No one likes wasting pictures. And the real beauty of taking photos with a digital camera is that it’s so easy to learn from your mistakes. Simply press the shutter button and you’ll see the result instantly on the camera’s LCD screen, so you can assess it at once. It’s easy to zoom in on your photo composition, check the exposure, and confirm whether you have used the right camera settings.
Then, if you haven’t quite nailed the shot you wanted, you can retake the picture until you’re totally happy with the result.
As any convert to digital knows, retaking an image costs nothing. You can keep taking shots until you get what you want, and it’s easy to continue deleting pictures that don’t make the grade.
But getting a second shot that’s better than the first can be tricky. To improve your picture, you inevitably have to do something different – alter the settings, reframe the shot, or use a different technique.
But sometimes re-shooting is simply not an option – the moment has passed – so you need to know how to edit and improve your images digitally.
Here we’ll show you how to capture great shots the first time and stop wasting pictures by avoiding some of the most common mistakes in photography (and make sure you also check out our exhaustive list of 99 common photography problems – and how to solve them). You’ll learn how to improve your shooting skills, but also how to correct less-than-perfect shots that you simply can’t delete and re-shoot.
1. Cut out the clutter
You can easily get so carried away shooting your subject that you forget to scan the viewfinder carefully. If you don’t check the foreground and background, you can end up ruining an otherwise perfect picture. Do you really want shots with sign posts growing out of people’s heads , or an Asda lorry sitting in an idyllic landscape?
The easiest way to avoid such compositional toe-curlers is not to shoot them in the first place. The most effective tools are your eyes, and it’s important that you discipline yourself to look carefully at your composition through your digital camera’s viewfinder (for more on composition, see the 10 rules of photo composition – and why they work).
Every time you take a photo, scan the frame from left to right and from top to bottom, checking every corner  and keeping a lookout for elements that create a distraction from your main subject . If you notice an offending item, simply alter your angle of view, recompose and shoot.
Photoshop to the rescue
There will almost certainly be occasions when you simply can’t avoid a distraction in your shot. Perhaps you couldn’t get yourself into the right position, or didn’t notice the offending item until after the event.
In this picture we have removed the offending lamppost using the Clone Tool in Photoshop Elements (its icon looks like a rubber stamp). Using the Clone tool can be rather time-consuming, but it does the job.
The secret is to take it slowly, varying the size of the brush and your source point to suit the area you are altering.
2. Avoid limp landscapes
Great scenery doesn’t necessarily make a great scenic picture. Ignore this fact and it is all too easy to get carried away by the beauty of a landscape and end up with a dull, flat image.
It’s essential to watch the lighting. You don’t need a sunny day to bag a great shot, but the position of your light source can make all the difference. On a typical cloudy day you need to be patient, otherwise the sky will be a drab whitewash .
Wait for the light to break through the clouds in a way that successfully lights the main parts of your scene or the colours throughout the landscape will be drab . A good trick, whatever the lighting, is to use a graduated filter to help darken the sky in the image.
Make sure, too, that your shot has a clear focal point. Many impressive views are weakened by a lack of foreground interest, with acres of boring grass that fail to grab the viewer’s attention .
Find a camera angle that eliminates empty space at the bottom of the frame. Try getting down low to a rock or flower that will create foreground interest, or simply zoom further into the scene (for more landscape photography tips and guides on composition, check out the 10 Commandments of Landscape Photography – and how to break them).
Make a perfect landscape shot
1. Once you’ve found your view, set up your tripod and wait for the light to fall on the correct part of your scene. Lighting changes rapidly, so you must be ready and prepared.
2. Use a graduated grey filter on your lens.
This balances the contrast of the scene, darkening the sky and making the land look brighter.
PAGE 1: Cut out the clutter; Avoid limp landscapes
PAGE 2: Stay sharp at slow shutter speeds; Banish lifeless still lifes
PAGE 3: Avoid portraits that lack focus; Shoot into the light and avoid a washout
PAGE 4: Avoid lifeless action shots; Avoid poor photos in low light
PAGE 5: Rescue dull, dark exposures; Don’t flood the scene with flash
10 common camera mistakes every photographer makes
15 common photography questions from beginners (and how to solve them)
99 common photography problems (and how to solve them)
16 new cameras we’d like to see in 2013