In Bob Dylan’s great song, “Love Minus Zero/No Limit,” he proclaims,
“There’s no success like failure, and failure’s no success at all.”
It’s one of my favorite lines. I don’t always think failure is such a bad thing, because we learn so much more from failure, than we do success.
So, I’d like to try a new type of post here at PhotoNaturalist. I’ll start by sharing a recent photo I took that I don’t think came out very well. Then, I’ll explain why I don’t like it and why it “failed.”
One of my favorite ways to learn more about photography is to just go out and try new things and experiment. I always learn a lot from these experiments so hopefully by sharing some of them with you, you’ll learn a few things too!
Since this is the first type of post like this, I’d greatly appreciate your feedback, so I know if I should continue them in the future. Please feel free to leave a comment below, or contact me directly by e-mail. Thanks!
Okay, let’s get started. Here’s the photo I’d like to discuss (click for a larger version):
It’s a photo of a female Variegated Meadowhawk, taken in the Colorado Desert of Southern California. I was really excited when I spotted this dragonfly because I knew a photo of it would go well with the photo I shot a few weeks ago of a male Variegated Meadowhawk.
I shot the photo with a Canon XTi and 300mm f/4L lens, at f/11, 1/200 sec exposure, and ISO 400.
But, I see two big problems with how this shot came out:
1. The tip of the abdomen is not sharp (click here for a larger version to see this more clearly)
2. The background isn’t out of focus enough
I don’t want to be Mr. Negative, so I do think a few things went well: the head and most of the body is in sharp focus, and the exposure was good.
So, what caused the problems above?
#1 – Why the abdomen is not sharp
Although the head, thorax and most of the abdomen is pretty sharp, the tip of the abdomen is noticeably unsharp. The reason for this is simple: my camera’s sensor was not parallel to the dragonfly’s body.
Since you only get one plane of complete sharpness, it’s important to shoot parallel to dragonfly’s bodies. Unfortunately, in this particular situation that wasn’t possible.
If I positioned my camera parallel to the body, then another branch of the Juniper would’ve been in the way, covering most of the dragonfly.
Sure, I could’ve used a smaller aperture to get more depth of field, but that would have only made the next problem worse!
#2 – Why the background is poor
When I first saw this dragonfly, I was really excited about the green background (something that’s hard to come by in the winter desert). Unfortunately though, the green branches of this bush weren’t far enough from the dragonfly to get an in-focus subject and an out of focus background.
Sure, I could’ve used a wider aperture, but that would have just made the first problem worse!
The real lesson of this photo
Although there’s certainly a lot to learn about depth of field with this photo, I think there’s even a bigger lesson here:
Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do in a certain situation to get the photo you’re looking for. To make this photo better, I would have just needed to find another dragonfly perching somewhere else where the conditions were ideal: a far away background and no distracting objects in front of the dragonfly (so I could place the camera parallel to the dragonfly).
Finding that perfect setup takes time! So, be patient and observant 🙂
How did you like this post?
Since this is a new type of post I’m experimenting with, I’d greatly appreciate your feedback on it: was it helpful? Did you learn anything? Please let me know by leaving a comment below or contact me directly. Or, if you’re reading this through the e-mail updates, you can just hit reply 🙂
Thanks a lot in advance for your feedback!
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About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, computer scientist, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of Southern California.