The importance of being earnest (and critical of your own work)

Repeatedly analysing your own photography is, I believe, one of the most favourable thing a photographer can do. You need that critical eye in order to develop and to improve your photography.

Here are some thoughts from a pretty failed photo shoot. The good part is that I had a tremendous lot of fun while shooting. I left home for a good two-three hours and just walked around, shooting, enjoying myself. The bad part that was that I was hardly satisfied with any of the shots I came home with. I therefore decided to post a bunch of photos of very varying quality.

Here is a tree that I could see from the bus I was taking. I quickly got off the bus and tried to find a nice angle to shoot it from. I had an idea in my mind of cropping it to square format and trying to use the road as a nice, winding line in the photo.


tree2

In retrospective I am thinking I really should have tried shooting the tree from a lower angle in order to separate it from the background. This way the photos feel busy when the tree reaches the horizon and the background messes it up. I was thinking of this already then, but there were about 10 people waiting at a bus stop just nearby. I was doing my best to dodge them and to exclude them from the shot, but I think I was feeling somewhat embarrassed (and curiously observed) and this stopped me from really doing my best, laying down on the ground and what not. Lesson learned: screw people. Ignore them and do what you think serves the picture best.

tree
Walking around, I thought of the idea to take one of those cliché blurred photos of trees like the one below. I was not overly impressed by the results. I was feeling somewhat rushed and this was not what I had in mind initially. I wanted to shoot landscapes. Still, it was one of those shots I had never tried before, only seen others take.

Some time later after that I stumbled upon a blog with an interesting post with gorgeous shots. Here’s a link: http://drawandshoot.me/2014/01/17/somewhere-along-the-way/

This put another item in my pipeline for the future: more blurred and so-called “abstract” shots is definitely on the way. This time with it being the main purpose of the photo-walk and where I get to take plenty of shots to see what I can achieve with different types of camera shake and motion blur.

abstract
As I was going through the photos from this photo I found myself repeatedly thinking “meh, these photos aren’t up to it”. Still, I would try to edit them in different ways. This is also a time to talk about ”forcing” photos and how you desperately try to edit lost shots into good ones. Nasim recently discussed this at photographylife.com (http://photographylife.com/post-processing-pains).

Post processing is both a curse and something lovely. In one way, being able to recover a “lost” photo is a great tool. You might have caught something, a moment, an emotion, a composition, but lost something else. This would normally be the exposure. Being able to recover shadows and correct the exposure is a brilliant thing.

colour
No. Adding vignette, B&W and grain does not automatically make a bad photo a good photo. It’s that simple. Just get it already!

nocolour
This is a shot that I “saw” from quite some distance and really tried hard to get. I have heaps of images taken from different angles and at different focal lengths of this life buoy. If only the tree would have been a bit more separated from the other trees (to the right, outside of the frame), rather than licking the side of the photo it would have been a really neat photo. Also, here’s the same issue with adding grain and vignette in a desperate attempt to save the photo. Granted, I still very much enjoy successful photos with just that editing. The vignette is just a bit too pronounced in this photo. I think the photo would also benefit from a simpler horizon with no islands.

horizon
Here’s an idea: Nikon d90 sucks for high ISO levels. The pictures are just falling apart. I’ve done some tests in better lighting to see how well I can reduce the noise and it was all fine. Real life seems to be another issue, though.

examplefailice
And a crop of the same photo. No amount of noise reduction or other post processing technique could save this.

isofail
Here’s another crop of an earlier shot. Also, here’s a reminder: use plenty of + exposure compensation! So many of the photos would end up too dark, and this is hard to see on the lcd when out there in the bright situations. High ISOs + underexposed photos = massive noise problems.

3200iso
This is actually a photo that I haven’t got much negative to say about. It’s minimalistic with nice, waving, blades of grass sticking out of the snow. If it teaches me anything it is to look everywhere around you and not just at the obvious. I do try to aim my lens downwards every so often and to try to pinpoint those small details that might actually make for interesting photos.

minimalism
White balance is another issue. For some reason most of the photos came out way too cold and with a nasty blue colour cast. I could click virtually anywhere on the photo in camera raw with the white balance tool and it would be correct. Don’t know why the camera just couldn’t do it. Perhaps it just stops working in really low light?

whitebalance
To summarise: I think it’s possible to learn and improve from each and every photoshoot as long as you take your photography seriously and give yourself time to think about why the images look like they do and to reflect upon them. Taking bad photos sucks. Taking bad photos and understanding why they are so is a tool of learning and a prerequisite for development.

/Martin

2 thoughts on “The importance of being earnest (and critical of your own work)

  1. Mycket intressant post Martin! Tack!
    Jag kan känna nu hur mycket jag missat som mest suttit inomhus och gnällt över vädret denna vinter… Huh… 😉
    Nåja, det är bara att ge sig ut igen! 😀

    • Haha, ja. Jag försöker lära mig att kunna ta foton av “allt”, dvs fint, fult, dramatiskt, vardagligt osv. Annars kan man alltid ha ursäkter för varför man inte kan fotografera en viss dag under vissa omständigheter. Sen är det nog lite av en önskedröm men jag tror att det kan finnas en poäng med det 😉

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