Considering only the frame and it's content, putting the issues of color rendering, sharpness, exposition, brightness, contrast, optical aberration, unpleasant flash/noise aside.

I think of:

  • Inappropriate depth of field
  • Inappropriate focal point
  • Tilted horizon without interesting perspective
  • Neglected background/foreground
  • Distracting reflections
  • Out of control lens flare
  • The subject was cutting
  • An interesting part/element of the image was cutting
  • Something (finger/strap) is in front of the lens
  • ...

I'm trying to have an overall view.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Feel free to edit my question in order to correct my english (I'm french) \$\endgroup\$
    – Capsize
    Jan 27, 2011 at 18:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ What do you mean by cutting? Cut off? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jan 27, 2011 at 20:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Maybe "crop" is a more appropriate word... feel free to change that :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Capsize
    Jan 29, 2011 at 11:35

6 Answers 6


You need to avoid not thinking ;)

Jay Maisel says Everything in your frame either helps you or hurts you.

In other words, to compose well you must make sure that everything in your image is part of what you want to show or say and that nothing in your image should distract from that.

Jay also says not to include letters in your frames unless you want them to be read, otherwise they distract from your subject. There are no absolutes, even lens flare can be used creatively to reinforce a harsh environment.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Jay Maisel seems to be an interesting guy :) I'm sorry for this flat question unfortunately I need a list in order to notify quickly some more or less good photographers about their mistake, so I try to list the usual and obvious mistakes. I 'm aware myself that the photography is more than a list of error ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – Capsize
    Jan 27, 2011 at 18:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Lens flare can definately help, depending. See pearsonartphoto.com/Professional/Pictures-for-sale/… for an example of where it can help. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 27, 2011 at 19:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's why I wrote "out of control lens flare". Is the term "out of control" incorrect ? \$\endgroup\$
    – Capsize
    Jan 27, 2011 at 19:19
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Your first sentence reminds me of the aphorism 'there is nothing more terrible than activity without insight' \$\endgroup\$
    – labnut
    Jan 27, 2011 at 21:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ There is no amount of lens flare that cannot be used to artistic effect in some image. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 27, 2011 at 21:55

You nearly covered everything. One thing I can think of that its worth paying attention to are distracting elements that have a strong symbolic character to humans. This includes: Text, Signs, Arrows, Faces and Hands. The human eye is automatically drawn to them and they are a strong element in your composition, but can also divert the attention from your main subject.


Two things, from the top of my mind:

  • Trees, lamp poles, etc, growing out of peoples' heads.

  • Putting your subject directly in the middle of the picture. Obviously, you can do this intentionally and it might look good, but many beginners simply align subject's face with center AF point and press the shutter. This is something that should be avoided.

Edit: an example of the second thing:

Centered. In my opinion, this picture doesn't use space very well.

I belive this works much better than the photo above, and can bring us to some more things to avoid.

  • Unless you have some special intentions, people should mostly look inside the frame, not outsize. (Although in this I can claim I am an artist and want to show the subject turning back to being photographed.)

  • Generally you don't want to light the background in a way that makes it impossible to distinguish what is the subject and what is the background. Note that lower left part of the picture feels kind of weird.

  • In most photographic disciplines, you want the light to emphasize your subject's face rather than chest.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This is something that should be avoided. Why so? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 27, 2011 at 19:46
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ They are two important things to avoid and two important things to know in photographic composition. Avoiding to center your subject and avoiding to center your horizon. Be aware of the rule of third and be aware of the golden ratio. Once you know and understand that you can break the rules and your shots would always be great :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Capsize
    Jan 27, 2011 at 20:08
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Centering a face in a close up portrait orientated photo is fine. Often the Golden Section will take care of making the photo look great. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 27, 2011 at 20:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Even in portrait photography centering the face is not considered as the right way.I add this interesting article from Wikipedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Headroom_(photographic_framing) \$\endgroup\$
    – Capsize
    Jan 29, 2011 at 11:43

I think that with the likely exception of "finger/strap is in front of the lens", none of these are Things To Avoid.

They are things to be aware of when making a composition, which is very different. Depending on what you are trying to accomplish, they very well may be exactly what you want. Having an interesting part of the image cut out is a prime example: that may make the point of the image less immediately obvious, but that's often a good thing.

There are two different questions at work here.

One is: what technical mistakes should I avoid? For example: finger in front of the lens, focus not where you want it, exposure doesn't reflect your intentions. Those are generally bad because they're not what you meant to do.

The second is how do I manage tension and stability within my image? Balance is important in composition; too much balance is static and boring. A completely obscure subject doesn't interest the viewer enough to look at the image; a too-obvious one doesn't keep the viewer engaged. "Distractions" can detract from the intended subject, but they can also make the photograph more complex than a simple clichéd shot everyone has seen before.

I'm sure you know the expression "rules are meant to be broken". It's good to know the general expectations for "proper" composition, but it's also good to know when to follow a different path. I once saw a great series of pictures containing the photographer's shadow in the bottom of the frame — generally, a tourist-snapshot mistake, but if that's what you want to work with, go for it.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for your nice insights. I would like to note, though, the list of mistakes are intended, essentially, for novice photographers. It is a crutch for the beginner to be cast aside once he has learned to walk (photographically). \$\endgroup\$
    – labnut
    Jan 27, 2011 at 21:32


In my opinion, this is one of the most common defaults in family pictures. The subject is flooded by many background details (other subjects, various objects, colors, patterns, ...) and cannot be clearly identified as the legitimate subject.

Now that cameras take focus, exposure and even smile into account, clutter is more and more common.

A simple example: when taking pictures of kids, go down to their level. This way, you change the background from uninteresting ground to nice blue sky.


One of the more annoying things I noticed spoils my photos is
the saying "White attracts eye".

Even if the photo is otherwise spot on, a small bright/white object tips the "balance" of the photo.

The bright/white object is mostly of-centre and in the background. This is something I've learnt to be aware of ... over the years. But I still make the mistake at times.



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