the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

The Worst of 2013 and Lessons Learned

You will find many “best of 2013” posts and news articles this time of year. Today, I’m going the opposite direction and posting my worst of 2013. Actually, these aren’t truly the worst, just some bad images that didn’t get deleted immediately.

Every photographer posting on the internet is posting images they are proud of, and it is the same with me. I get a lot of comments on how great my images are, but that is only because I don’t show anyone the bad stuff (at least until now). Ask any professional photographer whose work you admire if they take any bad shots, and  if they say “no”, they are lying to you.

However, taking bad shots is not, in fact, a bad thing to do. Taking a lot of shots, trying a lot of different compositions, and experimenting in different techniques is a good way to learn what works and what doesn’t work, even if many of your images do turn out bad. Take a lot of differing shots and you are bound to come up with at least a few good ones. Learn from you mistakes, and the percentage of good shots will grow. If you don’t have any bad ones, in my opinion, you are either totally stale or not shooting enough. There’s no reason with digital cameras not to go out on a limb and try something different. Be brave, experiment! Try different exposures, try moving the camera while shooting, try a different perspective. Just remember to try to learn from both what works and what doesn’t.

Here are some of my worst images of 2013, one for each month except for July. July is excluded not because I didn’t take any bad shots in July, but because I only used my camera at weddings in July and I’m not about to put any bad wedding shots out on the internet. For the other months, I’m showing a bad shot both straight out of the camera and after trying to improve it in Lightroom (this is only fair, since I shoot RAW and process all the shots shown on my blog), plus a few comments on what makes it bad and the lessons I’ve learned once again.

January - a bad bird shot

January (out of the camera) – a bad bird shot.

Cropping helped make the bird a better subject, but more than half the image was thrown out doing so. Further, I was so far from the bird in the first place, only by this drastic crop could I tell the bird was actually looking away from the camera!

Even with a telephoto lens, the bird is just too small in the frame to make a good subject. Lesson learned (again) – make the subject prominent in the frame! Cropping helped make the bird a better subject, but more than half the image was thrown out doing so. Further, I was so far from the bird in the first place, only by this drastic crop could I tell the bird was actually looking away from the camera!

130217_Seattle_Bainbridge_001309-2

February (out of the camera) – what’s the subject?

Processing in Lightroom, as shown here, was no help. There is no computer software out there to add an interesting subject when there isn't one to begin with!

Trying to show what it is like sailing into Bainbridge Island on a ferry, I took this shot. But where’s the subject? All I see is a lot of featureless water. Plus the lighting was horrible – gray and flat. Processing in Lightroom was no help. There is no computer software known to humankind to add an interesting subject when there isn’t one to begin with!

March (out of the camera) - it's just like being there, NOT!

March (out of the camera) – it’s just like being there, NOT!

Where do I begin with this one. It is majestic standing below the Double Alcove in Zion National Park, and I wanted to capture that feeling. So looking straight up, I took this image. What a waste of pixels! First, without context, a viewer has no idea what this is or what the scale is (it's huge by the way). Plus there the contrast was huge. The sky was dark blue when the image was taken, and even processing in Lightroom couldn't fix the contrast problem.

This has so much wrong with it, where do I begin. It is majestic standing below the Double Alcove in Zion National Park, and I wanted to capture that feeling. So looking straight up, I took this image. What a waste of pixels! First, without context, a viewer has no idea what this is or what the scale is (it’s huge by the way). Plus there the contrast was huge. The sky was dark blue when the image was taken, and even processing in Lightroom couldn’t fix the contrast problem.

April (out of the camera) - it was a dark day, but not this dark!

April (out of the camera) – dark and slanting.

This shot was so underexposed that "fixing" in in Lightroom comes with unacceptable noise. It was shot trying to keep some detail in the sky.

This was shot trying to keep some detail in the sky, but I failed horribly. Though hard to tell from the image size shown here, it was so underexposed that “fixing” in in Lightroom came with unacceptable noise. I didn’t even bother fixing the horizon slant. Lesson learned (again) – check the exposure settings!

May (out of the camera) - artistic blur failure

May (out of the camera) – artistic blur failure.

The processed version does nothing to help. The idea was to get a blurred person walking by the river in Spokane. But this just doesn't work. The shutter speed was wrong and I pressed the shutter button at the wrong time, framing the subject at the wrong spot. However, this is actually a case where I applied a lesson previously learned - I took many shots from the same spot with different people walking by, using several different shutter speeds and did get a few acceptable results.

The processed version does nothing to help. The idea was to get a blurred person walking by the river in Spokane. But this just doesn’t work. The shutter speed was wrong and I pressed the shutter button at the wrong time, framing the subject at the wrong spot. However, this is actually a case where I applied a lesson previously learned – I took many shots from the same spot with different people walking by, using several different shutter speeds and did get a few acceptable results. This is just not one of them.

130611_Titlow_008572-2

June (out of the camera) – great light star, bad everything else.

Attracted by the sun peeking through the pilings, I wanted to capture a light star and did succeed. Unfortunately, I forgot about getting a level horizon, and fixing that in Lightroom causes the piling on the left to be too close to the frame edge. Trying to bring detail in the dark part of the image just brings unacceptable digital noise.

Attracted by the sun peeking through the pilings, I wanted to capture a light star and did succeed. I thought, at the time, I needed to work fast before the sun set. Unfortunately, I forgot about getting a level horizon, and fixing that in Lightroom causes the piling on the left to be too close to the frame edge. Trying to bring detail in the dark part of the image just brings unacceptable digital noise. Lesson learned (again) – take time to consider things like proper exposure and level horizons.

August (out of the camera) - bad bug shot

August (out of the camera) – bad bug shot.

Again, Lightroom has no magic "unsuck" filter and the processed images is no better than the original. Here I've focused on the wrong spot and cut off the tip of the wing with the frame. Yuck!

Again, Lightroom has no magic “unsuck” filter and the processed images is no better than the original. Here I’ve focused on the wrong spot and cut off the tip of the wing with the frame. Yuck!

September (out of the camera) - how not to expose for the highlights

September (out of the camera) – how not to expose for the highlights.

The original shot was so overexposed that Lightroom adjustments can only turn a horrible image into a extremely bad image.

The original shot was so overexposed that Lightroom adjustments can only turn a horrible image into an extremely bad image.

October (out of the camera) - failed artistic tilt

October (out of the camera) – failed artistic tilt.

Trying to capture the beauty of this stairway at the University of Washington, I experimented with a tilted perspective. It didn't work.  Fixing the tilt in Lightroom cropped off way too much. Though the experiment didn't work, I did take other shots using more "normal" view angles and did come away with a few good shots.

Trying to capture the beauty of this stairway at the University of Washington, I experimented with a tilted perspective. It didn’t work. Fixing the tilt in Lightroom cropped off way too much. Though the experiment didn’t work, I did take other shots using more “normal” view angles and did come away with a few good shots.

November (out of the camera) - great sunset, bad (very bad) focus

November (out of the camera) – great sunset, bad (very bad) focus.

There is absolutely nothing in focus in this image, and no magic software exists to fix it. I took probably 30 or more shots of this building and sunset, and all have bad focus. Lesson learned (again) - don't let your excitement for a good scene make you forget the fundamentals, like checking the focus. Auto focus is not perfect, especially in low light situations (as I proved to myself once again).

Though perhaps difficult to tell here, there is absolutely nothing in focus in this image, and no magic software exists to fix it. I took probably 30 or more shots of this building and sunset, and all have bad focus. Lesson learned (again) – don’t let your excitement for a good scene make you forget the fundamentals, like checking the focus. Auto focus is not perfect, especially in low light situations (as I proved to myself once again).

December (out of the camera) - whiteout!

December (out of the camera) – whiteout!

While snowshoeing at Mount Rainier, I wanted to show the near whiteout conditions. I guess the image did succeed, because there isn't much visible here. Lesson learned (again) - when there is nothing much in the background, put something visible in the foreground.

While snowshoeing at Mount Rainier, I wanted to show the near whiteout conditions. I guess the image did succeed, because there isn’t much visible here. The processed version doesn’t do anything to help. Lesson learned (again) – when there is nothing much in the background, put something visible in the foreground.

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13 responses

  1. hmunro

    Thank you so much for having the courage to post your “worst photos of 2013.” Not only is it reassuring to see that even photographers I admire occasionally miss the boat (pardon the pun) — but your critique of each image is actually a superb photo lesson in its own right. Happy new year!

    January 1, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    • Thanks! I am hoping the that others can learn from my mistakes and miscues, just as I learn from them every time I mess up. Best to you in 2014, may it bring many great photo opportunities!

      January 1, 2014 at 5:35 pm

  2. Great post, and I have many shots in my collection that suffer the same malaise. I just don’t have the courage to post about them

    January 1, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    • Thanks for the comment. I think, in my case, it is not so much courage as a desire to inspire other photographers. I have had students that are really down on their images; I have to remind them we all take shots that don’t work right and we can learn from that.

      January 2, 2014 at 12:28 pm

  3. This is great! We shoot, we analyze and we shoot again. I love the learning process with photography and applying that in the field. I often shoot many “bad” images to experiment, then try for the image I want. You have some amazing reminders in these images and no doubt you have many great ones! Happy New Year!

    January 1, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    • Thanks Eric. I don’t know about “many” great ones, but I do have a few great ones and many mediocre ones. Having a willingness to experiment and not to be afraid of failure is what it is about. Otherwise, how can we learn and grow as photographers?

      January 2, 2014 at 12:29 pm

  4. Thank you, interesting to read your lessons learned, I shoot a lot of photos and many, many are not good at all, for different reasons. Great to reflect on what makes them not good:-) Thank you!

    January 1, 2014 at 10:26 pm

    • Thanks for commenting. By looking at those reasons things don’t work the way we want, we can learn, particularly if there is some issue repeated again and again. Over the years, I’ve found I’ve had a problem with focus (and still do as demonstrated above). By analyzing my bad shots, I’ve done a much better job with it.

      January 2, 2014 at 12:32 pm

      • So true, I will do more of that:-)

        January 2, 2014 at 1:19 pm

  5. perspectivethink

    My eye may not be as fine-tuned as yours is (or maybe we just have different eyes for photography) but I thought some of those were pretty good, some before and some after. Maybe it was the subject matter, I don’t know. I liked the one with the field of tulips the best- what a pretty shot. I thought the darker image was really good but so was the lighter image. Yes, I know, you were unhappy with it but I liked it. I also liked the June and November shots as well. I guess it goes to show that some people’s “worst” work can always be appreciated by someone else as better than they perceive it. 🙂

    January 3, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    • Thanks for the comments Jake. Yes, some of it is in the eye of the beholder, and in my case, I am certainly comparing the shots to other shots I took at the same time.

      If you saw the other shots of the field of tulips, for example, that I took at the same time, you would agree this was a bad shot. Even then, processing made it almost presentable; but due to the level of digital noise brought out by the underexposure, it would not work for any high-resolution purpose (most images on the internet are low resolution, which hides many flaws). The same is true of the November shot, it looks “okay” as a low resolution image (as in the post), but the whole images is horribly out of focus. The June shot is a bit more subjective, the slanting horizon was fixable to a certain extent, but my main issue with it was trying to do too much (in terms of dynamic range) with a single image. I wanted details in both the sky and the shadows, and from a single image, I was not able to achieve that. Once again, as a low-resolution image, it isn’t too bad, but at high resolution, there is a lot of noise in the dark portions. In hind sight, I should have taken a series of images and used HDR or manual blending in Photoshop to get what I wanted.

      January 3, 2014 at 1:28 pm

  6. Pingback: Worst of 2014 and Lessons Learned | joebeckerphoto

  7. Pingback: Worst of 2015 and Lessons Learned | joebeckerphoto

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