How to Take Better Photos

This is the first in  a series of blog entries designed to give you some new tools for creating better photographs.  In the future we will go over some of the “rules” I’ve taught in my classes, without which the aspiring photographer is ungrounded.  After learning all these rules, you are, of course, free to break them.  But you have to know them before you can hammer them into smithereens, right?

Let’s get started with today’s topic:

What to do with those shots that just don’t work out.

Sometimes you see something in your travels and think “Wow.  That is so cool!”  And you simply must capture it.  But after taking a few (or dozens of) pictures, you find you just did not capture it in a manner that conveys the “coolness” you perceived initially.  Or even worse…  The one shot that IS really nicely capturing the essence of the scene is badly underexposed – or overexposed – or worse yet…  Out Of Focus! Now what?

I think it’s best to work with examples and I happen to have a few out of my own library.  Yessirree.  Out of the hundred thousand or so images I’ve taken over the decades, you can bet I’ve had my share of WTF? moments when I look at “the shot” and find it’s not “The Shot” after all.  This was much more common when shooting film.  Now that we can see the results immediately, there’s a lot less room for coming back with useless images…

So let’s start with one of my favorite examples, entitled “First Snow”.  This photograph was taken during the first snow of the year (amazing how that fits with the title, right?  I know!) and, while I took a few other shots that actually came out just fine – this one was almost completely white.  Totally overexposed.  Probably because I had left the camera in Manual mode and set for some long time-exposure I’d been doing the night before – or something like that.  So the image looked unsalvageable when I first saw it.  I was going to just delete the image and move on.  Then I thought why not fool around with this a bit and see what I get.

And after a lot of tweaking with Photoshop I came out with the image below.  The things I like about this image are the stark whiteness captured by the extreme overexposure and the gorgeous aqua blue in all the windows and some of the landscaping that resulted from my processing.

First Snow:

First Snow

The next two examples are on the topic of seeing something a photographing it, but somehow the photo just doesn’t do it justice.  The amazing aspect of whatever the subject happens to be. is somehow lost in translation.

Our first example is a very interesting item I found sitting in an empty lot in Prosper many years ago.  Sitting towards the edge of this lot was an old, abandoned crane.  With a tree growing through it.  I thought is was really interesting – and odd.  And I spent about thirty minutes photographing this thing from every possible angle (would have been nice to have a bucket truck…) – but when I evaluated all the shots in my computer…

Something was missing.  I had failed to capture the unusualness of this oddball crane.  I was very disappointed, of course, as I really wanted empirical evidence of how odd it is to find a crane with a tree growing through it.


After examining all the images for awhile, I decided I liked a particular section of the read deck of the crane, which had a small pool of water still evaporating from recent rains and these great colors from decades of peeling paint.  There was this giant eye bolt fastened to the deck, which added height and interest as well.  All-in-all, a pretty interesting segment to work with.  So I cropped the image and went to work with Photoshop to bring up the colors, contrast and detail of the section I was working with.

Seen below is the original, side by side with the final photo, so you can see the before and after of this project.

Crane with processed eye bolt segment on the right

And in the final example of this post:

We were in Austin over the summer and headed into Whole Foods, as I recall, when I noticed this really nice example of Lantana, which I thought would look nice against the dramatic blue sky with dramatic white clouds.  So I crouched down to line up the Lantana correctly and took a couple of shots.  During processing, I felt the inclusion of the buildings took too much away from the image, as much as I liked the cloud formations near them.  I could have removed the buildings and created a really dramatic image (and I might, someday, when I feel like spending a couple of hours doing so) but I felt that simple cropping out the distracting elements would result in a stunning image.  I assembled the image below for a contest to illustrate this lesson.

Below is the composite of the original on the left and final version on the right.

Lantana against Austin clouds

And there you have it.  So much for today’s lesson.  Hopefully this will entice you to revisit some of your exiting images – and to think about composing subjects you pursue in the future.

Until next time.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: