IN PHOTOGRAPHY: FAILURE IS AN OPTION

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Learning from your mistakes makes you a better photographer:

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The other day I was talking to one of my photographer friends who just posted an amazing photo on Facebook, and I said to him, “do you ever take a bad picture”?  And he replied, “more than you will ever know”.

It got me thinking that even the best of photographers take bad pictures.  They still learn from their own mistakes.  I have been taking pictures a long time myself.  I write this blog a lot, and have been doing this for years.  My dear wife and I went out to take pictures the other day, and found an amazing place to take photos, a place where we had never been before, and we spent a half an hour and took only a dozen photos.  I like to take my time and figure out what it will look like, get the right composition, get the right angles, and so on and so forth, I even got my shoes stuck in a swamp.  So, I figured I should get some awesome photos.  When I got back into the car, I thought they were just ho-hum.  But, now I had to leave, and then knew I could fix them in post production.  The result:

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Photo by Lanny Cottrell

 

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“The colors of a swamp”  by Lanny Cottrell

 

After “fixing” it a bit, they didn’t turn out too bad, but the point is, I would never show the photos of my bad ones, and a professional never will, and all professionals take bad photos.  They are like doctors.  Doctors “practice medicine”.  Photographers “practice being Professional”.    They know what the rules are, they know how to compose a photo, and they know how to get the lighting just right, and it may take several different clicks of the camera to get what they want.  but, they will get it, and you will see the best result.

One of the tools I use, because I know I am going to make a mistake, is something called “EXPOSURE BRACKETING”.  It frustrates me sometimes because I am usually in a hurry to get the photo.  I want to take a bunch of photos and then when I get home, pick the best exposed photo that looks the best.   Here is the definition of “EXPOSURE BRACKETING”:

Exposure bracketing means that you take two more pictures: one slightly under-exposed (usually by dialing in a negative exposure compensation, say -1/3EV), and the second one slightly over-exposed (usually by dialing in a positive exposure compensation, say +1/3EV), again according to your camera’s light meter.

exposure-bracketing2    The reason you do this is because the camera might have been ‘deceived’ by the light (too much or too little) available and your main subject may be over- or under-exposed. By taking these three shots, you are making sure that if this were ever the case, then you would have properly compensated for it.

As an example, say you are taking a scene where there is an abundance of light around your main subject (for example, at the beach on a sunny day, or surrounded by snow). In this case, using Weighted-Average metering, your camera might be ‘deceived’ by the abundance of light and expose for it by closing down the aperture and/or using a faster shutter speed (assuming ISO is constant), with the result that the main subject might be under-exposed. By taking an extra shot at a slight over-exposure, you would in fact be over-exposing the surroundings, but properly exposing the main subject.

Another example would be the case where the surrounding might be too dark, and the camera exposes for the lack of light by either opening up the aperture and/or using a slower shutter speed (assuming ISO is constant), then the main subject might be over-exposed. By taking an extra shot at a slight under-exposure, you would in fact be under-exposing the surroundings, but properly exposing the main subject.

Now, most digital cameras have auto exposure bracketing, meaning that if you select that option before taking your shot, the camera will automatically take three shots for you: one which it thinks it has perfectly exposed; a second one sightly under-exposed; and the third one slightly over-exposed.  Of course cell phone cameras DO NOT have this feature.

When should you use exposure bracketing? Anytime you feel the scene is a challenging one (too much highlights or shadows) as far as lighting is concerned, e.g. sunsets are usually better taken slightly under-exposed so use exposure bracketing there, or whenever you want to be sure you don’t improperly expose a fabulous shot.

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I have taken a sunset photo, and have done the exposure bracketing, and found that all 3 exposures give a totally different type of photo or feeling to the sunset, and each one could be used for submission to an exhibit.  Something for you to try.  Though shooting a sunset with three different exposures, to some, would be 2 mistakes, and only 1 would be worth keeping, but, in some cases, all three photos could bring out different tones or qualities to the photo, depending on how different the exposure differences were.

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It is your job now, to go out and make mistakes, learn from them, but learn how to use the camera to get so you can create more photos to get the one that looks right.  Back  in the days of film, it was amazing to see that a National Geographic Photographer would shoot over 100 rolls of slide film, and come out with only 30 to 50 photos out of that many rolls of film that were any good that were worth of publication.  That’s it folks.  Professionals waste a lot of photos to get the few good ones.  In today’s cameras, you can delete the bad ones.  And then take more on your memory card if you want, or save them to learn from too.  You decide.  I have seen photographers do it both ways.

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I think the moral of this blog, is to practice, practice, practice, and take a lot of pictures, and learn from them.  And if you get a chance, hang around another photographer.  What could be the best learning experience you could have to learn more about taking photos?  Hang out with another photographer, or just read these blogs, or read from photo books.

 

 

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