8 Causes Of Bad Photography

Monday, March 14, 2011

A pet peeve amongst veteran photographers, albeit condescending, is how many neophytes approach the craft expecting someone to paint an “X” on the ground where they are supposed to stand, instruct them what f/stop & shutter speed to use & exactly when to push the button. That is not photography. It is painting-by-numbers. Photography is a moving target. And it requires repetition similar to practicing piano scales. Therefore pundits talk ad infinitum about the lonely learning curve necessary for taking “better pictures”: composition, rules, technique, tricks, etc. But lost in the discussion remains all sorts of significant factors that conspire against you & keep you from making Good pictures. Nobody talks about that.

These “maladies” plague everyone: amateurs & pros. And they never abate. For our whole lives we have to fight them.

   8. Excuses

We all consider ourselves geniuses & rationalize why our horizon lines are crooked or our pictures are out of focus. Taking pictures seems so easy. “All you have to do is press the shutter.”
Blaming the fact that you do not have the latest camera or piece of equipment for your failure to make a good picture is the biggest fallacy in photography. Short of the fact that you don’t own a camera, equipment has almost nothing to do with good pictures. NO new gadget or device will make you a better photographer. Technology has simply made it easier to make bad photographs. Nothing short of knowledge, practice, persistence & maybe a little talent will overcome your shortcomings. No amount of money will buy you credibility. Would an expensive set of pots make you a better cook? True mastery demands a lifetime.

   7. Panic

“I followed all the directions. I did all these things right: lighting, composition, location, etc but it doesn’t look right? There are too many things to think about, too many things in the way: people, trees, lack of patience, objections, opinion, etc. “The colors are all wrong. The angle is boring.”

In the pressure of the moment we can be overwhelmed by all the decisions we have to make to get the picture that is on our mind or in our eyes. It may not be possible to corral all of them. Practice your technique so that you develop a Zen-like speed & efficiency for capturing the intangible. Simplify. Slowing your respiration down will allow you to clear your head. Breathe deeply. Reduce your expectations & concentrate on one or two things at a time. Be prepared when opportunity knocks.

    6. Procrastination

(is not the problem, it’s the solution?)
We can concoct excuses to delay anything ie waiting for the perfect…conditions, feelings, muse… Don’t procrastinate. Don’t put it off. So much of photography is fleeting. Any vista or situation can change momentarily. The aesthetic balance of any scene can be altered or destroyed by a simple change in weather, light or movement. I have pulled across four lanes of high speed traffic so I don’t have to waste time walking back from the exit. Shoot it now.

   5. Laziness

Not in the mood?

Webster’s Dictionary defines laziness as the disinclination to activity or exertion despite having the ability to do so. It is the serious photographer’s responsibility to develop techniques to work through the human penchant for indolence. Photography can become an obsession but that is not the answer. Obsession will not sustain us for very long. When confronted with a positive photographic opportunity or event, it is important not to let torpor or apathy win.

     4. Distraction

Distractions can be physical or mental. But they all avert your gaze or redirect your attention. Traveling companions, ill health, bureaucracy, barriers, etc. are all potential culprits.
Keep your “eyes on the prize”. Be ever vigilant. Concentrate. To control your conscious mind to quickly compose pictures you have to train your unconscious mind to stay attentive.

   3. Fatigue

Being tired clouds the mind. Fatigue has a deleterious effect on creativity. Your brain does not work & your body can not carry out its orders. If you are tired you tend to pass up good photo ops. You stop looking. Pace yourself. Stay in shape. Exerting yourself by running too fast up the hill or staying out too late will have negative results on the final product.

     2. Inertia/Momentum

Inertia is Newton’s Second Law of Mechanics.
We have to push ourselves harder in the direction of taking good images & not let other external forces avert our gaze. There are so many factors that pull you away from your appointed task: choice of lens, weather, etiquette, etc. We have to push ourselves to take pictures. There are other stimuli that can equally engage us so we have to build our “photo muscles” to continually be adventurous. The more you take good pictures, the more you want to take good pictures.

     1. Fear

Fear can have a crippling effect. It is perhaps the single biggest factor that gets in our way. It is psychological & erects an internal barrier. There is a big difference between the timid tourist & the hardbit, obnoxious newspaper photographer. Not wanting to impose oneself onto a stranger’s environment is a natural reaction. Subliminally I do not want to look “silly” putting myself out there to be gazed upon & judged by others. Or simply “I’m afraid”. Self doubt can only be overcome with experience. Remember—interaction is often a major aspect of photographing people. Learn to enlist people’s trust. Then learn to like it. The rapport you develop most often bears fruit. It is the reason we travel.

If we apply ourselves we can all become better photographers. We may not all be artists but we all have art in us. Paying attention to the aesthetic principles, understanding our equipment, putting ourselves into more dramatic situations give us more opportunities. But the attitudes & behaviors are another matter altogether. The things above are subversive characteristics, some even character flaws that plague us all our lives. They are factors that even the best of us must continuously improve.


steve Dunwell,  March 22, 2011 at 8:41 AM  

enjoying your blog & studio-360

Mikki Ansin April 6, 2011 at 9:19 AM  

I love this post. I hope that it clears out a lot of clutter!

Anonymous,  April 29, 2011 at 1:59 PM  

great read and a telling story that has been long over due.

Craig Bailey August 12, 2011 at 2:04 PM  

Yup. You nailed that. Just finished procrastinating...

A. Cemal Ekin November 10, 2012 at 12:05 PM  

A very good read for anyone who is interested in advancing her or his photography to a higher level, finding their own voice. I may suggest to add to this list:
1. Desire to repeat the cliches
2. Photographing the same subject without seeing it with a new pair of eyes
3. Trying to be somebody else


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About This Blog

blog (blŏg, bläg) n. 1. short for Weblog 2. online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer 3. diary that is posted on the Internet 4. an experiment to verbalize my observations about the status of photography. It will be eclectic & deal with philosophy & practice of this universal art form. It will strive for periodic commentary about issues many photographers face, like ownership and the economy. It will also talk about pictures and what makes good ones and how to get them. No hardware. No software. No recycled clichés. No whining.