Worst of 2014 and Lessons Learned
By writing this post, I suppose I am starting a tradition since I wrote a worst of 2013 post last year.This time of year, there are many “best of” lists, and as I’ve already presented you with most of my best images of 2014, I decided once again to go the opposite direction once again and present the worst of the year.
First off, a disclaimer: the images presented here are not really my worst of the year. The truly worst of the worst get deleted off the memory card before downloading or are so truly horrible that they get deleted prior to my normal editing process. That said, all the images presented here would normally be deleted during my regular editing process without a second thought.
Generally editing and deleting bad images can be an educational experience if time is taken to think about why an image is bad. In other words, you can learn from your mistakes. However, when I took the time to pick the worst of the year and try to “save” them with post-processing, I found it an even more educational experience than just deleting. This is because in trying to “fix” the images, I went more in-depth into why they are bad and learned more about the limits of my post-processing work. You may want to try this exercise yourself sometime.
Now, before I start presenting these bad images, another further explanation. Last year several readers objected to my post, stating that some of my bad images were not actually very bad, and perhaps even likable. That may be true for an individual viewer, but when picking these shots, they were selected in context of my intent when shooting the image and in relation to the other images I took at the same time. For example, last year I presented a poorly exposed image of the Skagit Valley tulip fields that one reader liked. The image was made presentable by work in Lightroom, but when compared to the properly exposed images I took at the time, it was not very good. Further, the post-processing work that made it presentable caused the extreme noise in the image to be quite visible. Another consideration is the limits of presentation on the internet. A poorly focused image might look okay when presented as a 900-pixel wide image on the internet, but when zoomed into at 100%, it would look horrible. So take my word for it, these images are bad.
Okay, enough explanations and on to the bad stuff. Below are 11 of my worst images of 2014, one for each month from January through November. December is excluded because I failed to get out of my house and try to take any serious images. That in itself is a bad mistake, but I’ll leave my preference for a warm house to a rainy, cold day in the field for another post.
Each image below was shot in RAW. Except for the October image, two versions of each are presented, one without any post-processing (other than the default settings in Lightroom needed to convert a RAW file to a jpeg) and the other my attempt to “save” the image by processing in Lightroom. I few could have been further “saved” with extra processing in Photoshop, but that wasn’t worth my time. Proper technique in the field always is better than saving through post processing. With each of these images, a small adjustment in position or a correction in technique would have saved them more than any amount of processing.
January – this image was taken at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. My intent here was to show the sun just peeking over the mountains as it set, keeping detail in both the sky and the foreground. I wanted to keep the foreground from being nothing but a silhouette. The result is a washed out failure, complete with bad lens flare.
Processing in Lightroom failed to improve the image much. I was able to bring a little detail back to the sky but much of it is still washed out. The lens flare could have been more minimized, but only with lots of work I didn’t want to put in. Lesson learned – some subjects just have too much contrast. It would have been better for me to wait a few minutes longer so that only a very small sliver of the sun is visible over the horizon. Alternatively, an attempt at taking a series of images for HDR processing could be made.
In February I had some time to kill before a meeting in Gig Harbor so I went down to the harbor to see if there was anything to shoot. I came upon this scene and liked the calm water and the cool evening colors. I took some high ISO shots to gauge the proper, much longer exposure at ISO 100. While there, several men came down the gang-plank and boarded the red foreground boat, turning on lights in the boat. I thought that was wonderful, as it would add some life to the foreground boat, and I eagerly shot the above image at f/11, ISO 100, 316 seconds.
The processed version does bring out the colors I was looking for. But what is a bit hard to see in this photo is that the red boat, the foreground dock, and the gang-plank are all fuzzy. It’s not bad focus; the rest of the image is sharp. What I most conveniently overlooked when making the image is that when the men came down the dock and got into the boat, there is no way the boat would hold still for a long exposure. With the men moving around inside, the boat was subtly moving, which was also causing the dock and gang-plank to move. Lesson learned – long exposures may be great for dealing with digital noise, but you have to make sure your subject is still. Even very small motions will lead to fuzzy results. In hindsight, I should have increased the ISO back up again. It would have been noisy, but the boat would be clear. In fact, my sample shots to gauge the exposure turned out better than the “real” shots like this one.
On a sunny March day, we traveled down to Cape Disappointment State Park for some lighthouse photography. The trail to Cape Disappointment Light travels by Dead Man’s Cove, seen in this image. I loved the way the sun was streaming through the tree branches and was shining on the water. Ideally, I wanted detail in the foreground, so though I shot with several different exposures, I favored shots with overexposure that I hoped I could correct in Lightroom.
Processing helped some, but the sky was too blown out at the top of the image. The only way to really salvage the picture was to crop the sun out, as I’ve done here, which of course, goes against my original intent. Plus, as you can see here, I was so enamored with the scene, I neglected to notice the no trespassing sign on the tree. I suppose I could clone it out, but it isn’t worth it. I also could go back and try to use HDR on the image (as I have multiple exposures), but in the end, I have better compositions that look better and don’t have as extreme contrast as this one. However, those other compositions still don’t really work the way I wanted. Lesson learned – high contrast scenes are extremely difficult to correctly expose and process and don’t always work. But then, you can’t get the results you want if you don’t even try. Keep experimenting, and someday, it will be right.
When on a trip to Steamboat Rock State Park in April, I waited around for sunset. I scouted the shore line to find a spot where the sun would be setting behind Steamboat Rock that also had good foreground elements. I thought a split-neutral density filter was needed, so as is my normal practice, I held it in front of the lens (rather than using a filter holder). The result, not only is the filter off-center, my fingers are in the frame. I feel like a rookie.
Cropping was the only solution real solution, both to remove the edge of the filter and my fingers. With the crop, the above image is presentable. However, the cropping ruined the composition I wanted – in particular, chopping of some of Steamboat Rock. Luckily I did review the image on the screen, saw my mistake, and took other images that captured the scene the way I wanted. I can’t say I learned a new lesson here, but I did use previous lessons – check the LCD screen and take a few backup shots.
One of the things I love about living in Western Washington is the ferries. It is so easy to hop on a ferry and head off to an island adventure, which is what we did last May on a trip to the San Juans. When on a ferry ride, I was walking around the deck. The the sun was shining and water was clean and clear. It just seems so magical to me that I knew I needed to take a picture and capture my feeling. However, as this photo reminds me, pictures taken during ferry trips rarely turn out. Instead, they usually turn into an image without a subject.
Nothing can save this image. Sure it is a nice shot of the sky and some clouds. It even looks like a nice place to be out on a boat, but without a subject is nothing but boring. Lesson learned, and not the first time – just enjoying your self doesn’t translate into a good photograph. To translate your feeling into an image, you need more than sea and sky.
June is a great month for shooting waterfalls. Last June I went down to the Lewis River in the southern Cascades and shot a number of falls, including Lower Lewis River Falls, a portion of which is shown here. I liked the composition with the tree hanging out over the falls. As I do sometimes when I’m excited about shooting, I forgot to check my foreground and ended up with distracting, out-of-focus leaves on the left side of the image. I’d like to say that I took other shots from the same general vantage without the distracting leaves in the frame, but I can’t. I took fifteen shots here with different exposures and shutter speeds and all have the distracting leaves visible.
Again, the only real solution is cropping, and even then, I couldn’t totally crop out the leaves without taking some of the tree that attracted me to the scene in the first place. Lesson learned – don’t let your excitement for a scene get the best of you, always remember to check your frame for distractions.
While on a backpacking trip in Olympic National Park last July I saw this buck. I’m not much of a wildlife photographer, but how could I miss with this guy so close. I had my 70-200 mm zoom with me, so I put it on and started taking shots. The result – a tree sticking out of the butt of the deer. My problem here was the same problem as with the waterfall picture above, except instead of a distracting foreground element, its bad placement of a background element. And, in hindsight, it would have been so easy to fix. Just a step or two the side and this buck would not have a really funny looking gray tail.
Once again (I’m really starting a theme here), the only fix for my not paying attention to what is in the frame besides the subject is cropping. In this case it doesn’t work too badly; in fact it helps make the deer larger in the image. Still, it would have been a better shot if I had only checked the frame for distractions before pressing the shutter button. Luckily, I followed the buck for several minutes and have several better shots without the tree butt.
At the end of August, I was doing some night photography of the Balanced Rock in Arches National Park. I was trying for moonlight lighting up the rocks and stars in the background. Two problems, though one is not my fault. First, Balanced Rock is positioned near the highway through the park and cars traveling out of the park light up the rock with their headlights. Now, you may even like this look, but it was not what I intended on this shot. The second problem is my fault, though a bit hard to see at this resolution. The stars are lines rather than points. When shooting start shots, unless you purposely want star trails, you need to use a short enough shutter speed to freeze the motion of the earth (which is what causes the stars to appear to move). Earlier, I had been shooting a different composition with a wide-angle lens where 20- to 30-second shutter speeds are acceptable. Here, I had changed to a medium telephoto zoom. This was shot with the zoom set at 51 mm with a shutter speed of 25 seconds. While the stars would have been fine with the wide-angle lens, at my zoom setting of 51mm, 25 seconds was too long, and the stars became little trails instead of points.
Some of you might say this processed version is okay. It is subjective whether the car headlights helps or hurts the image, in fact, the look has kind of grown on me. But the stars as little trails rather than points is unforgivable, particularly because I did know better.
September – I was still in Arches when this image was taken. I was hiking out of the Klondike Bluffs region at sunset. Having traveled half way across the country and hiking in a remote area of the park, I thought the sunset needed to have its photo taken and this is the result. However, looking at this result, I’m thinking that sometimes sunsets are better enjoyed by just watching rather than photographing.
Cropping down to a panorama did save this image to a certain extent. Cutting out the mass of blue sky certainly helped. In hindsight I should have zoomed in and done a proper panorama, taking three or four shots and stitching them together. While this works okay as is, with the extreme crop, it is not very usable for large prints. Lesson learned – if you insist of photographing a sunset with a lot of blue sky, zoom in, crop the mass of blue in camera, and consider doing a panorama.
October brings fall colors to the forest. Here is a shot of Icicle Creek near Leavenworth, Washington. I liked how the orange fir needles and pollen cones had collected next to the rocks, and I spent considerable time getting the composition of this shot correct. What I forgot to do is check the focus. The entire image is blurry. There is no salvation for this image and the processed version is essentially the same (so I’m not presenting it). While there are software fixes for minor focus problems, there is no hope for this image. Lesson learned (again and again) – check the focus.
In November I was still chasing a bit of fall color and made a trip to the Yakima River Canyon. Here I like the mix of green pines and yellow cottonwoods against the blue sky. And if you want to really bring out the blue of the sky, add a polarizing filter, right? Not necessarily. Wide angle lens can show so much sky that part will be dark from the polarization and part not. That is the problem here.
I put a lot of work into this trying to even out the color of the sky in this processed version. I was working solely in Lightroom, and could probably do a better job if I take it to Photoshop, but you get the idea. The end result is acceptable, and I may yet work some more on this image. I don’t know how many times I’ve made this mistake with my polarizer, but this was certainly not the first (or dare I say, the 100th) time. For some reason, I keep making this mistake over and over. Some lessons are harder to learn than others.