It’s not the camera, it’s the person behind it! While it may not be absolutely true, it’s a fact that good photographers can take great photos with any gear. It’s the composition, using correct settings and shooting techniques, that make a huge difference. A photo shoot with a plain point-and-shoot camera using correct settings may look better than the same photo taken with a DSLR using the Auto mode. There are certain things you need to keep in mind when you’re shooting, and these apply to any device, be it a digital camera, DSLR or mobile phone. If used optimally under correct circumstances and for the right type of subjects, you’ll begin to hate the user-friendly Auto mode.

Here are five most common mistakes that you should avoid to get better looking photos. First and foremost, switch from Auto to Program mode as some of the features are available only in the latter. You can leave the ISO speed and white balance set to Auto, and tinker with the rest of the parameters.

Incorrect metering mode

Evaluative metering: Lighting of the entire frame is metered

Evaluative metering: Lighting of the entire frame is metered


Spot metering: Lighting of only the flower is metered and hence accurate colours

Spot metering: Lighting of only the flower is metered and hence, accurate colours


Light metering is the way in which the camera determines the optimal exposure. By default, as well as in Auto mode, it is set to Evaluative or Matrix wherein the camera measures the light intensity in several zones and combines the results for optimal exposure. This yields a well-balanced exposure across the scene, but it isn’t appropriate when you want a specific part of the scene well exposed. For example, you may have noticed in outdoor and macro shots that the background is well exposed but the subject is underexposed. Evaluative metering is also not the best to use when the dynamic range or contrast is too high. For instance, try shooting an outdoor scene at wide angle from an enclosed area (such as a room), and you’ll notice that the outdoor scene is overexposed. In such cases, change the metering mode to Spot, which meters light in a small spot of the frame. Typically, it’s the centre of the frame, or the user-selected spot if the camera allows selecting the focus area. Note that spot metering tends to overexpose the rest of the frame other than the spot, but you can rest assured that the selected spot will be optimally exposed.

Overuse of effect filters

Shot using Nostalgia filter

Shot using Nostalgia filter


Toy Camera, Miniature, Pop Art, Fish Eye, Sketch etc. are fun to use and make photos stand out. A good thing is that you get the effects straight out of the camera and don’t need to use an image editing program. However, the original frame (without the effect applied) isn’t saved. Also, not all images may look good with your favourite filter applied. So, it’s advisable to use effect filters sparingly, or shoot two frames, one with the effect filter and one without it. Alternatively, you can shoot photos without using filters and apply them via the camera’s native editor, that is, if your camera supports it.

Not using fill flash

No fill flash: Shadow around the eyes and underexposed hair

No fill flash: Shadow around the eyes and underexposed hair


With fill flash: The face is optimally exposed and not to miss the twinkling eyes

With fill flash: The face is optimally exposed—not to miss the twinkling eyes


If you shoot a portrait under direct sunlight or against strong backlight, you’ll find that the subject’s face is underexposed, especially the area around the eyes. The solution to this is using flash to fill the shadows and so that the face is properly exposed. Try this as an experiment: Shoot a portrait or a group shot both with and without flash in broad daylight and compare the photos to see the difference.

Using flash when not necessary

Flash fired: Note the unnatural and over-saturated colours

Flash fired: Note the unnatural and over-saturated colours


Flash disabled: Natural tones, better contrast and optimal exposure

Flash disabled: Natural tones, better contrast and optimal exposure


When set to Auto, the flash automatically fires even if the lighting condition is slightly poor. Using flash tends to ruin the natural colours and results in undesirable highlights. So, it’s best to avoid using flash unless the lighting is so poor that the photos come out too underexposed. Ensure that image stabilisation is enabled and half-press the shutter release to see if the shutter speed is at least 1/25 sec. If yes, then you will get good results without using flash. If not, increase the ISO speed to about 800, change the metering mode and then try again. Also, check if your camera has the option to adjust the flash intensity.

Incorrect exposure and white balance

Default exposure: Bright highlights on the ground, lack of contrast and inaccurate colours

Default exposure: Bright highlights on the ground, lack of contrast and inaccurate colours


EV -1: Better details and contrast and more natural colours

EV -1: Better details and contrast and more natural colours


The Auto mode doesn’t always yield best looking results. Some cameras falter in extremely bright and poor lighting conditions. As a result, you get over or underexposed results. The solution to this problem is adjusting the EV (exposure compensation), which overrides the camera’s default exposure settings and tells the camera to under or overexpose.

Auto white balance: Yellow cast because the photo was shot in tungsten lighting

Auto white balance: Yellow cast because the photo was shot in tungsten lighting

Custom white balance: Eliminates the yellow cast and hence yields the actual colours

Custom white balance: Eliminates the yellow cast and hence, yields the actual colours

The same goes for white balance, which when erratic will yield a yellowish or bluish tinge in the entire frame. If you’re shooting under amber street lights or indoors with tungsten (light bulb) lighting, set the white balance to Tungsten. Even better would be to set the white balance to custom/manual—point the camera at a white object (such as a piece of white paper) and shoot it from very close to manually set the white point. You’ll then see that the warm tone has gone and as a result the colours will be more accurate.

Tinker with the ISO speed, white balance, EV, light metering and flash settings and you’ll get much better results. If the default camera app of your mobile phone doesn’t have these settings, download a third-party camera app that offers them. There are plenty of free camera apps available.

Happy shooting!

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