PHOTOGRAPHY CRITIQUE & ADVICE

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[FORMAL CRITIQUE] YOSEMITE FALLS

Peggy Berger Peggy Berger 802 posts

@Byron — you said I could post one and you would critique it. Here it is. I love this photo — Upper, Middle and Lower Yosemite Falls with the beautiful red pines framing it. However, the little bit of sky is so blown out that it detracts. I could crop it out, but then I feel that I may lose the natural top of the whole scene. Would love your critique, suggestions both on presenting this photo and also how I could have made it better when taking it. The sky was white on this day, but I presume there is a technique to have made it less ugly.

Thanks for the invite — and of course I want to hear from everyone else as well!!! I’m actually hoping to make a very large canvas print from this for my daughter for Christmas — and want to be as good as it can be.

Canon Rebel XT.
1/160 second
f/9
ISO800
Exposure Bias -0.3 step
25 mm

THANKS Byron and all.

Terence Russell Terence Russell 271 posts

If you have PhotoShop, you might mask and put in a better sky. I do that from time to time. I take photos of great skies just for that purpose, so as to try to match, as much as possible, the existing sky. I actually usually use merge modes so as to assist in making it look more natural.

Peggy Berger Peggy Berger 802 posts

Thanks — I do have PS — but I’m not sure how I’d change the white sky behind the trees on the left. I could do the little V at the top of the falls, but don’t know how to fix the harsh white light behind the trees And that is my hestation in cropping, I feel like I’d have to chop off the top of the mountain where the falls start and of course we don’t want to do that. Of course I’m not sure what you mean by mask either — there is much I can still learn on using PS to its fullest benefit. Thanks again, any more input most welcome.

Mark Bolton Mark Bolton 955 posts

Hi Peggy,

Welcome. My first point would be that this is the Black Knight Forum, although we do see Byron in here from time to time it is the realm of the Black Knight (aka Peter Davidson) and the critiques in here can be somewhat cutting. I would say that in this case you would be better posting either to the Round Table (which is looked after by Byron) or Advice forums.

Anywho here is my take on the image

You have the potential for a great image here, we will ignore the blown out sky for now.

First, because your camera was angled up when you took the image all the Trees are falling to the centre of the image. You need to open the image up in an image editing program (Photoshop, GIMP, etc) and correct the image for perspective. I would then crop to the top of the falls that way you remove that overexposed sky, and crop the right hand side to bring the falls onto the right hand vertical third. Then I would increase the red and green channel saturation, this will bring out the trees a little more and make the lighing look more golden.

I have looked at your photostream and if I was going to make a large print for someone this would not be my first choice, I would print Wide Angle Yosemitie, which is a beautiful image, but that is just my opinion.

Happy Snapping

Peggy Berger Peggy Berger 802 posts

Oh you are right — this should have been in Round Table. I will repost it there — Byron had told me he’d do one of his critiques but I put it in the wrong Forum. However, I’m glad I did … I am going to try and do what you are suggesting, which will be an advanced project for me. And I appreciate the nice words on the wide angle shot — I love that one too and have it in my dining room. This falls photo has the right colors for daughter’s living room, but we only want to print the ones that we love — and at this moment I only like this a lot. Thanks so much. If I am able to follow your suggestions and make it look better, I’ll have learned a lot today.

BYRON BYRON 12163 posts

Hiya Peggy, I moved this one to my forum, I will get a critique done for you in a couple of days…

BYRON BYRON 12163 posts

Sorry Peggy, I have been rather busy lately. I will try to get a critique for you soon (they take a while to produce)

Mary Campbell Mary Campbell 948 posts

Well Peggy, This is a beautiful park, but this picture doesn’t capture what could have been a great scene. Although the trees are exposed, the waterfall is underexposed to the point they look black and white. This is probably a setting where HDR would help with the color variation. I feel that the composition is lacking as well, it need better focus and some cropping. Right now it’s alot of verticle lines, and hard to find the focus which I guess is suspose to be the waterfall thru the trees. I don’t know what to say other than it misses the mark.

Peggy Berger Peggy Berger 802 posts

Thanks for the input Mary. I appreciate it.

@Byron — no rush … when you can is fine. And if it just really misses the mark overall, don’t waste the time … I don’t want to waste your time and I won’t spend the money doing a big print and framing if all agree it’s really not all that good a capture. Thanks!

Peggy Berger Peggy Berger 802 posts

Mary on second look, I’m not sure what you mean. Neither the trees nor the waterfall look black and white to me. The trees are quite red and green, and the waterfall is white (which it is in real life) against rocks which are black and brown … am I misunderstanding your comment? I had a suggestion from another (pro) photographer to crop it to vertical …. is that what you mean? Certainly the waterfall is the focus, but the trees are as well, the Sequoias and Ponderosa pines are also very grand. I just want to understand what you were saying … and thanks.

BYRON BYRON 12163 posts

F I R S T – I M P R E S S I O N S:

- Love the reds and greens.
- The waterfall seems very washed-out.
- The trees are leaning in too much.


E Q U I P M E N T

Brand / Manufacturer: Canon

Model: Rebel XT

Lens: Focal length is 25mm, so only a short lens. Probably the Canon 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 EFS or something similar.

S E T T I N G S

Aperture / F-Stop: f9

Shutter Speed: 1/160second

ISO/ASA: 800

Focal Length: 25mm

Exposure Compensation: -0.3


T E C H N I C A L

Exposure: The image is very dark. While Yosemite can be this dark amongst the trees it is not terribly appealy due to the lack of detail. I am curious as to why you chose such a high ISO/ASA setting and -3EV Exposure compensation. True, it was going to be hard to capture both the forest and the waterfall (you can see how much the sky has over-blown already).

I think that because of the high tonal range in this image, that you were never going to adequately capture the forest and the waterfall in the one shot. For this reason I think this scene would be a good candidate for HDR Technique.

Lighting: Plenty of sideways lighting, but amongst the trees and with this composition, it really doesn’t do much to light the overall image.

Colour Saturations: Colour saturations are very high due to the slow shutter speed, combined with the high ISO and the -3EV Exposure Compensation.

Focus / Depth of Field: Everything is in focus. DOF does not appear to have been used, and considering the f9 apperture, there would be very little chance of having any region out of focus.

Sharpness: Reasonable so.

Score (out of 10 points): 3.5


Look at this image by MARK RAMSTEAD

MARK was standing in much the same place as yourself. He has used HDR technique here to balance the huge variation in contrast. And for once we see an HDR image that does not scream “HDR HDR!” But instead MARK has reproduced colours and lighting that is very close to what our eyes would see if we were there.

Use of HDR technique has resulted in fantastic colour and detail in the mountains and the trees without resorting to under or over-exposed regions and way too much colour saturation. Even the sky has lovely blue tones and detail.

MARK has also removed the un-neccessary elements to strongly feature his subject – the waterfall.


I N T E R E S T

Aesthetics / General appearance: The colours are great, the deep reds and those lush greens. The only thing missing, colour-wise, is the deep blue sky and puffy white clouds which Yosemite is also famous for.

The very low underexposure and the high ISO/ASA however, have added a lot of noise and digital artifacts which is detracting from the colour and the detail in the trees. Its almost too red, and the leaves have no fine detail at all.

The trees are leaning in to the top centre, which is typical with wide-angle lenses. This can be easily corrected in post-production, but should be avoided in the first place, unless you particularly want that effect.

Wide-angle lens distortion will work fantastically when you crak the lens down and shoot some of Yosemite’s amazing skies. The clouds will distort and elongate and really enhance the sense of open-country.

Here tho’ it looks like the trees are going to fall over, and that is very distracting.

Emotional Content: Lack of any clearly identifiable subject really leaves this image feeling rather empty. the overblown sky and washed-out top waterfall are distracting because those bright areas keep dragging the viewer’s attention away from the rest of the image.

Storytelling ability / Creative communication of a concept or idea: Some trees leaning over, over-exposed sky and over-saturated colours with little detail… I am not sure what story you are trying to communicate here, but its not good.

Originality: Not very. Its Yosemite, but it could be anywhere really. There has been no inclusion of a primary or secondary subject, and the waterfalls are too far away to be considered an real contender for subject material.

Score (out of 10 points): 3.5


Look at this image by GLOBALPHOTOS

I suspect that both yourself and GLOBALPHOTS and MARK RAMSTEAD were all standing in the same place.

GLOBALPHOTOS has exclluded all the uneccessary elements in this scene and featured the waterfall strongly. It has been genlty framed by the trees on either side and there is awesome definition in the mountain. The mist above the falls is just a bonus. because of the great detail and lighting there is a lot of “return value” to this image.

It is very important to decide what to put in your image, but it is probably even more important to mdecide what to keep out of your image. Simplicity is always the best choice. GLOBALPHOTOS has given the viewer 3 things to look at here (3 is always a good number): the trees, the waterfall, the mountain.


C O M P O S I T I O N

Framing / Cropping: We have lots of red tree trunks, but no real use of the vertical lines.
There is no inclusion of foreground, which makes it hard for the viewer to engage with the image since all the elements are so far away. Foreground subjects are a very good idea in landscape photography as they help draw us “through” the image from the foreground to the background. Without foreground and midground subjects it is literally B A M ! ! straight to the background and there our eyes stay because there is no-where else for us to go. This leads to a lack of long term interest for the viewer.

Simplicity of Design: This image is just way too busy, I am not sure where I am supposed to look, and this due to no clearly defined primary or secondary subjects (Points of Interest) I think you actually have a lovely image within this image – and that is the lower waterfall framed by the trees on either side. Probably in a longer portrait format. – plenty of detail and good colours in the mountains which are all missing from the top waterfall.

Points of Interest: None.

POI are a clever little technique you can use in Landscape photography. The catch the viewers’s attention and draw the viewer from the foreground to the mid ground onto the big finale – the background (usually something amazing like a sunset or cloudy sky etc…)

POI maintain interest by giving the viewer more to look at other than a pretty background. Pretty backgrounds area dime-a-dozen, so you have to work very hard with landscape to really vie for anyone’s attention.

If you can align your POI so they form a diagonal line from top left to bottom right then you will create a gentle and inviting feel to your image, if you diagonal goes from top right to bottom left then you will create more tension in your image.

This is because of the way we naturally look at an image – from top left to bottom right.

If your POI follow this natural flow of our eyes then we feel comfortable, any diagonal that “breaks” the flow of our eyes will create tension. Both can be used to great effect to create long term interest and create plenty of “return value”.

Rule of Thirds: These trees take up the left and right 3rds of the image and the two waterfalls take up the centre 3rd. Rule of Thirds is not really helpfull here. By placing the waterfalls in the centre you have given us nothing else but dark forest to look at on either side and there is no sense of balance between the subject and negative space, since while the waterfalls take up 2/3rds of the image, they do so at 1/3rd a piece.

Lines & Diagonals: See “Points of Interest”, above

Balance / Use of Negative Space: There is no balance in this image. The side feel heavy because they are so dark, and lack any real detail or POI / Subject.

Score (out of 10 points): 3.5


Look at this image by STEVEBERLIN

Here STEVEBERLIN has include foreground and midground elements to gently draw our attention through the image onto the background where we see the waterfall and the huge open sky. The branches at the very bottom and top of the image frames the scene and gives the viewer a sense of “looking through” onto the amazing valley.

By including the water, the trees, the mountains and the skies, STEVEBERLIN has given us a sense of place in which the waterfall exists, and thereby added to long term interest.


G E N E R A L

I have spent about a week in Yosemite myself back in 1997. Its a “Kodak Moment” everywhere you look. Its so gorgeous that it almost hurts your eyes. You just want to shoot everything because it looks amazing.

But therein lies the curse of Yosemite.

We can get fooled by our sense of awe and wonder and we end up with images that do not do justice to what we feel at the time.

Even Uncle Ansel, who lived in Yosemite Valley (lucky, lucky bastard!) would spend days at a time just waiting for the perfect conditions for his photographs. Why? – Well believe it or not, as amazing as Yosemite is, it can churn out some horrible images. Yosemite is one of the most photographed landscapes in the world (Thanx to Uncle Ansel!).

Peggy, its important to remember to take a breath, and breath out, and in again before taking shots in places like Yosemite. We can (and I certainly did too) become sooo ennamored by the unbridalled beauty of nature all around us, that we forget to think as artists and as photographers and we end up with pictures like the one you have here.

Don’t think you’re alone, I have about 10rolls of crap from Yosemite that is much much worse than yours and they will never ever see the light of day.

It is something that happens a lot, especially to new photographers, but even the oldies aren’t immune.

Stop, breath, go “awwwww”, breath, and then think:

“How can I best communicate what I am feeling right now to my viewers?”

The answer (as is so often the case) is: Simple is usually best.

Peggy, I get what you were trying to do here, I really do. It is important to remember that your camera does not have the same exposure latitude as your eyes, so you have to watch out for high tonal values. From the darkness of the trees to the brightness of the sky you are probably looking at around 12 Stops in exposure variances. Your eyes can handle this just fine (which is why it looked great to you) but your camera is not going to handle that much variance at all.

One of the tricks to Yosemite is to include the three main features in all shots…

  1. The Trees,
  2. The mountains, and
  3. The skies (with clouds*)

Then you need to include points of interest to “spice-up” your shots and to create and maintain long term interest.

I have looked at your other Yosemite photos Peggy, you have some fine work there of which I think you should be proud, but this one is not one of your best.

Total Score (out of 30 points): 10.5

Peggy Berger Peggy Berger 802 posts

I cannot possibly thank you enough Byron … this is IMMENSELY HELPFUL to me. I have just returned from a week in NH at a photo class and learned quite a bit more about settings, DOF and exposure. I showed this photo to that instructor and his comments were similar though certainly not as detailed as yours. I do understand and hopefully am learning to see the shot and plan its elements, and I now do see that this was hopeless, really, shot the way I shot it ….

I am so very grateful for this critique …. thank you again!!! Cheers and have a great day! Peggy