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Author Topic: Looking for criticism  (Read 3004 times)
Jeremy Payne
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« on: April 01, 2009, 10:43:57 AM »
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Hi!  I'm fairly new to the forum ... a little bit about me first ...

After a long hiatus, I've rediscovered a passion for photography - primarily landscape, nature and underwater.  

As a youngster - ages 12-24 - I shot a lot of B&W film and some Kodachrome ... most of it lost to the ages.  I was an avid shooter and looked mainly to Lee Friedlander, Edward Weston, Walker Evans and of course Ansel Adams for early inspiration.  Like so many before me, life and work and marriage and children eventually pushed photography into the shadows of my life ...

But I'm back ... after dipping my toe into digital with a series of Nikon Coolpixs and then a Canon G7 and G9, I finally took the plunge and bought a Nikon D700 last year.  

Here's the kit:

Nikon D700
50mm AF-D 1.4
70-200mm AF-S VR
17-35mm AF-S
24-120 AF-S VR
1.7x TCII
Canon 500D Diopter (77mm)
Canon 250D Diopter (52mm)
Nikon Circular Polarizers (77 and 52mm)
Gitzo 2541 sticks, Giotto Ballhead, RRS Clamps and L-Bracket

I use Lightroom 2.3 plus Photoshop CS4 and well as Photomatix, Silver Efex Pro and Color Efx.  I'm at the stage where I feel the "Camera to Print" tutorial would be extremely helpful and will likely purchase and review that video this spring ... and I'm considering pursuing some individualized instruction for both shooting as post/printing technique.

I often shoot multiple exposures and use layering, exposure blending and HDR tone-mapping to produce images that are closer to what my eye can see than what the sensor can record.

My philosophy of nature photography is simple - while I love to see great images of famous landscapes, I am looking for a more personal relationship with my subjects and like to shoot in places I know well and consider "home" ... or at least "my turf" ... for me, that means the Northeastern forests, foothills and mountains.  That said, I do enjoy new vistas and landscapes ... but often feel "out of place" and somewhat of an interloper or 'poseur' when shooting somewhere "new".

Phew ... enough about me and onto the images ... in keeping with my preference to shoot "my" landscapes, I've been shooting a lot in the foothills of the Berkshires in Northwestern CT wjere I rent a small house.

I'll post a few representative images and hope to get some constructrive criticism ...

Thanks!










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Geoff Wittig
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« Reply #1 on: April 01, 2009, 02:29:57 PM »
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Quote from: Jeremy Payne
Hi!  I'm fairly new to the forum ... a little bit about me first ...

After a long hiatus, I've rediscovered a passion for photography - primarily landscape, nature and underwater.

Here's my free advice, worth what it costs.

First image: nice at first glance, a bit too "busy" and complicated. I keep thinking there's a really good photograph in there somewhere, and find myself mentally cropping it to various smaller compositions trying to find something more appealing.

Second image: I like the idea of the soft distant trees and sharp stones in the foreground; which is why that soft stone in the left lower corner is so distracting. Crop that out and it's a much stronger photo.

Third image: all that texture and detail in the plants is really interesting; the part that goes out of focus in the upper portion is once more very distracting, so I find myself wanting to crop it out. It weakens the whole.

But that's just me.
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kikashi
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« Reply #2 on: April 01, 2009, 03:16:13 PM »
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OK, I'll leap in as well.

The first one I like, but I think perhaps it could have done with an even longer exposure, to blur the water more.

The second is spoiled for me by that very blurred, rather bright rock lying just above and following the contour of the slightly blurred stick. Perhaps darkening it would help a bit.

I'm with Geoff on the third: crop some off the top.

FWIW

Jeremy
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dalethorn
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« Reply #3 on: April 01, 2009, 03:43:01 PM »
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You jumped in (to digital) all right.  You must have saved a bunch to buy all that gear.

First image: I really like it, and the major problem I see is the central waterfall is interrupted by (?)rock, which is OK, but just doesn't flow for me. No pun intended.  I also would try to cut out some of the white water splashing on the waterbed at bottom. Just too much white.

Image 2: I'd just reduce some of the brightest areas.  Looks good otherwise.
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Jeremy Payne
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« Reply #4 on: April 01, 2009, 04:31:13 PM »
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Thanks for the comments!

I agree with many of the remarks - even if I hadn't noticed some of the things myself ... it's like that and I appreciate the eyes.  I get a lot of gooey feedback from family, friends and even strangers - which is nice - but it doesn't help you get better.

On the first image, I know what you mean about there being a good photograph in there somewhere - and it is probably not this one ... these falls and the surrounding area one of my newest "favorite" spots.  I have spent a good amount of time getting to know the lay of the land and how the sun interects with the surroundings ... but I haven't gotten "the" image yet.  On this day, I was waiting and testing various compositions ahead of the "magic hour", but in the end it was a bit of a dud.  This image was shot "early" (1.5 hours before sunset) as I waited for the "good" light ... which on this day just never came ... but I'll go back.  I also think the shot would have benefited greatly from an ND filter.  I did use the "Lo" ISO (ISO 100) to try and help blur the water, but I shot at f8 and f16 would have helped the cause. At the end of the day, this one is starting to feel forced ... and in the interests of full disclosure, this image is a 'double-composite' of a single exposure TIFF and an 'exposure blended ' composite.  My post-processing was so "heroic" I think I got too invested ... need better captures and better light, not better tricks in post.

I was pretty lucky to be able to buy all this kit when I was finally ready - after a bunch of years spent single-mindly building a business and a family, I finally had the time and money to explore my passions.  Years of drooling and research and forum lurking paid off with a setup that has exceeded all my expectations.

I'll post some more ... thanks again for taking the time to look and comment.
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jasonrandolph
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« Reply #5 on: April 01, 2009, 04:56:50 PM »
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First off, welcome "back" Jeremy!  i don't think there can be a better time to rediscover photography than the present.  But there is a learning curve for all the new digital tools.  "From Camera to Print" goes a long way in getting you going.

Regarding the first image, I find myself wanting to see more.  The waterfall is up front and center, with little surrounding detail.  In my mind, the Rule of Thirds would go a long way here.  placing the waterfall dead-center makes it feel like a "touristy" snapshot.  I think a longer exposure and a wider angle lens would also help in making this image pop.

The second image seems to have lost some detail due to overexposure, in particular the almost white rock on the center-right above the stick.  I think a smaller aperture would improve this image as well.  I do like the brown tone quite a bit.

The third image seems unreal to me.  It looks either infrared or over-processed.  I would maybe try reshooting this one at a lower angle and with a smaller aperture.  It may make for a more interesting shot.

With that being said, there's a lot of potential here.  Keep shooting until you get that "perfect" image!
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RSL
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« Reply #6 on: April 02, 2009, 02:25:08 PM »
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Jeremy, You're headed in the right direction, but keep going. You're not there yet. I'm not much on what Wordsworth called "rocks and stones and trees," but I've been into digital ever since it got past its baby steps. I agree with the comments that mention the softness at the edges. You can't afford that with rocks and stones and trees. Your 24-120 lens is always going to be a bit soft at the edges unless you stop down to around f/16, and then it's going to soften a bit because of diffraction. I use the same lens a lot because it's a good street lens and I do a lot of street photography, but it does have its shortcomings. Your 50mm and 70-200 will do a better job, though you can't use any lens wide open on this kind of shot, of course.

My biggest beef, though, is with the postprocessing. The first image is the best example. You've tried to do an Ansel Adams with that one. You've raised the global contrast to what I'd call an Ansel level. But what Ansel always also did was control the print so the local contrast was preserved. It's not easy to get high global contrast and preserve local contrast. About the only way you can do it consistently is with HDR, but HDR has its own problems and isn't useful at all when you're shooting a waterfall. In picture number one there's absolutely no detail in the face of the rock on the lower left. It's in Ansel's zone zero. It shouldn't be. At the very least you need to use the dodging tool in Photoshop to bring back some detail there. You'd be even better off if you made some selections, made a layer with a layer mask to expose the zone zero areas and then used "screen" blending mode to raise the zone a bit.

I don't mean to over-emphasize postprocessing. The most important thing is to get the exposure right in the first place. That means "exposing to the right." If you have any doubt, bracket. The better the original shot the less postprocessing you need to do. Best of all is when all you have to do is a bit of sharpening.
« Last Edit: April 02, 2009, 02:26:06 PM by RSL » Logged

Jeremy Payne
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« Reply #7 on: April 02, 2009, 04:50:52 PM »
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Quote from: RSL
Jeremy, You're headed in the right direction, but keep going. You're not there yet. I'm not much on what Wordsworth called "rocks and stones and trees," but I've been into digital ever since it got past its baby steps. I agree with the comments that mention the softness at the edges. You can't afford that with rocks and stones and trees. Your 24-120 lens is always going to be a bit soft at the edges unless you stop down to around f/16, and then it's going to soften a bit because of diffraction. I use the same lens a lot because it's a good street lens and I do a lot of street photography, but it does have its shortcomings. Your 50mm and 70-200 will do a better job, though you can't use any lens wide open on this kind of shot, of course.
Thanks ... I appreciate the feedback.  

Regarding the lenses, I typically only use the 24-120 for the kids and other handheld stuff ... not my landscape stuff (unless I mistake it for the 17-35 and grab it by accident - which I have done).  It isn't quite as bad a lens as everyone makes it out to be, but on a tripod you can see the difference.  I've read a bunch of your other posts and have a feel for your taste and style.  I appreciate you taking the time to comment on stuff that bores you ... seriously.

I am not completely a "rocks and stones and trees" guy ... I'll post some other stuff so you can see some different sides of me.  I've been hesitant to shoot my D700 on the street as it gets a lot of attention, but with the G9 I used to shoot on the street a lot and I do a bunch of more "abstract" work.

I debated whether or not to post my "best" first ... or the ones I felt a bit uneasy about. I chose a few of my borderline images to get some good feedback.  I'll post some that I feel more confident about ... and then you can STILL hammer home what I did wrong. :-)

Quote from: RSL
My biggest beef, though, is with the postprocessing. The first image is the best example. You've tried to do an Ansel Adams with that one. You've raised the global contrast to what I'd call an Ansel level. But what Ansel always also did was control the print so the local contrast was preserved. It's not easy to get high global contrast and preserve local contrast. About the only way you can do it consistently is with HDR, but HDR has its own problems and isn't useful at all when you're shooting a waterfall. In picture number one there's absolutely no detail in the face of the rock on the lower left. It's in Ansel's zone zero. It shouldn't be. At the very least you need to use the dodging tool in Photoshop to bring back some detail there. You'd be even better off if you made some selections, made a layer with a layer mask to expose the zone zero areas and then used "screen" blending mode to raise the zone a bit.
I actually did use HDR processing and layering and masking and selective processing to get the image I did.  At the end of the day, I think the effort that went into creating the image in post gave me a bit of an emotional investment that skewed my judgement of the image on a stand-alone basis.

In my defense, Sliver EFX indicates that the only Zone 0 and Zone 1 are in the waterfall itself.  The brightest rock sections are in Zone 3 ... at least according to Silver EFX.  It's good to know I should take those readings with a grain of salt.

Quote from: RSL
I don't mean to over-emphasize postprocessing. The most important thing is to get the exposure right in the first place. That means "exposing to the right." If you have any doubt, bracket. The better the original shot the less postprocessing you need to do. Best of all is when all you have to do is a bit of sharpening.
I hear you on the processing ... I'm still learning a lot about it.  I think the biggest issue was that I shot the first image in fairly direct light ... as I waited for light that never came as the clouds rolled in and it just got DARK.

Thanks again ... please keep the comments and criticism coming ... I need it and I'm thick-skinned ...
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RSL
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« Reply #8 on: April 02, 2009, 05:06:57 PM »
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I should have mentioned that trying to make good decisions about a photograph from a web posting is almost impossible. But since we're talking about a web site, I'll stick with the local contrast criticism. On the other hand, different setups display a web site differently, so it's quite possible that I'm seeing something that others aren't.

I don't mean to be too critical, but it seems to me that when people ask for criticism they often get responses that indicate the "critics" don't want to be "critical." That's never a help. I try to "tell it like I see it." I'm old enough to get away with that, anyway.

Best regards and keep working at it. You're doing fine,
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Jeremy Payne
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« Reply #9 on: April 02, 2009, 05:25:59 PM »
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Quote from: RSL
I don't mean to be too critical, but it seems to me that when people ask for criticism they often get responses that indicate the "critics" don't want to be "critical." That's never a help. I try to "tell it like I see it." I'm old enough to get away with that, anyway.
That's what I'm looking for ... keep it coming ...  
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RSL
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« Reply #10 on: April 02, 2009, 06:44:02 PM »
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Quote from: Jeremy Payne
I appreciate you taking the time to comment on stuff that bores you ... seriously.

Jeremy, Photographs never bore me. I still enjoy Ansel Adams. I had a big poster of "Moonrise, Hernandez" hanging over the computer table in my office for years. I learned a great deal from Ansel's books, and also from looking at his original prints, several of which are in our local museum. But I've always been drawn to people -- the things they do, the way they look. I've gone through a bunch of photographic heroes -- Edward Weston, Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, etc., but I've gravitated finally to Elliott Erwitt. He's two years older than I am and if I'd tried for Magnum in 1956 and made it I suspect he'd have become a friend. The thing that strikes me is his sense of humor. He's photographed a lot of pathos and shown the dark side of humanity, but he's also shown the things that lift your heart -- the ridiculous, off-the-wall things people (and dogs) do. There aren't many boring photographs in the world, it's just that some are less boring than others.
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Jeremy Payne
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« Reply #11 on: April 02, 2009, 08:53:32 PM »
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Jeremy, Photographs never bore me.

I'm just joshin' you ... it's clear you have a wealth of experience and a very deep passion for photography - I'm glad to get your take.

Thanks again!
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RSL
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« Reply #12 on: April 03, 2009, 09:31:35 AM »
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Quote from: Jeremy Payne
I'm just joshin' you ... it's clear you have a wealth of experience and a very deep passion for photography - I'm glad to get your take.

Thanks again!

Thought you might be kidding, but I wasn't sure. By the way, one hero I left out -- the one to whom we all owe a huge debt: Eugene Atget. Imagine doing what he did with the equipment he had available to him. I've always wished I could shake his hand.
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Jeremy Payne
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« Reply #13 on: April 03, 2009, 10:59:02 AM »
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Eugene Atget. Imagine doing what he did with the equipment he had available to him.

Thanks for this - I was not familiar with him at all.  I think I have may have seen the Organ Grinder at some point, but it was never connected to a name/person in my mind.
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RSL
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« Reply #14 on: April 03, 2009, 02:28:24 PM »
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Quote from: Jeremy Payne
Thanks for this - I was not familiar with him at all.  I think I have may have seen the Organ Grinder at some point, but it was never connected to a name/person in my mind.

Every modern photographer I know of, starting with Cartier-Bresson, admits owing a debt to Atget. One thing I've always admired about him is that he didn't put on the airs I see too often among his successors. What he was producing were "documents pour artistes," photographs painters could paint from -- straight stuff with no frills. Actually, he was a far better artist than a lot of the painters to whom he was selling prints, but most people didn't notice that until Berenice Abbott began pointing it out.
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