When A Death Valley Landscape Photography Shoot Goes Bad

Yesterday I posted some of my favorite photos from my Death Valley trip. First off, thanks so much for the nice comments. Well, today, once again figuring why should I end it on a high note, I thought I’d follow it up with some of the not-so-good photos from the trip. As I think you’ll see, so much of landscape and outdoor photography is just about being there at the right time and place with the right weather. You can be in a really beautiful place and, if the conditions don’t cooperate, take some really bad photos. Heck, as you’ll see here… you can be in a really beautiful place, with really great weather, and still take some bad photos :)

For some reason, photographers are always drawn to roads. Roads that lead somewhere interesting. That road my friends, is not this one. This road (the way I captured it at least), is not only uninteresting in itself, but leads into the most blah looking sky you can imagine. Yet I felt the need it should be captured.

It’s always interesting to shoot crooked photos of a colorless, lightless, scene. I’ll make myself feel better and say I was “warming up” for sunrise by taking some “test” shots.

When shooting outdoors and the light gets bad and the shadows get harsh, you should stop shooting. Apparently I didn’t and felt the need to continue to take photos of the same thing that I took perfectly nice photos of earlier.

When the good light was really gone, I felt like I needed to keep shooting. Somehow this seemed like something I should zoom in to.

I always like shooting into the sun at sunset, just as it goes doen below the horizon or mountain peaks. But this may have been a bit early for that.

Apparently rocks travel using the “buddy system”.

I always felt photographers should put their subject in the center of the photo more often.

I suppose it’s okay to shoot, knowing that you’ll have to clone some photographers out of your final photo. But at least make sure it’s a shot worth cloning them out for.

The key shot at the Racetrack in Death Valley is supposed to include the tracks the rocks leave behind. It’s what helps pull people into the frame as they see the rock and the usually nice pattern it leaves behind. I decided to go against the grain and say “screw it”, I’m just shooting a rock. Nothing says “Big deal, it’s a freakin’ rock” like this photo.

See those almost-pink clouds in the sky here. Well, 2 minutes before this they were lit up like you wouldn’t believe, and some of the most colorful clouds you’ve ever seen. You know where I was though? Shooting the stupid rock you see in the previous photo.

Lightpainting at it’s finest. The mysterious light from nowhere.

I always find the light for your red headlamp makes for a great foreground in your star photos.

Now this is some subtle light painting. Don’t you love the even exposure and how the light from my flashlight just blends seemlessly with the area around me?

Who needs foreground? Just a photo of stars always stands on it’s own :)

I must have done something to tick off Air traffic control at some point. It seems they knew I was out trying to get some star photos. I’m even told there was a flight from New York to Miami that they rerouted over Death Valley for me. Not 1. Not 2. Not 3. But 4 planes to clone out. Really?! (there’s actually more if you look close)

There’s that darn headlamp again.

I affectionately refer to this photo as “The Sand Dunes You Can’t Really See”

Perhaps I thought the footprints in the lower right corner made a nice foreground element.

It’s all about leading lines baby!!! You’ve gotta love the way that nice S curve on the right leads you up to the trampled sand at the top. That along with the tripod hole in the bottom right and my hand on the far left make this a photo that you can look at many times and continue to see all new mistakes each time.
deathvalley21 copy

I actually like this photo. I didn’t see it until last night. Figured I’d include it so you don’t think I totally suck as a photographer.

Took this one just in case I couldn’t find my way back to the car so I had something to trace my steps with.

Ever take a photo of something and you’re just not sure why? Not just one photo mind you – but about 10.

That’s the shadow of a person at the bottom of the image. I remember taking the photo thinking, “I’ll just clone them out if I need to”. Really?

I call this photo “Holy crap! I’m really tired from walking up dunes, and I know my camera is being triggered by my cable release which is in my pocket, but I’m too tired from walking up and down these dunes to do anything about it.”

Did I mention foreground in another photo. Plenty of it here! Nothing else mind you ;)

Once again I remember thinking that I could just clone my tripod out. And the other tripod. And the big shadow next to me…And the camera bags… and the cars in the background.

Dead centered horizons, with photographers holding up their tripod in the background always look great.

Thanks for stopping by. If you haven’t seen yesterday’s post yet, please at least check it out so you know I don’t totally suck as a photographer :)

  • Janine Smith

    Matt, I actually did laugh out loud reading this. Great post! I just wish I hadn’t been there, done that so many times.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paulparkinson Paul Parkinson

    So glad to see the people I have great respect for take crappy shots too! So often (too often) we see the glossed perfection and not the “ewwww” so thanks for sharing. And yes, they are bloody awful!

  • http://twitter.com/blyth_mike Mike Blythe

    Hi Matt, it gives me hope when a fantastic photographer like yourself can make errors too.

    I really have enjoyed your Blog and photos.

    I must go back to this area next summer, I was there in 95 but at the time did not have a great interest in photography.




    • http://www.mattk.com/ Matt Kloskowski

      I’m with ya man. I think of all the places I’ve been before I really had a deep interest in photography, and kick myself. Good luck!

  • Dennis Zito

    Hey Matt, I kind of like these photos … just kidding! :-) It’s always nice to see that the Masters make a mistake or two. I’ve been there so many time. You think you have a great shot, and then in the computer you go … What? I actually thought that was good at the time.

    Thanks for the laugh and realization you are normal! :-)


    • http://www.mattk.com/ Matt Kloskowski

      Thanks Dennis – it’s funny because my wife was next to me as I was posting some of these photos and she’s like “I actually like that one” :)

  • Bob Drake

    Preaching to the choir I know but I learned many, many years ago….

    Only show the photos you are proud of…
    Everyone takes a poor one now and again…
    my philosophy includes taking photos that I suspect aren’t going to be very good because until I get them onto the computer and take a good look, I won’t know. (Used to be in an enlarger and viewed on the easel before printing.)

    • http://www.mattk.com/ Matt Kloskowski

      Not quite sure what you’re getting at here Bob, but I’ve heard the same thing you heard about only showing your best photos. But the thing for me is, I don’t make my living from photography – I make it from teaching. When you teach, you have to throw away the ego of nobody ever seeing your bad photos. As a teacher, I feel I need to show some of the bad ones as learning experiences. Show some of the “before” shots so I can show people, “this is how everyone’s photos start – you just need to know how to process them”.

      So, while I appreciate the advice and it’s something I’ve known as a rule for many years – it’s a rule I’ll continue to break.

      • Bob Drake

        Actually, I was/am a professional teacher – not of photography as such. When I retired I taught some adult general interest courses in photography and there I “revealed all”. As a teacher I felt it necessary to show folks that not every photo I took was a great photo, a good photo or even a fair photo. Many were lousy – in my own personal opinion – but I took them because it was, in many cases as a tourist, my options and chances were limited. But to teach you have to be prepared to share.

        And, in many cases, a lousy photo can be improved by simple editing – straightening horizons, cropping out unwelcome elements, using a clone brush to paint over blemishes of one kind or another.

        So, yes, I know exactly what you are saying and admire it.

        • http://www.facebook.com/DelMecum Del Mecum

          I can see where you’re coming from Bob, but then again, making people believe you always take wonderful images can disillusion many into thinking “technically” correct photos happen every time and if they’re not getting it right, then what’s the use…..might as well just throw up a “duck face” on FB and call it a day.

  • http://twitter.com/scottking Scott King

    From an educational standpoint I think I learned a lot more looking at your mistakes and reading your thoughts on them then I did seeing your hero shots. You should do more posts like this!

  • Michele

    Thanks for the smiles this morning. It’s so refreshing to see a photographer who’s capable of a little derision. :-) And it’s very useful to see examples of what we should try to avoid in our pictures. Great post!

  • http://www.quiettime.org/ Catherine Martin

    Hilarious. I love your comments and critique with each one. Very helpful. But funny too – I can totally relate because I say those same kinds of things looking through photos after the shoot – like what was I thinking when I took THAT shot? It’s when that beauty comes through in one that goes into the portfolio – that’s what I love!

  • Deb Moran

    Love the photos and your descriptions. Several times I laughed out loud, making my five-year-old wonder what was so funny. Thanks for sharing so we know that you’re just like us mere mortals. :)

  • Karen Johnson

    Thank you Matt! I laughed out loud through the article and learned a lot! it’s nice to know a pro such as yourself has those “what was I thinking when I took this” shot.

  • Lisa Peckenpaugh

    This gave me a good chuckle this morning. Love the critique! :)

  • CBWyatt

    Thanks for sharing your images from both days; I’m going to DV next month and it was great to see your exceptional images as well as the duds. I have noticed that with digital I shoot a lot more photos than when there was only film. The cost of film made me slow down and look closer at what I was doing whereas with digital I try something to see if it will work, resulting in a lot of trash.

    How about showing the original capture of your great images to see what you did in post processing.

    I enjoy your blog and the first issue of the new LR magazine. Your sense of humor is great! Thanks for helping me work towards taking more great images.

  • Peter de Rooij

    I sooo recognise this. Except the sharing with the self-deprecating comment bit that is. Cool.

  • http://www.facebook.com/andybiggstx Andy Biggs

    Matt, I really chuckled when I read the post. I really understand where you are coming from with this. By the way, we never got a chance to say hello, as my workshop group was at the same hotel when you were there. Sounds like you had a great time.

    • http://www.mattk.com/ Matt Kloskowski

      ah man! That would have been cool to chat. Next time! :)

  • Lori

    Wow, there is still a glimmer of hope for me and I’m not a total loser at taking shots! Thanks for your honesty, it was awesome!

  • Glenn

    Hilarious and instructive. Thanks for deviating from other well known bloggers and being confident enough and ego free in sharing some of your “lessor work.”
    Among other things a very clear reminder of the short window of good light we landscape photographers have to capture an image. Guess we’ll have to keep getting up early darn it.
    It’s really interesting to compare these images to yesterday’s to see how little change there is between a good image and a … lets call it … another image.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1414153448 Janet L. Clark

    OMG, the people at work think I am crazy cause I am sitting here laughing about all your comments… you are one funny guy! Thanks for sharing the blooper reel and making my day! I learned a lot!

  • Michael Steighner

    Great post here Matt! I love how you keep it real for all of us. Too funny :) Since most of the work you post is amazing, this was refreshing to see :)

  • tim

    Dude your a bad photographer you know that right

  • Bill Araujo

    This was as good if not better than the blind critiques on The Grid. While much of what you shared are mistakes many of us make from time to time, it was good to have your lighthearted self critical explanations. I’ve just started to teach some basics and I often show some of my bad work (which is not hard to find) as examples of what and why not. Your post has convinced me to continue to do so. Thanks Matt!

  • Mike Goodwin

    I don’t know Matt. I kind of like that road shot. I gave it 2 minutes in Photoshop with a few techniques I learned somewhere ;-) http://mikegoodwin.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/MattK.jpg

    • http://www.mattk.com/ Matt Kloskowski

      Hey Mike – Very cool! I guess I’m just not that into road shots :)

  • http://twitter.com/Erthtones Erthtones (Sharon)

    Thanks for the laugh. I really enjoyed this! :)

  • http://twitter.com/savingdawn Dawn Aiello

    Oh man, that was awesome! I often have the same conversations with myself as I’m looking back through the hundreds of shots I took in one session. Most of the time I’m just saying, “What was I thinking??” :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/inthelight Linda Cowan Hall

    I can’t even tell you how much I enjoyed this! It is great to see someone like you share some of your “not so illustrious” images, and laugh at themselves, and in the process, let the rest of us breath a sigh of relief that there may be hope for us, lol. thanks!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/beth.mcnabb Beth Reynolds McNabb

    Matt, you always make me smile! I can’t wait to go look at yesterday’s blog! Thanks for sharing the good with the bad. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.olson.716 Richard Olson

    How many times did you think the photo looked great through the viewfinder only to get home say, what was I thinking? How did I miss THAT shadow? Oh yeah, I’ve taken many. Looks like I’m in good company

  • ImAHrsLvr@aol.com

    You are too funny!

  • Marc

    Great post. Too many people think that all Pros’ shutter clicks are great pictures. My average ratio of keepers is about 1:60 , one really nice image that i like out of sixty.

  • Susan Scharenberg

    I think all here would agree that your work is squarely in the “doesn’t suck” camp. ;-) What distinguishes you from many in that circle is that you so generously share the “gone bad” material for its teaching value. Thanks for the excellent lessons and laughs.

  • 1107photography

    Humor is a great teaching tool… I think I learned and/or was reminded of more lessons this way than if you had done it “straight.” :) Great post–I am bookmarking it to keep those reminders fresh next time I set out!

  • Fraucha

    I have a lifetime fo “bad shots” but I keep them, because behind them might be story (funny or not) or some other event that will trigger the memory cells of my cluttered brain. Sometimes one random shot sums up a day of fun or frustration. Thanks for sharing Matt!

  • http://twitter.com/dariodusio Dario Dusio

    Here I was taking a photo at the sea… and I fell in the cold water (winter). http://www.flickr.com/photos/thedrjazz/3436984271/in/photostream
    Nice thing the camera grabbed me falling down… 1 hour later it was scheduled to meet the parents of my girlfriend, you can imagine how perfect I was with seaweed on my jeans!
    But nonetheless after some time she became my wife.
    Life’s strange and bad photos… makes a good story!

  • http://www.facebook.com/DelMecum Del Mecum

    Nice article….bad photography is learning photography.

  • Andrew Kliss


    Yes, I do read all the way down to the bottom of your pages, and yes, I’m weird.

  • Martha J. Kenyon

    Your comments were really funny. I can relate

  • Martha J. Kenyon

    Thanks for all th helpfull information.:)

  • Blake Rudis

    This is awesome! Thank you for sharing thee with us, now I really know I am not the only one!

  • Brian

    Thanks for sharing. Your post reminds the me about 2 things. 1. That you’re still human, and 2. That there is hope for the rest of us.

  • Lynn Crow

    ok, i have been at Imaging USA this week (great!) and finally catching up on your blogs…. you are too funny, i was totally laughing out loud with just me and my computer…. thanks for a great start to my day…. lynn

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=530672831 Tim Leahy

    Excellent post!! It had me cracking up!

  • Jorge

    Excellent! I was laughing out loud. At least I’m not the only one that does this stuff…

  • Christin McLeod

    I’m laughing as hard as I do when I read d@mnyouautocorrect! My boyfriend’s curiosity was piqued by my outbursts, but when I started sharing with him, he totally didn’t get it. Needless to say, he is not a photographer. Good stuff!!! I loved seeing these photos.

  • Paul Douglas

    Great post. I get tired- and often frustrated- looking at perfect photo after perfect photo on every post I subscribe to. I finally feel like there’s hope for me. P.S. My “portfolio” is full of shots that compare favorably to yours above! And most of them I have no idea what I was attempting to achieve. Thank you for giving me hope that one day I may be able to call myself a photographer.!