Common Beginner Photography Questions

As a begin­ner in pho­tog­ra­phy, you often won­der why a spe­cif­ic image looks the way it does. You maybe notice that only a bit of the sub­ject is in focus, or there is a col­or shift and you don’t know how that hap­pened. Oth­er com­mon ques­tions are around motion blur (mov­ing sub­jects are blur­ry, but sta­tion­ary things are sharp in the image) and cam­era shake blur (every­thing is not sharp with a dis­tinct direc­tion of the trails) or out-of-focus blur (every­thing is blur­ry, but with­out a trail). Anoth­er area of ques­tions are around the bright­ness of the image (too dark — under­ex­posed, or too bright — over­ex­posed).

When we look at the exam­ple images below, I state a ques­tion first, and if you want to get the most out of it, you can then think about the answer before look­ing at my answers. To make it hard­er to cheat, I’ll put the answers fur­ther down. 🙂

How many you can answer?

Global Photo Club

1. The background is more blurry than I wanted

An image of a shell with a shallow depth of focus

You saw that love­ly shell; you got real close and took the shot. Only the front bit got sharp. But you want­ed the whole shell sharp!

What should you change the next time?

2. Moving things do not look like they are moving

an image of a helicopter with frozen blades

You got the cam­era out of the bag in time to cap­ture the heli­copter as it was start­ing. But you want­ed the rotor blades to look blur­ry, because they were mov­ing fast. Now it looks like the heli­copter is falling out of the sky!

What should you try next time to sup­port the impres­sion of movement?

3. Everything is sharp, but I only wanted the eyes to be sharp

Image for post
Pho­to by aver­ie woodard on Unsplash


You took a por­trait pho­to and noticed lat­er that every­thing is sharp, but this time you were hop­ing for that look where they only get the eyes sharp, like this one here:


Image for post

Pho­to by Richard Jaimes on Unsplash


How can you achieve this shal­low depth of field (DoF) effect and get only the eyes sharp?

4. My indoor photos look so orangy, what happened?

A christmas tree with orange color cast

At your lat­est Christ­mas gath­er­ing, you took an image of the won­der­ful Christ­mas tree. But when you reviewed your shot, you noticed a dis­tinct orange col­or cast. You remem­bered the col­ors a lot cooler.

Why did the cam­era pick up the col­ors so dif­fer­ent­ly than you per­ceived them? And what can you do next time to cap­ture the col­ors more natural?

5. There is so much grain in the image, what’s going on?

A hillside landscape black & white image with lots of grain

The ques­tion is already in the title.

6. The whole image looks blurry.

Blurry Bokeh image

The image has some­thing to it. Nice bokeh, but that was unin­ten­tion­al. You want­ed to get the lights in focus.

What do you think you have to do to fix that next time?

7. The image is not sharp, and I have these short trails.

An image with motion blurr
What hap­pened here?

Not much sharp in the image. What went wrong here?

Global Photo Club

All right, do you feel you have all the answers?

When you read my answers, keep in mind that some­times there is more than one solu­tion. The exer­cise was not about get­ting every­thing right, but to get you think­ing about what cam­era set­tings have which spe­cif­ic effect on the result. You can also do that exer­cise with your own images at home.


  1. You have a very shal­low depth of field (DoF) in the image, only a very thin focus plane is sharp. That is nor­mal­ly the case when you have a very large aper­ture (a small f/number), and you have a large mag­ni­fi­ca­tion. Here, you are very close to the sub­ject.
    There are sev­er­al ways to get more DoF and keep the same dis­tance from the sub­ject. You could use an advanced tech­nique called “Focus-Stack­ing”. Or the sim­ple solu­tion would be to stop down, that means you select a small­er aper­ture, that increas­es the DoF, more of the shell would be in focus. Just know that the cam­era selects a slow­er shut­ter speed when you select a small­er aper­ture (less light get­ting in through a small­er open­ing in the lens) to com­pen­sate for a good expo­sure, but with these close-up shots, you prob­a­bly have to use a tri­pod any­way to get a sharp image.
  2. Freez­ing motion in an image hap­pens when you have a very short shut­ter speed (e.g. 1/4000s). To get the rotor blades blur­ry — you can see the effect a bit with the small rotor at the tail — you should increase the time the shut­ter stays open, maybe start with 1150 sec­ond. The blade speed also changes, so you have to exper­i­ment with heli­copter images, they are not the eas­i­est sub­ject to cap­ture.
    When you slow the shut­ter speed, keep in mind that it increas­es the time the light hits the sen­sor, the cam­era now com­pen­sates with a small­er aper­ture to get a cor­rect exposure.
  3. You have the oppo­site sit­u­a­tion as in 1. If you want to have a shal­low DoF, then you need to get clos­er and select a large aper­ture (small f/number)
  4. When you do indoor pho­tog­ra­phy and have arti­fi­cial lights like the Christ­mas tree light­ing, the col­or of the light source can be a lot warmer (more yel­low-orange-red) than nat­ur­al day­light. The cam­era set­ting you want to have a look at is the “White Bal­ance” you can set it to a suit­able set­ting match­ing your envi­ron­ment. Nor­mal­ly you have set­tings for bright sun­light, over­cast, and sev­er­al arti­fi­cial light sources. The top­ic of white bal­ance needs more space to explain, I’ll cov­er that in a future arti­cle.
    For the more advanced: If you shoot your images in RAW for­mat, you can change the white bal­ance in post pro­cess­ing accord­ing to the dom­i­nant light source you had in the image.
  5. That was a mean ques­tion. I just put a more or less ran­dom image of my cat­a­log through a fil­ter of the Nik Col­lec­tion (Sil­ver Efex Pro 2), which cre­at­ed noise in the image to sim­u­late film grain. In the old film days, a fast film (high ISO/ASA) had a more grainy appear­ance, so you had to change film to a slow­er film to get less grainy images.
  6. The focus was way off on some­thing either very close or far away. That can hap­pen quick­ly if you nor­mal­ly shoot in auto-focus mode, and then you switched to man­u­al focus mode with­out notic­ing. In this extreme exam­ple you would have noticed your mis­take, but some­times it is dark and the focus is just a bit off.
    Some­times the cam­era is focus-hunt­ing and can not find enough con­trast in the image to deter­mine where to focus. You can hear the lens try­ing to find focus, that hap­pens often in low-light sit­u­a­tions. If you release the shut­ter before the lens was suc­cess­ful in acquir­ing focus, your sub­ject will be out of focus.
  7. This kind of motion blur hap­pens when you move the cam­era in the time when the shut­ter of the cam­era is still open. Basi­cal­ly a form of cam­era- shake blur. In the image you can see a cir­cu­lar trail, so I must have rotat­ed the cam­era around the lens axis. No clue why I did this, could have been acci­den­tal­ly released.
    To avoid cam­era shake blur, hold the cam­era still. Espe­cial­ly when hav­ing longer shut­ter speeds. The amount of cam­era shake depends on sev­er­al fac­tors. Just hold the cam­era still, and you will be fine. Or use a tri­pod. But with­out a tri­pod, try to select a faster shut­ter speed if you can’t hold the cam­era steady enough.

The top­ics touched sev­er­al con­cepts you might not be famil­iar with: Shut­ter speed, aper­ture, white bal­ance, ISO. I also assumed that you know how to change the dif­fer­ent modes of your cam­era to select shut­ter speed or aper­ture (and let the cam­era cal­cu­late the oth­er, leav­ing ISO alone).

I’ll explain that in more detail in one of the next arti­cles. Stay tuned!

Global Photo Club

Hope­ful­ly, you had a bit of fun with the pho­to quiz, and learned some­thing, or at least prac­ticed a bit of men­tal photography.

Have fun tak­ing images!

Global Photo Club

Leave a Comment