Archive for April, 2010

Weekly Photo Critique: “Chino Hills SP 1” by Robert Bruns

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010
"Chino Hills SP 1" by Robert Bruns“Chino Hills SP 1″ by Robert Bruns

This week’s photograph was made by Robert Bruns in Chino Hills State Park, California. What initially attracted me to this image was its strong composition. It’s simple and clean, with a prominent focal point—the central trees. It’s full of diagonal lines and triangles: a large, long triangle in the lower-right corner, another in the middle left, a small one behind the trees, more within the trees themselves, and subtle triangles in the negative space of the sky in the upper-left and upper-right corners. It’s very well seen.

I could go on here about another successful violation of the rule of thirds, but I’ll just refer you to previous critiques here and here.

Last week I discussed the conflict that photographers often face between finding a strong composition and conveying a sense of place. Robert managed to walk that line pretty well here—the design is exemplary, and we get a feeling for the kind of area this is, with its dry, grassy hills. Robert said that this area had burned the previous year, and “It was nice to see it coming back to life.”

Technically this is well executed—the exposure looks perfect, and everything appears to be in focus. The white balance looks neutral, but I might prefer something a bit warmer. More contrast would also liven up the image a bit. Here’s a modified version with both warmer color balance and added contrast, plus lightened a bit overall:

Modified version with warmer color balance, more contrast, and lightenedLightened version with warmer color balance and more contrast

Despite the strong composition, and the changes I made, this image still seems to be missing something. I enjoy contemplating the design, but it’s not the kind of photograph that makes you stand up and say “Wow!” Yet it’s hard to find ways to improve it. One issue is the subject. A strong design can sometimes overcome an ordinary subject, and nearly did here, but not enough to completely captivate me. The other problem is the light—it’s rather bland. Some warm, low-angle sunlight would be perfect. I think low frontlight would be best, but sidelight or backlight might also work.

Of course you can’t always catch perfect light, but I suspect that Robert lives close to this spot, since not many out-of-state visitors put Chino Hills on their itinerary. And while Chino Hills may not be Yosemite, any natural place—heck any place, period—has its charms. And proximity is a great advantage—you can return repeatedly, learn where some of the best locations and subjects are, get to know the weather patterns, and plan to come back to certain spots when the light and weather are right.

I think we all make better photographs of places and subjects that we know well, and that we’re passionate about. Sometimes I hear people say that it’s easy to take good pictures in Yosemite: ”Just point the camera anywhere.” But if you’ve tried to make good photographs of this park you know how untrue that statement is. It can be very difficult to convey the beauty and grandeur of such a place in a photograph. If I’ve had any success at it, it’s because I know Yosemite well, and I’m passionate about it.

The New Jersey shore might seem like a far cry from Yosemite. But one of my online students last year showed many beautiful images of that coastline. They had great color, and a wonderful feeling of space and light. He knew the area well, loved it, and it showed.

Another student once showed me a portfolio of landscape photographs. They seemed rather ordinary. Then, almost as an afterthought, he showed photographs of his kids—and they were great. This was clearly a subject that he was passionate about.

So photograph places and subjects that you know and love. Your passion and knowledge will make the mundane seem magical. And it helps if you can work close to home, and visit your subjects again and again.

Thanks Robert for sharing your image! You can see more of his work on Flickr.

I’ll be taking next week off to teach a workshop, but will post another critique on May 11th or 12th.

As part of being chosen for this week’s critique Robert will receive a free 16×20 matted print courtesy of the folks at Aspen Creek Photo. 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 May 11th or 12th. Thanks for participating!

 

Dogwoods, New Leaves, and Waterfalls

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010
Backlit dogwood blossoms
Backlit dogwood blossoms

 

New green leaves are just starting to appear on the deciduous trees in Yosemite Valley, and by this weekend there should be a lot of fresh green color everywhere. Most of the dogwoods have sprouted the little green discs that are precursors to the full while blossoms. If the weather had stayed warm I would have said that this weekend would be good for dogwood photography, but the cooler, wetter pattern that’s set in this week may slow that down, and most dogwoods probably won’t be in full bloom until sometime next week or the following weekend (May 8th and 9th).

Warm sunshine this past weekend pushed the water level in the falls and Merced River way up. The flat rock that I referred to on my other blog was almost completely submerged on Monday morning, and the “kick” at the top of Upper Yosemite Falls was mostly buried. But again the current cooler weather pattern will cause the waters to recede a bit until the next warm spell.

 

Tips for Photographing Lunar Rainbows

Sunday, April 25th, 2010
Half Dome and Upper Yosemite Fall with a lunar rainbow
Half Dome and Upper Yosemite Fall with a lunar rainbow

 

In Friday’s post on my other blog I described some of my experiences attempting to photograph lunar rainbows, but here are some tips for capturing your own moonbow images.

The moon will become full at 5:19 Wednesday morning, so Tuesday night will provide the brightest moonlight, and the best chance to photograph a lunar rainbow this month—if the weather cooperates. Unfortunately the forecast calls for rain. If the predictions are faulty, and some moonlight manages to break through the clouds, cool temperatures will probably limit the amount of spray on Upper Yosemite Fall, so Lower Yosemite Fall may work better. For the upper fall, you might be better off waiting for the next full moon on May 27th. For detailed information on times and places to photograph lunar rainbows in Yosemite, see Don Olson’s site.

For those who aspire to capture lunar rainbows, here are some tips.

Equipment

Any digital SLR will work, but full-frame sensors usually produce less noise and work better for the long exposures required at night. A sturdy tripod is essential, plus a locking cable release or electronic release. You’ll want a good flashlight or headlamp, a watch to time long exposures, and a cloth for wiping spray off the lens if you’re at the lower fall. Long exposures drain batteries quickly, so make sure your camera battery is fully charged—and your spare too.

Focus and Depth of Field

To make exposure times reasonably short, you’ll have to keep your aperture wide open, or close to it. That means you won’t get much depth of field, so try to exclude foregrounds from your compositions. This shallow depth of field makes focusing critical. It’s obviously difficult to focus manually in the dark, and autofocus won’t work either. In the past I’d just manually set the lens at infinity, but many lenses now focus past infinity, making the correct focusing point difficult to determine. The solution is to find something distant that’s bright enough to focus on, like the moon itself, car headlights, or perhaps a bright light that you place far away. Then focus on that bright spot, using either manual or autofocus. The most precise method is probably focusing manually during a zoomed-in look in live view. Once you’ve set the focus, turn autofocus off and don’t touch the focusing ring—leave the lens set at this distance for all your images. You might even tape the focusing ring so it doesn’t move. (more…)

Weekly Photo Critique: “Rock Creek—Beautiful Stream” by Steve Williams

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010
"Rock Creek—Beautiful Stream" by Steve Williams
“Rock Creek—Beautiful Stream” by Steve Williams

 

I’m pleased to announce that, beginning this week, each person who’s image is selected for a critique will receive a free 16×20 matted print courtesy of the folks at Aspen Creek Photo. Aspen Creek was created by Rich and Susan Seiling, the founders of West Coast Imaging. I’ve used West Coast Imaging for all my drum scans, and know they set high standards and produce great results. Aspen Creek Photo offers excellent prints, similar in many ways to the high-end work produced at West Coast Imaging, at very affordable prices.

Now, on to the critique… This week’s photograph was made by Steve Williams along Rock Creek, on the eastern slope of my home mountain range, the Sierra Nevada. The small cascade is an intriguing subject, and the slow shutter speed (1/2 second) that Steve chose works well, giving the water that silky, flowing look, and creating a contrast in textures betweensmooth, ethereal water and solid rocks and grasses. There’s a nice, quiet, intimate feeling to the image; it seems like a peaceful place that I would enjoy spending time at.

A small aperture, f/20, kept everything in focus. At first glance the exposure seemed a bit dark to me, and the white balance looked too blue—the white water, or what should be white water, has a distinct blue cast. Using the eyedropper tool in Lightroom, I clicked on the white water, and that made an immediate improvement. The photograph seems warmer, the colors livelier, and the scene more inviting. This color temperature change also boosted the red and green channels, making the image appear brighter as well as warmer. The exposure now looks perfect.

After the white balance was adjusted with the eyedropper in Lightroom
After the white balance was adjusted with the eyedropper in Lightroom

 

How you handle white balance (or color temperature, or color balance) depends, to a great degree, on whether you’re shooting Raw or JPEG. With Raw the white balance isn’t set in the camera, so it’s easy to adjust later in software. I always shoot in Raw, and usually just leave the camera set to automatic white balance, because it’s a simple matter to make corrections later in Lightroom with the eyedropper or color temperature slider. If the color balance might be tricky, as when photographing flowers or fall foliage at dusk, I include a white or gray card in one of the frames, then click on that card with the Eyedropper later in Lightroom and apply that same white balance setting to the other images made in the same light.

With JPEGs the white balance is set in the camera. While you can adjust it later in software, big changes can be problematic, so it becomes more critical to get it right in the field. You’ll need to set the white balance manually more often.

When you do need to adjust the white balance of a JPEG in software, it’s much easier to do so in Lightroom or Camera Raw, using that Eyedropper tool and the Color Temperature slider, than in Photoshop proper. (To open JPEGs in Camera Raw, select the image in Bridge, then choose File > Open in Camera Raw.)

First crop, eliminating distracting elements along the bottom and left edges
First crop, eliminating distracting elements along the bottom and left edges

 

Changing the white balance in this photograph made a big improvement, but the composition still seemed a bit messy. Edges are always critical, and there are a number of objects here that are half-in, half-out of the frame, including the tips of two branches on the left edge, a rock just above them, and a rock along the bottom edge. The lower-right corner also seems a bit cluttered.

With that in mind I cropped this into a vertical, including just the cascade and the far bank. This was better, but it still seemed like there was something missing. When in doubt I ask myself what catches my eye the most. In this case the answer was easy: the flowing water. So I made several other, tighter crops, picking out interesting sections of the small rapid.

While Steve’s original composition is not exactly a wide, sweeping landscape, it does capture enough of the scene to give us some sense of place—a quiet, grass-lined creek. While I think my tighter crops are stronger designs, they lose some of that feeling and sense of place. This points to a dilemma that photographers often confront. We may prefer to capture a wider view, one that shows what an area looks like. Sometimes we can do so and make a clean, strong composition in the process, but often that wide view includes extraneous clutter. If we pick out a detail, a small piece of that scene, we can often make a strong design out of it, but then lose the context and sense of place.

Second crop
Second crop

 

So what do you do? Capture both. Take the wide view, but then keep looking, and find those interesting details.

When evaluating the images later, you’ll probably find the abstract close-ups more compelling. In photography, design always trumps subject. There’s something about interesting lines, shapes, and patterns that catches our attention and intrigues us as viewers. A photograph needs an incredibly compelling subject—like an exploding volcano, or a wolf dragging down a caribou—to overcome poor design.

c
Third crop

 

One more thing: By making these crops I’m trying to show alternate compositions, things that might have worked better than the original image, and trying to give you ideas for finding better compositions in the field. But I don’t mean to suggest that it’s okay to be sloppy, to capture a wide view with the intention of cropping later. Removing large sections of an image throws away too many of those megapixels you’ve paid so much for, leaving you with a low-resolution image that can’t be enlarged. While minor trimming is fine, it’s always better to frame the scene as precisely as possible in the camera, and keep as much of that precious resolution as possible.

Fourth crop

Fourth crop

Thanks Steve for sharing your image! You can see more of his work on Flickr.

As part of being chosen for this week’s critique Steve will receive a free 16×20 matted print courtesy of the folks at Aspen Creek Photo. 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 April 27th or 28th. Thanks for participating!

 

Spring Progression

Friday, April 16th, 2010
Redbud and oaks, spring 2007Redbud and oaks, spring 2007

The redbud in the Merced River Canyon are a bit past peak, with many starting to leaf out, but at least half are still in prime condition, so good photographs of them can still be made for at least the next few days. Meanwhile in Yosemite Valley the deciduous trees have buds but no new leaves. The April snowstorms have delayed the appearance of the vivid green leaves of the cottonwoods, alders, maples, and oaks. I expect we might see that green around the end of the month. The dogwoods will probably also be late; while they typically start blooming around the end of April, they might blossom a week or two later this year.

 

Weekly Photo Critique: “Cataract Catwalk” by Paul Porter

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010
"Cataract Catwalk" by Paul Porter
Cataract Catwalk” by Paul Porter

 

This week’s photograph was made by Paul Porter at Mount Tamalpais State Park, north of San Francisco. While last week’s image was a model of simplicity, this scene is much more complex, with cascades, rocks, trees, and the boardwalk railing. I think Paul did a great job of integrating all those elements together and creating a strong composition.

The foreground water is the dominant feature—it fills up almost half the frame. The converging lines of the stream point toward the waterfall at the top, leading our eyes there and creating a nice near-far juxtaposition. That prominent foreground and it’s leading lines hold all the complex elements of the scene together and make a coherent statement out of what could have been a visual mess.

The walkway railing is a man-made object in an otherwise natural scene, and it’s color, lines, and shapes are different from everything else in the frame. Yet despite all that it’s fairly unobtrusive, and you could even make an argument that it adds interest and a human element, allowing viewers to imagine that they could be part of this scene.

One thing that does bother me slightly is the tree trunk in the upper-right corner. Any object that lives on the edge like this can be distracting, and it’s worse if it’s partially cut off—that is, not completely in the photograph or out of it. In this case it’s easy to crop a bit off the right side and eliminate it, and I’ve uploaded another version to show what that looks like. I also trimmed a little off the bottom as well, as after cropping the right edge the bottom of the image seemed a bit too elongated.

Right and bottom edges trimmed
Right and bottom edges trimmed

 

The focal length was 18mm on an APS-size sensor (equivalent to about 28mm on a full-frame sensor). Since wide-angle lenses like this include so much of the scene, it’s easy to allow extraneous elements to creep in and clutter up the image, and it can be challenging to keep the compositions simple.  But the strength of short focal lengths is creating the kind of near-far juxtaposition that we see here. Wide-angle lenses make distant objects seem smaller, thereby exaggerating the apparent size difference between near and far, and creating an illusion of depth.

There are two keys to creating that sense of depth with a wide-angle lens. First, you have to put the camera close to something in the foreground—usually no more than five feet away—otherwise everything will look small and distant. Second, you need to keep everything in focus. Paul did both of those things here: the foreground rocks and water appear to be less than three feet from the camera, and everything looks sharp, at least in this small enlargement. Even though this image isn’t the kind of sweeping grand landscape we usually associate with that near-far juxtaposition, there’s a palpable sense of depth and distance between the rocks and water at the bottom of the frame and the trees and fall near the top. You almost feel as though you could walk—or rather wade—into this scene.

Telephoto lenses do the opposite—they compress space and make objects look closer together than they really are. This is great for creating patterns, as you can bring similar lines and shapes into close visual proximity even when they’re physically far apart. From this spot, for example, you could use a longer focal length to zoom in on the trees and waterfall and the top of the frame, working with the patterns created by the trunks and strands of water.

The soft, overcast light was a perfect complement to this scene. Sunlight would have been a contrasty nightmare. Aside from creating severe exposure problems, splotchy highlights and shadows would have added complexity and confusion. Even with the overcast conditions Paul said that he needed to blend two exposures together in Photoshop, since the upper falls were quite a bit brighter than the shadier foreground. This post-processing looks very well done. The merge is seamless—you’d never know that two images had been combined. (I discuss exposure blending in my Digital Zone System article for Outdoor Photographer, and in more detail in my Digital Landscape Photography book.)

The overall contrast and saturation look great. In fact Paul said that he reduced the saturation in some areas after some of the adjustments he made “created a little undesired over-saturation.” The only thing I could quibble with about the processing is the white balance, which to me looks a little blue. This is especially noticeable in the water. To correct this, I used the eyedropper tool in Lightroom and clicked on the water to make it neutral. This worked well for the water, but made the greens a bit too yellow for my taste, so I tweaked the greens to push them closer to their original color. Here are both of these versions for comparison.

First I adjusted the white balance with the Eyedropper tool in Lightroom, then I tweaked the greens, adding back more blue

Paul used a shutter speed of 1/2 second for both exposures. This looks about right—slow enough to give the water that silky, flowing look, yet fast enough to prevent the water from losing all texture. There’s a nice contrast between the smooth water and the rough textures of the mossy trees and rocks.

Overall this is very well done—nicely composed, technically well-executed, and skillfully processed.

Thanks Paul for sharing your image! 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 April 20th or 21st. Thanks for participating!

 

The Wildflower Chase

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

9. Painted Hills in the Temblor Range

9. Painted Hills in the Temblor Range

In case you missed it, on my other blog I posted a story about photographing wildflowers in the Temblor Range. I also put a couple of additional images on Flickr, and plan to post more there soon. But this photograph is a little bonus—something I haven’t posted anywhere else yet.

 

Weekly Photo Critique: “Outward Momentum” by Sudheendra Kadri

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

"Outward Momentum" by Sudheendra Kadri

“Outward Momentum, Panther Beach, Davenport, California” by Sudheendra Kadri

This week’s image, by Sudheendra Kadri, was made at Panther Beach in Davenport, California (just north of Santa Cruz).

What initially caught my eye was this photograph’s zen-like simplicity. The entire image consists of only a few lines and shapes. The dominant visual element is the curving X of the stream, resembling a whale’s tail, which in turn is flanked by two triangles of darker sand, then topped by a band of water and lighter expanse of sky. The small dark rock in the center of the frame could be a distraction under different circumstances, but here I think it’s a nice touch, adding a subtle focal point.

In photography, less is usually more, and this image provides a great example of that. The simple, graphic design grabs our attention in a way that more cluttered compositions don’t. But simplicity isn’t simple—in fact it’s quite difficult. The universe wasn’t constructed with photographers in mind; much of the time the world seems to consist of random clutter, with bits of junk and debris thrown in for good measure. The photographer’s job is to find order within that chaos (to paraphrase Robert Glenn Ketchum), to see designs and patterns in the random configurations of the universe.

I talked about seeing abstractly—focusing on lines, shapes, and patterns, rather than thinking about the subject—in my critique from March 24th. I also discuss this in my Digital Landscape Photographybook, and in every workshop I teach. I must think it’s important! Sudheendra said on Flickr, “The way this stream turned sharply before meeting the oncoming waves caught my eyes and I thought this would bring some nice curves and lines into this frame.” So clearly he was thinking abstractly, and that mindset allowed him to see the potential of this scene.

This image’s simple design could only have been created from a particular point of view, which looks like it was the middle of the creek! I asked Sudheendra about that and he confirmed that, yes, he was standing in the water. I guess photographers sometimes have to sacrifice for their art.

The dusk light allowed a 30-second exposure that smoothed the foreground water, giving it that porcelain glow and increasing the level of abstraction by lessening the water’s texture. That soft, glowing, dusky light can be effective for many subjects; the great John Sexton seems to use it almost exclusively.

Color versionSudheendra wrote on Flickr, “Shot after sundown, initially I liked the blue-hour colors, but once I saw how it looked in black and white, I wanted to stick with it.” I think that was a key decision, and a good one. Here you can see the color version that Sudheendra sent me for comparison (I added a little contrast to the file to make it closer to the black-and-white version). While the blues and pinks have some appeal, to me the black-and-white image is stronger. By taking away the color the image becomes that much more abstract, focusing our attention on just the lines and shapes, and emphasizing the strong design. We also notice the glassy texture of the foreground water more. 

Even if you intend to make the final image black and white it’s usually better to capture the image in full color, as this gives you more options for making that conversion and translating the colors into shades of gray. (With Raw files that’s the only choice—they’re always in color—but some cameras can process JPEGs into black and white.)

Starting with that color image you can use the “Grayscale Mix” in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw, or a black-and-white adjustment layer in Photoshop, to alter the tonal relationships between different colors. A classic example is a red apple next to a green apple. A straight black-and-white conversion would make both apples appear medium gray. By adjusting the Grayscale Mix you can make the red apple lighter and the green apple darker, or vice versa. In this “Outward Momentum” photograph, lightening blues would make the foreground water a lighter shade of gray, while darkening magentas would lower the tones of the sky near the horizon. (I discuss these concepts in more detail in my Digital Landscape Photography book.)

But before making these adjustments you have to decide when to convert an image to black and white, and when to leave it in color. Any photograph that lacks color to begin with—a snow scene, or gray tree trunks against gray rocks—is a good candidate for black and white. But other situations are less obvious. To me the question to ask is whether color is adding to photograph’s message and mood, or distracting from it.

In Sudheendra’s photograph, although the original colors are interesting, it turns out that they actually take attention away from the strong, abstract design, which is really the point of the image. As a contrary example, my photograph from Tunnel View that I posted on this blog on February 9th, isn’t particularly colorful, so I tried it in black and white, but decided that the subtle colors, particularly the gold hues in the clouds, actually enhanced the mood, so I kept it in color.

Overall Sudheendra’s photograph is very well done. The only improvement I can think of is to darken the sky a bit, especially near the top, as it’s a bit bright and tends to pull the viewer’s eye out of the frame. But that’s a small thing.

Thanks Sudheendra for sharing your image! You can see more of his work on Flickr.

 

Redbud Peaking

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010
Redbud and rapids along the Merced River, April 5th, 2010
Redbud and rapids along the Merced River, April 5th, 2010

 

Just a quick note to let you know that the redbud in the Merced River Canyon west of Yosemite are at about peak right now. A few have begun to leaf out, but most are prime. I expect they will remain in good condition for the next week or so, but after that will start fading quickly.

 

Weekly Photo Critique: “Winter Beauty” by Garen Johnson

Thursday, April 1st, 2010
"Winter Beauty" by Garen JohnsonSorry I’m late posting this—I’ve been chasing flowers. Hope this is worth the wait! 

Before I start I’d like to once again thank all of you who have submitted photographs for this critique series. You’ve added many outstanding images in the collection—I wish I had time to write about all of them.

This week’s image, by Garen Johnson, was made near his home in Kildeer, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, after a late-February snow-and-ice storm. The snowy trees, bridge, and winding creek made great subjects for a photograph, and I can certainly see why Garen wanted to capture this image.

The composition is nicely arranged. The meandering creek, bridge, and overarching trees all seem well balanced within the frame. Garen sent me the original, uncropped version, which I’ve displayed below. You can see that he trimmed a little off the top and left sides, eliminating some slightly messy and distracting branches. He also cropped the bottom to reduce the big expanse of blank ice. That was a good idea, but I think he might have gone a bit too far; I’d prefer to see just a bit more space below a key feature like the reflection of the bridge. I’d also crop the right side a little as well; the tree trunk along the bottom half of the right edge is darker than anything else in the photo, so it’s a bit distracting. I show my preferred crop below as well.

Original, uncropped versionWhile all that cropping is relatively minor, it’s always better to frame as precisely as possible in the camera so that you’re not throwing away too many pixels and reducing resolution. 

Garen wrote on Flickr that he wished the reflection of the bridge were bigger, but it was blocked by the ice at the bottom of the frame. I actually love that little hint of a reflection—it’s a nice, subtle detail that doesn’t leap out at you right away, yet adds a lot to the image once you see it. A full reflection of the bridge might have seemed a bit too cliché.

Garen told me that “the light was terrible that day, it was completely overcast with complete cloud cover.” He was hoping for some sun to bring out “shimmering reflections” from the icy trees. I’m not so sure sunshine would have improved this image. Sunlight filtering through the trees would have created random splotches of sun and shade, adding complexity and confusion. If the spots of light struck just the right places that might have worked, but the odds were against that. This soft, even lighting helped to simplify the composition, and contributed to the quiet, peaceful, wintry mood.

I talked about mood in my critique ofSteve Deligan’s dramatic image from March 17th. This week’s photograph effectively conveys a completely different feeling. Drama isn’t essential for conveying mood—sometimes a solo flute can be as powerful as a whole orchestra.

My preferred cropIt’s worth taking a moment to look at the elements that contribute to the mood of this photo. Weather is certainly one of them—the snow and ice speak clearly of winter. The laden trees, the lack of footprints or other signs of people, the squiggly line of the creek, the calm reflections, and the muted color palette all convey quiet and serenity. We see vertical, horizontal, curved, and diagonal lines in the frame. Vertical and horizontal lines suggest stateliness and calm, while diagonals are energetic, and curved lines add rhythm and flow. All those fit with the mood here except the diagonals, but luckily they’re not too overwhelming, and most of them are at least slightly bent. 

The exposure looks perfect—the snow appears white, but not washed out. The overall contrast seems just right. The color balance is just a tad blue, which helps convey the cold, but I’d prefer to have the snow neutral in this case, which would make the whole image a little warmer. This could also look great in black and white.

Garen said that he couldn’t use a tripod because he had little time and the “snowplows were on my heels.” Since he needed to keep the shutter speed fairly quick to avoid camera movement, he used a medium aperture—f/8—and consequently didn’t get as much depth of field as he would have liked. To me things look pretty sharp overall, even when viewing a larger version. Although some of the branches in the lower-left corner, the ones closest to the camera, are a bit soft, that minor problem doesn’t detract from the message of the photograph.

Garen told me that, “What I learned most is to shoot it anyway; had I not shot that day because of the ‘bad’ light, or snow plows or lack of tripod, I would never have taken this one…” And that’s a great lesson. I’m glad he captured this, despite the problems he encountered.

Thanks Garen for sharing your image! 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 April 6th or 7th. Thanks for participating!