One of the most difficult things a photographer has to do is giving up on an image. Sometimes, for whatever reason, the quality just isn’t there, and you have to let it go. You often hear movie directors lament the scenes they had to cut from their final film. They’ll even include that extra footage in the special features release. I guess this is going to be my special features.
One of the worst photo killers is focus. Here’s a shot from a fire near my town not too long ago:
Does it get more dramatic than that? What a shot! But you’ll notice everything in the frame has a soft, out-of-focus quality to it. It’s motion blur.
I was using a long zoom and I just didn’t have my shutter speed high enough to counteract the magnified effects of slight bumps or movement from shooting by hand. I knew my shutter speed was a little suspect while I was shooting, but I would have needed a higher ISO setting to get enough light with a shorter exposure time, and I didn’t want the additional noise that comes with higher ISO. Unfortunately, the blur turned out to be a bigger issue than the noise would have been.
Oh, I tried to salvage it. I dutifully processed and improved my photo, and as my final step tried to use some pretty advanced sharpening techniques to make the image usable. The picture above is the result. But focus is one of those things you just can’t fake, and you’re probably better off admitting it early on rather than pouring a bunch of time into an image that just isn’t going to work.
Sometimes noise is the killer. You can use de-noising filters to remove it to some extent, but they can’t overcome everything. Take a look at this one:
Doesn’t look bad, right? Maybe a bit soft, but that’s more an editing effect than anything – that was to create a certain mood. But take a look at the detail at a 100% zoom:
It looks like garbage. There are stray chunks of pixels scattered all over. Granted, these were exacerbated by my post processing, but without the processing I can assure you that this would have been a pretty dull image. Now a really patient person would go in with a healing tool or other brush and clean up the noise by hand. I am not that person. So, sadly, all I can really do with this picture is post it online at a fairly moderate size. It would never be suitable for print, not even as a 4×6.
One picture that didn’t quite make the cut is this winter mountain scene:
This one really pains me, because I’ll be honest, I really like the mountains and the entire center portion of the shot. But the foreground bothers me. A lot.
The trees somehow throw off the balance of the composition. They’re too lightly colored and too busy. They’re distracting; they draw your attention, but there’s nothing particularly interesting about them. This is actually a cropped version of the image. The original contained more foreground, and I played and played with different crops to try and get something that would work, but this was the best I could do.
It was a beautiful day, and I loved the way the light was hitting the slopes of the mountains, but I couldn’t get a clean shot. I knew when I was shooting it that the trees were getting in my way. I looked at some different angles and in the end I got up on a snowbank and set my tripod as high as it would go to try to shoot over the trees. In the end, it just didn’t work out.
So how do you know whether to keep an image or bury it in the old photo graveyard? I think it’s just a judgment call you have to make based on your own standards. Does it bother you every time you look at it? If it does, that might be a good sign that it’s time to let it go. You may cry yourself to sleep, you may even have to hold a funeral to get resolution, but sometimes you just have to say goodbye. Or you can cheat like I did, and keep them alive as a postmortem example of photos that went bad.