Boulder study

Critique Style Requested: Initial Reaction

Please share your immediate response to the image before reading the photographer’s intent (obscured text below) or other comments. The photographer seeks a genuinely unbiased first impression.

Questions to guide your feedback

Which do you find most engaging and why? Does your emotional reaction change at all as you view the different versions? Anything in a visceral reaction come to you?

Other Information

Please leave your feedback before viewing the blurred information below, once you have replied, click to reveal the text and see if your assessment aligns with the photographer. Remember, this if for their benefit to learn what your unbiased reaction is.

Image Description

While standing in Ripley creek, I decided to play with shutter speeds a bit with these boulders. Other than during spring melt, I suppose these are all exposed, but right now only one is and I rather like the added mystery when the water obscures the submerged ones.

For me, the fastest shutter speed conveys cold better and feels refreshing. The medium shutter speed conveys less cold, but still conveys that dash of cooling you’d like most on a hot summer day. The 2 second exposure, while I kept the overall contrast the same, doesn’t make me think along those lines. It becomes less about the water and rocks and more about the shapes and luminosity to me.

Technical Details

Tripod and polarizer for the faster shots, 6-stop ND for the 2 second version

#1 -

#2 -

#3 -

Lr for all to get a basically flat image for Photoshop. Used a Linear Profile and some cropping to emphasize the different lines produced by the water at different shutter speeds. Photoshop to do a lot of dodging and burning with masks to bring out more contrast and movement in the water. Also some work to manage color saturation and correction. A few odd distractions removed as well.

Specific Feedback

I deliberately kept the processing similar on all three, but there is a lot of room for interpretation and manipulation with these, especially the 2 second version. Would any benefit from breaking free from the mold so to speak?

Hi Kristen;

I would choose the first one. It’s for me, the water movement that is most appealing.
The second one, with all that information is way to confusing.
the third one, loose some water detail, but on the other hand, “simplify” the overal composition.

if you draw a diagonal line from LLC to URC, I would merge the the left part from photo 1 with the right (bottom) part of photo 3.

Kris, the first one works best for me and I like it as presented. It has a peaceful or normal feeling where as the other two have a bit of tension to them. Again, it’s the “feeling” and not anything to do with the images otherwise.

Great idea, Kris. I get a different feel from all three of the images, but by far I love the surreal feel of the third one. The first one feels like a typical photo of water with some smoothing. The second feels more like a technical shot. But love the soft feel of the third one.

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I think I would prefer one that was between 1 and 3, although if I had to pick I would say #1. It has a bit more texture which is interesting… although the mood of #3 is calming.

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My initial reaction is that of Goldilocks: one was too hot, one was too cold and one was just right. Except that it’s not that straightforward. My least favorite is the first. So that leaves the other two. I thought the crunchy 2nd one would prevail but the 3rd one is really special. It has a mystery at a level the others just don’t have. I love the presence of those yellow spots in that one. Even the pine needle works for me. I love the detail and texture in the second image. It’s definitely a close 2nd and could replace number 3.

So in answer to your question: I like the porridge too hot or too cold. I don’t like it just right.

I love this exercise in vision. Thanks for that.

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Hi Kris,

Big fan of door number 3. Soft, peaceful, wonderful.

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Hi Kris,

As for an emotional response:

  • Number 1 is close to what I’d expect to see in person, it shows realistic motion.

  • Number 2 is close to what I’d expect to see if I were watching a video and someone put the video on pause (stop action) (no significant emotional response for me)

  • Number 3 is closer to ethereal, or maybe a vision in a dream.

In technical terms:

  • Number 1 has an appealing texture for good images.

  • Number 2 is stop action.

  • Number 3 can be a way of showing the subsurface rocks or river bed in a more clear way if the lighting is favorable.

Which shutter speed to use completely depends on the scene and the mood you want to convey at the time.
And of course slight adjustments to the shutter speed in number 1 can produce nice variations in texture depending on lighting, time of day and water flow (velocity).

Well… that’s the way I see it anyway.

For whatever it might be worth.

My favorite is #3. I find it is ethereal and moody.

Long time lurker here. But I love this sort of compare /contrast study. Really brings to the surface why we use the settings that we use. So for me, #2 is totally out. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was a cell phone shot and leave it at that. Which leaves #1 and #3. I’m leaning towards #3, but I think I’m gonna have to agree with Matt Payne and say I would want to see something between the two. For me, in scenes like this, nature represents chaos. Beauty lies in these scenes if we can find a way to simplify them. And long exposures are a way to simplify scenes like this. The trick is to figure out how long an exposure is best. I like #1 because that exposure time still gives texture to the moving water, even though it is blurred. In #3 there is no texture in the moving water. In fact, it is only that we just know that this is a scene that involves moving water that we can appreciate it. Still I feel a greater sense of peace with #3. And I love that the rock details show through in #3. So probably something closer to #3 but probably a little faster…

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Hi Kris,
I like number one the most. The well-chosen shutter speed shows some textures of the water in the left half of the image and at the same time shows the structures underwater in the center of the image.

Wow, thanks for chiming in everyone. It’s interesting the different perspectives that make you choose your favorites.

@joaoquintela - a photo merge is an interesting idea and I might have a go when we get our days of rain at the end of the week.

@Paul_Breitkreuz - funny that you find tension in the slowest shutter speed, do you think it’s because it is less literal than the other two?

@linda_mellor - I’m curious about the “technical shot”, could you explain? Don’t mean to put you on the spot, I’m genuinely interested.

@Matt_Payne - water texture is always fun because it changes so much at these shutter speeds, I just picked the one that was most interesting to me.

@Igor_Doncov - oh that pine needle - I almost took it out in post, but left it because I was already doing a lot of manipulation. The yellow spots is actually lichen I believe and I liked its presence, too.

@David_Bostock - we all need a little peace these days!

@Merv - contrasting #1 and #3 in terms of realism is interesting and I think you’re right, we don’t see blurry water when we’re looking at this type of scene, but the moving water and that’s what can be tricky to convey in a still.

@Eva_McDermott - hm, I tried not to make it deliberately moody, but I think the very soft water conveys that all alone. Nice to keep in mind when I’m doing landscapes and not just small slices like this.

@james6 - I’m so glad you de-cloaked to add your thoughts. Another vote for some image blending, so it looks like that’s on my agenda! In terms of water texture, I am inclined to keep some depending on what it’s contrasted with. For this type of scene I think having some works better than none since most of the rocks are submerged. If more rock was dry I might go slower just so that texture was more apparent. When there is ice present I go quite slow so that the crystalline/stop-action quality of the ice comes through more effectively. So much fun!

@Jens_Ober - thanks for adding your impression - seems like #2 is a no-go! I find it very difficult to know when a real freeze-action approach is the one to choose and will have to play with it. I have a shot of a small cascade with a fast shutter speed that might work, but then again, the slower shots will contrast the texture of the rocks etc.

I just received my Freewell magnetic variable ND filter set the other day and I think that using it for this scene and others is on my to-do list. I think I’ll hike back up to this rock formation and have another go when the water has receded somewhat. Given we’re supposed to get a lot of rain in a few days, that might not be for a while, but it should be interesting to revisit.

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In my opinion, #2 looks quite busy or a bit chaotic.
The best

There is probably no rule of thumb. I also follow your approach and usually take pictures with different shutter speeds. I often have trouble deciding which one I like best on the small camera display. The images then have a completely different impact on the large monitor.
Most of the time I am disappointed at first :rofl:

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Kris, it might just be an optical tension or expectation of sorts. More of a natural feeling on the first image that seems unexpected look in the others .
I’m sure it’s just me… :laughing:

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Wonderful and intimate nature portrait. I love intimate water scenes like this and this one rings true for me. Also, great scene to illustrate - or invoke a good discussion like this.

I really enjoy the rich colors in all of them, and would agree with others something in between #1 and #3. But before I go further, this is a great chance to bring up something that doesn’t really ever get discussed, especially when it comes to moving water and “preferred” shutter speeds.

I’m sure obvious to most, but again, not ever really mentioned. And that is the human eye and brain connection. We don’t “see” any of those 3 options. period. It’s all on how we want to perceive and interpret moving water scenes like this. What the eye/brain sees is all instaneous, yet we see motion at the same time. Have you ever tossed a stick in the moving water and try to follow it with your eye as it floats away? Are we seeing then stopped action because our eye is focused on the stick - or if we fix our eye on a stationary rock, so we “see” silky water? (no, we don’t). In the case of motion (grassy blowing in the wind, a wave crashing on the beach, a rushing stream… we do not see what the camera records - regardless of what settings we use. Which is why I enjoy all interpretations, from frozen moments, to silky, ghostly long exposures. Why is it that I prefer a stop-action shot at 1,000sec of a crashing monster wave on the Oregon coast? but not the same stop action of an inimate water scene like this? Why, I dunno really, other than getting back to our interpretation. The Oregon wave scenario might be about the pure power and force of nature, whereas the intimate stream shot might be about calm, soothing and quiet emotions.

ANYWAY, just some backdrop to my comments. So I think I answered why #2 isn’t my favorite. With #1, I’m really enjoying the earthy rich colors; like how the tannins are brought out in the frothy portions and the rich colors of the submerged rock. The shutter speed is just about right to give the water texture and detail. With the longer exposure of #3, both the colors and contrast start to blend together (softening both) and the scene becomes more about shape, flow and the contrast is now visual - sharp detail on the exposed rock, vs. the soft interpretation of the running water.

And of course with the various frames you get different results in what’s captured. If I had to choose, I would say #3. Why? a simply nitpick. In #1, the brighter details in the whitewater URC pull the eye. Perhaps that could be mitigated in post.


Back to first impression - actually none of the images evoke “cold” to me; maybe refreshing, but not cold - at least not winter, ice-cold, cold, but yes, refreshing “splash on my face” cool…

Great exercise Kris - and a wonderful image to illustrate!


Thanks @Lon_Overacker for adding your thoughts. In my reply to Merv I brought up something like what you elaborate on here. Our eyes can be tricked (kinda) into seeing water moving by in a more abstract way. Like yesterday I was parked in the Jeep on the boat launch with water on one side of me. Sometimes I’d see the wind ripple the surface out of the corner of my eye and I had that sickening feeling that the car was rolling forward. Like when you’re in traffic and the cars on either side of you move ahead and you think for a split second that you’re rolling backward. Crazy.

Interesting that you don’t get cold from it. I guess it was a feeling of being on the spot. I can certainly fiddle with #1 more to lower the bright spot for more harmony in the photo. I have another similar study coming up. If I can find some contrasting shots that is, I didn’t have a comparison in mind when I shot this other scene on the same day.

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No worries, Kris. For me, when I look at the second photo it looks like exactly how I would see it if I was standing there. In other words, there is no artistic interpretation . . .there’s no you. Does this makes any sense?

Ah, I get you now and it makes total sense. I’m still thinking about the freeze frame approach and how this can come off as something deliberate rather than like a cell phone photo. An interesting prospect.

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Well, Kris, you have inspired me to get out and do some experimenting with various settings using the same image. Really interesting results. Thanks for the push!

Wow – I missed this earlier and glad I found it! I love silky long-exposure water shots. My first reaction was similar to a couple above – the UL part of #1 (which I find stunningly beautiful) combined with the LR part of #3, or approximately. Maybe an in-between SS (maybe half a second?) would accomplish that in one frame? None of them feels particularly cold to me, probably because of the warm tones. I get more of a mysterious vibe.