I received a lot of positive feedback the last time I discussed one of my “bad photos,” so it was easy for me to decide to continue these types of posts.
This time I want to talk about a photo I took last weekend while camping in the Mojave Desert. I intentionally picked this weekend because of the full moon–I was hoping to catch a few glorious moonrises and moonsets.
The first night I was there, I shot this photo a few minutes before sunset:
But, I see a few problems with how this photo came out:
- Moon is out of focus
- Lines in the sand are not emphasized enough
- Perhaps the moon is a little too small
Why is the moon out of focus?
It may not be very obvious from the small image above, but the moon in this photo is not in focus. Here’s a 100% crop that shows this more clearly:
Why did this happen?
Simple: the sand in the foreground was pretty close to the camera (around 15-20 ft), while the moon was significantly farther away. I focused about midway into the sand dune, and despite the small aperture I used (f/32), there still wasn’t enough depth of field to make the moon in focus. It was just too far away in relation to the close sand dunes.
One solution to this problem is to take two photos: one focused on the sand, and the other focused on the distant moon. Then, combine these images later in post-processing.
Why didn’t I do this? Why did I make such a simple mistake here?
Well, I actually arrived to these dunes pretty late, on the night I took this photo. I got there about an hour before sunset, and that didn’t give me much time to hike through the dunes and find a good composition for the sunset (and moonrise). I actually started running through the dunes at one point, trying to chase the sun before it set.
Since I was rushing so much, I got sloppy and forgot that I needed to take two separately focused photos for this image.
So, that’s lesson #1 here: don’t rush. Get to your photo location well before you plan to actually hit that shutter button.
How the sand could have looked better
I was pretty lucky to visit these dunes when I did. It had just rained on them earlier that week, and instead of those typical smooth waves you see in dry sand dunes, I got to see these beautiful thick lines of moist sand. It’s something you don’t see very often, and I should have emphasized them more in this photo.
I could have done this by getting closer and using a wide-angle lens, or getting higher so I could shoot them from above where these waves were most visible from.
Since my mind was so set on photographing the moonrise, I didn’t appreciate the unique conditions of the dunes nearly enough.
So, that’s lesson #2 here: although you may be set on photographing a specific landscape, always keep an open mind and be ready to adapt to any surprises you might find.
Is the moon too small?
I personally feel like the moon is also a little small in this photo, but this isn’t really a huge problem and I think it’s just a personal preference: I love images with a giant moon (like this awesome photo by Jim Goldstein).
To make the moon bigger in this image, I should have used a 300mm lens instead of the 70-200.
So, lesson #3 is: visualize your final image before snapping the photo, and know your lenses.
What went right with this photo
Although I think this is a “bad photo,” I’d like to end on a positive note and just say that a few things did go well with this shot:
- the light was glorious (thanks to the setting sun)
- the unique waves in the sand still look pretty cool even if they’re not emphasized enough
- I think I chose a good composition (with the sand making up most of the photo)
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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.