Photoshop Disasters: The Home Game

A lovely photo of Boston's Public Garden, with two swans sliding into a calm lagoon and a 140-year-old iron footbridge in the background.

A nice little shot of Boston's Public Garden. The Public Garden is a much more quiet and peaceful place before the tourists and bridal parties descend.

I’m a big fan of the Public Garden (the oldest public horticultural garden in the USA) and a few weeks ago I decided to make a special early-AM trip out there to do some Serious Photography.

I got some nice shots. But I haven’t really posted anything on Flickr yet. Why?

Yes, of course: I’ve become a Button Freak. Like Oskar Schindler at the end of the movie, who wandered in a daze, paralyzed by the thoughts of everything else he could have done, I keep looking at these shots and thinking “But there must be a way I can restore the blown-out highlights in that sky.”

(So when do I get my adoring biopic? Well, okay: Schindler had to wait 50 years for his. Plus, he did save a whole lot of people’s lives. I guess I’ll just have to wait my turn.)

There comes a point at which Photoshop, Aperture, and The Ambition To Produce A Lovely Pick-cher become handicaps to the amateur photographer. This shot of the swans — a lovely lesbian couple; you should meet them sometime — is probably my favorite of the series and a case in point. I can’t stop tweaking it. I went from “I like it; I’m going to include it among the 20 I’ll post to Flickr” to “I like it; I’m going to export it from Aperture and edit in Photoshop, for more control” to “I really like it; I think I’ll make an 11×17 print of this”…which ultimately landed me at “If I’m going to be staring at this on my wall for years to come, then this ought to be perfect.

Next stop: bedlam. Now’s a good time to start stowing any personal electronics because we should be landing there shortly.

I thought I was done working on this photo, honestly. But then I spotted a problem…a mistake I made in editing. I wonder if you can spot it, too.

Over-doing Photoshop is like over-doing plastic surgery: you don’t know you’ve gone too far until you’ve gone too far. But unlike Joan Rivers, I can undo the damage I’ve inflicted upon what God created by simply hiding a few adjustment layers.

29 thoughts on “Photoshop Disasters: The Home Game

  1. Kevin McClure

    One of the things that popped out at me was that the debris/foliage in the water shows like stars in the sky, or just dust on a scanning platter. Hmmm.

  2. Edie Howe

    Andy, you should go to Roger Williams Park in Providence, RI. Fewer crowds, and IMHO the landscaping is better. Dunno about lesbian swans, though.

    Make sure you go to the carousel, make friends with the keeper, he’ll let you in for early morning shots before the kiddies arrive.

    Finally, print the damn image and hang it on your wall, and let folks tell you how lovely it is. Only you will see the imperfections.


    Edie in Yosemite.

  3. Neil Walsh

    Over sharpening on the trees?
    Sweet picture though a little quaint for my taste
    Ta for sharing

  4. Derek

    Andy, I had a similar revelation a couple weeks back. I was becoming paralyzed by the process of organizing and tweaking my pictures and as a result was taking fewer and fewer of them.

    The solution, for me, was to set the camera to jpg and force myself to really think through a shot before I press the shutter button. Sure, I can tweak the shot a hit later, but doing so isn’t as easy.

    Also, storing the photos as jpgs allows me and my wife to get at them much easier. Want to send an image to family via email? No more export. Just drag and drop. It’s farmless taxing on our MacBook too.

    Once I wean myself from my former habits I may switch to raw+jpeg mode and use apertures new import tools to import raw files only when I blew the exposure on a great shot or something.

  5. Mike

    It has to be the light on the left. It looks like it is behind the tree at it’s base, but the post and light are in front of the tree. I keep seeing an Escher drawing.

  6. Ihnatko Post author

    I’m really enjoying this. I’ll reveal all on Monday. I don’t want to spoil the fun by saying “Yes, you’ve got it” or “No, not yet” or even “Wow, that’s not the one I was thinking of but you’re right.”

  7. Richard Bitting

    Hey just imagine if God did that, he’d have created the world in 7 days, Photoshopped on it for a millennium and we wouldn’t even be here yet! It’s a great picture as is. I’d just use Picnik on Flickr to adjust a few things and leave it be :-)

  8. Steve

    It’s a lovely picture, Andy, but my untrained eye keeps coming back to the lights on the bridge. They appear to be lit, even though daylight has arrived, and are perhaps just bright enough to detract from the overall scene.

  9. Kathryn

    The lamps are little intrusively white, but for me it is the bit of sky in the top right hand corner. I keep looking over there and there is nothing to see.

  10. Daniel

    Those swans aren’t lesbians. They’re just big-boned.

    I can’t spot the flaw. It’s just a pretty pick-sha to me. But my knowledge of photo processing is very limited. I know how to crop, and uh, I heard once that a little unsharp mask goes a long way.

  11. Matthias


    No… actually I happened to be at almost this exact spot this afternoon. Andy, if you’d stuck around 8 hours or so I might have recognized you and said hello.

    I thought @kingjeffrey had it, but if you look really hard, it looks like the tree in the foreground happens not to fall in front of the light globe. In fact, I don’t see anything that’s unambiguously an error. I’m officially frustrated now. (Here, let me just see if this little metal top here ever stops spinning.)

  12. Mike

    Firstly, Andy, this is your moment of personal perception and no-one else’s, so it doesn’t really matter if there is a blemish, go with the flow and live with it!

    Secondly, the only thing that attracts my attention away from the swans is the amount of light around the steps up the bank.

    Thirdly, what do I know? – other than it’s a very tranquil picture which should be on your wall already!

  13. Lamar

    I saw something wise on a website once: “Better is the enemy of good.” I don’t remember where, but I always thought it was rather apt.


  14. Indi

    Very nice. The only thing I see that hasn’t been mentioned as a possibility is the bright area of grass between the bridge supports.

  15. Jay Horsley

    Ok, I’ll go with “Something seems wrong with the water in the extreme lower left corner, just to the left on the standing bird’s reflection.” Hard to tell at iPad screen resolution, but the ripple and reflection patterns look like they’ve been modified.

    But who knows, if you hadn’t come up with this devious deceive to make us closely examine your work….

    Actually this reminds me of the time I painted my vaulted living room ceiling. I ran out of paint in the middle of it and the next batch of paint was ever so slightly a different shade of white. I could see the line where the paint changed every time I leaned back in my recliner, but no one else ever seemed to notice it, especially after I stopped pointing it out to them. Most folks who I showed it to just thought it was a shadow.

    Now you got us chasing your shadows, driving up your hit count and getting us to study your pictures. Well played Sir, well played.

  16. Jay


    This post is THE example of why you are the best tech journalist in the country.

    You talk about how we as humans interact with the whatever thing. And this is the true separator. Are willing to be honest about how it effected you personally.

    The phrnomenon you speak of today is why “addition by subtraction” is such a misunderstood but critically important design component.


  17. Peter

    “… problems, you don’t know you’ve gone too far until you’ve gone too far. But unlike Joan Rivers, I can undue the damage I’ve inflicted upon what God created by simply hiding a few adjustment layers.”

    Undue? Un-frickin’-due?

    Come on, Andy, you’re better than this.

  18. Dale Gardner

    Fond memories – I particularly recall spending New Year’s Eve in the Public Garden at the inaugural First Night celebration. Must have been around 1977? Anyway, there was a light coating of snow on the ground that served to reflect the lights of the fireworks being launched from the Common. Quite lovely.

    As for the photo, I should first note that this is all IMHO and YMMV and other such caveats, but I don’t think there is anything technically wrong with the image. I’d prefer colors that are a bit more saturated and vibrant, but that’s just my taste. I suspect, as others have already noted, that there is some glaring issue you’ve introduced – but that only your eyes really notice.

    Compositionally, it’s pleasing enough and quite lovely to view. The next time, you might want to try for something a little more unbalanced to add some drama. Perhaps a different, closer, view of the swans would be interesting. Or not.

    Ultimately, I’d suggest keeping in mind the notion that real photographers ship. Print it, hang it, and enjoy the image.

  19. Steve Kim

    Andy I think you are just describing creativity, or at least the creative process. That Photoshop, buttons, and amateur-ness is involved is incidental.

  20. David Jenkins

    It’s a great photo, I found the same problem with Photoshop. Because you can change something you do….. And that’s not always a good thing!

    Love your wit and style, Uk reader here saying ‘hi”.

  21. Steve Jordan

    This really is a great photo – as well as a great brian tease to your readers. My only quibble with the photo may be the lamps seem a “bit” too bright in comparison with the rest of the photo. But then I am no pro, just a consumer of pretty, visual images !

    I would echo the comments of the UK reader – your wit & style brighten my day whenever I read/see your work – Thanks.

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