What a Bad Photograph Can Teach You

Not everyone may be good at taking good pictures, but anybody can take a bad one without any issue. We’ve all taken bad pictures in our lifetime. I’m guilty of it myself. But just because a photograph is deemed as “bad” that does not mean that it cannot be learned from. There is a great deal that can be learned from the massive amount of bad photographs that exist on the internet and anywhere in the world. And in the current digital age we are living in, there is an abundance like never before in human history. In today’s post we will be looking at the world of bad photographs.

To be clear, I am no critic of fine art. I consider myself a photographer, but that does not mean that I consider myself worthy to consider if a piece of art is good or bad. I only know what my opinion on a piece art as my own. I have taken many pictures which I do not like whatsoever for one reason or another, and I have taken sooooo many bad pictures in my lifetime. But what I am trying to say here is that just because I find a picture to be bad, that doesn’t necessary mean that the picture appears unappealing to anyone else. It could just be my taste. Just like how a picture you enjoy is one that I could not see as appealing myself. “Bad” is simply a matter of opinion, strictly speaking. So how can we learn from a visually dull, lifeless, unappealing picture? Let’s talk about that.

It is often times easier to point out what is wrong with a bad picture than what is good about a good picture. When you look at bad photographs, what doesn’t work about the picture jumps out at you automatically. There is no denying that something doesn’t work, and it is very easy to spot just what that is and why you don’t like it. If the picture is to brightly lit, immediately you know that the picture suffers from overexposure. If the colors are pale or weak, you know that the picture may be underexposed or suffer from a white balance issue. When you recognize that you do not like a picture, you can quickly identify what it is that you do not like about the picture.

Even better, once you realize what you do not like about a picture, you can then figure out what you would change about the picture and how you would change it to make it fit your style or view better. For instance, lets use the example we spoke of above with the picture being overexposed. Say that you are looking at a portrait of a young man standing outside. The composition of the picture is fine with the whole face and head being in the frame and the dominant eye in the center. The clothes the man is wearing are fully visible but yet the exposure of the image is over the needed amount. The definition in the mans face is hard to make out and the sky is devoid of almost any color. You recognize all of these things by looking at the picture. There are good parts in the picture but sadly, the negatives outweigh the positives in this instance (HA! See what I did there??). So what can you do about the inaccuracies? This is where looking at bad pictures can help you to become a better photographer. You look at the picture and break it down. First thing is first, if we decrease the exposure a bit, this picture may be able to be salvaged. So you mentally rework the photograph and the settings to make it more stylistically appealing. See, by looking at a bad photograph, thinking about it in your head, reinterpreting it or “fixing” it to better fir what you feel it should look like, you actually change the photograph entirely. Not only do you see the weaknesses in the picture, but you also learn how avoid those weaknesses in your own pictures. You spot not only that something doesn’t work, but understand why it doesn’t work.

This is not to say that you cannot learn a great deal from studying the great photographs throughout history. In fact, you should! Viewing famous and well composed photographs is a sense of inspiration and a great way to learn about photography. It is also a great way to learn about what does work in pictures and certain characteristics that appear in several photographs that you like. If I had never seen the work of Emanuel Lubezki or William Eggleston, I am not sure that I would have a very clear understanding of what it is that makes a photo appealing to my eye. You can also revert the process I described above by looking at what works in the picture and then thinking to yourself why the photographer chose to do that (that is, if you disagree with his choices). Good and bad pictures both deserve to be studied.

And it is not hard whatsoever to find a bad picture. I mean just glance at your phone, you’re bound to see one. But when you do, don’t just immediately scroll past it. Look at it and see what it is that makes it bad in your eyes. Whether it be composition, camera angle, lighting, blur, colorization, break down what it is that makes you not like the picture as much as you could. Mentally change the picture so that it is to your liking and recognize what you changed and how you changed it.  You will not only gain a sharper eye, but also be able to appreciate what others may dismiss as lackluster pictures.

So that is the post for today. An introduction into appreciating what makes a bad picture worth studying. On a side note, I’d like to throw a side thought out there. Remember that no matter how perfect you want your picture to look, it is often the imperfections in a piece of art which make it human. What have you learned from bad pictures? Let me know in the comments below! And as always…

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