How to botch your photos

The confused photo. A photo does not need to be crowded or empty to make it unclear what the subject is. The tranquil scene and its decaying boundaries join to create a peaceful melancholy.

Manuel de la photo ratée - Thomas Lélu.

Hilarious guide to a wide variety of creative ways to botch your photos. For every way, and various combinations, the author provides examples from his family album, as well as detailed instructions on how to create each particular effect. As a bonus he delivers an artistic critique of each type of photo.

In the technical part of the book we encounter such old favourites as fuzzy, over- / underexposed or ill-framed photos – including the popular road-photo, but also highlights such as the thumb-snap or the discoloured photo.

The more challenging chapters on subject matter provide insight into how to create empty, crowded or confused photos. A dedicated chapter explains how to ruin portraits. My particular favourites are the photo-triste (sad) and photo-camouflage.

While I cannot claim to be a master of the botched photo, I consider myself a gifted amateur, and humbly present my own examples for a select few of these techniques, in particular of my own specialty, the fuzzy photo. With a minimum of practice, I’m sure you too will be able to produce such results.

Of course – despite all my best efforts – I sometimes produce photos that have a discernible subject in the frame that is in focus and properly lit.

Nobody is perfect.

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82 thoughts on “How to botch your photos

  1. Thanks for the lessons in photography but alas I’m a lost cause.

    • Delft says:

      I don’t believe there are lost causes.
      Start looking at your photos and asking:
      – Is it clear what the subject of the photo is, and if not, why not?
      – Is it empty (road photo, lost photo), crowded or confused?
      – What is the mood of the photo? Is it a “sad photo” or a photo of absence?
      Then your photos will automatically get better. And asking yourself before you shoot: “What is the subject I’m trying to shoot?” helps no end!
      The book is also really worth looking at. To my knowledge it’s only available in French, but the photos really mostly speak for themselves.

  2. Clotho30 says:

    I love these suggestions! My main problem is with fuzziness and lighting. I’m hoping to start a food blog though, and have a feeling the focus suggestions that you brought up will come in handy there, too. You constantly learn as you go, right? I’ll have to check this book out…

  3. penniezzfromhellzz says:

    Oh! So that’s how I always manage to do it. :-)

  4. kollshi17 says:

    thank you

  5. I’m getting the sense that snapping a photo in a moving vehicle (train, car, tram) = epic photo fail. Pretty much? ;)

    • Delft says:

      Mostly it is. But if you’re an eternal optimist like me, you’ll keep on trying. And every once in a while it does pay off. :-)

  6. I think the road photo with the ‘frame’ looks quite cool. You know what they say-the best things are discovered from accidents!

    • Delft says:

      Well, it’s mostly blue, which I like. And the wheel-spoke composition isn’t that bad. The problem is there’s nothing to hold your interest…

  7. Haha very cute! I love your “voice” — very readable and very entertaining! Although I must say a few of these photos are pretty cool; I do like the fountain one, it kind of looks like a splatter painting

  8. The technical things are important, although some of them can be helped with Picasa or Photoshop.
    But the first question is always the composition of the photo. Good photographers also realise when something won’t work in a photo. Just tonight, I saw a beautiful nightfall sky over Vilnius. Dramatic clouds, the sky red like fire, breathtaking! But I didn’t have a good vantage point, so there was no point in taking a photo.

    • Delft says:

      I agree, and I think Lélu would too.
      And you have remarkable restraint! This realizing it won’t work before you click takes some learning. Especially for us optimists…

      • I think I learnt it because I am old enough to have started with photography when you still had to develop the films. Every photo wasted was in effect money wasted. That taught us old-timers the restraint that the modern generation is lacking.

  9. redcactus says:

    Good read! I guess you have to have the nerves to delete all the botched/uninteresting photos and only keep the good ones, but somehow, I never end up doing it. I even keep the blurry ones! :)

    • Delft says:

      I don’t actually delete anything – who knows you may want to make a post on your best botches one day? ;-)
      But reviewing the photos and asking the questions I mention above does help to think before clicking. And then you still have the chance of improving that shot.
      Thanks for visiting.

  10. Nahed Omer says:

    the road photo is amazing.

    It is really perfect photo.

    • Delft says:

      It’s superficially nice, but if you look at it for a while, I’m afraid you’ll find it a bit boring. It doesn’t really have anything to say.
      Thanks all the same.

  11. marialla says:

    THANK YOU FOR THE GOOD INSTRUCTION ON PHOTOGRAPHY. I PRINTED IT AN PASSED IT ONTO A FRIEND OF MINE BECAUSE SHE LIKES TAKING PICTURES OF PLANTS VERY OFTEN. I ADDED YOU TO MY FAVOURITES. THENK YOU AGAIN.

  12. abraalani says:

    Hahahaoh, so that’s how it’s done properly! I’m glad I’m not the only only one discovering this hidden personal talent, haha Thanks for the entertaining laugh!

  13. midnitechef says:

    There are advantages to digital cameras these days… if the picture was crappy you can shoot again! This applies less to fleeting moments, like a childs first step, an animal that vanishes, but this works well for still life!

    Congrats on FP :)

  14. mrcrish_cjr says:

    I’m no pro by any means, but I will say that I believe you’re on the right path – if you know what constitutes a BAD photo, surely you know what constitutes a GOOD photo!

    I find that during a day with my camera, I may take 100-200 photos, 70-80% of which I scrap. I’ll take a test frame, adjust the settings, then take another, being very aware of the framing and light. I just wrote a post on a somewhat similar topic, have a look if you’re interested.

    Hilarious post by the way, look forward to seeing more!

    -Christopher-

    • Delft says:

      Thanks. I would like to increase my ratio of good photos though, instead of having to rely on the ol’ “if you shoot enough there’s bound to be a good one in there.”

  15. walt says:

    Thanks!
    Best single bit of advice, from photographer Robert Capa,
    “If you don’t like your photos, get closer.”

    New opportunities for bad photos abound today with phone and cheapie digital cams. Not only do they often have small senors and bad lenses, they throw in that irresistible one-second delay, which gives your subject plenty of time to turn away or move out of the frame entirely!

    • Delft says:

      Love the quote.
      And I that’s a new botch type: I’m not sure whether we should call it the “Oops, it’s gone”, or the “Where-the-woozle-wasn’t”.
      Thanks for visiting.

  16. Really interesting and SO glad you posted this! i need to tweek some of my photos..or all of them, haha!
    if you can do you mind stopping by my blog, its really new and id love your feedback :)
    Thanks so much and great posts!

  17. What can i say is Beautiful pics and great snaps; i can’t even think of taking these much creative pics as you did.

  18. Bosun Dawg says:

    How gratifying to find that someone has written a book about the type of photos I take.

    • Delft says:

      Sorry, but if you want to botch, you have a lot to learn. Of course you have dogs as your subject, and they’re almost always beautiful, which makes it harder. Except for the “oops he’s gone” botch I didn’t mention, which dogs are pretty good at…

  19. Add human subjects and things get even harder… Here is a photography lesson in vanilla! http://100summerdays.wordpress.com/

  20. Classic. Thank you. I love the captions, too. I laughed and laughed. Will go now and cherish my botched photos and endeavor to take some more.

  21. Ombeline says:

    Love these! It was even better back in the film photography days, where you wouldn’t know until a couple of weeks/months later that your pictures were botched! And you had the added challenge of having to chose the right (or wrong depending on how you see it) type of film as well and remember what it was (B&W vs. colour, ISO, paper vs. slide etc). When I first used it, I put a 400 ISO film in my first camera, it turned out it couldn’t handle it so everything turned out with a blue tinge!

    • Delft says:

      Yes, and there was the added chance of the whole film being somehow chemically damaged or having been fried on the back seat, having red corners or a green streak. The good ol’ days…
      Thanks for stopping by.

    • Delft says:

      Plus the chance of taking photos without a film in the camera, and you couldn’t check because it would be exposed…

  22. trcapromo says:

    There is certainly no shortage of ways to “botch” a photo. In most cases it’s easier than taking a good one. I do have to give you credit for the entertainment factor of this post though.

  23. i guess it definitely qualifies on as botching of photos but i kind of like some of the things most people would consider bad photographic form.. obviously i’m not a photographer but i kind of dig stuff like lens flare or under/overexposure or whatever. though i do agree with a lot of the above points :) just saying!

  24. Whalebomb says:

    Nice post. You’ve enlightened me on my talents of taking pictures. I especially have expertise in taking photos where where I, the photographer, leave parts of me in the picture (i.e. shadows, fingertips). This reminds the viewer that what they perceive is from a controlled envioronment. And perhaps that what the subject really looks like may be different with the absence of a human presence.

  25. Jessica says:

    Hahaha I love your commentary, especially the sea monsters one.

    I’m great at realizing I’ve botched photos afterwards. Everything looks so nice, sharp, and properly exposed on those little camera displays…

  26. trumpettune says:

    this post is so cool i loved reading it. would you all mind takeing a look at my blog please sorry to bother you

  27. svoboda23 says:

    It is easy make ugly photoooo :)

  28. Whats up are using WordPress for your blog platform? I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and create my own. Do you need any html coding knowledge to make your own blog? Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    • Delft says:

      If you use a blogging site like wordpress.com you don’t need any knowledge of html at all. Just go to the main site (e.g. wordpress.com) and follow the instructions, and you’ll have your own blog in a few minutes. Even to upload photos, or embed photos or videos from other sites, you only need to click the icons and select what you want.
      Good luck with your blog.

  29. grantresults says:

    You’ve made my day! There’s so much to think about in this post. Sometimes what we see isn’t what others will see after us. What we see is often caught up in the existential now, in our transient emotional reactions to our subjects, and in the pure impulse to snap the shutter. What others see is caught up in their own emotions at the time they see it and may be seen days or perhaps decades later. What for us may have been the first and only time in our lives that we saw a saguaro cactus at dawn or a glacial erratic near dusk later becomes for others a study in aimless composition, errant exposure, absence of interest, indeterminacy of focus, and so on. Thanks again for such an amusing exploration of Art as Error.

    • Delft says:

      Thanks. I love “a study in aimless composition”.

      It’s a good point to distinguish photos as memorabilia (the saguaro cactus – even if it’s from afar, and slightly obscured by a hideous billboard) from photos as art. I believe in today’s world of photo sharing the distinction has become somewhat blurred.

      I cannot take credit for Art as Error, though; it must go to Thomas Lélu.

  30. artsifrtsy says:

    I believe this is the definitive primer on botch-ulism! Kudos!!

  31. artsifrtsy says:

    Reblogged this on the eff stop and commented:
    Finally the definitive primer on how to botch a photo – in case you were wondering!

  32. Iamrcc says:

    Thanks for visiting and liking my Weekly Photo Challenge – Free Spirit. This how to botch a photo is very interesting. If I seen this when I was still shooting film, I could have saved a lot of money. Thank you for increasing my awareness.

    • Delft says:

      Thanks. The book certainly increased my awareness of these errors, though I still make them, as you can see.

      btw. As your likes and comments link to your gravatar profile, maybe it’s a good idea to link to your blog there?

  33. Imelda says:

    Thanks for this very informative and lovely post. :-) I am happy to tell you that I have already mastered the art that you have so nicely discussed here. I am sure I can handle any Botched Photo Challenge that you may throw my way. :-)

    • Delft says:

      From the photos I see on your blog I think you grossly overestimate your botching expertise. Perhaps you’ve made some lucky botches, but I think you still have a long way to go.:-)

  34. artblablablablog says:

    this is so hilarious, love it, well done!

  35. Thank you for visiting again and liking my Weekly Challenge post Solitary. I attempted to follow your advice of linking my blog to the gravatar profle. Of course, I did not have a clue as to what I was doing. You can, if you would let me know if what I did worked. Thanks again.

    • Delft says:

      You have a lovely gravatar now. But clicking on it doesn’t lead to your blog.
      Apparently you have entered an email adress (with an @ in the middle) as the personal link, so gravatar suspects the link of being a phishing site . Try adding your blog url instead.
      You might also try adding wordpress as a verified service: Go to gravatar, edit-my-profile, verified services, choose wordpress, and follow the instructions.
      It takes some effort, but eventually it will work…

  36. It’s hard to find well-informed people on this topic, but you seem like you know what you’re talking about!
    Thanks

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