Attention to Detail

Attention to detail is what you do to avoid excessive amounts of post production and as much future image chasing as possible. While working on a macro scale, paying attention to the little details can make or break a photo. While I enjoy spend my photo adventures chasing “that” shot, occasionally, I do like to succeed. Usually I’m forced to ‘chase’ a photo not because I’m seeking the perfect light or location, but because I missed something important. I wasn’t paying attention to the details.

Sometimes I miss flotsam in the water or a bit of tack showing under a mini figures foot. At other times a leaf or blade of grass is a distraction in the frame. And that is just a few of the details that can escape the eye when photographing in the great outdoors. It is these little details that I need to be hyper aware of when setting up my scene. If I’m successful, I can save myself hours of post production work.

But the surroundings aren’t the only details I need to be aware of. If you’re a mini figure photographer you know the hazards of a hair piece askew or hands in the wrong position. Because I tend to play with a very short depth of field, focus and aperture are also important to me. More than one photo has been set aside because the focus on the subject was a little off. Often the background is either too sharp or too blurry and the bokeh doesn’t look right.

The Near Miss

I can’t count the number of photos I’ve take where the eyes are just a hair out of focus. Sometimes I can fudge this detail with the clarity and sharpness tools; more often, I can’t. If I take a little more time during set-up, I can avoid this extra step in post production. I moved over to a Sony A7II body because I love the focusing system. With a dedicated Sony lens I have both  focus magnification and focus peaking to help me get my focus right the first time. Another reason I chose the Sony is for the electronic view finder or EVF. With the help of the EVF I can see exactly what my background bokeh will look like. I’m constantly playing with my aperture to see what the final image will look like. But even with these high tech tools, if I’m rushing, I will miss the photo.

Like these examples:

I really wish the lettering on the beer can was more visible. If you live in the United States you can probably recognize the Coors logo, but this wouldn’t necessarily be the case everywhere. 

That blade of grass over the elephants trunk drives me crazy. I tried to use Photoshop to remove it, and I only made it worse. I will be attempting this set up again. 

The eyes are out of focus! How could I miss the focus, the eyes are huge? 

This one has both out of focus eyes and the hair (plus ears) aren’t on straight! I was truly disappointed by this one because I really like the framing and the background. By not paying attention to the details I missed a great opportunity.

The Chase is On!

Whenever I come across an image like the dragon and elf maiden that fulfills my vision but is executed poorly, I know the chase is on. This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve chased a photo over several months. 🙂

While chasing photos can be frustrating, it often leads to minor improvements over time. My next attempt at this set-up allowed me a chance to change the outfit on the elf maiden. By switching out her blue outfit for a red one, I was able to simplify the colors in the image. I was also able to position her shield so her face wasn’t obscured. It is these minor adjustments, this attention to detail, that will eventually lead to an image I’m happy with.

I probably sound a little OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) about my photography. But I like the chase, I like creating images I can be proud of. If it takes me a few extra months to nail the right image, then so be it. It’s just one more excuse to get out and practice the hobby I love.


How obsessive do you get about the details in your photos? Have you ever chased the ‘perfect’ photo? If so, how long did it take you before you where happy with your results? 

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  1. Great post Shelly! Now i understand the comment on my “killing joke” picture!
    I’m obsessive compulsive too when taking pictures and in spite of everything, i still miss the opportunities.
    But this means that i have a lot of room for improvements so it should be fun!

    • Marco, I thought it was rather serendipitous that your post on G+ yesterday referenced exactly what Im talking about. No matter how careful you are, it is amazing what is still missed. But then, if we captured every image perfectly the first time, how much fun would that be?? Onwards and upwards my friend!! 🙂

  2. Great post!
    Ooooh how I can get irritated by the little things. Especially when things are out of focus.
    Sometimes the problem is that my eyes doesn’t seem to be as good as X times magnification lateron on my computer when I usually discover the focus thing… or some kind of dust not visible to the naked eye. Luckily, the dust can be fixed.

    Since using live-view I get less out of focus… but it does happen sometimes 🙁

    • Dwaas, I’m glad you enjoyed my latest ramblings. I don’t any of else will ever be able to completely nail that photo on the first try. You’r using live view and I have my super spicy camera – even with all the tools at our disposal, we still miss. I guess this is when we have to take a deep breath and be zen about the whole process. Luckily I enjoy the chase and often capture a better photo with the3rd or 4th attempt, but Im sure with studio work, it can be very frustrating. If anything, know you’re not alone!!

  3. Jason Nvrmore

    BLADES OF GRASS!!!! Yes, these have become my mortal enemy with outside shooting.

    My attention to detail maybe isn’t as acute as yours though I am becoming more sensitive to the things you talked about. I still have a tendency, at times, to post some shots that I find fault with for two reasons. One reason, the main reason, is so many times a photo I find fault with seems to end up being enjoyed by others to a greater degree then I anticipate– and shots I think I have nailed fall flat. The second reason is I like a history to look back on… even if it’s not totally what I wanted, a benchmark of that set-up so to speak. That being said I have begun to chase shots more when on occasion I really have a specific idea that I’m after… Something I never would have considered a year ago.

    I do have a question. On average how many shots would you say you take of a set-up? I take anywhere from 20-30 occasionally more, tweaking things as I go. I don’t always get the shot I envisioned but I usually find something I like… maybe I’m settling? I’m usually not that hard and fast on the photo I’m looking to capture. I have an idea and know the figures I want to use and a loose idea of the setting but usually I’m pretty open to adapting my idea.

    I was incredible impressed with your kayak redo-redo. I’m not sure if I would have had it in me to go after an idea a third time.

    • Jason I hope you realize I post my misses too. Several of the examples I used here have been posted online somewhere. Most of my followers only look at the images on their phones and would never be able to see some of these imperfections. The only exception to that is the focus. I cant abide out of focus images. I wear glasses and I’m pretty finicky about my vision. But trust me, that is a personal idiosyncrasy. I would never judge anyone else for what they post – we all use our social media feeds in different ways. 🙂

      I think that this new habit of yours – chasing photos – only shows that you’re growing as a photographer. You’re trying to push yourself to see what you can do. I think thats wonderful!

      I don’t think you’re settling at all. When I go out with my little ideas all set up, they are only the beginning of the process. My visions are always incomplete because I want the environment to lead me to a cool image. Ive written about this before, letting the photograph find you rather than searching for the photo. Sometimes you have to see something in the view finder to really understand what you want. Sometime you have to be patient and let the image bubble up. I like to be a little zen about it. With that said I’ve been known to take as few as 3-4 images (usually because its cold) to as many as 50 shots of a single set up. Im constantly moving around, shifting position minutely, changing the f stop or shutter speed and seeing what it looks like. A really good image I don’t want to stop photographing because its so beautiful. I also change from horizontal to vertical and change the composition. I look for lines in the background to play off of as well. All the while seeing what the setting will reveal in conjunction with the toy. I never know what I get until Im home and uploaded my images. I have a good screen, but I can never really see what is working until I’m home. Its a crap shoot every time. But if it doesn’t work, then I keep that set up in rotation and try again.

      Three times in easy. I had one set up I chased all summer. But it was worth it when I finally nailed it. It is now one of my favorite images EVER! 🙂

  4. I find I have so many details to keep track of when I work indoors. My shots indoors tend to be 45-50 shots with minor adjustments before I’m actually somewhat happy with it. Outdoors seems so much easier in that regard for me. Sometimes I can nail that shot i was hoping for within a few minutes and a few shots. Recently I captured an image in a short window of time (between customers at a market), with the first shot. That is a rarity – but I was happy and moved on quickly.

    I don’t think it’s OCD – it’s an art form. People want their art as close to their idea as possible. I think that’s what makes the difference between a true artist and more of a hobbyist being ok with a bit of wiggle room.

    • Interesting that your indoor photos take more photos to get an image. I liken indoor studio work to painting – its all in the prep. For me there is a serendipity about outdoor photos: sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. And if they don’t, gee I have to go on a hike and out into the woods to try again. Its a real hardship!

      Congrats on nailing the photo on the first go. That is always a great feeling! And your right, it’s an art form; or at the very least, a form of personal expression. Its done when we say it is, not before.

      Thanks for sharing your experiences Joseph!

  5. brett_wilson

    Oh, how many photos I’ve scrapped because a head piece was crooked, a cape was askew or the hand gesture just looked “wrong”! Or there was something so obviously out of place in the background/foreground that I can’t believe I didn’t see it until I was sat at my computer!
    But, with each of these oversights when shooting, I become more aware of them. I’m less likely to make the same blunders next time. And, a minor “blemish” in a shot is a great opportunity to brush up on editing skills and techniques, even if that photo never sees the light of day.
    I know this sounds quite “glass half-full” and zen. I should point out I do all this whilst cursing like a sailor!
    Do I chase the perfect photo? I don’t know if it exists? Do I chase learning and improvement? Hell yeah!
    Great post Shelly!

    • Thank Brett! I’m so glad you enjoyed my follow up to your post earlier this week. I think we do have to take a zen approach to the whole toy / macro photography process. It’s a journey and every ‘mistake’ is an opportunity to learn something. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it (which I know you can appreciate). I don’t mind the mistakes as much as I once did because I’m learning to love the chase!

  6. I understand imperfections when it comes to figure posing and positioning as well as accessories… When figures have 32 points of articulation so many things can go wonky… the double jointed knees get me a lot, too much bend on the top part and not enough on the bottom…. ugh!
    I often have issues, when doing shots with two or more figures with the head positioning… are they looking at each other? Are they looking away… sometimes I have to change the caption I had in mind because when I’m looking at my photos on the computer I don’t have the figures looking like they are interacting in a way that suits the caption I originally had in mind… lol…

  7. I’m new to the idea of chasing a photo, a vision… as I eluded to before. One of the reasons for that, I have to admit, is a bit of laziness… Working 6 days a week, I just have not found the time/inspiration/energy to try to redo ideas I have already tried. New ideas are fresh and wide open, so you can play it fast and loose to an extent– but if you have a vision you are chasing and have failed at it before then it pins you down to: this image in my mind needs this-this and this to work, the set-up needs this stuff to work… to ultimately become what I want it to be… Honestly, I liken it to Jennifer’s G+ ToyPhotographer’s June Challenge of revisiting old work and redoing it with improved skills; I found that more difficult than I thought I would. Seems very time consuming, mentally and physically, to redo a photo and in the same thought process – chase one. So much easier to start from scratch! But I am starting to see the learning that occurs when it came to redoing a shot and that pride you feel when you do it better, or dare I say “NAIL IT!”

  8. You have an idea. You set up your photo. It does not work. You start to improvise. You get it right. And then there is the focus, there’s lint, there’s glue glistening from shoes (bad) and buildings (worse).

    For me, too, these thing only appear once I saved the photo on my computer and blew it up to 100%. So till here we are all in the same boat — thank you all for pointing that out!

    Sometimes I get to a point when I quote artist Nam June Paik: “When too perfect, lieber Gott böse.” [When too perfect, dear god angry.] With reference to some schools of aesthetics, there is more to this than one might think at first glance.

  9. Stefan K / fubiken

    One of my best images is from London. A cyberman on London Bridge. In the corner of my eye I saw a red London bus comming so I waited, waited, waited..and took the shoot. Looked in the camera to check the image, got it. Even made a little happy dance. Three iconic British things in one shot, I was happy 🙂
    But usally I have to try over and over and over again.

  10. YES. Yes yes yes. Thank you for this, it’s something I struggle with quite a bit (as I’ve written about a bit before). I sometimes get too impatient about a shoot and tear my setup down before checking my photos. Then I find a head turned too far to the left or a hair piece out of alignment. Or, as you alluded to, the dreaded hand facing the wrong direction! I know that the average viewer will never notice, but once it catches my eye, it’s a photo killer and I have to try again.

    I admire your patience, and the fact that you’ll try taking a photo again and improve on the original later on. I need to be better about that, myself.

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