Cholla at Sunset

Image Description

Still in Organ Pipe National Monument at sunset.

Type of Critique Requested

  • Aesthetic: Feedback on the overall visual appeal of the image, including its color, lighting, cropping, and composition.

  • Conceptual: Feedback on the message and story conveyed by the image.

  • Emotional: Feedback on the emotional impact and artistic value of the image.

  • Technical: Feedback on the technical aspects of the image, such as exposure, color, focus and reproduction of colors and details, post-processing, and print quality.

Specific Feedback and Self-Critique

The composition bothers me. The cholla looks a bit to big relative to everything else around it. It certainly is the primary focus but, might be too much. That being said, my eye goes back and forth between the sky and the cholla. It is not cropped, so I can’t back up more.
Is it overall too bright because it is sunset? The original foreground was pretty dark but, I was able to bring out the detail in the Cholla.
All comments are welcome.

Technical Details

Canon R6, Canon 24-105mm, 37mm,ISO 100, f/16, 0.6sec, on tripod.
Edited in LR.


Hi Charlie - This is quite a lovely scene, and that sunset is very nice. This scene has a lot of potential and I do think it could be improved. For example, a lower perspective would have placed the top of the cholla into the sky rather than nearly lining up with the horizon, and that creates some uncomfortable visual tension. It also looks like you may have pushed the processing a little too far as I’m seeing some haloes where the landscape meets the sky and around the most prominent saguaro. Some of that might be backlighting too, though. I might back off on the shadow recovery a touch, maybe decrease overall exposure and selectively increase the whites to give the highlights in the landscape a little more pop. Sounds like a lot of criticism but it really isn’t. It’s a beautiful scene and a nice image - just my opinion of how it might be made even better.


This is a pretty nice scene. The colors are attractive and all the subjects are as well. The tops of the cactus comes close to the horizon line and is parallel to it but that’s not a big deal really. One of the things to look for in compositions with a strong foreground is that it leads into the background. Another words you don’t want the foreground be in front of everything but be within it. In this image the cactus feels separate from the rest. It’s as though there are two planes of vision, one in front and the back. That’s how I see things when I compose. Don’t know if others will agree

Hey Charles, I think you’ve got some valuable feedback so far, but I thought I’d chime in as well. First of all, thanks for putting this up. I live far from any deserts, but love them so it’s always a treat to see scenes like this.

The cholla looks a bit to big relative to everything else around it. It certainly is the primary focus but, might be too much. That being said, my eye goes back and forth between the sky and the cholla. It is not cropped, so I can’t back up more.

As you say, the cholla is dominating the scene and is so close to the horizon that it feels awkward and accidental. So you can’t pull back more on this image, but you could have walked away and placed the camera further down so that the cholla intersected the horizon. If you used a telephoto lens for this you’d also get the benefit of some compression that might make the background larger in the frame and add some balance. But, as Igor points out, that technique can sometimes block visual flow within an image and so you have to just try it and see.

Is it overall too bright because it is sunset? The original foreground was pretty dark but, I was able to bring out the detail in the Cholla.

Overall, yes it is too bright, especially the hills in the background and the line of light at the horizon - it’s awfully sharp and that can happen with sky or foreground masks that aren’t blended with enough feathering. The clouds in the ULC look a bit contrasty and saturated as well. Your composition has forced you into a corner when it comes to the biggest elements of the shot - the sky and the cholla and so by the nature of its presence, you need to dial down the sky in order for the cholla’s placement to make sense. At least that’s my take.

All comments are welcome.

It is a captivating scene for sure and it still has potential if the sky and foreground can be better balanced. It’s tough to make hard decisions with scenes like this and so it’s often worth your while to scope out a few different compositions before sunset so that you can go to them when the magic light happens. I might have done one with the cholla bigger and higher in the scene, and others with it smaller and in harmony with the rest of its companions. Plenty to play with and I’d be interested to see any other shots you made on this outing.

I do like the composition, @Charlie_Chaffee ,but as others posted maybe lighting is strong. I downloaded it just to see if I had any ideas. I just lowered the contrast, clarity and highlights a little bit in ACR via PS and did a small crop from the upper right corner. Sometimes I have images too strong and these 3 items being lowered sometimes helps.

Thank you all. This was probably the best learning experience for me from all my submissions. I so much appreciate the time you take for the evaluations. Really, a great group. I can’t change the size of thew cholla in this photo but, certainly in the future, will be more aware. I will submit another photo this afternoon and hope you will go after it with the same vigor.
Thanks again,

1 Like


I really like the setup and composition you’ve framed. The cholla is the primary subject of course, but I like the near/far relationship with the mountain in the bg and the progression of the other types of cacti and vegetation. In other words there is a nice flow or path for the eye to go from front to back - topped off by spectacular sky.

I would agree with the comment about the cholla pretty much lining up with the far horizon which is creating a little tension. I think a case where either it’s further down from the horizon by getting a higher vantage point (probably not practical unless you have a ladder or a big rock behind you…) OR going slightly lower to push the cholla in to the sky.

And because of that proximity I also noticed the difference in color and luminosity at the top of the cholla and suggests to me that you used a graduated ND? I say that because the top of the midground cactus is darker as is the top of the ridge behind it. I can see the value of using a grad with such a high dynamic range and bright sky, but most times it requires a bit more work in post so it’s not so noticable. But then again, I could wrong about the filter.

Lastly, and this is quite minor, but I’m wishing the bottom of the cholla was visible. Not a huge deal.


Thanks. I did not use a ND filter. In processing, I did use a linear gradient and when I went back and checked, it was positioned a bit low and gave different exposure to the cholla. Great pickup. I readjusted it. In retrospect, I did way to much processing and will go back and redo the whole thing later and try to incorporate the other suggestions.

Hmmm. Maybe I was too hasty in what I wrote. I need to think it over a bit. There are many excellent images with your type of composition.

I do think that the cactus is blending in too much into the background (because both have a lot of texture and similar color) for a subject that’s so prominent. Notice how Jack Dykinga’s agave stands out due to different texture and color.

1 Like

Thanks. I looked at all of the photos and see what you mean. Thanks for taking the time to help me out. Will definitely keep that in mind for my next venture.