Sometimes an image needs a rest

Do you ever go on a photo shoot and make an image feeling quite confident that you got a great shot … and then when you see it on your computer later it just didn’t turn out the way you envisioned it?

That happens to me all the time and I’ve discovered a secret: sometimes images just need to rest awhile.

Like this image I made at North Lake on Prince Edward Island last year.

North Lake, Prince Edward Island
Please click the image to view a larger version.

I tried and tried to process this shot when I got it home. But it just wasn’t right. So I never posted it, I just hung on to it. I’ve gone back to it a few times because I always felt there was something there but it never turned out right.

Today, finally, over a year later I realized what I was doing wrong. I was trying to make it too realistic. This scene defies realism even when you’re right there looking at it with your eyes. It’s hard to believe its a real place.

Maybe I needed some distance from it myself so I could look back and reflect on what Prince Edward Island was like. It was soft and gentle, a quaint countryside with green green grass (lots of grass) and blue blue sky and red barns and yellow barns. It was so colourful it sometimes looked like a painting.

Ah, a painting!

That’s when I knew had to go in the other direction. I had to make the image colourful and soft. Now I’m happy with it.

What do you think? Do you ever need to let your images simmer awhile?

Share Button


  1. says

    Yes, absolutely! I’ve had the same experience with some of them as you describe. The painting style was a brilliant solution to this one and suits the image very well. Coincidentally, I’ve been experimenting with this sort of thing myself this last week and although my results are nowhere near as successful as yours, it’s been interesting to see a different treatment for a couple of images I’d felt stuck on.

    • says

      Hi Laurie, Have you ever tried Topaz Adjust? I think it is a great piece of software especially for the price. I’m glad you liked the image, thanks! PS) I learned that my great grandmother’s homestead was smack in the middle of Gabriola Island.

  2. says

    I have to do the same thing quite often. Now I get home, find a few that excite me, and let the rest wait for a while until I can be more objective. I find my hopes for an image sometimes cloud my objectivity and I avoid this and any subsequent disappointments by waiting. Due to the larger file sizes of the newer cameras, I do go through and sort a few things and delete those that were test exposures or otherwise throwaways – saves a bit of space.
    Michael Russell recently posted..Wildflowers at Mt. Rainier National ParkMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Michael, I never delete my images. I just never know if I’m going to change my mind! Sometimes the test images end up being the ones I go back to. I figure space is pretty cheap these days so I just move them onto an external hard drive. I was going to go through my collection and delete stuff, but I figured it would take me all day and I wouldn’t end up creating all that much space so I didn’t bother. I guess if you do it each time it wouldn’t be so bad. I know I’m not very objective when I look at my images after a shoot – for that reason I never never look at them the same day as the shoot. Usually I come home from a shoot happy and if I look at my images too soon I end up being disappointed whereas if I just wait a bit I am more objective. Isn’t it funny how we work?

      • says

        How many images have you made in the last few years? I keep a unique number at the end of every file, which is actually the image count. I’m up to 25400 right now (since 2007). My photo folder is about 650 Gb – and thats with culling a lot of the bad ones! I don’t do many mass deletions (other than clear mistakes) until a few months later, but I do think its necessary even though space is cheap. HD prices have gone up, so if I don’t have to buy yet another $120 external for backups thats a good thing.
        Michael Russell recently posted..Wildflowers at Mt. Rainier National ParkMy Profile

        • says

          I made 19,444 images last year alone :) But you know, I was travelling and photographing almost every day. I have about 4TBs of external hard drives (they have duplication on them) and I just bought a 4th one. Plus I have a time machine and I have a hard drive I keep back home just in case. Hard drives everywhere!! It’s a bit crazy but I really don’t want to loose anything and it is not feasible to back up to the cloud when I’m travelling, the internet connections are never fast enough.

  3. says

    “Do you ever go on a photo shoot and make an image feeling quite confident that you got a great shot … and then when you see it on your computer later it just didn’t turn out the way you envisioned it?”

    I hear this statement all the time from photographers. Often the problem is a technical issue or a creative (composition) issue, but your response is very enlightening, and something I have been giving a lot of thought to lately.

    I too have many images that I love, but don’t quite meet my expectations. While I cull my images often some have sat on my computer for years because I just couldn’t delete them. I have been playing around with these images in Photoshop and some of them lend themselves to a poster edge, a soft glow or an oil paint filter. But, when one applies a creative filter to an image it should not be an arbitrary decision. For example, while some images work well with a vintage look, some photographers apply them to ALL their images. After awhile a good thing becomes bored and tired, like a great song that is played on the radio till you can no longer stand to hear it. And a photo filter is not going to fix a really bad image. The image has to have some redeeming value.

    That said, the effect one adds to an image should enhance the qualities of the subject and the emotion you felt at the time you pressed the shutter. You obviously gave it a lot of thought when you processed this image: “I could look back and reflect on what Prince Edward Island was like. It was soft and gentle, a quaint countryside with green green grass (lots of grass) and blue blue sky and red barns and yellow barns. It was so colourful it sometimes looked like a painting.” The result is beautiful and certainly brought this image to life!

    • says

      Thank you very much for your very thoughtful comments Donna! I find that it does help to take a moment, close your eyes, and remember what the place was like. I try to think of descriptive words and that helps inform what the image should look like.

  4. says

    Sometimes coming back to an image after a time makes it new and fresh. If we shoot a lot of images (and recently I’ve done that) I think we can get jaded trying to work our way through the processing and it becomes a chore and not a pleasure. And that’s when creativity becomes exhausted. The painterly effect works really well here – it is just simply a riot of colour, and it looks great. This looks beautiful like it is, Anne
    LensScaper recently posted..Old Wood, New WoodMy Profile

    • says

      I think you have really hit on something here Andy. Although I enjoyed processing images along the way and posting on the blog (I never would have kept up otherwise) it can sometimes stifle creativity when you feel like you need to finish an image so you have a blog post. I am enjoying going through the old ones now and posting from a different place every day. Thanks for your comments!

  5. Richard Anfuso says

    I completely agree with you. I hardly ever delete any of my photos. Some of my best photos have been, when months, later I revisited the shot and saw a way to present it in a unique way.

    • says

      Hi Richard, thank you for your comments. It’s funny how we can look at an image with fresh eyes once the experience of the place in our memories. Plus storage is cheap these days so why bother going through the exercise of deleting?

  6. Jennifer Cox says

    Hi Anne,

    This is a lovely harmonious photo, due to the limited ‘palette’ of complimentary colours – yellows, blues & greens. The exception being the reddish brown building which gives a contrasting focal point to the image.

    What I like best, is the colour of the water, which almost exactly matches the sky, re-inforcing the harmony and adding to the overall balance.

    • says

      Hi Jennifer, thank you so much for your comments. I wish I knew more about colour theory but your comments explain to me why the image works. Sometimes we know by instinct whether something works or not without really understanding the reason behind it.

  7. says

    You’re right Anne, sometimes images just need a little time (kinda like a fine wine!). Especially with Lightroom and the ability to try various presets on virtual copies, I’ve learned to not be too quick with the delete button when editing.

    Many images that at first glance didn’t hold my attention later found their rightful place in my files with a different approach. Some may feel that the image must be made at the time of capture, but with all of the creative tools that we have available today I think the image is just beginning with the trip of the shutter.
    Russ Bishop recently posted..Cold Snap – Tips for Successful Winter PhotographyMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Russ, I totally agree with you that the image when taken is just a beginning. Perhaps not so much for photojournalism but certainly when it comes to art there is so much more that can be done to give an image the feeling you want to convey. You’re right, letting it rest is just like a fine wine :)

  8. William says

    Hi Anne,
    I have been stalking you for a couple of weeks now, so I have been reading your older posts. I can’t seem to find any effects or plugins that I like to use on my photos. I started out in the 70s and 80s using a K-1000 and available light. I try to use the different effects and plugins for Lightroom but I just don’t like the look that I end up with. I see the photos on Google+ with effects applied and everybody is saying ooh aah great photo, allsome etc. They don’t look natural to me. I look at your photos and they look great, love em. I like my photos better if I just adjust in PSE Raw or Lightroom. Like you I don’t throw many photos away, but I have all of them in my Organizer on my main HD and its getting pretty crowded. I have been going back and deleting some lately to get space. I have them backed up on 2 portable drives and another drive on my desktop computer.
    No question, just a comment.
    Love you work!

    • says

      Hi William, thanks for your comments! I know what you mean about the effects. The photographers on G+ really like effects and surreal looking HDR. I like it sometimes too, but usually I prefer natural looking images. I use Lightroom to process my images. The one tool I use a lot is Nik Color Efex Pro. It’s a great program and I highly recommend it. I’m sure they have a free trial if you want to check it out. I find it makes my images come to life without making them look unrealistic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge