Photography & travel tips from an award-winning photographer, educator & wanderlust

Learn from my horribly awful photographs

Let’s play a game. I’ll show you some of my earlier photographs (or images of me) and you’ll try to guess what is wrong with them, either compositionally, aesthetically or just because. You don’t have to have much photographic skill in order to figure out why they suck. Through this game, hopefully you’ll be able to learn and take away a few rules about how to make your next image ROCK! Let’s get started!

What is wrong with this image?

Answer: The most obvious thing that should strike you (or me in this instance) is the fact that the bridge is growing out of my head. Like two multi-colored horns, they have no reason to be there. Second problem – I’m out of focus.

Solution: Photographer should have moved me to the left or to the right of that spot. Selectively focus on my face or use a smaller aperture (bigger f number) in order to get things in focus.

What is wrong with this image?

Answer: Selective color is used to…uhh…mmm… I have no idea. To show off how some tulips are redder than others, how well they cluster in the middle, to make a visual vignette? I have no idea what I was thinking back in 2010, but this post processing trick is “so yesterday.”

Solution: Don’t do selective color. It screams old way of photography and a complete beginner!

What is wrong with this image?

Answer: What is the subject of this image: the grungy hut or the plant that is in the foreground?

Solution: When taking an image, decide mentally what will be the subject of your image. Then walk around and find angles that will minimize the distractions near your subject. Then, think of an angle that suits your subject the most. In this case, it would have been nice to see the depth of the bungalow – giving it a 3D look and feel.

What is wrong with this image?

Answer: In this 2009 image of Bangkok’s Khet Phra Nakhon, I snapped this image while facing camera into the sun. While shooting into the sun typically creates a silhouette and makes you lose most of the details, surprisingly the power of Canon Powershot sd890 left some of the gold detail intact.

Solution: Don’t shoot into the light if you want to preserve detail in your subject. And come back to this magnificent location with a better camera!

What is wrong with this image?

Answer: The door appears to be leaning to the right or the photographer’s vision was off-center that day.

Solution: Keep doors, buildings, horizons, trees, poles, etc straight as they appear in real life. Don’t be an unintentionally drunk photographer.

What is wrong with this image?

Answer: His head appears to be intentionally cut off.

Solution: Don’t decapitate your subjects, unless they happen to be decapitated. Give your subjects room to breathe. If you have to crop, don’t ever crop at the neck, elbows, knees or ankles (anything that bends basically). Chopped off bits of fingers and toes look odd as well, so don’t go there either.

What is wrong with this image?

Answer: Too much is going on in this picture. There are too many lines leading in all the different directions. The subject appears to be straight in the center of the shot, but there are plenty of distractions to confuse the viewer into thinking the subject may be something else.

Solution: Get in close (by walking or zooming your lens). Try to fill your entire frame with your subject in order to reduce clutter around it. A larger aperture (smaller f number) should also do the trick of eliminating crap around your subject.

What is wrong with this image?

Answer: The bird is blurry.

Solution: Increase the shutter speed of your camera. This image was taken with 1/200 sec, but it is obvious that we should have selected a much higher number (faster shutter speed like 1/500 or 1/1000 sec). Don’t listen to your camera, especially when it’s a point and shoot variety. Otherwise, this could have been a splendid image – the rule of thirds is followed and the bird is looking in the direction of it’s path. Nice contrast between the water and the colors of the subject.

What is wrong with this image?

Answer: The subject is placed in the center of the shot. The subject is competing for attention with another object.

Solution: If your subject is moving, give it room to move into. This shot could have been remedied by panning the camera left and placing them closer to the right side of the picture. Find a background that will not visually compete for your attention. This could have been done by following a couple a bit or catching them at an earlier time when they were right between the two yellow barricades.

What is wrong with this image?

Answer: What is the point of this picture? Who are they? What are the up to?

Solution: Always keep in mind the story that you’re trying to tell through your photograph. You could wait for them to leave or find a different section of this vista without the two “photo bombers” in it. Or have the people holding hands, or taking a picture, or do any other action that humans naturally do. Also, try not to have an even amount of subjects, an odd number is always more visually pleasing.

There you have it, 10 pretty awful images from my photographic past in order to assist you to take better images yourself. Whether your images are or were as terrible as mine, don’t forget that everyone is at a different pace in their photographic journey. Never compare yourself to others! Remember that everyone starts somewhere and it’s up to you (and only you) if you’re going to improve, how much and if at all. Keep learning, keep practicing and keep shooting!

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  1. Nice observations. Every time I read your blogs, I learn something new. I have to say that on a couple of pictures, I really didn’t know how to articulate what was actually wrong with them. Keeping horizons, doors etc. straight is definitely something i’m guilty of! Great advice, thx!

    • Great, I hope that people can take away lessons or tips from my posts. Keep those horizons, doors, vertical lines straight!

  2. I really liked the self-deprecating tone of this post. A lot of times photography (and blogging) advice articles come off a bit pretentious, but by approaching it this way you made the post fun as well as insightful. I also enjoyed analyzing each photo to try and guess what was wrong with it. Call me a child, but I love a little puzzle 😛 Nicely done!

  3. great tips!!! we’ve really been trying to improve our photographs lately so your suggestions will come in handy. Good quality photographs make such a difference!! I always get confused when it comes to the shutter speed so thanks for explaining that!

  4. I started reading this article and thought to myself “pfffft shes never taken a bad shot”. You’ve really explained the composition aspects in an easy to understand manner! I think I could use some of these tips!

    • Kate, those picks suck, haha at least now I think so as opposed to back than. It’s all a work in progress and I’m glad to have stuck with it to see the difference.

  5. I love this how to guide! It’s so helpful especially since I can now address why I have issues with certain shots. I’m a huge culprit of bringing two objects into competition and also shooting into the light. Sometimes, I love how the sun frames certain objects but the whole subject matter gets swallowed by the crazy exposure! Thanks for these tips, they really will come in handy in future travels 😀

    • Shooting into the light is definitely a technique, but it is best during sunset, as opposed to my mid afternoon shot of the Grand Palace.

  6. I love when you post these. Great info for the beginner photographer or someone that just wants to take better photos. I’ve definitely realized the power of making sure lines are straight in photos and now HATE when I see a doorway that’s askew or a building that is just slightly offffffff.

  7. This is so fun. Not only are you critiquing yourself in a humorous way, but you’ve made a very good set of guidelines in the process! As with all artistic hobbies, photography is a constant work of progression, and it’s a good practice to look back from time to time to see how far you’ve come and understand just what you’re doing differently that makes your new images better. Thanks for sharing this, I’m off to go look through our hard drive and see if I’ve improved or am resisting growth!

  8. Thanks for this, Alla. I’m afraid to look at my photos, past and present but hey, I could lessen the impact by laughing at them. Keep on writing and keep on inspiring with your photography posts:-)

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