Three + One

I took this while wandering along a creek in a park not too far from my house. When I reviewed the image I was so focused on the central leaf that I didn’t think to review other areas of the image…lesson learned. Some of the softness has me frustrated. I thought with the lack of depth there was no way that areas would go soft, the nearest point to the furthest point in this image is no more than 2.5 inches, but as I said before, lesson learned!

Specific Feedback Requested

Interested in two things, first is the composition, does it work for you?

Second, I am starting a pretty big shift in my workflow. I just purchased a few new tools and I’m trying to organize my thinking a bit. I also just watched Understanding Colors and Tones from @David_Kingham and my mind was blown. Once I had things balanced out my goal was to reduce contrast in the rocks while cooling them and increasing the warmth of the four leaves. Is it over done? Does it work?

Technical Details

Is this a composite: No
ISO 100 - f7.1 - 1/4 sec

This works nicely for me. I like the simplicity and the warm/cool look works well. As far as the focusing, maybe vignette the corners a bit to deemphasize those areas and I doubt anyone other than other photographers would even notice. This looks good.

David, I think the composition and the processing both work well. The warming / cooling does not look overdone to me. The leaves are not too warm, and the brown sand on the rocks still has some warmth. The composition is not static, the diagonals make it dynamic. When I look at this shot I see a yellow hummingbird coming in to sip nectar from a red flower (kind of bizarre, but that’s what I see). I also have David Kingham’s “Understanding Tones and Colors” and it totally changed the way that I thought about Lightroom processing too.

Regarding Depth of Field. The DOF decreases as focal length increases, and as camera to subject distance decreases. You didn’t list your focal length, but I’m guessing 100mm to 200mm. In scenes like this (particularly with subjects like rocks that have depth), your DOF is measured in mm. It looks like you essentially got your sensor parallel to the leaves, but shooting at f7.1 was not enough, I’d use f16 or f22 in situations like this. Realistically, if total sharpness was your goal, then this scene is a candidate for focus stacking (I use Helicon Focus). Another software for you to learn :grin:

@Harley_Goldman thank you for that! I have some vignette on there now, but it could probably stand some more. And you are right…showing pictures to photographers is so much different than showing them to everyone else!

@Ed_McGuirk It is interesting how our brain can make meaning from things! I shot this around 65 mm. I think I also learned that focus peaking can’t be trusted. Do you mind if i send you some processing questions related to the video?

Very nice image David. I think the comp works well because the red leaf holds a lot of visual mass, and the multiple yellow leaves help balance that out. I would agree that a heavier vignette would work well here, it would take some attention away from the out of focus areas. These days I use a radial filter to create my vignettes by lowering the exposure and use the luminosity range mask to pull it slightly out of the darkest shadows and brightest highlights. I will often bring down the saturation and decrease the contrast of the radial filter vignette as well since darkening will add saturation and contrast.

I’m glad you enjoyed my video, feel free to ask me questions on my ‘other’ community

I think it’s great David. The tones are nice and the composition is thoughtful. If you really want to be on “edge patrol”, I’d crop the left and bottom just slightly to get rid of some dark spots and lines that cause a bit of tension. Hopefully that falls under composition advice :slight_smile:

If I had a nickel for every shot that isn’t sharp from front to back well… just don’t look too closely at my images :slight_smile:. For me, proper DoF can be really hard to remember, hard to execute and check in the field…

Wait, WHAT!? That’s one of the main reasons I have been thinking about getting a new camera. Do you think it’s unreliable?

@David_Kingham - David, I am very interested in following up on the short sample I watched of “Understanding Colors and Tones” . Is there a full video series or online course available that goes deeper into that conversation. If so, could you point me in the right direction please?

@Kerry_Gordon - Here you go…its a game changer for me.

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Thanks @David_Kingham - I am going to mess with adding some more vignette to this one for sure, thanks for the suggestion.

You may regret giving me the green light to ask questions…because I have so many!

@Brent_Clark Probably could handle a bit more crop, thanks for the suggestion.

This is my experience, and I’m new, so it could be user error! What I have found is that it does a great job of letting you know what is in super sharp focus, BUT it over estimates the depth of that sharpness. Essentially it considers more things to be acceptably sharp than what I do. I use a Sony a7r iii so others may have different experiences.

Looks like David sent you in the right direction, on top of that video I have a new webinar I just did that is similar but I also show some newer techniques I’ve developed like the vignette. The video series goes more in-depth and the webinar is more of a quick overview that may give you everything you need

The colors complement each other very nicely in this image. The best feature of this image is the background in my opinion. It’s fascinating in both the texture and the color you’ve rendered it with processing I presume.

The composition is really not that strong. The equal spacing of the leaves from all borders removes much of the visual tension and pushes it towards being static. The background really prevents it from being totally static. The other issue with the comp I find is that the leaves look as though they have been manually arranged. This is probably not the case but because the subject is so simple it gives that impression. A more complex arrangement would improve this comp.

I have been following your interest and development in photography on this website and I feel you’re putting too much effort into the technical aspects of the medium and not enough into the art side of things. I just wanted to make this comment because it’s a very common road photographers take and many go so far down this road that they never recover. They become processing junkies. So take it for what it’s worth.


Cool little scene. The colors don’t look overdone to me. As Igor mentioned, the composition is rather static, but that may be what you were aiming for. The one “edge patrol” item that strikes me is that curved line mid-way along the left edge. I wouldn’t crop, as it already feels a bit crowded; maybe just clone it out. Overall, I think the leaves would have benefited from more room around them. That’s something I struggle with all the time - making sure the subject in a scene like this has enough room. It always looks good in the viewfinder (I have an a7r3, also), but I’m often disappointed when I download. I’ve taken to making a second (or third, etc.) frame of scenes like this, where I’ll back off the zoom or move farther back, just in case.

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I thought a lot about if/how I wanted to respond to this. A lot of my time has been spent on the “technical” side of things for a few reasons. First, I enjoy it. I find that part of the artistic nature of this hobby we all enjoy is the processing. Second, it is easy for me to do at home. I don’t get out to shoot very often, once, maybe twice a month for an hour or two at most especially while school is in session. I have an 18month old that I enjoy spending time with. Third, information is much more readily available regarding the technical side of things than the artistic, creative, compositional side.

In regards to the artistic/compositional side, if you have specific suggestions or resources that would be helpful, I would appreciate looking them over. I often hear people say “just look at the pictures you like.” That is only helpful if you have a framework around which to look at them, otherwise they are pretty pictures that you can’t really figure out WHY they are pretty. I fully understand that this is the hard part. My strategy, if you can call it that, was to figure out some of the easier things, like processing, which would allow me to be successful when I really started to make good images. Honestly, I haven’t taken a picture yet that I think is any better than slightly above average. I understand this.

I have never…ever…considered myself artistic. Processing gives me the chance to do that and hopefully one day my compositions will catch up. I spent 30-45 minutes photographing this one scene, some images are wider than others, some I came in tighter like this one. The reason I ended up leaning toward the tighter crop was that the ground around these was rather “dirty” it looked like small nuts had been cracked around it by some squirrels so I chose the cleaner version. No, I did not touch the leaves or arrange them. Yes I did process it to bring out the blue in the stone and red/yellow of the leaves. Recently I had one image where the processing was off, but the composition was better. This one it seems that the processing is better but the composition is off. I presume this is part of growing and learning, which I hope NPN can be a part of that.

I hope you have a wonderful NYE.

David, you have only been pursuing landscape / nature photography for a relatively brief time. In my opinion to truly take ones work to higher levels over time you need to pay attention to these areas - Fieldwork, Creative Vision, Composition and Processing. Some of these are inter-related and have some overlap. I think part of Igor’s point is that they are all important, and that one should not rely on being good at just one or two of these, or use one, such as processing, as a crutch to try to compensate for weaknesses in the other areas. People who really want to get better realize great images depend on having skills in all 4 of these areas. Good processing skills can take an image that rates as a 5 to 7, but it almost never takes a 3 to a 9. Processing doesn’t solve having poor light and composition, those things need to be recognized and taken advantage of in the field.

Regarding resources on composition, here are two really good ones. Study and really think about the composition concepts and principles discussed. Then go back to the work of other photographers and artists you admire, and study how these folks applied those concepts of composition. The Hudson River school of landscape painting is an example of something to study that has influenced landscape photographers.

From what you said, it’s clear you already realize a lot of this. The only thing I don’t fully agree with you on is your comment “I have never…ever…considered myself artistic. Processing gives me the chance to do that and hopefully one day my compositions will catch up”. I would argue that all 4 of the areas I mentioned have to work together to create truly artistic work. Starting out, you need to focus time and effort on working on all 4 areas, not just the technical stuff. As Igor said, some people fall into the trap of over relying on processing to compensate for lack of skill in other areas. To me processing is something that is a means to an end, how do I accentuate the light, or colors that are already in the image to direct the viewers experience. Processing can influence the impact of an image, but it rarely overcomes technical problems, un-imaginative subjects, poor composition, etc. You do need to master processing and other technical stuff to the point where its second nature. This frees up your mind to focus on the more creative, subjective things.

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@Ed_McGuirk I appreciate the suggestions, I am likely going to purchase both of those that you recommended. Also looking at the local library for things related to the Hudson River School. I was given two books from William Neill and the Photo Cascadia group for Christmas this year and hope to really explore those closely. Hopefully your suggestions will help to answer why some images work and others don’t. I agree that all four of those elements need to be present for an image to really come together which is why I recognize that my images don’t meet that mark yet. With some effort and some study, my hope is that all will come together over time. Probably best for me to read more and post less at this point.

Again, thanks for your recommendations.

To the contrary. Shooting, posting and and getting critique are all part of learning how to grow. I would encourage you to shoot as much as you can (I understand you have time contraints), force yourself to budget more time for this as much as you can. And the critique at NPN is another good resource, just like ebooks, videos and other avenues of study. You are on a journey that takes time, soak up as much as you can from a variety of resources, including NPN critique.

Hey David. Really nice image here!

For me, yes. Like some of the other commenters mentioned, it’s not overly compelling, but I think it does work for this image. The main thing I think I would have done differently is given the leaves a bit more space, but it sounded like there were some elements of the scene that you were trying to exclude. Oh well, just something to keep in mind for next time!

Something else I would consider: for small, close-up scenes like this, I think sharpness is important for effectiveness, so I would echo @Ed_McGuirk’s advice to look into focus stacking. I also use Helicon Focus and find it to be quite easy to use.

I think you did a really nice job with the processing! Nothing looks overdone to me. The colors all look really nice and you’ve got a very satisfying representation from the primary colors that all complement each other well. I might have tried to shift some of the greens out of the yellow leaves, but that’s just my preference.

Keep up the great work, David, and keep asking questions. There is a lot to learn in photography, from composition to shooting techniques to processing. I think you’re on the right track based on what I’ve seen.


That is an excellent answer and I fully understand the problem. What does it mean to be artistic? How does one go about it? What do I do to develop it? Are there exercises for it? Nobody tells you how to achieve an artistic vision. You can read Guy Tal’s excellent book More Than a Rock from cover to cover where he talks about the importance of creativity but you won’t read a word of instruction of how to achieve it. Yet you see these images around you by the better photographers who accomplish just that.

Composition and an understanding of light and color and how they affect emotions are points in the direction but eventually even that takes you only so far.

It has to do with an internal reaction between the photographer and the subject that you pass on to the viewer. It’s an emotional reaction. All good images elicit strong emotions I’ve decided. You want to reach the innermost part ot the viewer. And all emotions should be explored, not just awe and grandeur. The positive as well as the negative.

To be artistic, I’ve decided, is to have an active imagination. Creativity comes from that. I believe that those people can quickly and easily make associations between what they see to what they’ve experienced or felt in life. I believe that they do this throughout the day and even in their dreams. Subjects take alternate meanings and make stronger impressions on them than the rest of us. That’s why you read about someone moved to tears by a painting and others are left unmoved. And speaking of tears … If you ever come across any landscape that cause shivers to run down your spine you’ve got something worth photographing. They don’t have to be shivers of pleasure, either. Fear is worth photographing as well. So, basically, the idea is to open yourself up as much as possible and the images will come. I guarantee it. But if you start analyzing about technique you will never give yourself a chance.

I’ve been at this for a very long time, decades, and I’ve read a lot of how to books, both technical and about art. But in the end none of them tell you how to achieve vision. It’s your own journey. They can tell you how to prepare for it but in the end it’s your own unique mind. And frankly, that’s what makes it all worthwhile. Self discovery is much more satisfying than reading manuals or watching videos.

Hope this helps. I know this still sounds a bit vague but this is the best can come up with.

Here’s an example.
You look at a painting like Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’. You can admire how the paint was applied, the choice of vibrant colors that adjoin one another, the technique of constructing all the subjects with curved lines that envelop around one another to cause visual tension. That’s all analogous to processing in PS and knowing the elements of composition. But visually interpreting those stars in the sky as flashes of light like roman candles - that’s vision. That’s his interpretation of what he saw. Thats how he felt when he looked up. That’s art and that’s what we’re after.

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Thank you @Igor_Doncov for sharing your thoughts with us.

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I don’t want to hijack this thread but without trying to annoy anyone or stepping on anyone’s toes I would like to go on a bit of a tangent.

I’ve often wondered what people mean when they write that they’ve discovered themselves through their own photography. I’ve decided that it occurs by the photographer becoming aware of what type of images he/she responds to. We reveal ourselves to others through our images and discover ourselves by the images we choose to make. In a sense the photographer is looking a him/herself when they look at their images. That’s the ideal situation - when you take photography seriously. I think that all ties in to creating artistic images and therefore ties to the earlier comments.

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