Improve your Photography by Not Taking These Pictures

I came across the latest comic from the Oatmeal today.   In addition to being damn funny, I found it to be painfully on-target.    I’m sure almost everyone who ever had a camera has taken at least one photo from one of the 7 types mentioned in the comic.  I know I have, hell I wrote about #4 recently (concerts), so I’m no better than anyone else.   Ansel Adams made some of the most famous photos ever with #3 (scenery) and millions of other budding Adams’ have been trying to do the same ever since.  I would like to add a couple of subjects of my own to the list.  These are just personal pet peeves (pardon the pun with item #1)…

  • Pets (cats, dogs, birds) – Yes, your kitty is awesome.  Not so awesome that she needs a complete portfolio posted to flickr for the world to enjoy.  Everyone has pets.  I love my pets.  Pets are great.  Pet photos… not so much.
  • Insects –  Bug photos.  Unless you are a really talented macro photographer, I don’t care to see the spider that was on your counter this morning, or the bumblebees in your flowers.  I can go outside and see those for myself.
  • Birds – Yawn.  Some people LOVE their bird photography.  They buy 600mm hi-speed zoom lenses, trek out to the Everglades before dawn, and sit quietly in alligator infested waters for hours and hours waiting for a particular rare bird to alight in their viewfinder to get the ultimate shot.  Those are awesome.  Then there are those that take their cheap Canon Rebel with an off-brand 200mm/f5.6 lens, set up a lawn chair on their deck, and shoot every bird that flies by.  Those are not so great.

Boooring. It looked better in person, trust me. Especially after hiking 45 minutes to get there.

The problem isn’t taking such pictures, the problem is when you share them with everyone.  But this is the age of oversharing, isn’t it?  Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc etc.   Combine sites like that with the proliferation of camera phones with internet access and you have the perfect recipe for an enormous flood of bad photos going online.

Take the photo on the left.   It’s scenery.  Item #3 from the cartoon. Not terrible, not great.   Would I feel good sharing this all over facebook or entering it in a contest?  No.  It’s just average (at best).

In my opinion, if you really want to be stand out from the rest of the online mediocrity, you must develop a critical eye and be able to delete bad shots ruthlessly.    Digital photography combined with cheap storage (disk drives and SD cards, etc) make it easy to take and keep thousands of photos.   Good photographers know how to edit and delete their shots (or hide them from public view).

It’s Good to Take Bad Photos…

…as long as you are able to look at them and learn from them and understand why they are bad (and not repeat the same mistakes over and over again).    While there are no “rules” for photography, there are some guidelines for making better or more interesting photos.

What is the focus of your photo?

Even if it is a broad landscape/scenery photo, where does the eye go to when it looks at the photo?  Does it wander all over the place or does it find a central point of interest?  If the eye tends to wander all over the shot, chances are, it is not very interesting.

Is it Exposed and Focused Correctly?

Is your shot blurry and out of focus?  Is it too dark or too light?  All of these things should be obvious, but are often overlooked when people get into a rush to post something.  Understand how to set your camera settings to make adjustments if necessary.

I could go on and on, but the subject of “how to make better pictures” has been done to death on hundreds of other blogs and photo sites.  My point is that the average photographer can learn a lot about making better photos by studying their own bad ones and understanding why they are bad and what could be done to make them better.

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