Abstract, Landscape, Photography

Getting it all wrong accidentally

My last post detailed what I am doing with my camera in order to achieve some photographic abstract effects deliberately.

I thought it would be good to describe – and also show a couple more pictures to illustrate – how I am just as capable of getting things wrong accidentally as anyone else is.

Some background for the non-technical. A digital camera sensor has the ability to be set at different ISO settings. Broadly that’s a simple number measure, based on the old film days, of the light capturing sensitivity of the sensor. Generally the ‘best’ image quality is returned at the lowest ISO settings. This is because to achieve imaging capability in lower light levels – at higher ISO – the sensor is amplified and supplied with more power which has a trade-off in electronic noise, again broadly similar to old higher sensitivity film resulting in a more ‘grainy’ appearance.

Modern sensors can go into really light sensitive ISO territory, in tens of thousands ISO’s. As time has gone on improvements in technology means ‘usable’ results with less obvious noise at ever higher ISO settings. You couldn’t ever buy a 64,000 ISO film. My camera isn’t very modern and I get a bit nervous of going over 800 ISO.

For my deliberate ICM (Intentional Camera Movement) pictures I’ll normally set the ISO to 100 (lowest setting) manually. However for other shooting, particularly using a telephoto or macro lens, getting usable results when handheld can mean I want to make sure the shutter speed is high enough not to cause blur. So I switch the ISO to ‘Auto’, meaning the camera can sort that bit out and go higher if necessary to maintain correct exposure. And, given that I want to use a specific fast enough shutter speed with my handheld camera – I’d want to control both aperture and shutter speed manually if I was shooting on a tripod – I use shutter speed priority automatic. In this mode, the one variable of the exposure left, the aperture in the lens, is also controlled by the camera.

So on a walk in the woods in the summer the butterflies are numerous, so I am trying my hand at some close up photography of them.


I get a bit lost in the concentration involved in trying to manually focus and for getting my breathing technique timed to the shutter release, then Gwynnik lets me know that we haven’t moved much for long enough now and could we please get on.

Then we come to a clearing in the forest where the sun is streaming through creating some nice varied colour and light contrasts and I think might suit the ICM. So I screw on my ND filter which reduces the light and gives me the slower shutter speeds I need.

Strangely not as slow as normal, perhaps it really is bright out here today.

Of course, what I am doing and not spotted by me at the time, is still shooting with the ISO on Auto. I forgot to change it. By using the ND filter to reduce the light and with the camera also in shutter speed priority automatic, it’s raised the ISO to cope with the reduced light that fitting the filter has resulted in. And it’s gone to the ‘top of the shop’ setting of 3200 ISO.


Yes, the ISO setting you’re on shows in the viewfinder info normally (but when on Auto it just shows that little word and flashes to the ISO  it’s using as you press the shutter) but I didn’t register it.

Yes, I did think it was odd I couldn’t get the shutter speed down as low as usual.

Yes, I sometimes let these things somehow not have any impact on my brain as ‘something is wrong here, sort it out’ when I’m concentrating on something else, like perhaps the composition, what sort of sweep or movements I could be doing or where my dog has wondered off to now.

And yes, this probably contributes to ‘impostor syndrome’, to why I don’t think of myself as a ‘proper photographer’ who, in my mind, are unflappably cool professionals who remember to check all these things and get them right every time, at the time.

When I was looking at my results and processing them – and slapping my forehead a few times for realising what I’d done – I mentally tried to put a positive spin on it.

I thought, ‘Well, those cool professionals would probably have spotted these things at the time, corrected them and then not possibly have got the results I have’.

Which may or may not be a good thing depending on your attitude to photography and also what type of images you think it should create.


So these pictures, although more recognisable for what they are than some of mine, are a bit strange.

The shutter speed is still slow enough for me to get the paintbrush-like feel. The high ISO creates this grainy, almost paint on canvas type of finish, the dynamic range is squashed and the colour balance is both off and odd and won’t allow much tweaking without veering into ‘just as odd – but in a different way’.

However, I have learned what happens if you shoot at silly ISO’s AND with intentional camera movement and probably won’t do that accidentally again.

But I might do it deliberately.


9 thoughts on “Getting it all wrong accidentally”

  1. Ah, happy accidents! I’ve had many with cameras, especially film cameras!

    I do agree that after shooting for a while you get a kind of instinct for when something isn’t right, or you’ve forgotten to change a setting. Like you, I’m often too lost in the composition to actually stop and figure out why something doesn’t feel right, then notice a few photographs later. When we’re lucky we get an interesting and pleasing image we couldn’t have got otherwise.

    I started a blog post about this months ago, I must dust it off and finish it!

    I wonder what further experiments with high ISO might yield, whether there’s a point where we go through that ugly blocky noise and out the other side into something so crude it becomes beautifully abstract?

    Many earlier digital cameras I’ve used seemed to know their limitations and only gave you ISO100, 200 and 400. But there came a point where the race for higher ISO was on, and cameras would feature ISOs beyond those you’d ever been able to get with film, like you said.

    At least with the older cameras you know that even on Auto ISO you’ll get “usable” results even if it goes to ISO400. The cameras that followed often didn’t give very pleasant images at ISO800, 1600 and beyond, so it seems a bit debatable as to why the options were included – aside from the higher ISO race.

    Think I might try some high ISO experiments at the weekend…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, theoretically the camera *can* take pictures at 25600… but I don’t normally let it go that far on the Auto setting (you can tell it the ISO range that it can set within).
      As ever, now I’m thinking… I wonder what would happen if…. 🙂


        1. Look forward to seeing results!
          Aren’t we lucky to have this experimental, zero cost digital option and we can do the photo version of ‘move fast and break things’ with it!

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you.
      Yes, these have more of a painting look than even some of the other shots on here, perhaps with a different painting technique.


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