Puffs of Gold

While exploring a local park near my new home, these marsh grasses backlit by the sunset really caught my eye. Initial exposures were coming out really dark so I opted for an HDR exposure blend and was much happier with the results.

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

Any and all critiques are welcome

Technical Details

ISO 160
Shutter speed: variable
HDR Blend

1 Like

Hi Jonathan - oh what an enchanting scene. That golden light is something special. Backlit flowers and grasses present some unique challenges, don’t they? In terms of this photo you could maybe try cropping a bit tighter to eliminate some of the branches and stems/trunks on each edge. The most interesting part of the picture is in the center, but it’s quite busy. I wonder if there might have been a section of these grasses where they weren’t quite so close together. Tough to order up things just the way you want, I get it, but whenever I do these I try to find isolation both in subject and in background to set apart my subject (and I will post a couple later today if I remember). If I can’t find that I move on. Using HDR here was probably the right choice to expose for that huge dynamic range. In addition to bracketing for exposure, you might have also tried using a different focus point for each as well. That way more of the individual grass heads are sharp. Just a few thoughts for next time. Keep 'em coming!

If you do make changes and have a second edit, you can add that to your original post by clicking the pencil (edit) icon. This allows us to compare both photos in the viewer one after the other. You can also edit the title with something like + 1 Rework or similar to alert the group that you have done it.

Here are my photos and some of the field techniques I use for this kind of scene -


Hope it helps!

Hi Jon and welcome to NPN! :slight_smile:

I really appreciate what you have captured here, dried grass like this seems to be the perfect medium for highlighting the sunlight coming through, those delicate edges allow the light to “Glow” and this image does a fantastic job of showing the light that caught your attention.

It may have been better to stop down the aperture to deepen the DOF here and it would be good keep DOF in mind when shooting in the field, but it’s not always easy to think of everything when shooting, especially when the moment you want to capture is quickly disappearing. :slight_smile:

The shallow DOF doesn’t bother me in this image because the sunlight is the star here (pun intended) :smiley:

It’s tough, if not impossible, to find scenes like this without some amount of distracting elements that cause it to appear cluttered or busy.
In my opinion, the cause of clutter (in some cases “Chaos”) is horizontal or diagonal lines within the main attraction, in this case the main attraction is the sunlight coming through the dried grass heads and those stems that cross the image at an angle are causing it to appear cluttered.

There are simple, yet tedious and sometimes time consuming methods for fixing that issue.
The clone stamp tool in Ps (photoshop) can be a powerful tool when it comes to the removing the clutter.
In the example edit below, I used the clone stamp tool with the mode set to normal, opacity set at 100% with 40% hardness, I made the diameter of the stamp roughly 14 pixels, then I set the clone stamp origin approximately one or two diameters away from where I want to clone (14 to 28 pixels). Oh, yeah, “Uncheck” the “Aligned” feature which also helps to prevent any repeat patterns.

The main key in preventing any repeat patterns is to reset the clone origin extremely often, in most cases you have to reset the origin every time you do a stamp which means practically hovering your finger over the “Alt” key on your keyboard (Alt being the reset key).

Then, once all of the cloning is finished, use the blur tool with the mode set to darken, set strength at 100%, size at 20 pixels or so and carefully go over everything that is already blurred including the areas you’ve cloned but not the areas that are in focus, this process helps with blending everything together.

I noticed that the bright areas at the top are sampling at 251 (255 being pure white), it’s not so much that this area is too bright or blown out, it’s that it’s white and not that lovely orange-ish yellow. Those areas are very difficult to change or fix by using burn tools, that rarely ever looks good, but, you can select an area that does look good, copy it and move that copied selection over the white spot, then use opacity to blend it in and carefully erase the edges with a soft eraser tool using a small diameter brush (like 40 pixels or so). Keep in my that the pixel size depends on the size of the image, if its a raw image, larger size brushes will be required but you can use the width of a grass stem as a guide for brush size.

I also felt that a good portion of the top wasn’t really needed since the main subject is the light coming through the dried grass heads and the sort of glowing stem on the left was taking away from the theme as well, so I cropped out what felt was about right. Please crop it to the degree that you prefer, my crop is merely an example to demonstrate my thoughts.

I put these together here so you can see them in a side by side manner, just switch between them to compare.

This technique can be used on a very wide variety of images, basically anything that you feel a connection with.

Please keep in mind that NPN is a learning site, so, any images you do this kind of treatment to, please post the original version along with the edited version and to some degree explain what you did so others can learn from your experiences with that image (Much in the same way I displayed your images below).

And BTW, this isn’t a technique that artificial intelligence (AI) can do, it has to be done manfully but with practice, it can be done in a short time, this edit took me about 35 or 40 minutes.
It took me longer to save the images and write this response than it did to do the editing itself (with the explanations on what I did).

I look at this technique as just another tool to add to your collection of photography/art tools. :slight_smile:

And, I hope this helps you and/or someone else that may be reading this topic.

Wonderful image BTW!!! :slight_smile:

Your Original

Cropped with no edits version (below).

With stems cloned out and white spots covered (below)

1 Like

Hi Jonathan, this is a very appealing image made under somewhat difficult conditions. Increasing the dynamic range certainly helped and I can’t add much beyond the good advice from @Kris_Smith and @Merv. I’ve occasionally encountered a similar backlit scene and the first thing I think about is composition, trying to find the essence of the scene and eliminating everything else. Well seen!

1 Like

Thank you so much for your critique, suggestions, and reflections, Kristen! Unfortunately, time didn’t allow for finding a cleaner scene this particular evening, but I’d love to go back and find an area where I can single out grasses as you recommend. I also find shooting directly into the sun very challenging, but very rewarding when I can get it right!

Your field technique writeup is very interesting and has great recommendations. I’d like to experiment with my 35mm f/2 for this type of photo next time to get a narrower DOF. The f/7.1 on this wouldn’t allow for the creamy bokeh seen in your examples.

I’ll rework the edit a bit a repost in the near future!


Thank you for kind words, Jim! I agree and think simplifying the scene would help. I’ll have to return to the location for some cleaner compositions!


I really appreciate your thoughtful response, Merv! I’ll absolutely be practicing this technique and the detailed explanation really allows me to understand the process. I absolutely agree that simplifying and cleaning up the composition helps. You did a great job with the cropping, cloning, and stamping and I think I could replicate what you did here based on your explanation.

From an educational perspective, what are your thoughts on posting both original and final edit versions of photos? I always find it fascinating to see where a photo started and how much they can be polished to a final version.

Thanks again!

Hi Jon,

Since this is a learning site, I think that posting a “Before” and “After” version along with a brief explanation of how it was done is essential (or at least offer to write an explanation if anyone asks).

I may have to try doing a video of this particular process since I can’t find anything on YouTube about it. I’m a little shy with speaking into a microphone though so it may take a few tries. :open_mouth:

Until then, If you have any questions about the process, please feel free to send me a PM here on NPN and I’ll do my best to explain it further.
I’d like to see the results of your edit whenever you’re ready to share, take your time with it, be patient and most of all, have fun!

Thank you so much for the kind words, they serve as encouragement for me to continue sharing my techniques and thoughts.

Have a great day, Jon! :slight_smile: