I went through my shots from the camping trip out to the Mojave Lava Tubes and looked for the most ordinary shots, shots that would not be surprised to see in the photos of the average tourist.

It’s not a fun exercise – looking for mediocrity or maybe put more kindly, averageness – in your own work, but it’s a helpful exercise to illustrate what I value as interesting, above average or extraordinary.

This shot, while I distinctly remember noticing the red barrel cacti scattered in the foreground, and I also distinctly remember noticing the black volcanic hill in the background on the right, suffers from offering too much to observe and no artistic guidance or composition to help direct the eye. That’s keeping it pretty simple. The red barrel cacti on the left and the black cinder hill on the right have an interesting diagonal line between them, but having a third strong subject in the frame would have also helped form a triangle, which often helps create a stronger composition by creating a balance or offer tension between three poles, not just two. Now, the viewer probably looks at the cactus then the cinder hill, then back like a tennis match. And a tennis match with nothing happening. And the light is high noon and uninteresting. Very little shadows or contrast from the lighting. So the photo appears rather flat. This photo reminds me of photos I take with my phone to remember a place I’ve been. Great for “Google Photo memories” to pop up and remind you of a vacation or a scene, but not much of a focal point for the composition. Simply put, trying to cram everything in front of me into the camera. Next!

Backlit from the setting sun, this image offers a silhouette to please the viewer’s eye, but the focus is not sharp enough, and the tree branches on the lower part of the tree intersect with the branches of trees in the background so it’s not as clean as silhouette as I would like. The horizon is not straight but the line of the road is straight, so maybe I straightened this out? I guess it’s okay that the horizon of the landscape drifts downward to the left, but I notice it and it’s not really helpful to make a great composition, so it just seems to be an element of the photo that doesn’t serve for a positive purpose, just as a distraction. The glow from the sun could be a bit more controlled and shaped if I had used a higher aperture, or a faster shutter speed. A higher aperture also would have another benefit: it would have likely given a sharper shape to the background branches instead of them looking a bit fuzzy and blown out. Next!

All hail the great Mojave Lava Tube! Not. This particular part of the trip, while a box to check off, was underwhelming. I composed a couple of shots, landscape then portrait. I could have moved around and looked at all the “holes” in the ceiling of the lava tube but a group of 8 boys and men had climbed down behind me, and I wanted to get back to the sunshine and let them have the place to themselves. I didn’t relish trying to compose interesting, artistic shots, while avoiding being trampled or worrying about a bunch of dust being kicked up by the other visitors. Actually, now that I think of it, the dust in the air might have been a missing ingredient as it would have produced a glow in the shafts of light. Oh well, that’s the risk you take when you rush or you let fear or insecurity get into your compositional decisions.

All in all, it’s even a bit embarrassing to say that these images were shot with the Fuji GFX100s, an amazing camera capable of so much more. Just goes to show you that your work is only going to be as good as your eye.

Well, this has been fun and a little cathartic. I might do this again – reviewing “throwaway” shots with a critical eye to see what I can learn about my decisions, instincts, and preferences.

Comment below with a photo you shot like a tourist and what you think about it!

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