Funny, there has been a good deal of conversation here at NPN of late around the importance and value of quality critiquing. Personally, I strongly believe critiquing is one of the premier ways to improve as a photographer both in offering and receiving them. So, how could I pass up the opportunity of your generous offer?
The picture I’ve posted for your critique loosely fits your designated theme, The Fall. But while it was taken in the fall (as the fallen leaves indicate), it is not a picture “about” the fall. This picture was taken last September during a short, week-long canoe trip. Instead of travelling each day, we decided to stay at one exceptional campsite we’d lucked upon and behind which, it turned out, was a remarkable expanse of accessible forest. When I first saw this birch tree I didn’t know quite what to make of it. How was it possible for this tree to grow so large from on top of this fairly good-sized boulder? And then there was the second tree, the hemlock, which had grown over the root of the birch. Hence the title I chose for this image, “Love and Tenacity”. Between these two trees and, hey, let’s include the rock as well – if this isn’t love then I don’t know the meaning of the word. I mean, these three have been together for a long time – well past a golden anniversary I dare say – and here they remain, grounded, and connected still.
I had thought to make this image soft and give it a dreamy feel, but I couldn’t get away from the muscularity of the roots and how the birch appeared to me almost like an octopus clinging to some boulder on the ocean floor. So, I kind of went the other way not pushing the clarity but drawing out the texture. It felt to me that there was clearly an intelligence in play here, particularly between the two trees – two different species, yet inextricably bonded. And so, I wanted to spotlight by various means, the interconnection of the roots and rock without beating the reader over the head with it. I could probably say more but I think you have enough to give you some idea of my intention – “Love and Tenacity”. I am looking forward to anything you might have to say with regards to having fulfilled my intention and/or what steps I might take to better achieve it. Much appreciation for your time and attention.
First off, the ground and background tree trunks here are purple, so I opened it up in Camera RAW to play with the tint. This can happen a lot in forest scenes as with so much green our inclination is to push the magenta up to counteract it, but what works better instead is to desaturate the greens, which I also did about -20. I also cooled down the WB ever so slightly. Next, I would recommend creating some more separation by darkening the background and foreground. First, you can darken the midtones globally with a curves adjustment, then a radial vignette does the trick pretty well, but you could also do some local painting additionally.
Kerry, I can see why you were intrigued by what you saw. Tenacity is an interesting way of looking at it. However, I see it more like it grabbing the rock. So rather than survival I see aggression in this image. Isn’t that weird?
@Eric_Bennett - Eric, thanks so much for your technical feedback. While my workflow may be different from yours, I got the point of what you were suggesting and, as you can see by my rework (scroll up), I took it to heart. I pulled the blue, orange, purple, and yellow sliders in the HSL panel well over to the left for the background in particular and darkened the background and around the trunks for additional separation. I agree that the image is much more dynamic for it.
I realize that you have your hands full giving feedback to all those who have submitted their photographs for critique, but I had hoped that you might still have room to offer some critique for mine of a non-technical nature. For example, do you find this image has emotional impact – beautiful, repulsive?, does it feel original, or do you see images like this six times a week?, does it give you pause to take a second or even third look or is it more like, “it’s in focus, next”? If you can find the time, and since I am asking you, please don’t feel the need to be diplomatic – after all, it is only one picture out of the thousands I take every year. Thanks for taking the time, much appreciated.
I am not used to think that much about vision, meaning and emotions when either creating my own images (in the field and at the desktop) or when giving critique. As @Igor_Doncov put it in another post, it is a matter of growth and maturity in photography. Now I think it is time for me to try to grow and slowly try to be more intentional regarding the art side of photography and one important first step is then to try to develop my way of giving critique. I have no education in art or art history (I am a civil engineer) so at first it is a challenge only to actually understand the different concepts and so on, and then not to talk about how to apply them … Please bear with me as you are one of the first being given critique by me in this way!
When looking at your image the first time I felt wonder at the intriguing part of nature that you present, followed by interest to explore in more detail how the trees and the rock interact with each other.
I have read your description and Igor´s response so you have put to stories/emotions on the table, love and tenacity on the one side and aggression on the other. I think you have managed to show the tenacity (in the meaning holding on to) very well in your image, but for me I feel that the two trees seem to help each other to fight the rock. To emphasize this feeling, I guess the image could be darkened to become more moody. But that was not your intention, I am not sure how to emphasize love in the image in a way that will change my personal interpretation of the image. Perhaps you have to anyhow apply the softness as you talked about in the description. One additional idea could be to make the birch much whiter than in reality, to add brightness to the image.
@Ola_Jovall - Ola, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your taking a risk and critiquing this way. That you don’t have the same feeling about this photograph as I did when composing and making it, isn’t really the issue. For example, I might look at a Keith Carter photograph and find the image repulsive. You might look at the same image and find it strangely beautiful. I think what is important is that we look at it at all. For one reason or another we are both drawn to it and to be able to address why we feel the way we do, can only help us grow as photographers. Maybe it is about the composition, or use of colour, maybe it is about the subject and the story it tells. Clearly there is no “right” way to read a photograph. But, speaking for myself, what I’d like to know is how you are affected, if at all, and what you can identify as the reason(s) you feel that way. So that if you make suggests as to how I might make changes, those suggestions will be grounded in something besides, “I like it” or “I don’t like it”. Eric’s critique didn’t address the impact that this photograph had on him but he did suggest ways in which this photograph could have more impact on the reader through technical changes that would help it draw the reader’s eye. It would be up to me to decide whether his suggests support my intention or not. In this case, I think they do. Yes, the changes make the image a little more ominous but for me “love” is not a romantic notion but is strictly about depth of connection and these two trees (plus the boulder) are nothing if not connected. But that’s my interpretation of love. When @Igor_Doncov Igor speaks of “aggression”, it is merely a different interpretation of the same phenomenon. For him, the rootedness of the tree speaks to an aggressive tenacity. And I love that he sees it that way - that the image has given him pause to consider it at all.
I think it does have emotional impact, not necessarily so much from the way you photographed it, but because of the subject matter itself. If I were there in person I would have seen this same thing, so the way you framed it and photographed it doesn’t feel very unique or personal, but that isn’t always how it needs to be either. The tree roots going around the rock indeed show tenacity, growing into a big strong tree despite all odds. Could you have photographed it in a way that accentuated that more? Possibly. But it does come through already in this exposure so I don’t know if it’s necessary.
Some images we make are more unique and personal than others, some are more obvious and literal and less creative. Neither is necessarily better than the other, I just think different ideas require different execution.
@Eric_Bennett - Thank you, Eric. That was very helpful indeed and much appreciated. “if I were there in person, I would have seen the same thing” is a very interesting way to think about it. As you say, it doesn’t necessarily make for a bad or good picture but does speak to the power of an original point of view. Really, really helpful.