This week’s image, by Steve Deligan, was photographed from near the base of Diamond Head on Oahu, Hawaii. (Click here to see a bigger version.)
It’s no secret that weather plays a big role in landscape photography, and this image provides a great example. Turbulent clouds dominate the frame, and the sunset color peeking underneath those clouds creates a striking color palette of orange and gray-blue. These elements help convey a dramatic, stormy mood.
The panoramic crop fits the subject well, concentrating attention on the most interesting parts of the scene. The sailboat adds a great touch—it’s perfectly placed within the frame, and provides a focal point, something for the eye to latch onto before roaming around the water and sky. The sailboat is almost centered from left to right, but that doesn’t bother me, as this seems like a natural, balanced placement. (I discuss centered subjects and the rule of thirds in more depth in my critique from February 10th.) In this instance the framing of the sky is the first consideration, and if the sailboat happens to move into a good spot within that composition, great. A large view shows other interesting details, especially the surfers near the right edge of the frame.
Technically this image was well-executed; everything looks sharp, and the exposure is perfect. The large view shows some minor JPEG artifacts, but those are probably the result of compressing the file for uploading, and hopefully not part of the original file. The clouds have an HDR look, but when I asked Steve about this he said that no HDR was involved—that’s just the way they looked. Sometimes nature is just spectacular.
Usually I pick images for these critiques that have more flaws, as those flaws give me more to talk about. There’s not much to criticize in this photograph. There’s a small light area in the lower-left corner—a wave, I think—that’s a bit distracting, but it could easily be cropped out. The panoramic format works esthetically, but making such a big crop throws away a lot of pixels and resolution, so technically it would have been better to stitch together two or more images. Those are about the only things I can think of that might have improved this photograph.
The main reason I chose this image is because it has a such a great mood. Ultimately, the best photographs are not just interesting, or even beautiful—they capture a mood or feeling, or evoke some reaction in the viewer. Ansel Adams felt that the photographer had to respond to a subject before the viewer could: “I have made thousands of photographs of the natural scene, but only those visualizations that were most intensely felt at the moment of exposure have survived the inevitable winnowing of time.”
To infuse your own photographs with mood, you must pay attention to light and weather, and use every possible visual tool—line, shape, pattern, tone, color, movement, exposure, depth of field—to emphasize the feeling you’re trying to convey.
Weather, in the form of roiling clouds and visible sheets of rain, contributes greatly to this photograph’s mood. The color palette also helps; the blue-gray color of the clouds—just the color—adds a stormy feeling, further enhanced by the orange glow. Although color grabs our attention here, tonality is also important—there’s actually a lot of contrast, and that helps convey drama. Long, horizontal lines, like the ones that dominate this photograph, usually evoke calm and serenity, but here they form an interesting counterpoint, something to contrast with, and balance, the turbulence in the sky. The sailboat conveys a sense of scale and space; it seems so small and fragile underneath those clouds. The boat and surfers also add a human element; looking at this image we can put ourselves in the scene and imagine what those people were thinking, like, “Hmm… I wonder if we should get out of here?”
Now I’m sure Steve wasn’t considering all this when he composed this image. He probably did what most of us would when faced with a scene like this: concentrate on framing and getting the exposure right. But the more you become aware of how all the elements of a photograph—lines, shapes, colors, tones, weather, sharpness (or the lack of it)—interact with the subject to create a feeling, the more often you’ll be able to create wonderful, moody photographs.
Landscapes can have an infinite variety of moods—dramatic, delicate, cheerful, peaceful, quiet, somber, or mysterious. One of the keys to conveying mood is to not fight what’s in front of you. If it’s a sunny, cloudless day, then go with it—try to capture that bright, cheerful feeling in your photograph. If it’s raining, use that to your advantage—make the viewer feel how damp it is.
Thanks Steve for sharing your photograph! You can see more of his work on Flickr.
If you’d like your images considered for future critiques, just upload them to the Flickr group I created for this purpose. If you’re not a Flickr member yet, joining is free and easy. You’ll have to read and accept the rules for the group before adding images, and please, no more than five photos per person per week. I’ll be posting the next critique on March 23rd or 24th. Thanks for participating!