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Photography Troubleshooting: No More Bad Photos

Running into problems when taking photographs over, and over again? Here’s a handy guide that will help you troubleshoot your problems, and improve your shots all at once!

Rather than stretch this out over several articles, it seemed like a good idea to provide solutions to common problems in Photography all in one informative list. Please be sure to ask any questions if you’re having problems not mentioned here!

Blurry Images Caused by Poor Focus

Photos that aren’t sharp are almost always caused by focus problems — either you, or the auto focus didn’t do their job correctly. If you are using auto focus and still get blurred photos it might be because the camera used another focusing point rather than the one thought you intended to use. Another reason might be the setting of the focus and then moving the camera without refocusing.

Blurry Photos Caused by Camera Shake

Camera shake is a result of unsteady hands or a too long of a exposure. To counter this you can change the shutter speed, or make the exposure time shorter. If you don’t want to change the aperture you can always change the ISO setting. Higher ISO will create noise, but noise is better than a blurry image caused by too long of a exposure time. Another option is to use a tripod or monopod.

For more information about this topic, you may like to read our tutorial on Proven Ways to Reduce Camera Shake.

Stop Motion Blur in Photographs

This is the result of photographing a moving object with a too long exposure… no matter how steady you are. A faster shutter speed is the only solution in this problem — some action sports require speeds as quick as 1/1000+.

Too Much Contrast

The sensor is not able to pick up the whole spectrum of light and expose it correctly in some situations. Unless you want to manipulate your photographs in post-production (such as HDR) you have two options: either select the part of the scene that is most important to expose correctly, or use a graduated ND filter to get the entire scene exposed correctly (primarily used in landscape photography).

Add More Contrast

Low contrast can be a result from photographing in bad lighting conditions, or in unique instances, environments can play a role in this problem (such as a snowy landscape). This is most often easily fixed in Photoshop by using the adjustment layer Levels to change the black and white point. The example photograph is lacking contrast due to stray light reaching the sensor, which can be countered by using a lens hood.

Here’s a good article that shows how to Correct Lighting and Contrast Problems in Photoshop.

Prevent Lens Flares

A lens flare is created when the lens picks up stray light. The best way to block out this unwanted light is to use a lens hood. Different lenses create different lens flares — cheaper lenses usually create uglier flares than high-end lenses, but even with a high-end lens one should always use a hood to minimize the risk.

Prevent Double Lights

This is an optical effect that can occur in low light situations in combination with some (often cheaper) lenses. A UV filter can increase this effect, so if you notice these types of odd lights on your night photographs you might want to consider removing the UV filter for the duration of the shoot.

Underexposure

Not enough light reached the sensor, you need to change the exposure settings to get a correctly exposed photograph. Either a slower shutter speed, a larger aperture or higher ISO — or all of them combined.

Read more about Exposure in Photography.

Overexposure

Too much light reached the sensor — you need to change the exposure settings to get a correctly exposed photograph. Either a faster shutter speed, a smaller aperture or lower ISO — or all of them combined.

Read more about Exposure in Photography.

Dark Corners — Vignette

Vignette are dark corners in a photograph, which occur when the light is not evenly distributed on the sensor or when the flash just lights up the center of a shot.

Many lenses, even high-end, create this effect when opened wide (largest aperture). To fix this problem simply stop down the aperture a few stops and this should even out the distribution.

Lens distortion

Mostly a problem when photographing architecture with a wide-angle lens. A lens below 50mm usually creates some distortion but in most cases this is not visible. However when you are photographing straight lines (such as buildings), standing close to the object and pointing the camera upwards you will more easily see these distortions. Take a few steps backward or change to a more suitable lens.

For more information, read our article about different Camera Lenses.

Skewed horizon

You were either holding the camera skewed or the tripod was set up uneven. Some DSLR cameras have the ability to change the focusing screen and install one that has guidelines. This is rather easily fixed in post-production by rotating the image, but you will loose some of the edges.

Red eyes

This effect occurs when the flash is located close to the lens and is a common problem with our modern point-and-shoot-cameras due to their placement of the flash. To prevent red eyes, do not use the cameras internal flash if your camera has one. Use an external flash that you can bounce on a wall or on the ceiling.

Reduce Noise in Photographs

Most likely due to a high ISO setting, but can also be caused by long exposures. To prevent noise, use a low ISO setting. If you have photographs with much noise you can always use a software to remove it, such as Photoshop or Noise Ninja, though some detail will be lost of course.

You can learn more about ISO, Aperture, and other essential subjects in our Photography Basics article.

Photo is yellow/orange tinted

The camera is most likely to have miscalculated and thought the photograph was outdoors and added orange tones to compensate. The white balance is the fault here, and if you’re photographing in RAW there’s no problem since you can easily just change the white balance to a desired level. If you’re not using RAW-files then you might want to check your settings in the camera — most cameras have W/B setting for indoors and outdoors, as well as custom settings and auto. The fault could also be that you used a flash that bounced off an orange surface as well, so try to always bounce the flash at a neutral surface, such as gray.

Photo is blue tinted

These photographs look very cold and are most likely due to a miscalculation by the camera and just like the previous problem discussed, you can fix it the same way. Another reason why a photograph can get a blue tint is because of large amounts of UV-light, to reduce this problem use a UV-filter that prevents the UV-light to reach the sensor without affecting the overall quality of the photograph. (Not a problem for most digital SLR cameras.)

Photo is half black

The flash doesn’t sync correctly with the camera (shutter). This problem was more predominant before the digital era, but old flashes can still cause problems with newer technology. Either buy a new flash or learn which shutter speeds work best — 1/125 and 1/60 are usually good.

Chromatic aberration

Chromatic Aberration (sometimes also called “purple fringing”) is an optical effect and it’s seen as purple edges around an object, sometimes green edges on the opposite side are also visible. This effect is most common in situations with strong contrast, such as sunlight against dark objects or black text on white background. The problem is more prominent on zoom lenses, the longer the range the worse the problem usually is. To prevent it you could use a smaller aperture — shooting with the lens wide open will enhance the problem.

Sensor Dust

These gray spots are usually caused by sensor dust. The best way to get rid of this problem is to keep your gear clean and dust free. The sensor is very sensitive and cleaning it will mean that you expose it to further risks. Some photographers send their cameras to be cleaned while others clean the sensor themselves. Choose which option you like best.

Want to Learn More About Photography?

If you’d like to learn more about Photography, Lenses, and Equipment, be sure to see the rest of our Photography Tutorials! If you’re a beginner, you may want to check out our Photography Basics Tutorial. Also feel free to leave a comment here, and someone will try to answer your questions as quickly as possible!

49 Comments

  1. Add point Subtract point
    MicMart (1 Point) April 23, 2011 at 6:02 am

    I am a beginner, thanks for the tips.

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  2. Add point Subtract point
    Ron Gribble (1 Point) April 6, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    I am an artist, and I often take photos of my work on my digital camera. I have found that I often have a swurling pattern that is on the photograph. I have changed the light, the camera settings, but it is still there?

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  3. Add point Subtract point

    Photoshop tutorials, from beginner to advanced. photo manipulation, icon design, text effects, interface, layout, painting, photo effects, psd tuts, maxon cinema 4d, designing.
    http://photoshopcs8.co.cc

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  4. Add point Subtract point

    Your time and diligence on this site is commendable. For those of us just starting, it has been enlightning to say the least. I find it is an invaluable tool for those who need basic guidence and I am sure that even some more experienced photographers appreciate the information posted here. Thanks

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  5. Add point Subtract point
    taxi dnepr (1 Point) September 25, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Thanks for a selection, were useful in practice

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  6. Add point Subtract point
    اليوتيوب (1 Point) September 22, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Fredrika this is an art work and its very professional too

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  7. Add point Subtract point
    Lito Gonzales (1 Point) August 31, 2010 at 10:19 am

    Very informative and a big help to those who are just beginner like me.

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  8. Add point Subtract point

    My good camera (non-DSLR) stuffs up almost every photo I take with noise, I’ll see what I can do with better photography skills gained from reading about ISO and aperture. Thank you for this list. Because apparently it doesn’t take a good camera to take a good photo so hopefully I can get more good photos than 8.

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    Dave (1 Point) May 13, 2010 at 9:34 am

    Depending upon the angle you’re shooting at, lens flare can’t be avoided. Try using your hand (while looking through the finder) to block out incoming light (just make sure you don’t get your hand in the pic). Image stabilisation comes in handy here. Still, there are times those pesky flares can’t be avoided. Make ‘em work for you.

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  10. Add point Subtract point
    Mark (1 Point) May 1, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    What about milky photos? :( my beautiful photos were milky after they developed. Not over-exposed, but milky. It was very frustrating.

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  11. Add point Subtract point
    Web Design (1 Point) April 26, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    good pointers thanks for sharing

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  12. Add point Subtract point
    Courtney (1 Point) March 10, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    Heyy.. I love your work fredrik
    Thanks for the advice!!!
    xx Courtney

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  13. Add point Subtract point
    โหลดเพลงฟรี (1 Point) February 3, 2010 at 1:00 am

    wow Great article, thanks!163

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  14. Add point Subtract point
    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุด (1 Point) February 1, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    wow Great article, thanks!150

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  15. Add point Subtract point
    เพลงใหม่ล่าสุด (1 Point) February 1, 2010 at 1:07 am

    wow Great article, thanks!145

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  16. Add point Subtract point
    Alexandra (1 Point) January 31, 2010 at 12:51 am

    This was a very helpful article! I’m trying to perfect aquarium photography with my new Nikon D3000 and couldn’t quite make out just what the technical descriptions of ISO vs Aperture vs Shutter speed were trying to tell me. Your article has definitely cleared the relationship up for me, even if it wasn’t a main point. :)

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  17. Add point Subtract point

    In regards to yellow toned photos…..When I take pictures indoors at night, with warm lighting, the pictures always turn out yellow. I don’t like using flash, and I have tried adjusting all my settings including type of picture, white balance, exposure, ISO, EVERYTHING, but can’t seem to get crisp true colors in this setting.
    I thought it was unavoidable, but my room mate seems to be able to get a nice shot on her Canon, (but her friend whos a professional photographer, showed her how and she doesn’t know what she did)
    I own a Nikon D3000 and can match all my settings to hers but still get a super yellow picture.
    Please does anyone have a tip for me? I am new with DSLRs.
    Thanks!

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  18. Add point Subtract point

    good article like more of this articles

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  19. Add point Subtract point
    vilete (1 Point) October 7, 2009 at 4:10 am

    Nice!But I when I had a DSRL,I will useing it^^Thanks

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  20. Add point Subtract point
    himmat verma (1 Point) October 2, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    sir,
    i ve recentlypurchased a sony dsc h50.
    i am a green horn but interested in photography
    i like natural subjects and need some tips to get started and want some to have a look at my photographs and guide me.

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  21. Add point Subtract point
    Bhupal (1 Point) June 24, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    Thanks for sharing photographic advise.

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  22. Add point Subtract point
    John W (1 Point) May 24, 2009 at 6:38 am

    Yes, I’d have to agree with Sam Smool, and I’m quite concerned with the amount of people who seem to lack the proper amount of photo knowledge, i.e., Houston Web Design. Honestly, if you have a DSLR, and don’t know about basic white balance settings, you really should go back to using a compact camera. Don’t buy an expensive piece of equipment until you understand how cameras work.

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      John,
      Why do you think a site like this exist? For those of us who want to learn! Sheesh, if you are so perfect and know everything, what the heck are you doing reading things on this site anyway. You don’t (obviously) need any information on photography. I bet if you were to take up internal medicine, or micro-biology you probably would not have to look up anything on those subjects either. Trolls….. they are everywhere!!!!

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  23. Add point Subtract point
    Sam Smool (0 Points) April 13, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    Talk about stating the bloody obvious…
    This guide is laughable

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    • Add point Subtract point

      Hello to you Sam.

      I take it you are a super photographer, and I am suprised you bothered reading anything posted here, after all the title should have given you an inkling that your capabilities could never be improved by what ever could be published on a professional site like this.. Why don’t you post something you think is usefull as you think this site is a joke. Step up Mr. obvious, we would like to see some of your astounding work..or better still maybe you could show us some of your published photos that have made Time magazine or perhaps National geographic, or some other, (I am sure by your attitude you consider trivial), publication. Maybe you only hold private showings in the Louvre, one thing for sure I do not know any one who has ever seen your work or knows your name. Too bad as I see by your post you have sooo much to offer to the world of photography..

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  24. Add point Subtract point
    Ron Lazar (1 Point) February 20, 2009 at 4:35 am

    Fredrik, This site is fantastic! Brilliant photos and sound photographic advise. I Bookmarked your site so I can show my son Garren who is also an avid photographer. There is always something new to learn and try in photography, but most of us only scratch the surface. Thanks for posting this marvelous site. Ron Lazar

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  25. Add point Subtract point
    Ron Lazar (1 Point) February 20, 2009 at 4:31 am

    David, This site is fantastic! Brilliant photos and sound photographic advise. I Bookmarked your site so I can show my son Garren who is also an avid photographer. There is always something new to learn and try in photography, but most of us only scratch the surface. Thanks for posting this marvelous site. Ron Lazar

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  26. Add point Subtract point

    hello
    thanx for the very important tips
    no more bad photos
    they are really useful

    :)

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  27. Add point Subtract point
    projectautomatika (1 Point) January 7, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    Good pointers. Thanks for this article.

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  28. Add point Subtract point

    Very good articles for my upcoming photography project. It has helped me in the transition from film photography to digital photography.
    Maybe you should include some equipment reviews to make it a 1 stop photography website. Thank you.

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  29. Add point Subtract point
    Houston Web Design (1 Point) November 10, 2008 at 1:53 am

    The tip on the yellow/orange photos was awesome!. I use a Sony alpha 100 DSLR. In automatic mode it does great during daytime. But at night everyone of my photos was ruined by the yellowish / orange tint. I had tried everything. Faster Lenses. External Flash. Putting the camera into program mode. And still nothing helped. Then after reading this. I looked at my camera’s settings for White Balance. Turns out it was in Automatic White Balance. As soon as I changed it to manual White Balance, and just left all values to Zero, the yellowish tint was gone. Finally my pictures look just like the way I see them. There is a whole new world waiting for me now!

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  30. Add point Subtract point

    Great article – i finally understood why the hell do i need a UV filter.
    Thanks.

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  31. Add point Subtract point
    Miguel Reyes (1 Point) September 14, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    Great camera tips. You definitely cleared up some issues I was having with my camera. :) Thanks! Before I forget I was looking for the trackback link, but I could not find it.

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  32. Add point Subtract point

    @Sebastien: Thanks for the tip Sebastien. That’s probably a major concern now that you’ve pointed it out. Ah well, it was time to invest in a modern flash anyways!

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  33. Add point Subtract point
    Sebastien (1 Point) September 11, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    @David Leggett :I’m using an external flash so old, it could qualify as an antique

    Be carefullwith that external flash. Old flashes were outputing high voltage on the hotshoe of the SLR. Since newer camera are more computer then camera this voltage has been lowered down very much. This transfer to your camera as a risk of frying inner parts. Be sure to check compatibility or get a new one !

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  34. Add point Subtract point

    Some great stuff you got here!
    Helped clear up stuff for me in photography, and given me some good pointers for future shots! Great stuff!

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  35. Add point Subtract point
    Banzaiaap (1 Point) September 7, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    Thanks a lot, great tips in this article!

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  36. Add point Subtract point

    Great article, very insightful for people wondering why their getting those issues

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  37. Add point Subtract point
    crazyhunk (1 Point) September 5, 2008 at 1:41 am

    really good article…. covers quite a good number of tips…

    Thanx a lot … :)

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  38. Add point Subtract point
    NaldzGraphics (1 Point) September 4, 2008 at 1:41 am

    great article.too bad i still dont have my own camera yet. i only use my cp on capturing:D

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  39. Add point Subtract point

    Excellent article Fredrik — cleared up a few things for me. I found the half black solution very useful (I’m using an external flash so old, it could qualify as an antique).

    @LBrother: Some of those tips apply to Consumer point-and-shoots I’d say ;)

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  40. Add point Subtract point
    LBrother (1 Point) September 3, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    I wish I had a SLR, so I could have a use for this tutorial… but I don’t :-(
    Otherwise: Great comprehensive list of common issues!

    Greetings,
    LBrother

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