All photographers take bad photos. It’s inevitable. Luckily, in the digital age, you just delete them and move on. Looking through some of my earlier images recently, I realized I didn’t delete any of the bad ones, mainly because doing so would have left me with no photos whatsoever. Instead I’ve got thousands of poor pictures from my early travels, each of which seems to have been shot using all 5 of my tips for crappy photos. But it’s not a total loss: I can still make fun of my ineptitude and maybe we can even learn something in the process.
Let’s start with this one. This meadow just below the crater of Mount Aso is undeniably beautiful, but would it have killed me to put something of interest in the photo? Anything? Horses were grazing all over this meadow, so it’s not like I didn’t have options. And did you notice how I put the horizon right in the middle of the image? One of the basic rules of composition tells us to avoid doing just that and I’m proud to say I’ve provided a perfect example of why that might be a good rule to follow.
I did eventually learn not to center the horizon, as can be seen in this stunning photo of……water? Honestly, I once again have no idea what I was trying to photograph here. Did I not understand the concept of a subject? Boats of all sizes dotted Yangon River all around my ferry and both decks of the ferry itself were crawling with hundreds of vendors selling everything imaginable to local passengers. I chose to ignore all the life and energy surrounding me and capture this bleak, gray memory instead.
What do you know? A subject! Yes, it would have helped to actually focus on that subject, but at least I finally took a photo with a purpose. As for the blurriness, all camera lenses have a minimum focal length and will be unable to focus on any object closer than that. While I would love to blame the little 4 megapixel camera I was using back then, I’m afraid I have to admit it did have a macro setting, as do most point-and-shoot cameras. Using the macro setting will allow you to get much closer to your subject and still get a sharp image. I decided not to go that route; I guess I thought it was too much trouble. Apparently it was also too much trouble to choose a better background than the blown-out sky…
Let’s ignore the obvious question of why I thought this deserted and completely uninteresting alley would make for an interesting photo and instead focus on the brilliant use of flash. Unnecessary use of flash is one of my pet peeves and not only was the flash unnecessary in this instance, given the lack (once again) of a discernible subject, it actually ended up reflecting off the raindrops and creating those lovely circles. It also served to draw even more attention to that big white square thing in the top right corner.
I know I generally recommend avoiding the flash, but when a high ISO and a wide open aperture still result in a shutter speed of half a second, just use the damn thing! I didn’t think it was necessary though, believing I could hold the camera still enough to get a clear shot if I only tried enough times—I took five photos of this woman and this was by far the best of the lot. At least the food was delicious, which brings me to:
The food. Rule number one of food photography: focus on the food itself, not the hideous tablecloth underneath. You’ll notice I did use a flash this time and got a sharp photo as a result; unfortunately it’s the afore-mentioned tablecloth that’s sharp, not the chickpea salad. And the bowl is completely overexposed thanks to the unnecessary use of flash. On a side note: if you’re wondering why the bowl is covered in plastic, that’s their clever way of avoiding the need to wash dishes. And people wonder why China has issues with environmental pollution….
Here we have a photo of……a metal pole, apparently. Thanks to my brilliant use of the auto-focus setting, the camera chose to make the streetlight the highlight of this image, but the best way to remedy that would not have been manual focus. No, it would have been to point the camera elsewhere and take a picture of something interesting instead. And preferably something without several streetlights blocking my view.
I figured I’d end on a high note with a photo where I did some things right. Specifically, I did not use the flash and I set the camera on a hard surface to keep it still during the long exposure time. Unfortunately, that surface was not entirely level, as you can see by the crooked photo and by the actual surface itself in the bottom right corner. It probably wouldn’t have hurt to slide the camera forward a bit, as an important point to remember when setting your camera down for a photo, is to set it on something that won’t actually show up in that photo.
I have to say, I was pretty shocked at how bad most of my photos were six or seven years ago. That’s not to say I don’t still take bad pictures, but these days I occasionally get some good ones, too. That did not seem to be the case back then. So if you find yourself taking terrible photo after terrible photo, don’t despair—I went from absolutely horrific photographer to being a mediocre one in just over five years and if I can do it, so can you!