When Will I Stop Making Rookie Mistakes?

It was my first day in Zion National Park in Utah. I was overwhelmed with the majesty and scale of the great cliffs and tried not to let my jaw drop too far while extending my neck back to see the top.

For our first exploration Ray and I decided that we would take the park shuttle all the way to the end of the line to get an overview of the park. There was an easy hike at the end we could do before returning back to our RV park after sunset.

While hiking along the trail I made some images of the river with the great cliffs in the background when I noticed some water dripping off the side of the mountain. It was not a great shot, but I was looking at it and decided to play around a bit.

I didn’t think it was a feasible image, but sometimes I like to just play and see what happens. It was a little dark so I cranked up my ISO just so I could get an exposure (all of you who have made my mistake will recognize it here). It’s not that I didn’t have my tripod, I was carrying it on my back, its just that the shot wasn’t even worth taking it off my back. I was just playing. If it turned into something feasible I would have gotten my tripod out then. But it wasn’t, the shot sucked, so I moved on.

Yup, that’s right, rookie mistake right here folks. I didn’t set my ISO back where it belonged. So all the beautiful images I made afterwards of the golden sunset reflecting off the river in the Narrows where the canyon walls come close together were all taken at ISO 1250. 1250!! That was going to cause a ton of noise and make it impossible to print anything but a small image.

Crap!! I was sooooo mad at myself. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t even notice how short my exposures were when I was purposefully trying to get long exposures with my 4 stop neutral density filter. I was just looking at the histogram and totally ignoring the actual numbers that were coming out.

Ray couldn’t do anything to get a smile out of me on the shuttle trip home. Even the offer of pie didn’t get me out of my funk and pie always works. I mean, what problem can’t be solved or at least pleasantly ignored when there’s pie?

Well, here’s the shot I was so upset about being ruined.

The Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah
The Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah

You wouldn’t be able to see the noise in any case with an image this small on the web (you can click to see a slightly larger one), but you know … it isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, after I used the simple noise reduction in Lightroom, it’s barely visible at all.

Now I wonder which was the rookie mistake: forgetting to reset my ISO or being so mad at myself that I ruined my whole evening.

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  1. says

    Happens to all of us, Anne! I remember the time when, two-thirds of the way through a gorgeous hike, I realized my camera was somehow set to small, low-quality JPEG. Or the time I hiked to the remote and trail-less rim of Lodore Canyon and found I had no memory card. But I think that it’s an underrated skill for photographers to have a good time, stay in a pleasant mood, and enjoy beautiful surroundings for their own sake despite rookie mistakes or bad conditions. It’s an especially important skill when we’re out with our families. I do my best now to take a long view and file those outings under location scouting. It’s nice to have an excuse to return!

    Beautiful glow in that image! I’m glad to hear you were able to rescue it.
    Jackson Frishman recently posted..Crescent SunMy Profile

    • says

      Thank you so much for your words of support Jackson! You are so right about it being an underrated skill to let such a mistake roll off your back and have a good time anyway. Thank you for your comments.

  2. says

    I remember once grabing my camera, stuffing it in to my camera back and rushing out to a rodeo, and forgetting the battery that I had on the charger. Camera. Check. Memory card. Check. Battery…oops. And the ISO, we all do it, and more than once too.

  3. says

    I went out last Thursday evening with a meetup group for some night shots around Tampa, FL. I had my camera set for bracketing with a five shot sequence. The following Saturday I went to Ft DeSoto park, and, you guessed it…forgot to check my settings and did many shots with the bracketing set for 5 exposures (at one stop increments) in bright sunlight. Some were savable but many were just too overxposed.
    Dennis Warren recently posted..Sometimes Daily PostsMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Dennis, At least in that circumstance at least one of that brackets would have been set to the optimal exposure so hopefully those ones were salvageable. I really enjoyed Fort DeSoto when I was there, beautiful beaches! Thank you very much for sharing your story for moral support!

  4. Mim says

    My story: I was at a tennis ranch in Arizona back in the late ’70s at a time when they let guests go out alone in golf carts in the daytime to a plateau on which they had Saturday night picnics (or whatever they called them). While atop the plateau, I looked down an embankment and saw a Gila monster climbing the wall up to the top of the plateau. When it reached the top, I carefully rushed over and started shooting, getting quite (dangerously) close to the poisonous reptile until, shooting frame after frame until it disappeared down into a hole. When I got back to my casita to remove the film from the camera to put into a film case, there was no film in the camera. There’s no way post-processing can rescue a photographer from that kind of mistake.

    • says

      Hi Mim! Oh! No film? That’s nasty. I would have been so mad at myself for that. Especially when you were supposed to be getting close-ups of a gila monster (I’m going to have to look that up but it sounds scary). Thanks for sharing your story, I really appreciate the moral support!

  5. says

    I can really relate, Anne! I once shot some photos of a bear on the beach (from the safety of our anchored boat), and I needed to use ISO 1600 as it was very early morning and I was hand-holding (as I usually am when boating). I forgot to change it back. Later that day I went paddling, in sunny conditions, and was able to get quite close to a great blue heron and get a bunch of what I thought would be great shots of the bird fishing. I was thrilled – until I realized they’d all been shot on 1600. I’ve worked and reworked those photos since, and although they’re passable, they’re nowhere near what I was hoping for. C’est la vie!
    Laurie MacBride recently posted..Hellebore AbundanceMy Profile

  6. Karin says

    Beautiful image Ann and speaking as a hobbyist photographer – some of my best photos aren’t as good as this one, never mind my mistakes :):). But I can understand the frustration when you discovered your “mistake”. However,in retrospect, I think you know it wasn’t worth it to let it ruin your evening. As Jackson Frishman said in his comment, we sometimes forget to enjoy the moments and beautiful surroundings – it’s the journey rather than the destination that counts. And you are on a wondrous journey!

    • says

      Hi Karin, you are so right, I am on a fantastic journey and I shouldn’t let these moments ruin a perfectly good evening. That’s the skill I need to work on! Thank you for your comments.

  7. Kathy Lucas says

    Roflol. That is a hilarious story, Anne!! I couldn’t wait for the punch line, ’cause I knew there was going to be one!

    I am such a rookie, that I would’ve taken a bunch of shots at varying ISO’s anyway, so I prob would’ve been safe! (which makes your story even funnier, laughing at myself!)

    Enjoy the rest of your journey. I know I will! :-)


    • says

      Hi Kathy, thank you very much for your comments. I’m glad you found the story humorous. Almost enough time has passed now for me to see the humour too ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. says

    Never! That’s why they are called mistakes. I do find that I tend to make them less often now though.Yesterday I left my exposure compensation at minus 2 stops for about 20 images before I caught it. Missed out on some really nice wild turkey images.
    Chris Hansen recently posted..Marvelous Monday MixMy Profile

  9. says

    Yup, been there done that one. In my case it was shooting motorcycle races. ISO 1600 in the morning and should have cranked it back down to ISO 100 for the afternoon. Nothing like spending a hot August afternoon in Florida shooting a ton of racing pictures only to hit delete, delete, delete, delete that evening in the hotel room because they were so blown out.
    Zack Jones recently posted..LensProToGo 52 Week Photo Project – Week 20 SubmissionMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Zack, oh that is painful. I hope you at least got good enough shots in the morning that you didn’t miss the afternoon shots too much. I appreciate your adding your story here. I am starting to feel like I’m not the only one ….

  10. says

    I think this is the sort of thing that can happen at any time to anybody. At least I hope so – because I keep doing things like this! 5 years ago I came back from Kamloops through Merritt and Manning Park. The entire time I had my ISO at 1600 or something – and this was on the 30D that was not forgiving like our current 7Ds are. At least at 1250 the high ISO on the 7D will look just fine! I like to think mistakes like that are behind me but I did just get back from a 4 day trip where I left my laptop power cord at home – and my battery lasts 10 minutes.

    I do think the mistakes will always happen but we can control how we react to them. This happened in Utah – a place I’m sure you’ll be back to not all that long from now. :)
    Michael Russell recently posted..Campbell Valley Regional Park PhotosMy Profile

  11. says

    Jackson’s words left my lips even before I saw his reply – happens to all of us! Usually after shooting star trails the night before and forgetting to reset until mid-morning.

    Don’t be too tough on yourself Anne. One thing’s for sure – you probably won’t make that mistake anytime soon!
    Russ Bishop recently posted..WatermarkMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Russ, you’re right, I am constantly checking my ISO now!! It’s just not something I change very often. I usually set it when I first go out the door and don’t usually have to reset it during a shoot. Live and learn! Thank you for your comments.

  12. says

    I agree with all the above – and I still do it occasionally too! What camera are you shooting with? 1250 doesn’t seem that high to me, I have made big prints from high ISO images before – you’ll have grain, but you had grain with high ISO film so it still looks “natural!”

    • says

      Hi Grant, I use a Canon 7D. I thought that 1250 was outrageously high, but it isn’t nearly as bad as I thought. With noise reduction software it’s amazing how much noise you can remove. And actually having an image be noise-free isn’t really necessary either. I think it’s something we as photographers have gotten into a habit of doing since it is possible now, but you see magazine covers all the time that have huge amounts of noise in them. Thank you for your comments.

  13. says

    I’m definitely guilty of that one myself. I’ll be processing images and looking at the ISO and wondering why was I shooting at 1250 or something and then I remember that I had set it higher at some point and forgot to reset. I’ve also done something similar when shooting HDR. I’ll configure my camera to bracket, maybe 7 brackets and I’ll forgot to reset that and I’ll start shooting non-HDR pictures and I can’t figure out why they seem to be either too dark, or too light. I’ll start playing with the exposure compensation, just in time for the camera to make another adjustment. Finally it will dawn on me that I still have auto-bracketing turned on.

    I’m getting better at remembering to reset my camera after doing such things, but every so often something slips through.
    James Howe recently posted..Guggenheim Museum – NYCMy Profile

    • says

      Hi James, it is hard to remember everything. Usually I check all the settings when I first head out the door and then I might make adjustments based on the scene and the light, but not usually anything so major like cranking the ISO up so high. I guess it’s an easy mistake to make based on the comments! Thank you for sharing your story.

  14. The Photographer says

    I’m not worried about the ISO mistake. That happens to anyone. But the thing the just blows me away is that you were looking at “the histogram” and “the numbers.” I just cant understand this. Are we visual people or not?? What about… looking at the picture in the viewscreen? Don’t you look at every picture after you take it? If it’s too blown out or grainy, just reset the ISO or whatever and take another one. I’ve made a living for 16 years as a photographer and I guess I’m just too much of a simpleton other than to say I always look at each picture I take, then take another if necessary. Does this make me not a “real” photographer? Is that illegal? Is it cheating? What, you have to take a picture, check the histogram only, and not see the actual picture until you load into your computer? Is this still the film days or what? The numbers?? The numbers?? Do you have a viewscreen on your camera??

    • says

      Hi “photographer”, I don’t think they make cameras without LCD screens on the back of them anymore. And they are extremely handy. Just not for evaluating exposure. They actually only show you a rendering of the jpg, not the raw file. It is great for evaluating composition and focus but it does not give you enough information about exposure to make a call – nor can you see any grain due to the small size of the display.

      For one thing, you can change the brightness of your LCD, something that most people do so you can see anything at all on a bright sunny day, just as you would adjust the brightness of your computer monitor. If you turn up the brightness of your LCD, what you are seeing is way off the actual exposure of the image. To see what the exposure is, you must use the histogram. That’s what it is there for. It is an extremely valuable tool that was not available to us in the film days. I would argue it is the most valuable feature in a digital camera.

      Most people that are interested in photography appreciate both the creative artistic side and the more scientific mathematical side. And that is not new to digital. I’m sure if you have been a photographer for 16 years you probably remember how changing the mixtures of chemicals in the darkroom would affect your prints.

      As far as “the numbers”, you cannot get away from numbers in photography. F stops, shutter speeds and ISO values are all mathematical calculations and changing any of of those three affects the other two. What I was referring to in my comment was the shutter speed. I was intentionally trying for a long shutter speed, so when “the numbers” didn’t come out to what they should have been, that negatively influences the creative effect I was hoping to achieve.

      Photography is a combination of both vision and craft. And now with digital photography, your image is made up of 1’s and 0’s.

  15. says

    Meh, I do that all the time. I’ll shoot low light one night, and the next morning I’ll forget to check the ISO only to find in post that I left it at something ridiculous like ISO 4000. It happens, even if we have a mental check list before shooting. Make the best of what you have and forget the rest. One round of “dud” shots is a minor thing in the grand scheme of things ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Chris Nitz recently posted..Ram Head Trail RetrospectiveMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Chris, you are so right! Now that some time has passed it doesn’t seem like such a big mistake, especially after I found out that 1250 isn’t as bad as I thought. Thank you very much for your words of support ๐Ÿ˜‰

  16. says

    I truly know what you mean, and it seems to happen at the worst of times. I had thew most incredible morning light last August in Waterton Alberta. However the night before I played with some night sky pictures at 6400 ISO, guess what happened the next morning during that great light?

    • says

      Hi Alan, well in an odd way it is good to know that a true pro like yourself makes the same mistakes. That probably doesn’t make you feel any better, but you can feel good knowing that you helped some lesser photographers not feel quite so stupid! haha. I really appreciate your comment and I’m sure some other readers do too.

    • says

      Hi Jesse! I can see how forgetting to focus could be a problem. I almost always rely on autofocus. I just find it very hard to focus manually, maybe because I wear glasses. But I can see that if I turned off the auto-focus I could easily forget to turn it back on and not notice. That would suck. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • says

      Thanks Edith! I’m glad I was able to salvage it and learn a valuable lesson at the same time. Not that I didn’t already know I should check my settings. I think the thing is to try to make a mental note when you make such a drastic change so you don’t forget to change back. Thanks for your comments, as always :)

    • says

      Hi Kathleen, so you do visit the blog once in awhile :) Yes, poor Ray, he has to put up with my moods when I do something stupid. But that’s what a good photo assistant does!! He’s getting to be a great photo assistant (and chef and chief pie buyer).

  17. says

    That’s a great shot anyways, Anne. As for the mistake – join the club! It’s the ISO mistake that is my commonest problem. Which is stupid in a way because it is one of the unusual adjustments I make and I try to remember to reset it immediately after the shot – but there are times when I get carried away and it goes clean out of my head. The problem of course is that it doesn’t show up on the Histogram and there is no way you can gauge noise on a 2.5inch back screen!
    LensScaper recently posted..Flying the FlagMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Andy, I do the exact same thing! I think I always remember to adjust it back right away, but if I forget I wont notice for ages. I wish there was a way we could select a certain function and make it a different colour on the LCD so it is more noticeable. Thanks for your comments.

  18. steve says

    I had the opposite problem. I had had my Nikon D300 for a month when I went on vacation to BC / Vancouver and Vancouver Island. I was under the mistaken impression that “P” (program) mode automatically adjusted the iso. I shot the whole trip, including some low light orca pics at iso 250. Could have used the faster shutter, but not much problem with noise. :) Of course, Lightroom 4 makes noise much less of an issue anyway. Great pic, by the way.

    • says

      Hi Steve, thanks for sharing your rookie mistake :) I hope you enjoyed Vancouver Island, it is where I am from, and even though I have travelled to many places there is always no place like home (that’s what I tell myself when it won’t stop raining). Thanks for the visit and comments.

  19. says

    Hey Anne, we have ALL made those mistakes. I shot professionally as a corporate photographer of a Fortune 50 company for many years. I have known many pros and ALL photographers do these things-maybe not all will admit it! :), but hopefully not very often. I am just as hard on myself as you were. I know that you can always go back, but the moment is only once. To put a lighter spin on it, imagine being a corporate photographer flown to an assignment across the country, the company paying hotel, special lens rental, meals, etc. Wait several days for the right sunset on a utility line last day of shoot, fly home, only to notice that the wind had vibrated the tripod on your best shot. Reshoot, no way. Go with it the best you can and this was in the days before PS and Lightroom. Well, that was me! :(

    • says

      Hi Jim, well it takes a strong person to admit our mistakes eh? At least only you knew that it was potentially your best shot, I’m sure that your second best shot still did the trick. Thanks for sharing your story! Maybe it’s the opposite of what I thought and making such a mistake is just part of the experience that goes in to being a real pro ๐Ÿ˜‰

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