Digital Photography Troubleshooting :: Digital Photo Secrets

Digital Photography Troubleshooting

by David Peterson 3 comments

How often have you noticed that there’s just one problem with your photo, and if it were gone, you’d have a keeper? The following common problems happen to every photographer, and most of them require a simple and quick fix. I’ve written a few tutorials on almost all of these problems, but it’s much more convenient when everything is organized in an easily accessible list. Have a quick look through these common photography fixes. Your solution might be right under your nose!

Photo Is Too Dark Or Completely Black

Aside from removing the lens cap, you’ll need to find a way to get more light onto your digital camera’s sensor. This problem is often called “underexposure”, and the simplest fix is to increase the ISO setting.

Your camera normally adjusts the shutter speed and aperture settings to get a properly exposed images. However, when there's not enough light, it can't do this. Increasing the ISO will make your camera's sensor more sensitive so it can work with less light.

If you are using Manual Mode, you can decrease your aperture number or decrease your shutter speed. Both have a similar effect.

Photo Is Too Bright Or Completely White

Now you’ve got the opposite problem. Instead of your photo being too dark or completely black, everything is either very bright or completely white. This problem is often called “overexposure,” and it’s what happens when you let too much light into your camera. You can solve it by increasing your shutter speed. This reduces the amount of time your image sensor is exposed to light, making your picture darker. You can also get the same effect by increasing your aperture or decreasing your ISO speed.

Photo Has A Strangely Colored Tint

Have you ever gotten a picture back, and it’s tinted blue, yellow, green, or even pink? If this is happening, it’s probably because you’re using the wrong white balance settings. Thankfully, it’s very easy to fix. Just go to your camera’s main menu, and select white balance. You’ll be presented with a few options including outdoors, incandescent, fluorescent, tungsten, and custom. Pick the one that’s the most similar to your light source, and your images won’t have that weird color tinge anymore. If you've already taken the shot, you can correct it with an image editing program.

If you want to learn more about custom white balance settings, read the full article here.

Your Lenses And Filters Are Clean, But You Still See Black Spots On Your Photos

What is going on here? You’re a clean freak, and you still have strange black spots. Have you thought about cleaning your digital camera’s image sensor? Believe it or not, dust actually collects on the sensor, and it’s responsible for the spots. This problem will only affect you if your camera has a removable lens which will allow dirt to get inside your camera.

You can get your sensor professionally cleaned, or you can get the materials to do it yourself. Be aware that it carries some risk, so you’ll want to be as informed as possible before you attempt it on your own.

If you want to learn more, read my tutorial on how to get rid of sensor dust.

Everyone Has Red Eyes

Don’t you just hate it when you get back a batch of party photographs, only to realize that everyone’s eyes are bright red (and frankly, quite demonic looking)? It happens because your camera’s flash reflects off of the blood vessels in the back of your subjects’ eyes. There are a few ways to get rid of this, but the easiest is to just use your camera’s red-eye flash. You’ll know your using it when you see a eye-shaped icon on the screen. You usually get there by pressing the flash button a few times.

For a more in-depth understanding, read my article on red-eye correction.

Image by Noël Zia Lee from, CC-BY

Your Photos Have Lens Flares

Although they can sometimes be used for effect, you won’t always want lens flares in your images. It's caused by the sun's direct rays getting into the camera's lens. If your camera is pointing towards the sun (even if not pointing directly at it), you can get this problem.

There are a few ways to remove lens flare. The easiest is to move your camera. Change the angle of your camera so it's not pointing towards the sun. Another option is to purchase and place a lens hood around your lens. This blocks out the sideways light that causes lens flares. Finally, in a pinch, place your hand to the side of the lens that the sun is, so the sun's rays are blocked from getting into the lens.

The Common Causes Of Blurry Photos

Many things can make your photos blurry. There are usually three culprits. Once you learn about them all, you’ll be able to diagnose the problem very quickly. Here they are in no particular order.

Camera Shake Combined With A Slow Shutter Speed

Camera shake doesn’t always make your photos blurry. It only happens when you’re using a shutter speed below 1/125s. What is camera shake? It’s the tiny hand motions you make when you’re taking pictures. You can get rid of it by using a tripod, resting your camera on a surface, or increasing your shutter speed. More on eliminating camera shake.

Fast-Moving Objects Combined With A Slow Shutter Speed

Cameras can only capture fast moving objects when you use a fast shutter speed. That’s why sports photographers typically shoot anywhere between 1/500s to 1/1000s. This is the speed you need if you want to get as much detail as possible from fast-moving objects. Try it the next time you get the motion blur blues.

Your Subject Is Out Of Focus

Whenever your camera hasn’t properly focused on your subject, some parts of the image will be in focus while your main subject is blurry. To fix this, hold the shutter button halfway down and point the camera at the part of the frame you want to focus on. Most cameras will tell you what is in focus by showing you a little box. If the box is on your main subject, it’s likely to be in-focus when you take the picture.

There are many more issues to troubleshoot in digital photography, but these are the most common ones. If you have a problem you haven’t quite solved yet, please let me know via email. I want to collect a few more so I can help you out of a rough spot.

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  1. David Peterson says:

    Hi Ed,

    Thanks for the pickup. I actually meant 'decrease the aperture number'. I've added that extra word into the article now. Decreasing the number opens up the aperture further which will let more light in.


  2. Ed says:

    Mr. Peterson,

    In discussing underexposure, you suggest decreasing the aperture or decreasing the shutter speed and say that these have the same effect.
    Surely you mean increasing the aperture or decreasing the shutter speed
    as either of these will allow more light to reach the the sensor.


  3. Aldis says:

    Too dark pictures are also result of catching some source of light in the measuring section of the frame, while the object is somewhere in the shadow.
    Reverse is true about overexposure - the camera measures from some dark spot, while is is rather insignificant to you.
    Both of these problems are more frequent when shooting in manual or "half-manual" (aperture/exposure) mode. Program mode manages to avoid the problem in most cases, but then - well, your viewfinder shows quite a lot of info along with the picture.
    Not all white balance errors can be easily fixed, though. And not all images will look natural with them fixed. Although the human eye is little of a precision instrument when it comes to light balance (it adapts!), a street night image with the light coming from the amberish natrium bulbs will look weird when corrected. AND: correcting the WB in the field can be a problem, so - shoot in RAW!
    There will be no "red eyes" if you can avoid using flash, especially shooting close. The functions meant to reduce it will not provide ideal results either. So, prepare your graphics editor for work...
    It is difficult to capture a moment. The object may be too close, too fast approaching, too fast moving, your hand may shake. Sometimes you will have to live with what you were able to make. You can get more light into your frame by opening the aperture, but this reduces the DoF. Every stick has two ends, as we say in Latvian. Some of them hit more painfully, though.
    This much from me.

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