This article is the second part of a weekly critique section at Photography Life, where one or more of us will provide feedback and tips for reader-submitted photos. All of the images we feature come from the photo critique forum, and each one stands out to us in its own right. This week, I will be sharing my thoughts on two recent submissions to the photo critique forum: “As the Day Ends” by Jani Dharmesh, and “European Green Woodpecker” by Dusan Vainer.
As the Day Ends – Jani Dharmesh
As the Day Ends by © Jani Dharmesh
NIKON D610 + 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 155mm, ISO 100, 1/4, f/16.0[/caption]
This image caught my eye because it feels very deliberate. In terms of lighting, camera settings, and post-processing, this image appears as though Jani spent quite a bit of time planning how this photo should look. Still, there are a few aspects of the image that I believe can be improved.
In terms of the technical side of photography, this image is strong. A shutter speed of 1/4 second is, in this case, the perfect balance between showing blur in the sea and still leaving recognizable waves. Plus, the surfer is still sharp. This makes the image dynamic and intriguing, and I think it is one of the photo’s strongest points.
There are only a couple of technical flaws that I see in the image, and both are easily fixable in Lightroom. First, the horizon is slightly tilted up on the right-hand side. This isn’t immediately apparent, but it becomes noticeable as you study the frame more closely. In Lightroom, the image needs about 0.4 degrees of clockwise tilt to be perfectly level.
The other small issue I see is that the sky around the surfer appears to be darker than the rest of the sky. My guess is that Jani tried to darken the surfer with a local adjustment (to create a stronger silhouette), but then unintentionally darkened the nearby sky as well. This issue is small, but it may take some effort to fix:
To get rid of the darkened sky, the easiest thing to do is to delete that edit altogether (if Jani was editing nondestructively, like in Lightroom) or simply edit the photo again from the start. This time, instead of trying to “paint” the surfer darker with an adjustment brush, it will be easier to get a good silhouette by changing global settings in Lightroom. Try lowering the “shadows” slider to taste — not the normal shadows slider in the “basic” tab, but the more aggressive shadows slider under the “tone curve” tab. This will darken the surfer but leave the rest of the image essentially unchanged. The other option is to go to the basic tab: lower the “blacks” slider and increase the “shadows” slider to taste (none of the sliders under tone curve this time). This should have a similar effect, leaving the image essentially unchanged except for darkening the silhouette of the surfer. Both of these methods make it far harder to darken some of the sky unintentionally.
If you can’t delete the original sky-darkening edit, the best thing that you can do is to lighten the sky around the surfer so that it looks normal again. In Lightroom, use a local adjustment with a soft brush, and paint an adjustment mask over the darkened sky. It doesn’t matter if you also cover the surfer, since the adjustments I recommend will not change the brightness of deep shadows.
Increase the highlights in this adjustment brush a moderate amount (no more than 25) and decrease saturation slightly (-5 or so). It is hard for me to recommend specific values, since some areas will need more adjustment than others. Still, with this method, you can fix the dark sky without deleting any of your old edits. The only issue is that you must be careful with this new adjustment brush, or you could make the problem worse.
I tried to fix these slight problems in Lightroom, and my result is below. The differences (the tilt and the sky correction) are subtle, but small differences like these can add up and significantly change how the photo looks in the end.
There is also a chance that the sky only looks dark around the surfer because of jpeg compression, and Jani actually did not use any local adjustments in the first place. If so, my advice obviously does not apply to this specific photo, although I hope that this information could be helpful for others who have unwanted halos in their images.
This image is very aesthetically pleasing, which is one of the reasons that I wanted to critique it in the first place. To start, I think that all the elements are sized nicely in the frame. I wouldn’t want the surfer to be any larger, for example. And I am glad that you didn’t conform the horizon line to the “rule” of thirds, since this image has a great sky/water ratio as it is.
The colors in this scene make the photo stand out instantly. Perhaps the saturation is a bit high for my tastes (in the gold-yellow area of the sky especially), but the blues and purples throughout the image are quite beautiful, and very attention-grabbing.
The main aesthetic issue that I see with this image (which is, by definition, a matter of personal preference more than anything) is that the surfer does not have much breathing room on the right-hand side of the image. The composition doesn’t need too much more space, but I do think that it would be stronger if, say, one surfboard-length of sky separated the silhouette from the right0hand edge of the frame. If there is enough room in the photo’s original composition, I would definitely add a bit to the right of the frame.
Note, though, that I did not say that I would shift the composition to the right. Instead, I think that the image would be stronger with something added to the right-hand side of the frame. The word choice is subtle, but what I mean is that the left-hand side of the image is great as it is, so I would not crop any of it out. In fact, if enough space is available in the original file, I would consider adding about one surfboard-length to both sides of the image, rather than just the right-hand side. I like that the sun is fairly centered in this photo, and it would be unfortunate to lose that aspect of the composition by adding more to just the right-hand side of the surfer.
And if the original image does not have any more space on the right-hand side, don’t worry. First, this is my opinion rather than a fact, and different people will undoubtedly see the image differently. Second, the photo is very strong as it is, and the crop that you have does not ruin the scene for me by any means. Congratulations on such a beautiful capture.
“European Green Woodpecker” – Dusan Vainer
European Green Woodpecker by © Dusan Vainer
NIKON D300 + 300mm f/2.8 @ 420mm, ISO 320, 1/250, f/4.0[/caption]
This is a wonderful wildlife image, and the story of how Dusan approached the bird by crawling for thirty meters (100 feet) is even better! Die-hard wildlife (and landscape, and portrait, and so on…) photographers are dedicated to their images in ways that could seem comical to a non-photographer. I am impressed to hear the dedication that Dusan put into this shot.
On the technical side, there isn’t much to mention with this image. It is sharp, the entire bird is in focus, and, to me, the partly-focussed grasses are just right in terms of depth of field. I am surprised, though, that an exposure of 1/250 second was enough to prevent blurring, considering that Dusan used a 300mm lens with a 1.4x converter on a DX body (a total equivalent field of view of 630mm).
Personally, I may have tried to shoot some pictures of this scene at an ISO of 640 or 800 and a correspondingly faster shutter speed, since a slight increase in noise is generally preferable to any amount of subject blur. I understand that Dusan used a DX body (the D300), but I would still rather increase the ISO than face the possibility of blur. However, at least at this reduced size, the image seems completely sharp to me. If it has no blur at full resolution (especially near the woodpecker’s eye), then Dusan’s settings are fine.
Good wildlife images show an animal. Great wildlife images show an animal doing something interesting, or an animal in an unusual situation, or an animal composed in a way that tells a viewer a deeper story. To me, this photo is a great wildlife image.
The composition of an in-focus bird against a blurred background is nothing particularly new (although there is one interesting point about this photo that I will bring up in a bit). The woodpecker is not really doing anything special or out-of-the-ordinary, either. Still, there is one aspect of this image that makes it stand out for me: the water droplets on the bird’s feathers. These droplets are small in the frame, but they turn what was already a well-made photo (and one with good lighting) into a very well-made photo.
People like to discover things about photos, and the water droplets on the woodpecker are just small enough that they may take a few moments to register with a viewer. These droplets add to the mood of the image because they are so unexpected. Not only that — they also add to the story of this image, showing how dreary and wet a day it is. It is easy to infer from the photo that the photographer sacrificed personal comfort (and dryness) to get this composition.
Speaking of composition, there are a couple things that I want to mention. First is something that I like: the subtle tilt of this image. Photos do not need to be completely level to be successful. Granted, if there is a defined horizon line, it is generally good practice to align the image to make the line completely horizontal. In images without a defined horizon, though, such as this one, the photographer has much more leeway in leveling the frame. Here, by tilting the image how it is, Dusan makes it seem more dynamic. Any more tilt would be obvious and intrusive, but, as it stands, the off-level composition adds movement while maintaining its subtlety.
The only aesthetic suggestion that I have is to edit a few aspects of the photo, all in small ways. Editing choices, including color and contrast choices, are tremendously subjective, and I’d imagine that as many people will like the original version of the photo as will like my edit.
I made three major changes: first, I changed the color temperature and tint to make the photo somewhat more magenta and the slightest bit bluer. The original photo appears a bit yellowish to my eyes, which did not seem to fit the dark-and-stormy mood that I got from this photo. I also increased the brightness of the yellows and oranges in the photo through the HSL tab in Lightroom, since that draws more attention to the beautiful light in the grass. Lastly, I darkened the base of the photo, which I felt stood out a bit too much otherwise. My edit is below.
I also think that the image could work well with a bit more vibrance and brightness, although I tried to preserve the mood of the original image as much as possible and did not change either in the edit above.
Both of these images are extremely strong, and there is not much that I would change about either. How I see it, all of the (mostly subjective) suggestions that I have are simply ways to make these strong images even better. Jani and Dusan are great photographers, and I am looking forward to seeing more of their work in the future.
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