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When Giving Up And Starting Over Is The Best Decision

I have to vent about a massive waste of time I encountered, and explain why I think starting from scratch is the only way forward.

I’ve now spent a few hours stressing over and working on a photography project, and I’ve decided to give up and completely start over. This is a very useful practice for short- and medium-length projects, and if it’s something you don’t usually consider, you should. I don’t just mean I am going to re-edit images, but actually return to the site of the shoot and do it again. It’s just not worth the time and work I’m putting into fixing an error that would be easier to rectify by starting from scratch. I’ve done this in writing projects when the story was told from the wrong perspective, on hikes when going off the trail proved too challenging or dangerous, and even on the road when I ended up taking a shorter, but much more difficult route, and instead turned back to traverse the long, easy way around.

This time, I accidentally photographed an amazing coincidence where the sun rose in an opportune spot. I hiked the Grassi Lakes trail in Canmore, Alberta and set up my camera to take a photo every few seconds so I could leave to shoot with another camera in different locations. I was only hoping that the first camera would end up with a single good image where the sun peeked over the range. But when it was done, it turned out I had caught a fantastic coincidence – it was at exactly the right perspective, from the right spot, on the right day at the right time to catch the sun rising directly over a sharp mountain peak, with the light spreading around it. I didn’t plan that, but this meant it would end up being a great timelapse, even thought I shot it in portrait orientation. This is what the pivotal moment should look like.

However, because I walked away to shoot other images with a second camera, I was unaware that something had landed on the lens. Not only was there now a fairly large black spot on every photo, but it didn’t stay still. It moved ever so slightly from image to image, making it impossible to use any auto-edit functions across multiple images. This meant I would have to manually edit more than 400 photos in a series where the lighting changes dramatically, including sunbeams and lens flare.

During this process I realized how slow my laptop was performing because it is nearly seven years old, and bit the bullet on an expensive new computer that I shipped to a new friend I made in Canmore, Alberta, while traveling. So now I’ve shot something I love, and waited two weeks just to begin looking at it. So I sat down this morning and began editing, excited but extremely frustrated at how difficult this project turned out to be. 

As a sunrise timelapse with changing light, it first required carefully adjusting the lighting in post-processing, which entails selecting groups of 10-20 images and adjusting the brightness and levels to flow smoothly from the previous group of images while retaining the same amount of details in the brightest and darkest parts of the image. Otherwise the timelapse would either start way too dark and end correct, or start correct and end way too bright. That took considerable time, but was simple. Then came the challenging part.

No matter what I did, it seemed there was no way to edit out the spot that would create a fluid flow across all of the photos because of the changing position of the spot, the changing light, and the sheer number of images. After processing about 90 of them, starting from the last image because it seemed simpler, this is what I got:

If it’s not obvious to you, I’d be very surprised. It’s a major distraction just above the lake. In my semi-professional opinion, this would be an incredibly difficult issue to remedy, as it would require close inspection of each image compared to the images before and after it. That is difficult no matter what, but nearly impossible on a 13″ laptop, and could take dozens of hours to perfect regardless of the computer used. It’s just simply too many images and too finely detailed a task to be reasonable.

So I’ve given up. I haven’t given up on a project so completely in more than a year, but it’s simply not worth the effort and time. The return is negligible. But I want the damn timelapse! This leaves one option: start from scratch. Do the short hike again, before sunrise, alone, shouting to myself every two minutes to ward off grizzly bears, and hope that the sun is rising in a similar enough position that I can place the camera to capture the same phenomenon. This time I’ll research the exact sunrise location and hopefully get it right.

So after spending maybe five hours total on something that usually takes about one hour, tops, I’m giving up and starting over. Even on a longer project, this type of cost/benefit analysis is crucial, because the only currency we truly have in life is time. All people in all types of work or activities should regularly evaluate if they are spending their time wisely, if efficiencies could be improved, or even if starting completely over will save time and effort in the long run. If this doesn’t apply to you, I’m sorry you’ve read this far. Feel free to rub your index finger and thumb together and play me the world’s smallest violin. Also you’re never getting those five minutes back.

For final reference, here are images form the beginning and end of the series, which clearly show the movement of this damned spot from the lake to the base of the mountain. I never figured out what it was either. R.I.P., this timelapse.

 

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