Learning From Throwaway Shots
I take a lot of photos. Most I never consider for my portfolio. Some are flat out throwaways. But the throwaway shots provide a learning opportunity. On a couple of levels, actually. First, I look at throwaways for what's good or bad about the photo. How's the composition? The perspective? Is the subject clear? Second, I use the throwaways as a post-processing sandbox. I'll experiment more with my tool chain, try out new effects, even go overboard. I won't stress about pushing an image too far. I already know I won't ruin a portfolio contender.
If you follow my blog, you'll know this week I've been working through old film photos from Japan. While back then I knew I enjoyed taking photos, I didn't know anything about composition, lighting, aperture, ISO, gear, etc. My knowledge has grown since then, and I know I still have more to learn. But 10+ years ago, I used the "cartoon modes" on the camera, not knowing what they did under the covers. I generated a lot of snapshots. Sure, sometimes I'd come away with a great shot, but those were "blind squirrel" events. (Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while.)
Here's an example from the Hama Rikyu Gardens. On my first visit, I came away with a photo that's still one of my favorites. But on this visit ... less than inspiring. What's different?
The first, most obvious thing is the blatant date stamp on the negative. I don't remember what camera I shot this with, but I should have turned that off! It must have been windy since the water is rough, disrupting the reflection of the house. The trees in front, particularly the lower left corner, are distracting. The lighting is flat - this was mid day as I recall. And the sky couldn't be more boring, a blue gray haze. A throwaway shot.
If I were visiting now, I would schedule my visit for a better time of day, the framing would be different, I'd be patient waiting for the wind to die down for a more complete reflection in the water. So while I wouldn't hang this photo on the wall, it does provide a learning experience.
Next, I tossed this image into some post-processing tools. I want to become more proficient with the filters in Perfect Effects, so when I go to work on my stronger photos, I'll know more about what the various filters do and how they will affect the image.
I did a variety of things here. Cropping the image some to cut down on the vacant sky, touchup work to remove the date and the trees at lower left (that's sloppy, but I won't spend oodles of time on a throwaway), and then several effects.
Perfect Effects has a "Sunshine" filter that produces a look as if sunlight was falling on the scene. That yellows the greens some, so another filter is applied to bring back the greens of the trees. The last main experiment is a focus filter, pushing the photo toward a tilt-shift image, making the house on the water look more miniature. As with most of my images, I finish off with selective sharpening. I spent maybe 10-15 minutes with this image, and much of that was twiddling with sliders to better know what they do.
The processed photo looks better than the original film scan. But that's not the point. It's about the learning process. Having done this exercise, I know more about the mistakes I made on scene. The more I do this, the better (I hope) I'll get with making stronger images in camera. Also, I know more about what the Sunshine filter impacts an image. That will prove useful over time. In the long run, spending a few minutes with a throwaway shot will pay off.