the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Worst of the Year

Worst of 2016 and Lessons Learned

As now has become my tradition, instead of the best of the year, I give you the worst. Well probably not the very worst, since those are often deleted immediately. While I had a reason to originally shoot these images, the only reason to keep them is to learn from my mistakes. I present these to let you, as well as I, learn from some of my mistakes. I have been doing this exercise of picking the worst of the year now for four years, and I do have to say, it appears harder each year to pick truly awful photos. Perhaps I’m learning? So, here are some of my worst shots of 2016, one for most months, both out of the camera (with default Lightroom processing) and, in some cases, with Lightroom processing in an attempt to save them (though most are not worth saving).

160118_white_river_0151January – Black Dog, White Snow, Bad Combination. This is Nahla on one of my winter outings last year. She was eating snow and I thought I’d get a shot. It is very hard to get a good shot of a black animal and keep detail in the fur. Add snow, and you have a contrast nightmare. To add to it, she moved as I was taking the shot and my shutter speed was too slow. Why? I don’t know, there was plenty of light. No hope of saving this by processing. Lesson learned – use a high shutter speed to freeze action (you’d think I’d know that by now!); control the contrast (I’m just not sure how in this case).

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160221_skagit_0679-2February – Sunrise on Mount Baker with Sticks and Debris. I was up a Fir Island (see my last post) and saw some beautiful sunrise light on Mount Baker. And I liked the reflection in the pond. But to get the reflection, some foreground sticks got in the way. And what is all that stuff floating on the water? Plus, only later did I notice the walkway and lights on the far side of the pond.  Processing in Lightroom brings out the colors on the mountain, and cropping gets rid of the sticks and floating debris, but it also takes the reflection. The end result is okay, but not great,and it certainly isn’t the image I was attempting to shoot. Lesson learned – don’t get so excited by the light to forget to check your foreground.

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March – Why Did I Shoot This? I didn’t get out much in March, and of the images I took, I didn’t see any real horrible ones. The best (or should I say the worst) I can offer is this image of a boat at Point Ruston near my home in Tacoma. Not a truly awful image, I’m just not sure why I took it. Lesson learned – take photos for a reason, not just because you have a camera in your hand.

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160411_newmexico_2455-2April – Slot Canyon Blues. On a trip to New Mexico in April, Tanya and I visited the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. On a hike there, we went through a slot canyon. I enjoyed moon hanging in sky above the canyon walls and was inspired to take the above photograph. Perfectly captures the moment does it not? Not is the correct answer. Shot with a wide-angle lens, you can barely see the moon. And can you tell it is a slot canyon if I hadn’t told you? There are contrast problems as well, but processing fixed that. The processed version cannot save the lack of photographic vision. Lesson learned – some scenes do not translate well to photographic images.

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160521_umtanum_2657-2May – Small Flowers, White Sky. Early May brought me a bad case of spring fever. So Tanya, Nahla and I drove to eastern Washington to take a short hike to Umtanum Creek Falls. The route passes through a small black-rock canyon. I liked the yellow flowers blooming on the dark rock wall and took the above shot, including the trees and sky above to give a sense of the scene to the image. Again, because of the large contrast between the rocks and the sky, the sky was totally blown out. And the composition is horrible; the flowers small and insignificant when they are supposedly the subject of the image. Heavy processing brought some detail to the sky, but doesn’t help the composition. Lesson learned – make the subject prominent in the image; minimize the area of sky in the frame when there is a large contrast difference between the sky and the rest of the shot.

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160630_olympic_4710-2June – Rain Forest Contrast. In June we made a day trip to the Olympic coast, visiting the Hoh rain forest and Ruby Beach. The light conditions were not very good that day for photography, and while you still can make some good shots in bad light (see my post about that day for examples), the image above is not one of them. Here I liked the backlighting of the leaves, the look of the water underneath, and the moss hanging above. Unfortunately, the contrast between the sunlit water and grass and the shadowed moss was too much for the camera to handle, even with processing. Additionally, the composition is messy – there’s too much in the scene. Lesson learned – simplify compositions (which admittedly is hard to do in a forest); avoid extreme contrast.

160704_tacoma_5321July – Action Unfrozen. On the 4th of July last year, Tanya and I walked down to the annual festival along the Ruston Way waterfront. There we briefly watched bicyclists doing tricks. I grabbed a few shots. Unfortunately, I wasn’t paying attention to my camera settings. The scene was in full sun, and I had no reason why I couldn’t use a fast shutter speed to freeze the action. Shooting hand-held with a 300 mm lens of a moving subject with a shutter speed of only 1/60th of a second is a recipe for failure. And that is what I achieved. It may have worked if I had been panning with the bike motion, but that was not the case here. Lesson learned – pay attention to shutter speed with moving subjects.

160805_lyle_5392August – Blurs in the Sky, Blurs on the Ground. I wrote a post specifically about this photo shoot which I titled Rookie Mistakes. I was attempting to photography the setting crescent moon in the Columbia River Gorge and even taking about 30 images, almost totally failed due to not realizing how quickly celestial objects move when viewed with a telephoto lens and not fully taking into account how much camera shake strong winds cause.  This image was worse than most, since I thought the airplane was out of the frame. No amount of processing can save bad blurs, though a small amount can sometimes by saved by Photoshop work. Lesson learned – use faster shutter speeds when shooting the moon and stars with a telephoto lens; use faster shutter speeds in windy conditions.

160911_montreal_5557September – Closed Eye Failure. On our trip to Montreal, Tanya and I visited the Atwater Market which included this bakery. I liked the look of the line of glass cover domes leading to where the gal behind the counter was helping customers. I shot off a quick burst of 3 images to catch the interaction between customer and clerk. Unfortunately, I caught the clerk with her eyes shut. Lesson learned – when shooting people, take a lot of images.

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161010_ingalls_7096-2October – Vignetting Ingalls Lake. Last year I purchased some Xune filter holder and lens adapters to use with my polarizer and neutral density filters. I knew there would cause more vignetting than when not using the system when using a wide-angle lens. Even knowing so, I wasn’t paying attention when I took the above wide-angle shot at Ingalls Lake with the polarizer. The vignetting was horrible. It can be solved by cropping, as is shown in the processed version. However, such cropping defeats the purpose of using the wide-angle lens. Lesson learned – watch for vignetting when using filters on a wide-angle lens; if you need the filter and still want the wide-angle view, try stitching two or three non-wide angle shots together.

161213_untitled_7669December – Blurry Shore. No bad shots in November because the camera barely left my bag. In December night, I was down on the shoreline in the Old Town district of Tacoma. I loved the reflection of the moon over the wavy shore. However, the wind was blowing very hard. Knowing the problems I had with wind down in the Gorge (see August above), I tried to keep my shutter speeds relatively fast, but even so I failed to get a non-blurry shot. In hindsight, I should have done more to weigh the tripod down and block the wind. Lesson learned – relearn August’s lesson and take precautions against strong winds.

Summary  –  We can all learn from our mistakes. Above are several of mine. In reviewing these, there are a couple of running themes – problems from contrast and problems with blurring. Those, and in fact none of the issues I’ve presented here, are new for me. But hopefully, by studying my bad shots, I will make such mistakes less and less.

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Worst of 2015 and Lessons Learned

If you have followed my blog for over a year, you know that I have started a tradition of, rather than posting a best of the year, posting the worst of the year. Well, they probably aren’t really the worst of the year, those get deleted immediately, but rather are generally bad photos that weren’t total mistakes (such as accidentally tripping the shutter). These are photos I actually had some rationale to take, though when looking back, sometimes I’m not totally sure what that rationale was. You can find great looking photos all over the web (and perhaps even on my blog), but you can sometimes learn more from the poor images. That is why I present this bad images; they provide an education to me, and you perhaps. I’m a true believer in learning from one’s mistakes, though as you will see if you go back to the 2014 and 2013 posts, perhaps I need to keep re-learning some of the same issues over and over. So without further adieu, here are some of my worst of the year images from 2015 – both the images out of camera (with default Lightroom processing) and, in some cases, with Lightroom processing in an attempt to save them (though most are not worth saving).

What's the subject? I don't know! (straight out of camear)

What’s the subject? I don’t know! (straight out of camera)

Same image with Lightroom processing

Same image with Lightroom processing

In January 2015, Tanya and I went snowshoeing at Blewett Pass in the Washington Cascades. One image from that trip made the Robinson Noble calendar this year. The above image did not. In fact, looking back on this image, I’m at a loss as to why I took it. And it is underexposed. There is apparently no subject. Perhaps I was just happy to be out under semi-blue skies (as much of the trip to Blewett Pass was through rain). But if that was my motivation, it failed in the image. Lesson learned – most photos need a subject or at least something of interest; many feelings are hard to translate into an image, and I need to work harder (rather than just snapping away) if I want to show those feelings in my images.

Washington Monument bulls eyed with tracks in the snow (no processing)

Washington Monument bulls eyed with tracks in the snow (no processing)

Cropped and processed in Lightroom.

Cropped and processed in Lightroom.

February took me to Washington, DC. I hadn’t been there and many years and was excited to photograph on the mall. I took this shot of Washington Monument with the snow-covered reflecting pond. I’m not sure why I tried this composition, bulls eyeing the monument and including tracks in the snow. Not to mention being underexposed (starting to seem like a theme).  It was partly saved in Lightroom, but only with a significant crop. Lessons – 1) putting the subject dead center in the frame rarely works, and 2) look for distracting elements in the frame.

Look a rainbow! (no processing)

Look a rainbow! (no processing)

Processed in Lightroom.

Processed in Lightroom.

I have not horrible shots from March, largely because I barely took the camera out. But April brought this “gem.” I was photographing at the waterfront in Gig Harbor when a rainbow appeared. I had to get a good foreground for it, but this was not it. At least it wasn’t underexposed! After the excitement of seeing the rainbow wore off, I ended up getting a few better shots than this one. Lesson – when you see something exciting, don’t forget good composition.

Fussy faraway fish (no processing)

Fussy faraway fish (no processing)

White skies in Dayton (no processing)

White skies in Dayton (no processing)

Since there is no March imge, I’ll give you two for May. The first are koi in a pond at the Chinese garden in Seattle. Fuzzy fish, small fish because I didn’t zoom in enough. Sorry, no processed version because there is no saving an out of focus image (I tried hand holding at 1/20 second, and it didn’t work). The second image, the historic train station in Dayton, Washington. But talk about a blown out sky! Again, no way to save that with processing. Lessons – 1) hand holding at slow shutter speeds usually doesn’t work – use a tripod or up the ISO, 2) when the sky is too bright compared to the subject, minimize it in the frame.

Look it's Mount Rainier! Where? That tiny white spot! (no processing).

Look it’s Mount Rainier! Where? That tiny white spot! (no processing).

With Lightroom processing

With Lightroom processing

In June I went to Discovery Park in Seattle to take some images for my up coming book. This shot didn’t make it in the book. I was trying to show Mount Rainier along with driftwood on the beach. I was close to the driftwood and used a wide-angle lens. This made Mount Rainer look like a little white spot. Processing helped a little, adding a bit of definition to the mountain, but the image still belongs in the reject pile. Lesson – wide-angle perspectives shrink the background;  be sure to check the size of objects in the background if they are important to the image.

Another small white spot? No, that's a bald eagle (no processing)

Another small white spot? No, that’s a bald eagle (no processing)

Cropping helps some (processed version)

Cropping helps some (processed version)

In July I went backpacking on the beach in Olympic National Park. There were a lot of bald eagles around, and I tried (and failed) to get a good shot of one. This was shot with my zoom maxed out at 300 mm. Still too far away. Even cropping in Lightroom doesn’t help much. Lesson – when shooting birds, you either need to get close or get some big glass.

Wires, wires (no processing).

Wires, wires (no processing).

Looks better processed, but the wires are still there.

Looks better processed, but the wires are still there.

In August, I took some images at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, again for my upcoming book. I like the glow of the setting sun on part of the building and attempted to capture that with this shot, partially blowing out the sky in the process. Was I really blind to those wires? At least I got most, but not all, of the street sign out of the shot. I was able to save the sky some with processing and remove the sign remnant with cropping, but only a lengthy session with the cloning brush in Photoshop could remove the wires. Not worth it. Lesson – sometimes there are too many distracting elements to make it worthwhile.

Bad exposure and out of focus (no processing)

Bad exposure and out of focus (no processing)

September brought me to Alaska to do a little salmon fishing, where I took this shot. The only thing worst than the poor exposure is the bad focus – nothing is in focus in this shot. Seems my camera was set to a stop under exposure from a earlier image and I didn’t reset it. There is no processed version because Lightroom still doesn’t have an unsuck brush available. Lesson – 1) pay attention to your camera settings; if you make a change from your normal settings, reset it immediately; 2) pay attention to focus, it really is necessary!

Leaves in a creek, so what (no processing).

Leaves in a creek, so what (no processing).

In October I was at Silver Falls State Park. I liked the leaves in the creeks, so made this shot. Do the leaves look like the subject to you? They sure don’t to me. After this failure, I took a few more compositions at the same location that were slightly better, but honestly, the whole series of shots will never be shown except here. I haven’t include a processed version because just like Lightroom doesn’t have an unsuck brush, it also doesn’t have an add-a-subject slider.

Misty morning (no processing)

Misty morning (no processing)

Processed in Lightroom does partially save the image.

Processed in Lightroom does partially save the image.

In November I took some images of the sun rising over Mount Rainier from the Fox Island Bridge near Gig Harbor. Beside shooting the mountain, I liked the mist on the water and took this shot. It seems that underexposure was one of my major problems in 2015. Processing in Lightroom did save the shot, but the digital noise is worse than it should be. Lesson – exposure is actually important!

Here's to a great year! (no processing)

Here’s to a great year! (no processing)

Processed in Lightroom.

Processed in Lightroom.

My son, Brooks, and mother-in-law, Maxine joined Tanya and I on our trip to Europe last month. We started with a quick stop in Chicago, where this image was shot. Brooks and Maxine are toasting our the start of our vacation, and I captured the moment. Except for that underexposure thing again; oh, and the glass of beer in Brooks’ face; and oh, only Maxine is in focus. Processing helped the exposure a bit, but there is serious digital noise. Luckily, I realized my error and took a second shot that is much better. Lesson – really watch your exposure with backlit situations, and pay attention to where the beer glass is!

That’s it, a set of bad photos. Let’s hope that some of these lesson stick with me in 2016. I hope this new year brings you many wonderful photos (and that Adobe adds that unsuck brush to Lightroom).

 


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. The result is a washed out failure.

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.

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.

I liked the calm water and the cool early evening colors.

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.

Processing

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.

March -

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

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.

April -

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 for the

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.

May

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.

May

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

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

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.

July

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.

I'm starting

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.

Okay

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

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.

Still in Arches

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.

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

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

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.

A lot of work

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.


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!

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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.

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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.