Photo Critique Series: An Intimate, Wide-Angle Composition from Scotland

Photo Critique Series: “Finnich Gorge” by David Dalziel from Michael Frye on Vimeo.

I decided to try something new for this latest critique, and record my thoughts with video screen capture. I hope this will create a more interactive, immersive experience, as if you were watching me do a portfolio review in a workshop. Let me know how you like it!

To see the best detail, be sure to watch the video in HD and click the four arrows in the lower-right corner of the video to expand it. Once expanded, I prefer to turn scaling off (in the upper-right corner).

This week’s photo was made by David Dalziel in Finnich Gorge, just north of David’s home in Glasgow, Scotland. Recently I wrote about the third dimension in photography, and how lens choice can affect our perception of depth and space in a photograph. Then in my last critique I showed an example of how a telephoto lens can compress space, flatten perspective, and create patterns. This time we’ll look at the opposite: a wide-angle composition that creates a sense of depth, even though it’s not a grand, sweeping landscape.

Watch the video to hear more of my thoughts about this photograph—and then let me know what you think! Do you agree with my comments about the top and bottom of the frame? Do you see any other ways of improving the image? What do you think about the color saturation? And let me know what you think about the video format for these critiques.

Thanks David for sharing your photograph! You can see more of his work on Flickr and on his web site.

If you like these critiques, share them with a friend! Email this article, or click on one of the buttons below to post it on Facebook or Twitter.

As part of being chosen for this critique Greg 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. Thanks for participating!

—Michael Frye

Related Posts: The Third Dimension in Photography; Photo Critique Series: Patterns, Focal Points, and Telephoto Compression in a Palouse Country Landscape.

See all the critiques here.

Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author and photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters, plus the eBook Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom. He has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.

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54 Responses to “Photo Critique Series: An Intimate, Wide-Angle Composition from Scotland”

  1. Ben Gundy says:

    Michael, great job using the video critique…nice touch. I also agree with your comments on darkening the top of the “U” shaped canyon and more room at the bottom. I do have a feeling if David did have a tad more room at the bottom those three water swirls towards the left would become more prominent.

  2. ingrid lockhart says:

    I like the video format for your critique VERY much. However, I would prefer a shorter critique – almost 22 minutes on one photo. Perhaps, if you could summarize your most important critique points in the first 5 minutes and then elaborate to the longer length for those that have the time to review it. THANKS so much for your comments though – very helpful!

  3. QT Luong says:

    I agree about keeping it shorter. It already takes longer to listen than to read, plus you cannot skimp. But it’s very nice that you can point and apply adjustments in real time to demonstrate your point.

  4. Kyle Jones says:

    I really like the video critique – it clearly shows the points you are making and it also helps me to see how you navigate through lightroom. I like the photo a lot and would love a chance to visit this location. I’d likely have tried taking a step or two to the side (probably to the left) to try to make the water flowing toward the gorge a little less vertical and centered.

  5. Michael Fry says:

    Dear Michael,

    Thank you, this presentation “Wide-Angle Composition from Scotland” is perfect for my learning style.

    Love your work and my vote is for the new format.
    PS
    That is my real name.

    Best Regards
    Michael Fry

  6. Vivienne says:

    Michael, I really liked the video format. It’s interesting to see you apply the adjustments in Lightroom while explaining why you are doing them. The image itself is fantastic. It reminds me of the Subway in Zion National Park except greener (I need to hike to the Subway myself one day…or this place!) I agree with the bottom edge. I feel like the curve of that rock shelf has been cut off. But, as you say, we don’t know what was actually below that.

  7. Jamie says:

    Michael, I to like the format and would agree about trying to cut the time down a bit. I agree with all of you point except the cropping at the top. Yes the U shape area is blown out but when you crop it I think you loose the vertical feel of the walls which I really like. The front area is wide and circular , the middle area is narrow and vertical and then you ponder about the background and what is around the corner. Just my thoughts, love the tips and insights though and appreciate you sharing your knowledge.

  8. Brad Strong says:

    I love the video critique. I like that it’s long an in-depth as well. I didn’t care for it cropped as much as uncropped. The one part was too bright, but recovery in raw should have helped it. You mentioned if it were raw, you could have fixed it without losing detail. I would like to see more raw images edited. Perhaps people would forward them to you if they have them. Not everyone shoot in raw though. I also thought the saturation was great as is. I didn’t find the leaf a big distraction, but it was nice to a couple of ways to hide it a bit.

  9. Eric Bier says:

    Thank you for your excellent observations. This really helps me focus on the elements that make a great photo.

    I like the video format, and I would like it more if it was shorter.

    It would be good if you could obtain RAW files from the photographers.

    Keep up the good work!

  10. Kathy Petrowsky says:

    Michael – I loved the video critique and the detail (length is fine). The video was particularly helpful since I am in the process of learning Lightroom. I wanted to come to CA for one of your workshops before, but this experience moved it up on my ‘must do’ list. I liked the crop, because my eyes kept drifting upward with the light instead of focusing on the bend.

  11. Michael Frye says:

    Thanks very much for all your comments everyone – I really appreciate hearing from you.

    So it seems that most people like the video format, but many would like it to be shorter. There are some great things about video, but one of the drawbacks is that you can’t really skim – you pretty much have to sit down and watch the whole thing. And I realize that we all lead busy lives, and would like to get the information as quickly as possible. On the other hand, the idea behind these critiques is to pick one photograph and take an in-depth look at what makes it work, or not work, and why, and what might have been done better.

    So I don’t want to skimp on these and give only an outline of my thoughts, but perhaps something along the lines of what Ingrid suggested would work – an initial summary, and then more in-depth comments to follow. I’ll give this some thought.

    Brad and Eric also wondered if I could get the original Raw files to work with, which I think is a great idea. It wasn’t as essential with a written critique, but with video it makes a lot of sense. It may not be possible to get the Raw file in every instance, but I’d like to try it.

    So – on to the photo itself! Most of you liked my suggestions about the top and bottom of the photograph, except that Jamie and Brad didn’t like cropping the top. Certainly you could just darken the top-middle of the photo, and that would help. And maybe if David had a wider lens, and could include the same amount at the top (and darken it), plus a bit more at the bottom, that would work. But given the fact that he was using the widest lens he had, I’d much prefer to see a bit more at the bottom, and I don’t think you lose much by cropping a little off the top. Just my two cents.

    Kyle, you point out something I didn’t address – that the composition is quite centered, at least from left to right. Perhaps your idea of moving left or right could have worked. It’s hard to tell without being there, but it’s likely that there were other good compositions from this spot. Personally though, I like it centered – it makes the image balanced and almost symmetrical, which helps create some of the patterns and repetition I talked about. And there’s something about these near-far wide-angle photographs that seems to lend itself to a more centered composition. I’m not really sure why; perhaps when you have converging lines leading to a vanishing point – even if the converging lines are not straight, is in this photograph – the sense of perspective is heightened if the vanishing point is in the center of the frame.

    Anyway, again, thanks very much everyone – it’s good to hear your thoughts!

  12. jdb says:

    I hear your voice, and at first your mouse moved as you pointed. But by the time you discussed a B&W conversion, there was no video progression. The image was fixed. I’m on Mac OS X with Safari browser…

  13. Jon Dungan says:

    Michael,
    The video format works well for me. Better, I think, than the written. It allows for a more detailed explanation of your ideas as well as clear examples of each idea or portion of the image. It also helped me to learn more how to view an image. Some of the things that were hinted at in written form could be elaborated more in the video.

    Thanks for your sensitivity and generosity in presenting these critiques.

  14. Declan says:

    Michael,

    Yes, video format does it for me. However as highlighted by many it is too long. I agree with Ingrid but think more than 10 minutes on a single image is too much. In this video, your first I understand, I felt the pace was slow and suffered from some repetition.

    Thanks and keep up the good work.

  15. I really enjoyed the video format, and thought the length was fine for the depth to which you went to critique the image. It makes me feel as if I were in a workshop looking over your shoulder.

    I presume it is just me, but it feels as if the horizon dips slightly on the left. Perhaps it is just the natural lean of the cliff walls, but if I had this image in LR, I’d try tilting it ever so slightly to the right.

    Great critiques and comments on this fine photo!

  16. Brad Strong says:

    Another Idea that might be fun and educational, in addition to the video critique, is instead of just posting text about what we would do differently, make some of the photos available for everyone to download and edit. We can then upload the edited version with a description of what they did. It seems like that should be doable via Flickr. I’ve heard a picture is worth a thousand words. It would be nice to see the final result of what each of us would do with an image.

  17. Tom Dingman says:

    I really like the video critique. Hearing your thoughts is much more powerful than written word. Personally, I didn’t find the length of the video was too long. But, I wouldn’t push it.

  18. Michael Frye says:

    jdb, glad you were able to view the video!

    Jon, Declan, Steven, Brad, and Tom, thanks for sharing your thoughts about the video format. I’ll take all the feedback into account before the next version.

    Steven, I think you’re right about that horizon, but it’s hard to tell with an image like this. Usually I’m quite sensitive to tilted photos, but this one didn’t jump out at me. Good catch.

    Brad, I like the idea. It would require permission from the image creator for everyone to mess around with his/her photograph, but I’m sure some people would be willing to do that. I wouldn’t want it to become a competition though. Let me mull that one over.

  19. George Dalziel says:

    I thought the way you presented the video and it’s content was very educational. I do agree though, a shortened version would hold the interest of the viewer more.
    As this is your 1st attempt at ” Video Critique ” and with the response it has attracted, it’s an excellent start.
    I don’t think many photographer’s of similar experience give as much time to their student’s or subscriber’s as you have clearly demonstrated. Feather in the cap.
    I enjoyed it on two counts. Firstly, being able to draw invaluable experience from your assessment and secondly, knowing that I take inspiration from my brother’s pictures.

  20. Thanks for your critique on my image Michael and for the correct pronunciation of my surname.

    I’d also like to thank you for selecting my photo for critique. Your feedback is important and valuable to me and will be of great benefit when I’m out taking photographs or developing them in Lightroom. I have taken mental notes of all your suggestions.

    I enjoyed the video presentation and I will look forward to others that you will publish in the future. I can’t add to the debate about the length of the video as I might have a bias there. Of all the comments above I think using the original raw file might be an even better idea but I don’t care too much for sharing the image with others.

    I think the video presentation is a success with the added benefit of watching which tools were used and the adjustments applied in real time.

    I have looked back at my files from that day at Finnich Gorge in my external backup drive and found another that I liked which was taken a little further back from the one critiqued here. It was under exposed but I have developed it in Lightroom and added to my website gallery.

    Thanks again for your insight and critique and to all the folks who have added their comments above.

    David.

  21. Michael Frye says:

    George, thanks very much for your comments. I appreciate your recognition of the time I devote to this blog. I love the interaction and sharing of knowledge, but yes, it does take time! And I’m glad you can take inspiration from your brother’s photos.

    David, glad I got the name right! And also that you found the critique helpful. I looked at the other version that you mention, and it’s an interesting comparison. Here’s a link for those interested (near the bottom of the page on the left):

    http://www.daviddalziel.com/galleries/02_scotland/

    The bottom part of that second version seems more complete to me, but I think the composition of the original, the one I critiqued here, is stronger and more dynamic. You could crop the second one to be similar to this first one, but with a little more room at the bottom, however it wouldn’t have the same sense of depth. So overall I like this first one better.

    The problem with critiquing photos is that once I point out a flaw, that will forever be the first thing you look at! But while I wish there was a bit more room at the bottom of the frame in this first version, that’s a minor flaw, and overall it’s a beautiful photograph. So I hope you’ll be able to still appreciate this photograph of yours, and not dwell on that one small aspect of it.

    Thanks again for letting me critique your image!

  22. Vivien Stevens says:

    Yay! Like the video format a lot, Michael! I hope there will be many more. Agree with those who say it’s a little long. How about also posting the summary on the written blog as an overview and for later reference?

    I agree with all but one point of your critique: the orange-red of the rocks surprised me because those colours – and even deeper oranges to reds – are quite common in rocks and earth of the Australian outback and also rural areas. The question of whether or not to slightly desaturate begs the question as to whether those who have seen the colours would find the modifications believable. (?)

    I especially like your top edge crop; for me it tightens the image, intensifying the sense of presence, and adding to the mystery. No-one has suggested a small crop to the right edge of the frame. It’s quite a bit lighter than the left edge. Bright leaves close to this edge kept drawing my eye, but that could just be me. Like Steven, above, I think the horizon tilts slightly left (so hard to judge, at times!).

    Thanks for a terrific post, Michael. Thank you David Dalziel for sharing your beautiful ‘Finnich Gorge’. The swirling patterns of slow water remind me of nature’s ubiquitous spirals, so apparent in certain fossilised shells.

    • Thank you Vivien.

      I use the virtual horizon on my D700 so it should not be far off level but if my position was off centre in the gorge, which it was, then this may increase the illusion of it not being quite level. It is easy to knock the horizon off when making small adjustments though at the taking stage so it is possible. I’m not sure?

  23. Vivien Stevens says:

    ahhh…well…just read ‘left edge’ for ‘right edge’ in above comment…and stop that laughing!

  24. Jim Davis says:

    Really enjoy your critiques, very helpful, I would agree a bit shorter in length.
    I like the crop off the top but if that is done it seems the sides should shave a bit just to maintain a nicer proportion and possible accentuate the strong centered composition even more.

  25. Michael Frye says:

    Vivien, thanks for chiming in. Glad you like the video format. I’m totally confused by your left edge/right edge comments, but either way I’m not crazy about cropping either side. There’s an important line near the left edge – the curve of the central pool of water – and I wouldn’t want to crop closer to that. As for the right edge, if you look at the right half of the photo by itself, all the lines and shapes on that side mesh together nicely as is, so I wouldn’t want to crop that either. Thanks for pointing out the spiral shapes in the water – a nice aspect that I hadn’t noticed!

    Jim, thanks for your comments – glad you like the critiques! Personally, I like the sides as they are – see my response to Vivien in the previous paragraph.

  26. Vivien Stevens says:

    Michael, my apologies for the left edge/right edge confusion. I confused myself as well.

  27. Duncan says:

    I enjoyed the video format and thought the length was fine, the longer it went on the more thoughts came to mind , I will be looking a lot harder at my pictures in the future . It was interesting to see how Michael works

    I have one question. I think that was a difficult scene to capture and I would like to know where the focus point was

    • I probably focused on the rock outcrop on the left of the scene about a third way up in the image. My guess is that was over a metre from the lens. Probably between a 1m & 1.5m from the lens. I almost certainly used manual focus.

      It was not too difficult a scene as I knew when taking the image that I was capturing something I liked. It was one of those occasions where you have time to work a scene, (no real big changes in light), and try a few different compositions. This is the shot that was my select from the day. I loved that pool filling the bottom of the frame.

      Thanks for your comments Duncan.

  28. Michael Frye says:

    No worries Vivien – happens to all of us!

    Thanks Duncan – glad you like the video. Maybe David will chime in and answer your question about his focus point, but with a lens this wide (18mm), if the closest rocks in the foreground were two feet from the camera (just a guess), with the background at infinity, then the optimum focusing point would be about four feet.

  29. Hi Michael – I really enjoyed the critique as a video. It definitely helps to hear your thoughts as well as see it live. When you talked about cropping the top of the photo off to get rid of the bright area that brought up a question for me. I noticed you just pulling down from the top and not the sides. Anytime I’ve had to crop a picture I always keep the same aspect ratio which sometimes might mean cropping off something I don’t want to lose. My main reason for keeping the original aspect ratio is for printing purposes. Is that something that you think is really necessary to do? Would it be better to just crop it to what looks right then worry about print sizes later? I would really like to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks so much.

    Congratulations to David for being selected for the critique. It’s a really spectacular shot!

  30. Michael Frye says:

    Michael, thanks for your comments – I’m glad you enjoyed the critique.

    Your question about cropping is one I get a lot. Personally I don’t worry about my images fitting any particular aspect ratio. For online viewing, which is the most common way people see my images these days, aspect ratio doesn’t matter, so I crop for esthetics, and if that means the photograph becomes more panoramic, or square, so be it.

    For prints, I cut my own mats, so it’s easy for me to accommodate any dimensions. I realize however, that most people don’t own their own mat cutter, so aspect ratio then becomes more of a concern. I’d suggest having two copies (or virtual copies in Lightroom) of your master image file, one that’s cropped to your taste for online viewing, the other cropped to a common aspect ratio for printing. You can also get custom mats cut for you at a reasonable price from Documounts: http://www.documounts.com.

    Hope that helps!

  31. Robin says:

    I loved the video critique but I agree with the others that it could be shorter. You taught me a lot with just this one critique. Thank you!

  32. Michael Frye says:

    Thanks Robin – glad you liked this!

  33. Pete says:

    Michael, I love this format for the critique. Don’t fret over the screen capture lines with the adjustment brush either it’s not too distracting.

  34. Rick Currie says:

    Michael, The video format is very helpful. I particularly like seeing how you do things in Lightroom. All of your blog info has be a help to me in becoming a better photographer. Keep up the good work. Thanks. Rick Currie

  35. Greg Clure says:

    I like the video format better than the written. I agree with shorter in length but not in substance. If you can reduce the redundent comments and speak a little quicker I think everyone would find it as a positive.

    Overall I like the image and would agree with darkening the top and adding more room at the bottom. I would not change the saturation, if this place is like the subway than the red rock saturation is accurate. I don’t know how much room David had behind him but if it were possible to back-up a bit and try a vertical composition this would add an even greater near to far depth to the image.

    Great image and spot-on critique!

    • Michael Frye says:

      Thanks Greg – I’m glad you like the video format. I can’t make any guarantees about reducing redundant comments or speaking more quickly; I’m a photographer, not a trained radio or TV announcer. But I’ll do my best.

      I’m sure it was possible for David to back up, as he has another version from further back (see the link in one of my comments above). A vertical would, as you say, increase the sense of depth, but might also lose the curving lines along the side of the large pool, which I think are a great addition. It would be fun to go to this spot, because I think there might be a lot of interesting compositions.

  36. Sandy says:

    Michael
    The video format is great! And 22 minutes to hear and see your in depth analysis is a bargain. I have come across river bed rocks that same color (maybe a little more red) here in Western Pennsylvania. If people believe the rocks had to have been “photoshopped”, well that is their problem. We know the color was accurately depicted. In so far as the processing is concerned, I wonder if there was some interest in the black areas, e.g., the lip on either side of the pool, and on the canyon walls. I, for one, prefer to see at least a little detail in the shadows.
    Very nice image David, and enjoyed your critique Michael..

    • Michael Frye says:

      Thanks Sandy! Glad you like the video.

      Regarding the saturation, certainly some people tend to think everything is “Photoshopped,” especially if it’s colorful, and I agree that as a photographer you can’t cater to everyone. On the other hand, it becomes the photographer’s problem if many people look at an image and immediately start thinking about how or whether it was manipulated, rather than admiring the composition, or the beautiful light. In that case maybe you should rethink the saturation – even if you didn’t do anything to increase it – because otherwise your message simply isn’t getting through. Saturation can sometimes be a very fine line.

      As for the shadow detail, there are actually only very small areas of pure black in this photo, but your perception of shadow detail can vary a lot depending on monitor brightness and contrast.

  37. Iza says:

    I think I prefer those critique series in video form. It is easier to follow your thought process when you show the parts of the images you talk about. I really like this series overall, it is a great learning experience. Keep them coming!

  38. Jay Smith says:

    Great blog, amazing video, I love that you go through the image and explain certain things. I think this really helps bring the whole thing together into one piece. It gives newer photographers an idea of how to work with in the programs (Light Room, Photoshop, etc).

    Keep up the great work and for the person who took the image in the video – very well done as well.

  39. Ellen Finch says:

    I’ve been avoiding watching this because 22 minutes to sit and watch is hard to come by. I know from experience that making a video is much faster than writing, maybe because I end up editing & tweaking what I’ve written until it’s clear and complete. I think that most of what you said when you weren’t actually doing something to the photo could have been conveyed as clearly (and much more quickly for us) in writing, then go to the video for the actions. 5 minutes is about the limit of something I’m likely to watch. Just my 2 cents to add to what others have said.

  40. Vivien Stevens says:

    Michael,

    In gratitude for your generousity in sharing so much of your knowledge so caringly with your students and readers, I’d like to respond to Ellen Finch’s comment (above).

    From the perspective of a former professional, with fairly extensive creative and production experience in various forms of communication media, I cannot agree that ‘making a video is much faster than writing’, or that you should limit your videos to what I would regard as time-wasting superficiality.

    Having previously commented that I agreed with those who thought this video was a little long, I would now add, ‘…but only by 4 or 5 minutes, mostly owing to pauses and repetitions, which could be edited out to tighten the presentation without any loss of information’.

    To determine the ideal format and viewing length for a particular subject and audience is not an easy task even for an experienced professional, let alone someone who is new to it. It would be an extremely rare professional who would record without a script of some kind, or who would not edit frame by frame. But, that is what professionals do for a living. As you say (above) you’re ‘…a photographer, not a trained radio or TV announcer.’ All things considered, including the demands on your time, I think you did a really good job with this video. Your writing skills are excellent; video is a whole different animal.

    I offer the following modest suggestions in the hope that they might be of some small assistance to you in preparing future critiques and other video presentations. Some of these points have already been made in earlier comments:

    Written format:
    - brief overview/introduction
    - reference to expanded video content
    - bullet points of video content
    - summary
    - any additional points (especially if not covered in video)

    Video format:
    - predetermine length (suggest approximate 12-17 minutes, depending on content)
    - briefly reiterate written overview/introduction
    - demonstrate/expand written bullet points in time *you* consider necessary for each
    - very briefly review points demonstrated
    - briefly summarise

    I don’t know what planning you did prior to recording this video, but I suggest that preparing your written format first would greatly assist you with controlling the flow and timing of future videos. From this, you could also map out your video script and segment timing in the form of cue cards with key words, phrases or symbols (or whatever works for you).

    It isn’t easy to script and present to time, especially while demonstrating; comes with practice. Having worked both sides of the mike and camera, including writing, I say bravo, Michael! Can’t wait for the next one.

    That’s a wrap! :)

  41. Vivien Stevens says:

    Minor clarification re ‘Having worked both sides of the camera…’ (above):

    I don’t mean *operating* the camera. I have no experience of filming or videoing.

  42. [...] Related Posts: The Power of Curves; Using Curves in Lightroom and Camera Raw; Photo Critique Series: An Intimate, Wide-Angle Composition from Scotland [...]

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