Creating photos that suck

This blog isn’t all about showing off all my stunning photos or how much knowledge I have about photography. It’s about the process of learning photography and part of that process is creating photos that suck.

One thing I have learned for sure is that learning can be a very frustrating and painful process!

I had this experience recently in my attempt to photograph the supermoon. You have to understand how much preparation went into this to appreciate my disappointment. In order to be at the right place at the right time I determine when the full moon will rise near sunset, the azimuth of the moon, and where I have to stand on shore to get a certain feature in the foreground. I have botched this by failing to take into account daylight savings time and by forgetting about the magnetic variation of a compass (don’t tell my boating students that!)

The supermoon happens when the full moon rises at perigee. According to NASA, “The full Moon of March 19th occurs less than one hour away from perigee — a near-perfect coincidence that happens only 18 years or so”. The moon is 14% larger and 30% brighter.

Last weekend when the supermoon rose I was ready. I really wanted the moon to be behind the masts of the sailboats so it is obvious it isn’t photoshopped on from a different image.

I finally got all my calculations correct and the moon rose right into my frame. And I still missed it.

First attempt, moon is nicely exposed but foreground is too dark.
Second attempt, created 3 exposures from the first image and combined them into an HDR image. Even with noise reduction, the grain is bad.
A little better, but still grainy and dull looking.
I tried to even out the exposure with the help of the clouds, but still the moon is overexposed and contains no detail.

Now that a few days have passed I can look back at it without steam coming out of my ears. But I have to admit I really dislike images where the moon looks like someone took a lighter and burned a hole through my negative (overexposed moon). And its even worse when the moon is an oval shape (exposure too long and records the moon’s movement).

So what did I learn? Big moon=good; Bright moon=bad.

I think the whole thing would have worked out better if the moon rose before sunset and it wouldn’t have been soooo bright in the sky creating such an extreme dynamic range. Check out this example of the supermoon in Washington. It is an official NASA photograph. They must have a really good camera :)

That is not to say it cannot be done by us mere mortals. Here is an example from Ohio by Radial Studios. and another from my friend Pablo Conrad who captured some wonderful images in Seattle.

For me, the best shot of the night happened before the moon rose.

Oak Bay Marina at twilight
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  1. says

    I truly appreciate your honesty in this post. Thank you for being willing to share. We all learn by trial and error. And if it is any consolation, my non photographer husband got a better image of the moon than I did.

  2. says

    Nice work Anne.

    Don’t underestimate yourself. It was a difficult situation and you did well. Thank you for your candor.

    It wasn’t easy to photograph. The exposure range was ridiculous.

    And thank you for including my photo.

  3. says

    I like the first one the best.

    This is another reason I tend to wait to process the bulk of my images from a trip. I usually sift through, take one or two that I like instantly (if any) and process those for a blog post. The rest I come back to much later – maybe a month or two. This distances me from my initial (often too high) expectations for an image, and I am able to assess them much more objectively. It also takes away much of the disappointment that may arise from something not working out quite as I had hoped. I have a lot of shots that don’t work out like I had originally envisioned!
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  4. says

    I understand your frustration, been there many times myself, but Anne, your work is gorgeous!

    I guess one lesson I’ve learned in situations like this, when what you’re seeing on the screen is not gelling with your goals and vision for the shoot, is that sometimes it really helps to step back from the photos for a bit to try and gain a different perspective on what you have to work with. I’ve learned that sometimes some of my best work was hiding behind the first few shots that caught my eye coming out of the camera. Give yourself some room to look at your work with fresh eyes, it’s surprising what you can find … I call it breaking free from my photographer’s version of writer’s block. (my 2 cents worth anyway. :) )

    Really like the third shot down in you series here. Really like the composition, tone, and mood of the photo.

    Keep smiling and cut yourself some slack, you’re a very talented artist!

    Be Well!


  5. says

    We are always our own worst critic. IMHO, These images are very well done! They may not be exactly what you wanted but they turned out great non-the-less. Thank you for sharing them :-)

  6. says

    Anne, thank you for your article.

    I (re)discovered recently while I was working at the telescope on the summit (in the lower Andes) for a few nights around full-moon that the sunset on the day before full-moon can be a good time to shoot, because you’ve got enough light illuminating the foreground, and the exposure is sufficiently short to capture enough detail in the almost-full moon.

    What was interesting was what I thought when I saw your first two shots above. It appeared to me the full moon was rising out of two “cupped hands”, gently letting the moon go up into the night sky.
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  7. says

    I think you are a bit too hard on yourself. Although I am not sure what you were aiming for. They all are not as bad as you make it sound. I really like the forth and the last one, bot having a completely different feel, telling such a different story of the same place. One is just a beautiful shot of marina, perfect for stock- to use in ad or a magazine. The other has some drama, unique light and the atmosphere. Good job!
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  8. says

    Hi there, Anne! Your first shot is awesome! So much that I want to buy (finally!) a camera. For years I just keep being enthralled and envious of nice pics, then vow to get my own cam, and then let it go because I’d rather write. In truth, I love photos and pics and the great eyes behind them that captured those shots. So amazing. I wonder if I’d ever get to that time I swipe the credit card for a Canon or something. :(
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  9. says

    I can empathize… shooting the moon was a favorite pastime of mine, and one year when the moon was especially big and bright I thought I would get an amazing shot of it. Turned out to be mistaken on that. I personally like the first photo though – the foreground being dark makes the moon really pop.
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  10. says

    If it makes you feel better, my wife and I were home with food poisoning that night so we missed it entirely. Thank you for sharing your challenges. I really like to first image!
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  11. says

    I’ve discovered your blog via Dan Bailey. I must say I am very impressed! The quality of your photography is amazing, you write very well, and the tutorials are very insightful! I look forward to more!!
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