How many times have you taken a picture, only to reconcile it to the trash bin because it just didn’t turn out the way you like? I know it’s happened to me countless times. Images can fail for a number of reasons, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up on them. I still hold onto some of my worst photography because it only serves as a reminder of how much I’ve grown, but I can also use those photos to make something new. Here are a few ideas.
1.) Pick Up The Pieces
If there’s one thing I need more of, it’s skies. I know that sounds like a rather strange thing to say, but it’s totally true. A dramatic sky is always better than a boring one, and I’m willing to go to ridiculous lengths to incorporate that new sky into an image that would otherwise look bland.
In other words, when an image is a failure, look for a piece you might be able to use in another image. Maybe it’s the foreground. Perhaps it’s a piece of the sky. You can then Photoshop the interesting piece into another image, and voila! Now you’ve got something spectacular. Real Estate agents do this all the time. The next time you look at a brochure for a property, you'll usually see white fluffy clouds in the sky. And if you look closely around the roof line and trees, you'll notice where they've done a (bad) job of replacing the old (usually dreary) sky with the new one.
I’ve also been known to grab textures from failed images. There are a number of things you can do with them, but one of my favorites is to blend them in with another layer. Think of things like brick, solid ice, stucco, tiles, or anything you don’t already have. There is a world of textures out there for the taking.
I can hear the purists piping up. They’ll say you shouldn’t just Photoshop one image into another. Well too bad. This isn’t about capturing reality. It’s about making art. If one sky looks better, I’m gonna use it. As long as it also looks natural (i.e. the exposure matches the image it will be used in), I think it’s a perfectly reasonable practice.
2.) Go For The Vintage Look
Sites like Instagram are taking off because they turn ordinary photographs into works of art. How do they do it? By adjusting the white balance, tint, and color temperature, Instagram can make images look much more colorful than they would in real life. The vintage look might not work with every image. You still have to get the composition and other elements right. But when it does, you’ve just turned a failure into something cool.
3.) Crop It
Today’s digital cameras are extremely powerful. Due to the fallout of the megapixel madness war of the early 2000s, many camera sensors are overpowered. This turns out to be a very good thing when you’ve botched the composition (i.e. “framing”) of your image. Most images are so large that you’ll still have a ton of resolution left over after you’ve cropped it. You might not be able to turn it into a giant wall-sized poster for your living room, but you will have something you can share on Flickr and other social media platforms.
I intentionally make failed images all the time. It’s a part of the learning process, and with digital cameras, you can fail as much as you want with zero consequences. There’s nothing wrong with deleting overexposed photos, uninteresting images, and the like. I’d say it’s better than holding onto pictures that lack inspiration. It will make the rest of your images seem that much better.
Also understand that most images are going to be failures. That’s because the bar in photography keeps going up and up. In order to capture something truly worthwhile, you really need to be there for something extraordinary. Only a few things are exceptional. You’re lucky if you can capture any of them.
In the meantime, you can use these techniques to make the most of what you’ve got. As always, let me know what you think of them.
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