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

Learning from past photographic mistakes

After you’ve been  practicing photography for a while, looking back at your earlier work may be kind of painful and cringe-worthy. You knew nothing about composition rules, light, camera settings and clicked away at everything that stroke your fancy. Then you dumped 80-100 images from your trip on Facebook and called it a success.

I believe that going back to your old images may bring a sense of nostalgia of easier times when you didn’t scrutinize every single image for quality and worked it to death in post processing. And your significant other was happier, because you didn’t spend way too much time getting THE shot or waiting for the light to change. Ahh…those were the days…

Looking back on your old images, may also surprise you, because maybe they weren’t as bad as you may think they were. Let’s take a look at some of my circa 2011 images from our first trip to Malaysia. I was shooting with a Canon Powershot sd890, I hope to find even a hand full of shots that my present self would not completely hate.

First thoughts: What are those two things that I’m looking at, flippers?

How would I take this shot differently today: Get rid of the flippers (they are distracting). Walk back or zoom out a bit, giving the chairs some room to breathe. Keep the horizon straight (nice job old me!).  Take the picture in the morning or during sunset, maybe with people, or maybe not (I like the matching colors of the chairs to the umbrella).

First thoughts: Cool smoke and what looks like a religious ceremony. What a unique looking character he is.

How would I take this shot differently today: Definitely increase my Shutter Speed in order to freeze the action! Maybe walk around more as I take snaps from various angles, trying to eliminate him from the people, or put them in a more favorable angle.

First thoughts: Would have been a cool silhouette of a monkey. I wonder if I intentionally silhouetted him or by accident (probably by accident). Is there another monkey in the shot as well?

How would I take this shot differently today: Eliminate the distracting elements on either side of the monkey, by getting in closer or zooming in. I would wait until it was a bit further away from the tree, otherwise it becomes an extension of him/her.

First thoughts: So many turtles, but where should I direct my attention (my eyes are jumping from turtle to turtle).

How would I take this shot differently today: Use selective focus in order to highlight a specific turtle or a group of them. Maybe zoom in  to show how closely cluttered they are. Show off turtle heads in close proximity, because everyone always pays attention to heads first. Or crop the image, but on a Canon Powershot that is done with a heavy heart (too little pixels to work with as it is).

First thoughts: Oh no! Did I really take this and post it online? Cringe!

How would I take this shot differently today: First of all, know your camera! This shot was taken at ISO 800 at 1/15 of a second. That’s right the camera calculated for the night factor, but didn’t realize that this was an action shot (at least 1/500sec or higher). And I was really far away (probably zoomed in, which introduces more noticeable camera shake). Somebody walked by and I even got their shoulder in my shot – no, no, no! It’s hard to even tell who this poor guy is – photo fail!

First thoughts: Another baddie! What am I looking at:the back of the chair? the yellow table? the ash tray? the sea? the leaf from the tree?

How would I take this shot differently today: Always know what is the subject of your photograph. Know the story that you’re trying to tell. Is this a romantic lunch for two, then were is the food? Is it an amazing beach, then get down to the beach. Also, eliminate distractions, like the ash tray and the leaf – way too much going on in this picture and the contrast between highlights and shadows – yuk!

First thoughts: Whew! Not too bad! Check out that boat that is leading the eye towards the horizon and the colors are warm and inviting.

How would I take this shot differently today: I’d post process the crap out of the shadow areas, bring out details in the stones (because there must have been a ton). Of course, I’d use a different camera in order to get a file large enough (or shoot in raw) in order to be able to work some post processing magic.

First thoughts: Cool, a monk interacting with a foreigner and a bunch of stuff around them.

How would I take this shot differently today: Zoom in or crop at my foreign friend’s and monks conversation. Or selectively focus on just them with a large aperture lens. Or if the focus was good, I’d crop super tight and make the other monk the focus of the image.

This concludes our 8 image analysis and breakdown of my 2011 trip to Malaysia with a Canon Powershot sd890 and prior to knowing anything about photography. I hope that this post was helpful in your future purchase of Canon Powershot sd890 – JUST KIDDING! While the camera doesn’t make the photographer, it doesn’t hurt to have a better resolution, better night/sports performance if you’re going to be taking those types of shots. This was my start off point in photographic escapades and I hope that you don’t settle for mediocre in your shots either. I could have kept taking the same out of focus, no subject, overexposed images, but I decided to to invest in myself, my knowledge and come back proud and thrilled to share my photographs. I’m hopeful that this blog inspires you to grow, find your photographic vision and hone it.

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8 comments

  1. Excellent tips! Having a sense of what to focus on is especially important. Your comments on your turtle shot, and also the chair/leaves/table etc. are so pertinent to many people who want to capture a great scene, but don’t know how. Thx so much. Liked, shared, following and pinned!

    • Thanks tashtravel! Yes, technical focus and what is the focus of the image are pretty dang important, otherwise you just look like another click-happy photog.

  2. These tips are useful for amateur photographers like myself, though I still need to learn lots about the technicalities of photography. I could notice that though these pics needed work as you express in the article, that you have pretty good eye in terms of capturing or being attracted to interesting subjects and/or settings.

  3. Awesome tips thanks for sharing them! Been trying to improve our camera skills lately too it’s can be so frustrating but worth it when you get that money shot!! Definitely know what you mean about cringing when you see some of your old photos haha.

  4. Great tips. I have to say, I look back at my photography and I’m like.. woah.. why!??! Although I also think my aesthetic has changed considerably and I’ve grown into some photography skills that I didn’t have before. Still a lot to learn though that’s for sure.

  5. I love how you said “know the story you are trying to tell.” That is such a great tip! I’ve never really thought about that when taking a photo. You can clearly see the expansion of your knowledge and development of your photography skills. Thanks for sharing!

    • Storytelling is still very challenging for me, since sometimes I just like how something looks without thinking about the story that it portrays. But when culling, and having 1000s of images to choose from, a sure way to decide which one stays and which one doesn’t is by asking yourself “Does it tell a story?”

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