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Mistakes Were Made: Installment 1

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

Due to a mishap mentioned in a previous post, I’m currently in the process of going through old black and white negatives and culling out the ones that are lacking in merit, at least enough so that I can overcome any emotional attachment to them, and toss them into the circular file. This is a good opportunity to look at a few photographs and analyze what is wrong with them, at least from a technical/aesthetic standpoint.

Today’s example is from an outing I took in May. My sister came to visit, armed with some information about local attractions she had some interest in. One was the Devil’s Garden, located about a half hour east of Klamath Falls - I had been there once when we first moved here, and was not impressed at the time. We made our way to the place, and I could see where my original impression had come from. It is a rather homely site in comparison to some other attractions around here, like Mount Shasta, Mount McLaughlin, and Crater Lake.

But it is an interesting landscape, and I made an effort to produce a few photographs there. I wasn’t hopeful about them, with the exception of the last one, when I was able to place a small tree on the top of a rock formation against a cumulus cloud background. I eagerly anticipated seeing the result when I developed the negative. Here it is:

This one is getting tossed. In particular, the trees at the left and right edges of the rock are totally unacceptable. Well, I could perhaps live with the ones at the right edge, but the ones at the left edge are much too close to the edge of the rock. Even without that problem, there is some question as to whether this would be a compelling photograph, but the trees present an opportunity to discuss some principles in making photographs.

The issue here is with the “composition,” which I think of breaking down into several components. The first is where the camera will be placed, relative to the subject – this is what we might call the “perspective.” The second concern is the focal length of the lens used and the aspect ratio of the camera, and the third is where the camera is aimed. These latter things determine what we could call the “framing.” The combination of framing and perspective give us composition.

Now we should note at this point that changing focal length (by changing a fixed length lens, or zooming in or out, if we have that capability) does not change perspective! All objects we are looking at will maintain their spatial relationships with each other if we do not change our position. In the case of this particular photograph, the only way to eliminate the trees at the edges of the rock would have been for me to move closer to the rock before making the image.

So why didn’t I do that (other than being in a hurry, never a good thing for making a photograph, although necessary at times)? Well, I was using a fixed focal length lens, so couldn’t zoom in or out. I really wanted to include the entire rock formation, so I simply stood at a distance that allowed me to (just barely) do that. My hiking partners were leaving, the clouds were moving, and I was rushing to get the shot! With more time, would I have noticed this problem and maybe sacrificed some of the rock to get cleaner edges around it? Quite possibly not.

In the course of writing this, it occurred to me that a vertical crop might cure the problem:

I don't think so - a big part of what attracted me to the scene was the shape of the rock formation. I may have to return sometime when I think the sky might cooperate again...

...and the negative is headed for the trash!

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