Analysis of all images taken at Skaw, Unst

I visited Skaw, Unst on 3 separate days in 2018. This paper looks at the different compositions taken across the 3 days looking at why I have classified them as Successful or Unsuccessful. It is a technique for trying to try and understand why I become motivated to press the shutter.

Starting with my definition of what makes a “successful” image. It is one that:

  • Excited me at the moment of taking.
  • Still excites me weeks, months later.
  • Is an image where I believe I have perceived something unique, that I am seeing or interpreting the scene in ways no-one else has done before.

All the images, except one, were taken on the first 2 days. Day 3 was spent attempting to improve on previously tried compositions. However, probably due to a lack of careful and critical review of the results from day’s 1 and 2, the third day did not improve upon any of the earlier compositions. The same mistakes were made!

Here are a couple of “successful” images from days 1 and 2.

The one image from day 3 that was different and “successful” came from a new location, previously unseen. This is it.

Over the 3 days, 62 different scenes were photographed. I had removed all bracketed and the almost identical, repeat compositions from the selection. Then classifying these 62 images against my “successful” criteria gave the following results:

  • Successful = 21
  • Unsuccessful = 41

One thing to note it that the hit rate for successful images versus rejects on this field trip appears to be significantly higher than on earlier field trips. Previously, I would have expected around 10% success rate whereas here it is 34%. Perhaps I am becoming more unconsciously discerning about my choices of location, my selection of subjects and of compositions.

The 41 rejects consisted of the following:

  • Poor Composition – 30
  • Technical issues – 3
  • Too Documentary – 5
  • Too similar to others – 3

The technical issues were all due to insufficient depth of field for that particular composition. Focus stacking should have been employed but I failed to check the image quality at the time. I was too impulsive, too keen to move on to the next scene!

The Compositional issues were:

  • Composition too busy, too many objects included, resulting in a messy image.
  • A lack of visual interest in the composition – it’s just dull, certainly not spectacular, it is little more than a record.
  • Subject too big in the frame. This loses the sense of space, isolation, and calm that (I now know) I want to achieve.
  • The subject leaves the frame on one side (see below). This is similar to the above issue of lacking space, isolation, and calm. This is less of a problem when the “Trigger” for the image has been Design, the key content is “Shapes”, or the overall effect is 2-dimensional.

This image is neither one nor the other. It lacks both content and compositional interest, so it was rejected.

  • Lack of separation or insufficient intrusion of subject across background boundaries. For example, when the roof line of an object is in line with the background hills or does not cross over the horizon sufficiently. These failures result from poor checking of the viewfinder or review of the image at the taking. It is just carelessness.

For example, the image above. This could have been a good image if only I had paid attention to the roof line of the hut and its relationship to the distant hills. A lower viewpoint or a slightly closer position would have corrected this.

Often, I take multiple different versions of each scene. Am I taking insufficient care when re-composing images?

None of the unsuccessful images had been triggered by my “Intuition”. My intuition is the implicit knowledge that a composition will work without my understanding, at the time, why it should do so. The majority of unsuccessful images were triggered by my “Belief” that an interesting composition was possible but, obviously, I failed to follow through in finding either the narrative or the design content I was expecting.

Design was a trigger for 13 images, but these all failed to live up to expectations.


I know I am an impulsive photographer. My primary reason for making an image is to capture my immediate emotional reactions to the time and the place. However, my emotional, expressive self is far better at making “successful” images than my conscious self! Impulsiveness means I quickly perceive a composition that interests me, but then fail to carry through on the technical (focus, depth of field, etc.) or to be sufficiently rigorous with on-location review and correction of the resulting compositions. When I do spend time, on-location, analysing the image, I can then find the changed photograph becomes deadened and missing my initial feelings of emotional connection. Perhaps this is because my conscious, analytical self has taken over from my emotional self.

I also have a short “excitement” span. Skaw is a particularly large location with many subjects to capture. That is why I felt inspired for a full 2 days in 2018. Yet, by the third day I was struggling to find further images. Another visit to the same location in 2019 was particularly disappointing and no new images were found, nor old ones improved upon. I believe my conscious knowledge and prejudices built up over the previous 3 visits had blinded me to perceiving further, new possible subjects and compositions. I understand this is contrary to many other photographers who find they become more creative, seeing greater possibilities the more often the visit and the longer they stay in one place.


  1. Interesting bit of self examination!

    Have you actually worked out why you press the button though? You identify successful from unsuccessful and analyse how they came to be unsuccessful, but you don’t say why you took the pictures that didn’t work.

    The rejects appear to be from when you started to think about things, rather than just experiencing them. So why not stop taking photos at that point, or as near to that point as you can identify? I could see that identification being tricky without assessing your work as you go (see wishful thinking below). Or is the activity of going and looking just as important for you as the taking of the photograph?

    What might be interesting would be to explore why you appear to lose interest after a couple of days. Is that the length of time it takes for you acclimatise to a different environment? Perhaps its just the novelty wearing off and you’re seeing the environment in its true guise on day 3? Inconclusive further visits point to this too. It might be instructive to consider whether you would visit the location without the camera, and for how long?

    Maybe the scenes you photograph really aren’t sufficient to feed your imagination for more than a certain amount of time, and perhaps you need another shot of stimulation to get fired up again? (I’m quite sure I wouldn’t last two days in some of the places you get to!)

    I’m relieved also to see you doing as much wishful thinking about shots as I do! Here I am, in an interesting place, with my camera. I suppose I’d better take some pictures then. Ho hum. And they turn out just as you might expect. I’m getting better at this, but not much.

    • Hi Nick. Quote, “Here I am, in an interesting place, with my camera. I suppose I’d better take some pictures then.” To that I would add – it’s cost a lot of money to get here and my time is limited, so…..

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