a good chance you’ll be disappointed. You’ll soon see why flowers are everyone’s first favourite subject.


3. You don’t use back button focus.

Someone will probably fight me on this because I see so many photographers, including some professionals, who do not use back button focus. I just don’t understand why people make all the effort of learning to control their camera in manual but then leave their focus settings at the whim of the camera. Exposure is fixable in editing but focus is not which is why it’s so important to get it right. Back button focus removes your camera’s focusing control from the shutter button to the back of the camera so that it can be controlled separately. By separating this function it means you have complete control over the focus instead of having it reset each time you press the shutter. Before making the switch I remember vividly how frustrated I was that I could never get the focus right because my camera kept letting me down. I was so close to giving up. But learning to use back button focus was the greatest thing I ever did for my photography because my keeper rate shot up to 95%. I could get on my soapbox all day about how ridiculous it is that cameras aren’t set up this way because it trains photographers into bad habits and how frustrating it is to watch professionals throw away half their shots but I’ll spare you for now. Just know that the best time to switch over to back button focus is while you’re still in this learning process and practicing on unimportant subjects. The second best time is now.


4. You don’t make enough time to practice.

Photography can be pretty frustrating to learn and it’s often harder than people expect. They signed up for a creative hobby not one full of difficult to understand technical equations. And when something is hard we’re likely to build up a resistance and feel less inclined to make time for it. There’s a lot of expectations at this stage of photography and it’s easy to feel disappointed. For example you may be feeling disillusioned by the hard technical stage and starting to feel like this might not be the hobby for you. That you don’t have what it takes. You may even have started to associate your camera with the feeling of failure and nobody wants to make time for something that makes them feel bad about themselves. It’s really important to give yourself a long term photography goal so that you keep wanting to pick up the camera even if it’s hard. And you absolutely must keep picking it up if you want to improve. The more you practice the faster you’ll progress through this stage that sees so many photographers quit.


5. You practice by photographing anything that catches your eye.

The obvious thing to do next is to take your camera on photography excursions and shoot whatever interests you. Now’s the time to practice putting manual mode and creativity together so photography becomes fun again. The problem that occurs here is that you haven’t yet learned what makes a good photo and that only comes after years of practice. So after these outings you throw 30 of your photos all over socials and they all kind of look the same. Friends will encourage you because they’re excited by your new hobby but you may get no response from other photographers and that can be a bit disheartening. Over time you might start to lose interest because your photos are too average to be useful yet. It’s around now that your photos will start eating up your hard drive space. And when your photos are causing you a problem, rather than providing a benefit, you’ll start to wonder what the point is. And not only that, you’re not seeing significant progress in your skills because you’re essentially shooting the same kinds of subjects over and over. It’s so important to seek out projects that give you something different to shoot each week and are designed to help you learn new skills progressively. My photography membership, Creative Photo Folk was built with this in mind which is why it’s full of fun photography projects that help you upskill. You’re never going to improve by shooting similar subjects in similar ways.


6. You aren’t telling strong enough stories or using compositional techniques.

When you’ve battled through the difficult stage of learning photography you may have trained yourself into some bad habits as composition takes a back seat to the technical. Now it’s time to make a conscious effort to improve your storytelling. Each time you take a photo it’s important to pinpoint why you find a subject interesting and then use compositional techniques to tell that story the strongest way. There’s no need to memorise all the rules of composition but it may help to familiarise yourself with them so they’re swirling around in your subconscious. I’m not very good at following rules so I prefer to do this in a visual way by looking at photos and breaking down why they’re interesting compositionally so I can replicate those techniques. You may even want to set yourself a project of trying a different one each week.


7. You take, not make.

Photography is about creating art, not about passively shooting whatever’s in front of you. But it’s surprising how many photographers get this wrong. It’s so rare that the elements are perfectly arranged and that means interacting with your scene to improve it. The only exception is if you’re a photojournalist. A macro photographer might put a piece of plain card behind a flower to isolate it from background distractions. A landscape photographer gets up early to be in the ideal position at the right time of day for the best light. A portrait photographer memorises a few flattering poses to make their subjects appear more natural. And even at the most basic level, it means experimenting with different lenses for best results, not just sticking one on your camera and hoping for the best.

You should always be thinking about what can be done to improve a scene. If you want to learn more about this process grab a toy and take it for an excursion around your backyard and find ways to tell stories with it.


8. You don’t use creative techniques.

By now you should definitely be shooting some creative techniques but it’s absolutely worth familiarising yourself with more. This is where photography becomes really fun because you’re actively experimenting with your camera’s capabilities as well as using props and other gear to create unique scenes. By memorising a few go to techniques to keep up your sleeve you can be standing right next to another photographer shooting the exact same thing and end up with quite different results. This is where your images will really start to shine.


9. You’re afraid to share your work.

If you’re not getting feedback on your work, how can you expect to improve? Our ego tries to protect us but if you really want to learn why your photos lack impact it’s best to get feedback, even if it’s hard to hear. Feedback from more experienced photographers than you gives you important lessons about what to try next time so your work can get better and better. The more you share, the more you’ll learn, the more you’ll improve and the more confident you’ll become. And confident photographers are the ones who are most likely to succeed because now they feel competent and appreciated for their skills with a camera. If sharing online makes you uncomfortable try and attend some photography meet ups and use the opportunity to learn from others and compare your results.


10. You’re not taking advantage of the benefits of light.

Light and shade can bring so much to a scene and, rather than hoping the weather will dish up the goods, it’s worth learning to control light using modifiers to shape natural light and then progressing on to artificial light. A lot of photographers, including many professionals, are scared to learn lighting because it looks hard and that’s because a lot of the photographers who teach lighting make it look hard by using top of the range gear and lots of it. But lighting is actually really easy when you begin to understand what the gear does and how. You’ve come this far already and I encourage you to learn lighting so you can feel confident about getting great results in any situation.


11. You’re not editing your images.

You’re never going to be a great photographer if you don’t learn to edit your images. But if you’re a purist and choose to die upon that hill you’re going to have to work so much harder to get things right in camera every time. It’s an entirely different and slower way of working so if you’re prepared to put in that effort – I commend you. Envy you even. But I prefer to do things the easy way. I can save virtually any photo with editing. And I’m lucky because I love to edit just as much as I love to take photos but not everyone does so I understand the desire to spend as little time at a computer as possible. This is why it’s important to only pick out your very best photos and if you don’t enjoy editing, you’ll quickly learn to stop shooting so many images. Take the time to learn the basics of your chosen editing program and then can set up a preset or process that applies a look you like as a starting point and to automate some of the work. (include pic example) I used to help run creative workshops in a photography studio and when I compare my results to someone who doesn’t retouch their images they are worlds apart. Not even comparable. And that’s why editing is such an important aspect of being a successful photographer, even if you need to outsource and have someone else do it for you.


So that’s it my friends. Eleven reasons for average photos. Hopefully you’ve recognised yourself in some of that and can now work on fixing what’s going wrong.

With all of that in mind, my photography membership, Creative Photo Folk is designed to help photographers over every single one of these hurdles. We help you get confident with your camera, show you how to use composition and storytelling, give you a library of fun projects and techniques to practice, introduce you to lighting, teach you editing and empower you with mindset tools to get over your limitations. No one deserves to stay stuck taking average photos and that’s why we’re so committed to helping photographers defeat the reasons that hold them back.


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