12 photography ‘mistakes’ that are actually creative tools

From ‘filling the frame’ to the ‘rule of odds,’ the world of photography has its fair share of dos and don’ts.

In school, photographers are often taught to shoot in manual mode rather than auto, keep their ISOs as low as possible, and get perfect exposures without losing detail in the highlights or shadows.

The internet abounds with articles about rules to follow and errors to avoid, but it’s harder to find advice on incorporating these so-called ‘mistakes’ as a creative method. Happenstance and lucky mistakes have always played a critical role in photography, dating back to the days of film, a much more accident-prone medium than digital. But even today, when it’s easier than ever to take a technically ‘perfect’ photo, photographers are choosing to break the rules and colour outside the lines. We asked twelve photographers about their favourite ‘mistakes’ and why they love to make them.

Nilufer Yanya, on assignment for Pitchfork © Maria Louceiro Experimenting with lens flare

“As a teenager, I was often labeled an unlucky person,” the Berlin-based photographer Maria Louceiro tells us. “As an adult, I’ve ended up relying on breaking the rules. I find that when imperfections flourish, I can create beauty. This includes adding lens flare, using broken objects that create light distortions, and experimenting with strange cheap cameras and lenses. With most of them, I can’t even identify where or when they were manufactured. I’m fond of very old lenses that are incredibly spent and flawed.”

Using old cameras

Speaking of antique gear, the commercial photographer James Aitcheson recommends using older camera models. “Learning to shoot with vintage cameras can give your photography a unique perspective,” he says. “I have a collection of vintage film cameras that I use on a regular basis for personal growth, and it has a profound impact on my photography. If everyone followed the rules, then how would anyone stand out from the crowd?”

“If everyone followed the rules, then how would anyone stand out from the crowd?”

Image © James Aitcheson Shooting in the midday sun

“One ‘rule’ that I often heard while I was in school was to wait for the best light,” the New York-based documentary and travel photographer Sofia Verzbolovskis says. “That is, we were instructed to go out to shoot in the early morning or evening to get that ‘golden hour.’

“But I actually love to go out and photograph in midday and explore the endless possibilities of photographing with harsh light. You tend to get very striking images, with an interplay of contrast, shadows, and silhouettes. I am often out walking at noon, with my phone in hand, which I absolutely love to use for street photography.”

The silhouette of a man as he walks past a church on 116th in Harlem © Sofia Verzbolovskis Adding light leaks

“I purposely add in light leaks to my photographs by opening my camera back on a roll of film,” the Maui-based family photographer Wendy Laurel tells us. “I also love sun flares of all kinds on my images and love water droplets and any other imperfections that highlight the light. I also use cheap lens filters in front of my lens to add colour or effects to sun flares. I use cheap gear as well. Kodak disposable cameras and

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