Ask the Pro: Stop Repeating Mistakes

By Marty Snyderman


"I cannot believe it! I keep making the same mistakes. I place fish faces dead center in my frame and cut off their tails. I compose horizontal frames when I should shoot verticals. I forget about backgrounds. My list of repeated mistakes goes on and on, but what really kills me is that the instant I look at my processed slides I know exactly what I did wrong and what I should have done differently. I just don't think of those things when I am taking pictures. Can you help me?"

This month's question is from Ruth P. of Chicago. I think her situation applies to a lot of underwater photographers, especially those with a sporadic diving schedule. The root of the problem is the time lapse in the cycle of diving, shooting, editing, and getting back in the water to shoot again after a short time span, making it difficult to stay "photographically sharp."


In this photo, the tail of the fish is cut off. To help prevent this problem repeating itself takes only a few easy steps and simple self-reminders.
Here is something that has helped me prevent the kind of problems Ruth is experiencing. Next to my light table I keep three sheets of slides that are examples of mistakes I have made in the past. Each sheet holds 20 slides, meaning I have 60 examples of my commonly repeated mistakes right at my fingertips. Before dive trips, especially if I haven't been wet for a while, I review these slides. The review only takes a few minutes, but it amazes me how many times I recognize a potential problem when setting up a shot on my next dive trip. The review "gets my head back into photography" before an upcoming trip and greatly increases my ability to recognize potential problems and avoid repeating mistakes.

I suggest that Ruth take this line of thinking one step farther. Right next to my sheets of common mistakes I keep a few sheets of slides of photographs I really like, and I review these slides as well. Once again the quick review helps me get my head back into the photographic game after some period of inactivity and also reinforces positives from my past. I think that too often we beat ourselves up over our photography, and we need to remember our successful techniques as well.

If Ruth tries the ideas suggested here I feel confident that not only will she avoid repeating mistakes, but she will also better be able to remember and apply techniques that have helped her be successful in the past. And she will do all of this before she trips the shutter instead of shuddering at her results when she edits.

Write the Pro at marty@martysnyderman.com, or via snail-mail to 638 S. Nardo Avenue, Solana Beach, CA 92075.