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Posted: Tue Nov 08, 2011 8:28 am
by deaner1971
NOTE: This topic, originally started by Andy. On suggestion of Al Utzig, moved each image to be critiqued to its own topic, including the original post, which contained the image, which can now be found at topic: "CRITIQUE #1"

Andy: When I asked Tim if he would set this forum up, I had hopes of keeping it going througout the year. Sometimes I see faint glimmers of that "light." So, here is an idea: I would like participants to feel free to post an image here for critique.

I want to define "critique" though. We get all the "nice images," "beautiful," etc., we need elsewhere. I would like commentary on what makes a photograph strong or weak, what can make it better, what works and what doesn't work, etc. It IS possible for it to be honest and straightforward and still be polite.

I will start and see if there are any takers: [MOVED TO TOPIC "CRITIQUE #1]

Dean: Andy, thank you for starting this discussion. I personally am excited to keep up more than just seasonally. First of all, it takes me so long to process my photos that they will be trickling up to and through the next season.

But my real excitement is that I feel like this is far more of a positive place than other photography-centric sites. Too many of those are so negative that I have no desire to post. Here I feel more secure in being open to your views than a place where a thick skin is mandatory.

And let's be honest, no one is going to know proper saturation and contrast for a mountain scene heavy in oranges, reds and greens than this crew!

Thanks again, both for trying to start a year-round discussion and just for all being so welcoming.


Re: Critique

Posted: Wed Nov 09, 2011 11:12 am
by Andy
Dean: I think we all get nervous about critique. It is the same base as the word, "criticism" which has -- for better or worse -- taken on a pejorative meaning in our modern U.S. English. I think it means objective and sometimes subjective comment on something someone has done, said, or written. But we are afraid to offend. To me, the poster (in this case me) in a critique thread, has asked (I did here) for "criticism." So I should be able to read and hopefully learn something from a critque.

In doing this, we are hoping for something more than "beautiful shot," "nice pic, etc. These comments -- though they can make us feel good (even if sometimes falsely) are useless to the learning process. They are more of a sharing thing and certainly have their place (in my view just more over on the foliage forum than here). ""Its crap," "you suck as a photographer," "you are clueless," "I don't like it," and the like are all useless (though all may be true in my case :mrgreen: ).

Saying something about an image and what might make it stronger, including why you like it or dislike it is more useful.

There are a lot of things that are "formulaic" about photography and depending on one's progress along the road, may be more or less relevant. Fundamentals such as focus, exposure, and simple compositional faults like non-level horizons and "bulls-eye" centering of the subject in every instance may be pointed out (and sometimes even seasoned shooters ocassionally fail on one of those fundamentals). My good friend, and participant here, Al Utzig, once pointed out to me that my horizon wasn't level on one of my images. I didn't believe him. I used a measuring tool in Photoshop and guess what? That was a valuable learning experience for me and led me to purchase and regularly use an inexpensive little tool to make sure my own vision didn't trick me.

I am also looking for a higher level. Ideas of composition. Why certain compositions "work" and why some don't. Of course, we all have to be careful of those "camera-club-contest," knee-jerk rules and critiques. I have a pro friend whose work is very unique and cutting edge. He often "breaks" those rules -- he knows the rules -- he just doesn't let them "rule" his artistry.

In the end, our photographs (the kind we make here anyway) come within the classification of art. What makes "good" art? To a large extent, "good art" is art which draws the viewer. There will always be opinion. ALL CRITIQUES ARE 99% OPINION, in my view. If we all go into it with that understanding, and are considerate and polite about others feelings and views, I think this can be a great experience.


Dean: What I like about your critique is that you do some of the above. You tell me what you like and what you don't like and you do it diplomatically. I PURPOSELY posted an image here that I am not personally particularly proud of or impressed with. It has some serious fundamental flaws. I think I like the overall composition. A good critique may help me with the challenges this image presents.

First and foremost, this is a very challenging exposure situation. Why? Primary reason is that it is just not good photographic light! It is mid-day and even in October, mid-day sun is just all the wrong angles and too harsh. Yes, Dean, the foliage is probably overexposed -- even more -- it has harsh, bright lighting on it. This type of lighting creates much too much contrast, which is why the "black hole" is there.

I have thought about your crop suggestion, even tried it in a vertical format. But for the reasons you articulate about the composition later in your critique, it just wasn't working for me. But clearly, it would have reduced the lighting challenge by making the entire subject at least more evenly lighted. I think this illustrates the limitations of our equipment.

I have played with it in PS, bringing up the shadows some, and that is certainly possible. It is also possible to tone down the brightness. However, the real trick is making it look "natural" (if that is what you are striving for) and I am just not good enough in PS to get the result I like.

This is also an image which probably lends itself to HDR rendering. Haven't tried that yet. I may. But in a conversation with another very talented shooter just yesterday, he repeated something a pro we both admire says: "crap light is crap light." There will be times when -- as an artistic matter -- you might just as well take a snapshop, and then put the camera away and just enjoy being there :lol:

Re: Critique

Posted: Wed Nov 09, 2011 11:30 am
by Andy
Dean: Let me respond to your comment about the Emerald Lake scene. There are scenes in nature that are just always going to be an exposure challenge. Even if I had been at Athens Pond at sunrise, for example, on the sun hits, the contrast between the bright sky and water, and the more subdued foliage is almost assuredly going to be too great to capture conventionally.

This will be true in areas where there are steep mountains and gorges, too. We was this in October at the New River Gorge in West Virginia. On a sunny day, the challenge is almost insurmountable.

Its important to understand a bit about exposure as it occurs on digital camera sensors. I have two "tutorials" on my Blog, aimed at newer photographers (it all started when I started writing long e-mails to my sister, and then to a friend who is today a very talented and knowleadable shooter about these issues and grew into tutorials on my blog). They may be rudimentary -- they may help -- as they say, YMMV :) . I am struggling with my HTML these days, so I'll just plunk the links in here and let people find them -- if interested: ... ure-right/ and ... correctly/.

Very much like the old slide films used to be, you have to pay particular attention to the bright areas (highlights) in an image. However, unlike slide film, if you shoot in the raw format, you can dig down into those pixels for detail, if you capture the correct pixels. For raw shooters only, the second one is important. You need to understand the histogram, and move it as far to the right (in most instances) as you can do without "blowing out" highlights. The explanation is in the link.

For jpg only shooters, the first link is useful, the second doesn't apply. If you shoot jpg only, WATCH THE HIGHLIGHTS, because you can never recover them if blown out.

The challenge here is that the sensor can only "see" a certain range from dark to light (known as dynamic range) and it is a small fraction of what our eyes can see. That tricks us as photographers. But the camera is a machine and it has defined limits. What it sees is also the best that it can display. So often the results are very different than what we experienced with our eyes at the scene.

With that in mind, we have -- traditionally -- had to make choices in an image like this. What is it that we think is the most important part of the image. Expose for that. In some cases, EXCLUDE the part we cannot expose (ala your comment about cropping off the left). Look at the raw discussion and then take the images using your histogram on the back of the camera to measure. Don't go by what the little display on the back of the camera looks like -- it WILL fool you. Then go back in PS or LR and use the tools in there to pull some of the shadows up.

Another traditional solution is to shoot in flatter light (known fact that it will "pop" colors better anyway). It may be that you have to exclude sky in a photo like that because it is dull and grey and adds nothing to the image.

Have you tried HDR? I use it as a blending tool rather than an "artistic" tool. The idea is the same and is one of the drop-dead beautiful things about the advent of digital. Take an exposure that gets the shadows "right" and another that gets the highlights "right" and blend them together. If you have an HDR program, let that do the blending for you. You might be pleased with the result!

Re: Critique

Posted: Wed Nov 09, 2011 4:56 pm
by deaner1971
I am new to HDR. My issue is that (and again, my opinion) unless you are truely an artist, it feels "artificial" and I am not good with it.

Some of the HDR I see winds up being a sytlized representation of the scene. I want to use it to (and you put it perfectly) overcome the limitation of the sensor and not to create an image that never existed. Does that make sense and please know that I acknowledge that that view is my own bias and not meant to be a judgement?

A question that has bothered me for some time and perhaps this is the perfect place to ask it. My camera comes with onboard HDR for JPEG but not for RAW. Is that normal and, if so, why? I shoot dual (RAW and JPEG) because of the freedom of RAW and the freedom of JPEG (nice to be able to show someone who doesn't have a RAW file program a shot right away) so I can work on the RAW file quite a bit or use layers but is there a reason that on-board HDR doesn't/can't work on RAW?

On Emerald Lake, I have thought of trying to take the sky out of the photo and just shoot later in the day but I find the lake to be relatively uninteresting if you lose the grandeur of its particular location. You just inspired me to think of it in a new way however. A really long exposure on a night shot might be able to get a brilliant night sky (the stars are always one of the things I love to show new visitors to Vermont) and still pick up the hint of color in the trees.

Re: Critique

Posted: Wed Nov 09, 2011 9:39 pm
by Andy
Dean: raw is the so-called "raw" data from the cameras. Until the raw data is converted into a format, the combining and masking to create the final hdr image cannot be done.

While I appreciate that it is an opinion, I am in 100% agreement with you. Last week, I blogged about "overdone" HDR images. As I mentioned earlier, I really only use HDR software as a blending tool.

Re: Critique

Posted: Thu Nov 10, 2011 8:14 am
by deaner1971
Thanks for the technological insight on RAW.

Outdoor Photographer talks up HDR quite a bit and a few months ago they had an article where they showcased a photographer's images and I thought that they looked good but more impressionistic that I personally prefer.

I think yours would be the images where I wouldn't even notice that you were using HDR because you were just overcoming the camera's limitations to recreate reality, which is where I see its use. The ones I don't like is where the hues get disconnected or where the image becomes "cartoon flat" and loses the differences in light that are my basis for really picking up depth.

Re: Critique

Posted: Thu Nov 10, 2011 4:56 pm
by Andy
Dean: Exactly. Couldn't have articulated it better.

Re: Critique

Posted: Fri Nov 11, 2011 8:16 am
by deaner1971
I noticed that HDR is listed as a selling point for Lightroom and it mentions that images can be made "photo realistic" or "surreal" so apparently you and I are just missing the "surreal" boat. It is nice to see that people are not seeing those (again, my opinion) overdone images as "realistic" but distiniguishing them as artistic departures from said reality.

Thinking about this, I do need to be more open to other styles in general as I realized that my prejudices are based in a slight division of photography from other visual arts. I have no issue with George Seurrat [sp?] or Monet but neither's work is an attempt at replicating reality.

I must be growing though as I very much liked some of your "art" photos. I need to be a bit more free in that regard in my own photos, as well. Too often I am looking at scene composition and missing that there are little gems within a larger scene that might be good photos on their own. Your photo that looks like a abstract painting as colors swirl on what I am assuming is the surface of some moving water is an excellent example of this.

Shouldn't really be surprising that a brain apparently wired for finance and investments is a bit more literal than artistic but, I am working on it.

Re: Critique

Posted: Fri Nov 11, 2011 8:13 pm
by Andy
Dean: Not sure which "art" photos you are talking about. The "fine art" on my website is still, IMO photographic. I shoot "intimate" closeups, etc. But they are still photographs. Agree that Monet is fine. But Monet did original art. Can see where maybe the occasional shot can be made into the "painterly" look. But EVERY HDR image? O V E R D O N E !!!

Re: Critique

Posted: Mon Nov 14, 2011 8:39 am
by Andy
Hey Dean: Sounds like our "paths" are not all that different. I have had very little "formal" photographic training. I read a ton, and the internet has given me something I probably never could have gotten from all those "how to" books; real interaction with other photographers, including a couple pros, who have been kind enough to critique my work for me. It took the first 3/4 of the NYIP correspondence course. Didn't finish, because I lost interest in the portrait, workplace portrait and (I think optional) boudiar stuff. I am into nature and outdoors. Don't have any real desire to do weddings, portraits, etc. Don't need the income.

Critique is a difficult thing to do, because we don't want our comments to be taken personally. One of my good photographic "friends" (never met him face to face, but hope to soon some day) is always careful to preface his critique with the point that it is ALL his OPINION. Mostly, I think that is the case (there certainly are "objective" things that aren't just opinion, like non-level horizons, out of focus subjects, poor exposures, etc.). But even opinion is usually tempered by good, sound attention to basics and a little understanding of "art."

But I think critique is a critical component of growth as artists. I don't get enough, I know. We need to know what others think and what could really make an image stronger or better (at least in the view of others). When I was in California we had the great pleasure of visiting 3 small production vineyards. The first guy said something that resonated with me. After all the discussion about "legs" and tasting, and the like, the real issue is "do you like it." That will always be true in a photograph, too. Does somebody out there like it well enough to hang on their wall?

The point of the critique, though, is to go beyond this and talk about WHY, in my view.

Based on your comments, Dean and some of your images, you already have advanced a lot. FWIW, my blog has a number of "tutorials" on it which discuss some of the basics of exposure. While I shot slide film for many years, I never REALLY understood exposure until I listened to the early NYIP lectures on film, exposure and "lattitude." While most of us have since moved to digital, there are significant parallels.

Re: Critique

Posted: Mon Nov 14, 2011 10:24 am
by autzig
I'm sorry it took me so long to find this thread. If Andy hadn't put me on to it, I'd still be missing in action.

Because we have some members here who want to improve their photography skills, I'll write some critiques that I hope will also help educate.

I'll comment on all three photos and use them as a stepping off point to something I think is important. It is often said that a good photo will have strong foreground interest, but what does that really mean? Remember that as photographers, we are faced with the challenge of capturing a three dimensional scene (height, width and depth) and displaying it in two dimensional media. Clearly, height and width are easy, but how do we create the illusion of three dimensions? The answer is to include foreground and/or background elements in the photo that fools the eye into seeing three dimensions when there are only two.

So let's apply this concept to the three photos. Andy included the lily pads in the foreground of this photo and they help create the three dimensional illusion. If he had shot this as a horizontal and not included the lily pads, the rock or the area on the left, the photo would have been two dimensional. Use paper to crop it on the screen or place it on the screen to create that crop to see what I mean. In CT's photo, the subject tree was the foreground, so including background elements helped create the 3D illusion. Carol's photo has good foreground and background elements that create the 3D effect.

My guess is that, while all three photos achieved 3D, not all of the photographers were thinking about it when they exposed the photo. So when composing a photo, remember that in addition to such things as the rule of thirds, balance, shutter speed, aperture, and all the other stuff that makes a good photo, also think about creating the illusion of 3D.


Re: Critique

Posted: Tue Nov 22, 2011 11:57 am
by autzig
I think we should start a separate thread for each photo critique.

I'll find something to post soon.


Re: Critique

Posted: Tue Nov 22, 2011 12:11 pm
by Andy
Al: That would be o.k. My only reason for this one being "sticky" is that it stays on top and doesn't get lost. Either way works for me. My main goal is to try to keep this thing going. Will look forward to seeing one of your images soon!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Re: Critique

Posted: Wed Nov 23, 2011 9:04 am
by brandtb
Andy thanks. I am in a little break time right now...and have most of my work done for time being so I can think and write about art a bit which is nice.

Further Thoughts.

About "apertures for water", photography, and art making...I would say that generally I like not to have any hard and fast rules (except for processing apps/workflow). I owe a LOT to my wife who is a painter for helping me think more "this way" - I am by nature very rigourous in my thinking - especially when I was practicing helped to be that way in that discipline.

Now though as a photographer, if I am not free to think, and free to do...then I "may" possibly not be free to discover...the best. In landscape photography in some ways we are trying tell others about the "secrets we've discovered".

Some disparate examples.

When I was shooting near Westfield VT recently, I had a rough schedule for the day, like most of us do...trying to make sure we hit all the spots that we have researched. I had driven along 100 for a bit, saw some barns in distance and thought I want to shoot those...have to figure out how to get there. Backtracked a bit - decided I would just poke around Loop Rd. some...not exactly where I needed to go but I saw a creek I liked so I started down this road further and further away from where I originally wanted to go. Then I got lost. I thought well, let's just go with it...and If I need to ask someone for help then I will. Five minutes later I round a bend and see a man on an old Farmall ca 1940 sickle bar grass cutter being pulled by two beautiful Percheron horses (for my work this is kind of a big deal)...I screeched to a halt...and got out all the gear. He eventually stopped and we talked - and he said he only does this once a year!! Wow, through an "accident" I manage to be there and see this! There are two pictures of him in the Vermont Fall 2011 Gallery on my website.

I recently passed on to you and Carol the NatGeo article from the B Globe - #51 is a most curious example of the GG Bridge. The person who shot this was definitely not locked in to any preconceived notions...

Lastly, some time past I went to Jenny Farm early one morning before sunrise (maybe mentioned this to you before). There were at least 30 photographers all standing in a row on the hill to the E. of the barns. Frankly it made me ill thinking about it. All these photographers "knew the same thing"...that this was "the shot"? I thought to myself...highly doubtful...especially with the sun directly behind. I went to down the road..and into pasture about midway down the hill and just tucked myself in...just me and the cows...COWS? I had my cam with wide angle on tripod, and cam with tele loose. I shot a number wides of the barns as sun came up...not interesting at all. What WAS really interesting was what the cows were doing and the raking light (coming at 90 degrees to cam) on them (think the 17th c. Netherlands artist Aelbert Cuyp). But hey, I had come all this way to shoot the Jenne Farm, NOT cows?!? Anyway, the only photo I really liked from that morning was one of two Hereford calves in the Rural Life Gallery on my site. Is this picture going to change the world of photography, doubtful. I do like it though...and I only got it because I "allowed" myself to be free "doctrinaire thinking". ... _cont.html

Re: Critique

Posted: Wed Nov 23, 2011 12:04 pm
by deaner1971
Good stories Brant. Thanks.