Seeing Ghosts

Critique Style Requested: Standard

The photographer is looking for generalized feedback about the aesthetic and technical qualities of their image.


I found this oak tree across a small lake in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The sun had already dropped below the western ridge and the light was dimming. The oak tree seemed dead, possibly Sudden Oak Death, but I was not sure. The water in the lake was not still so I decided to use a longer shutter to get the water reflection to blur hoping to get a reflection that mimicked an apparition of sorts.

Specific Feedback

Several questions:

  1. Is the subject interesting?
  2. Is the water on either side of the apparition reflection too dark or would lightening it take away from the tree’s reflection?
  3. Would a crop from the right side, centering the tree, be better?

Technical Details

Shen-Hao 4x5, Nikon 300 mm f/9 lens set to f45 and 30 sec shutter, Fuji Provia 100F
The film was scanned and processed in PS.

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Hi Youssef. Although I really like the way the reflection has come out I think it is beautiful without the reflection at all. The texture and colour of the trees is lovely in my eyes. I think that the 2 halves are a bit disconnected. Maybe lightening the water to bring out the reflections of the other trees as you were wondering, would bring it together

I appreciate what you are trying to do with this image and it is very difficult to pull off - I know because I’ve tried on more than a few occasions something quite similar to this (at least in intent) with less than the desired result. The biggest problem I have with your image is that half the frame is devoted to the reflection and while the reflection is quite interesting - almost like a skull - the overall effect for me is that I’m looking at two separate pictures. Part of the problem is the sheer visual mass of the dark water, which is quite overpowering. Would bringing up more of the reflective detail in the water help. Hard to say. It might but it would have to done with a light touch otherwise it could get too busy down there. One possibility would be to go in a different direction with this as more of an abstract by darkening everything above the water line except the oak itself. Of course it would be a completely different picture.
One other thing, at least in terms of my taste, is that I find the green to the right of the oak in the frame, to be overly saturated and blue. I wouldn’t necessarily desaturate overall but I might go into the HSL panel and shift the green slider a bit more towards yellow.
What I do want to say is that I admire your experimentation. I mean, let’s face it, every photograph we make isn’t going to hit all the notes every time. Some are going to be, as David duChemin would say, “sketches” that are part of the process of finding and actualizing our vision.

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I really like this image. To me, it almost looks like the dead tree is trying to hide itself behind the lush trees.

I like like cropping the way it is.

I quite like this as is. It is almost as though someone evil is looking in a mirror and seeing their true self in the reflection!The green is a little over saturated, but I think it fits the mood. As a side note I think the top half; without the reflection; works as well. A twofer if you will.

Youssef, Your imagination that enabled you to see the potential for seeing a dead tree’s “ghost” is quite admirable.
I wondered if the ghost could be made more prominent, so darkened the tree and cropped a lot of the right side (losing the large watermark is a plus, for me).

Do you have more “ghost” that got cropped out at the bottom?

In another effort, I wondered if the ghost cold be rising, so flipped it vertically.
Your artistic imagination and artistry stimulated my whimsy.

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Youssef my first idea is that the photographer is exploring new ways, a thing that I always like very much and I envy because I am very seldom able to do it. As for the image I agree with the suggestion of making more evident the reflection of the other trees but cutting part of the right side up to the dried white branches and adjusting the composition shorting the top and the bottom. This is to avoid an excess of details an preserve the dominant position of the dead oak. Youssef his is just my idea and probably you disagree.