Can it still appeal?


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

As an avid kayaker, Waterlilies are constant companions and magnets for the camera, but they are also an important food source for insects, which makes them sometimes less than perfect specimens. Can light or other more photogenic qualities elevate such a ragged beauty? Is there any way to make something nibbled and occupied be lovely, too? I keep trying.

Other Information

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Image Description

The first shot shows the flower as it becomes a target for feeding insects, the second is before the hordes descend. Shot days apart on two different bodies of water. Both drew me to them for their positions, bloom stage, light and beauty. They say different things, but maybe only to me. As a nature photographer, it’s important to me to also speak to environment, ecosystems and the connectedness of everything. Can this also be attractive and/or appealing?

Technical Details

Both taken handheld in the kayak with probably a CPL to moderate reflections.

Bitten beauty -

Unblemished -

Specific Feedback

How do you react to each one? I’m curious about whether each tells a story or whether one or the other doesn’t. What is the story to you? Illustrators of old probably wouldn’t have included any (or at least as many) insects, so is it more appropriate to do so as a photographer?

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Boy, isn’t that an interesting question, Kris? I think it’s possible to make the bedraggled look interesting. I’m not so sure about beautiful. It’s like people. Young folk are described as beautiful or hunks, middle aged, not so much, and us oldsters are lucky if we get labeled as distinguished, wise or aging gracefully. However, if you look at fine art portraits, what do you see? Mostly the extremes. Beautiful young folks and oldsters with enough lines to lend them character.

So for something like this lily, maybe it needs a bit more aging. The first image is about the aging process, so it’s one of those middle-aged images that’s very hard to pull off. Perhaps focusing closely on what is causing the aging would make an interesting image and perhaps even a beautiful one if the focus is more on the bug with perhaps one petal of background. Managing that from a kayak would be a very interesting challenge. I could also see a time-lapse video being extremely interesting, but once again, the logistics are daunting unless you have it in a private pond.

So none of that is really a critique of the current images. I really like the pristine image, as might be expected, and I do see just the beginnings of predation on it. While I appreciate the natural history aspect on the non-pristine image a lot, it feels far too busy and the environment around it doesn’t add to it for me. As noted above, I think you’d have to concentrate on the predators to make it really work.

Nature takes a back seat. My reaction is to the LIGHT, and the first one is to die for, with that spotlight in the center of the flower and the subdued lily pads. Definitely lickable! Then my second reaction is to the composition, and the first one wins there, too, with the wonderful reflection. With perfect light, a more perfect subject would appeal to me more, but then nature can squeak into consideration third in line. The flaws in the petals work well but I would probably clean up a few of the insects. A slight crop from the right would simplify the BG a little.

After seeing the first one, the second wants a dose of the same light, or at least a move in that direction. But your object is more presentation than idealization, and both score very well there.

Would it be practical to carry a long fly swatter to temporarily clean up a flower? Would probably take fast reactions, though. I doubt they would stay away long.

Ha! Certainly an ‘in the eye of the beholder’ situation.

I like your analogy with human portraits, @Dennis_Plank and I think you’ve hit on some of the differences in how we approach and present those two sides of the coin - extreme youth and age. The top flower is probably in that middle age area that isn’t gorgeous nor interesting, but hm…the light did grab me and I sat as still as I could for that reflection. Maybe on my next paddle I can find one in a later stage. They’ve been blooming now for a few weeks so there should be some. And yeah, true macro in a kayak is murder. I don’t even bother anymore, but I might be able to approximate it with the long lens. I will put that in my back pocket and see what I can do.

To clean or not to clean, that is the question @Diane_Miller and for that top shot I didn’t do any healing, cloning or filling. Probably could, but wonder if it would be a step backward too close to pristine and not differentiate the photo as much. Hm. And the crop gave me fits as well. Maybe more fiddling. The light in the second was high filtering clouds so way less contrasty than dappled full sun, and I wanted to preserve some of that which I felt complemented the more pastel coloring. Maybe this one belongs in a series rather than solo if I keep the processing this way. Food for thought again.

Thanks peeps!

Well, I’ll throw in my two cents against the dollars of the first two comments. My initial impression was I liked both for different reasons. The first for showing the center of the lily and how well. the lily stands out against the background. The insects are part of the environment and don’t bother me. I’d be tempted to use the remove tool on some of the dark spots to clean the petals up a bit.

I like the second image for the light-showing the color of the water and the brightness of the lily and pads.

I appreciate the contribution @Allen_Brooks - now you mention it, maybe the eaten bits could be removed without diminishing the context too much. No matter how many times I tell myself I don’t need any more pictures of waterlilies, I somehow end up taking them anyway.

I say the same thing for Great Blue Herons and Song Sparrows.

Oh do I hear you about GBHs! Just took more the other day from the kayak. It let me get so close I had to try.