Critique of a landscape.
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ben egbert
Registered: Jan 31, 2005
Total Posts: 6115
Country: United States

Trying to articulate what I look for in a landscape. Other styles would be weighted differently especially in the image quality and composition areas. I would really like a critique of this.


The first thing is visual impact. What do I see at first glance? This could be the typical stuff, bright colors, a sunset, cloud formation crashing wave etc. But some images are subtle and have no immediate impact and must be viewed closer. Some subtle images are very good, but the first impact is still important for popular appeal. A wow image that does not pass closer inspection will at least get a first glance while a subtle one that is great up close may never get viewed up close. But if it is our job to judge, this does not matter because we must judge all images and get past this point.

Image quality. As soon as your attention has been drawn to the image, you ask these questions:

1. Is the color/saturation believable?
2. Is the exposure and tonal range believable?
3. Is it sharp and in focus?
4. Halos, gritty look, over sharpened?
5. Is the contrast good?
6. Does it seem to have a true black and true white?
7. Obvious cloning, dodging or burning.
8. Dust spots or other artifacts that should have been cleaned up.
9. Vignette that is not intentional. Ignore if intentional.
10. Subject motion. Ok for water, not much else.
11. Is it clean? It should look like it was taken through a clear glass window.

Composition:

1. Do all the elements seem like they belong in the image?
2. Are all the elements pleasing or seem like they belong?
3. Is there some single element that is more important than the rest? If so, is it made to be prominent?
4. Are there elements that ought not to be in the image?
5. Could they be eliminated by viewing angle or cropping?
6. Does this look the way you might expect to view the scene in person?
7. Is the scene itself something worth looking at?
8. How soon would you tire of this if it were a print or a screensaver?

Overall value.

1. Is this a great image?
2. How does it stack up on a greatness range?
3. If it is being judged in a contest, where does it place with respect to the other images?
4. If not, how does it stack up relative to images you have seen?

Weight.

1. Image quality is first because it flunks if poor.

2. Overall value moves to first if image quality is sufficient.

3. Impact is 3d in importance to me if not the general public.

4. Composition is last, but no doubt influences the overall value significantly.

Here is my thinking.

No matter how much impact an image has, if the image quality is poor, it is a poor image. Image quality does not matter for something of historical significance, but landscapes are usually not historically important. And one with poor image quality is of low value.

Overall value is a macro judgment, one that transcends all other items while being a composite of them at the same time. Being a combination of them all it is not easy to dissect. It comes from the heart not the mind and is not so easy to analyze. Yet an out of focus/soft landscape usually has low value unless it is a fog /misty type shot.

Composition is lower in my ranking. Viewing an image that has outstanding image quality in the areas I mentioned is a thrill all its own regardless of subject or composition, or impact. Like a fine piece of machinery.

A wow image with average image quality has less value to me than a subtle image with better image quality. In fact a subtle image really needs the image quality to shine because often itís the fine details that make it stand apart, like the fine texture and accurate color of an old tree for example.

Subject value and image quality are both more important to me than composition. Extraneous things will cause a lower judgment, but I donít need to be guided. My composition check list does not include stuff like leading lines and rule of thirds. If the scene is homogenous and interesting and looks like a place I might stop and look at in person, it is pretty close to meeting my composition rules.



Camperjim
Registered: Oct 17, 2011
Total Posts: 1829
Country: United States

To me creating an image with impact and interest is what we strive for. We might also include the wow factor which means the interest and impact peak due to special lighting or other special elements. If I only wanted images which include a wow aspect I would only have a few rare keepers. I am content to also capture beautiful scenery and other images which reflect more commonplace experience.

To my way of thinking most of what you describe are merely the tools we use to create interesting images. I also think our interest in an image is the primary consideration and can override minor technical "flaws ". In fact sometimes the "flaws" enhance an image ; e.g., use of selective focus, vignetting, unrealistic colors, etc. We often do not need to see shadow details and those details would only draw our interest away from more important aspects of the image. I think you minimize your abilities and the power of your images when you try to minimize the non-technical aspects of photography. I don't think landscape photography is different from other types of photography. The bottomline is interest and impact. The technical aspects are just part of the tools we use.



ben egbert
Registered: Jan 31, 2005
Total Posts: 6115
Country: United States

Hi Jim.

Thanks for your take on this. It is a work in progress. What I wrote is what I think today, subject to change, maybe from what I hear in reply to it.

We go to beautiful locations and hope for some wow in the form of clouds sunsets etc. But that is mostly out of our control, we can't make it happen. When I am taking an image, I try to include all the stuff I mention above, but as far as overall value and impact, that will be mostly luck.

But when I am judging an image, I can ignore luck. No matter how hard the photographer worked, the image must be judged against all others of its kind. There are no handicaps. If somebody else was there and made a better image, its better.

If wow is missing, we often try to salvage the day with some close up or abstract or some other genre. They need to stand on their own but not as a landscape which is what I am describing here.

Rusty showed some great images last week of sculptures. This is what I had in mind with the word subtle. But those were not landscapes. I have seen some subtle landscapes however.

I too try to capture beautiful scenes, but I never expect them to be great art. And I disagree on flaws, a flaws is just a flaw to me and does not help the image. I like shallow DOF for flowers, birds and some portraiture, but never for a landscape.



Camperjim
Registered: Oct 17, 2011
Total Posts: 1829
Country: United States

I can think of many examples where a landscape might be improved with selective focus and /or limited dof. Maybe a landscape with foreground flowers and a moose, a midground with a lake and trees and a background mountain. The mountain might give a sense of place but limited sharpness and maybe even some burning could create a feeling of distance and keep the viewers attention on the foreground and midground elements.



Camperjim
Registered: Oct 17, 2011
Total Posts: 1829
Country: United States

I am also remembering many of my images that appeared flat because the exposure and sharpness were too even. These images would be improved with better sense of scale and perspective if I had used selective focus and probably also desaturated and darkened the background



AuntiPode
Registered: Aug 05, 2008
Total Posts: 6646
Country: New Zealand

Great images have a gestalt that is greater than the sum of their parts. I rate subject and composition as the two most important aspects of an image. Subject is what it intends to say and composition is the structure to say it. A great subject and composition can sometime work despite technical flaws, even significant flaws - for MOST people. For picky photographers minor technical flaws can ruin even the greatest images, but the great majority of viewers don't react that way. A perfect rendition of a scene that lacks emotional spirit or speaks in a visually pedantic voice can be no better than a ho-hum experience.

Weight:

1. Does the image speak to the emotions?

2. Does the composition give it a strong and coherent message?

3. Is it executed technically well enough to not get in the way of 1 and 2.

4. Everything else is polishing and tweaking, very valuable, but also bait for the perfectionist.

It's easy to give advice about numbers three and four. Most of my suggestions are about three and four. It's much harder to make suggestions about one and two because they are deeper and work on a more individual and subliminal level. There are "rules" that attempt, imperfectly, to address the second. But the first and most essential is by far the most difficult to address a methodic or intellectual way because it basically isn't a function of reason.

Over-reasoning and too much method more often than not are rewarded with uninspiring images. And, I say that about my own work as much as anyone's. In post-processing I can make an image better conform to my vision and what I felt or saw in my mind's eye when I made the capture. However, if the spirit and emotion of the scene doesn't move me at the time, it's very unlikely I can manufacture the missing emotional content from the image later.



ben egbert
Registered: Jan 31, 2005
Total Posts: 6115
Country: United States

Thanks Aunti, good stuff and I will figure out how to get that into what I am working toward.

I had some other ideas.

1. My list is independent of experience. A neophyte could make judgments on all of those elements and perhaps arrive at a different rating than an expert, and of course we just saw how several experienced people did with color. So my list is more a method than an exact formula.

2. I think the big hole is the one I called overall value. It is subjective and is the place for wiggle room. Much of the stuff that is normally lumped into composition goes here. The unexpected way elements work together.

As an example, my vertical versus landscape image takes on a whole new look when cropped differently. I am still cropping it and finding a different impact each time. But that image would never work at all if it was OOF or had color issues. And perhaps more discerning eyes than mine might think if fails in both.

But at the moment for me at least this sort of thing (composition) is not something I can do on purpose. The stuff I am seeing when I crop are not things I can see through a viewfinder or on the LCD. In fact I can only see it at 100% on my home monitor. Getting a good images for me is almost always an accident or the result of cropping.

But of course my write up is about judging not taking. But one informs the other.


Edit:

I added your "1. Does the image speak to the emotions?" As the first item in overall value where I think it belongs.

I re-read my composition list and I think it says what you said but in my own words. I guess I still think image quality is a sort of litmus test. It is first place only because its part of the entry requirements.





ben egbert
Registered: Jan 31, 2005
Total Posts: 6115
Country: United States

Here is an example of a subtle landscape. This one does not say wow at all. It dose not really come into its own until viewed large so you would need to take my word that it is one of my better images of the year.



sadja
Registered: Nov 05, 2002
Total Posts: 285
Country: United States

I'm going think about this for a while before responding.

I thought the whole idea of your website was to explore in depth issues such as you raise here.

At 1st blush, I find little or nothing subtle about your example. The lighting is quite muted, that's all -- so I need to understand what you mean by subtle.

More tomorrow, or when I'm in a frame of mind to tackle this.



ben egbert
Registered: Jan 31, 2005
Total Posts: 6115
Country: United States

My website is not getting any feedback so I wanted to post this here before I included it, if I even do.

I think this is more of a general statement about judging landscape than about taking them. And in one way it does show my own bias for IQ and loose composition rules. But what you have read is more personalized and about how I take them.

The above generalization leaves lots of room for conventional composition guides. But for me, I don't really compose until I get home where I can see the durn thing. So I either need to get lucky or include enough to crop my way in.

I guess subtle is "not wow" to say it in boolian terms.



AuntiPode
Registered: Aug 05, 2008
Total Posts: 6646
Country: New Zealand

Again, for a less static composition, a bit more foreground and less sky would help.



ben egbert
Registered: Jan 31, 2005
Total Posts: 6115
Country: United States

I often crop 16x9 to move the image off center because most landscapes end up centered when shot.

But this is probably the way I see it as my hump back makes me always look down unless I arch my back into an uncomfortable position.

Still, I like the sky in the uncropped. Hmm, where did you get the bottom?



AuntiPode
Registered: Aug 05, 2008
Total Posts: 6646
Country: New Zealand

To illustrate what it would be like to have more foreground I borrowed bits from the existing foreground to expand it - mostly with clone stamp and context aware fill.

Sky is nice, but beware of preserving one sweet part at the expense of damaging the composition. SOmetimes sacrifice is necessary.



ben egbert
Registered: Jan 31, 2005
Total Posts: 6115
Country: United States

I finally figured out where you got the parts, now I need to figure out how to do content aware fill.

Nice job, you added some warm color without messing up the sky.

Back story. This was part of a camera club field trip to Antelope Island on the Great Salt Lake. On arrival, we were treated to a very dramatic sunrise. The other club members hustled down to waters edge to get the view they wanted, but I saw they would miss the sunrise so I stayed high. I got the sunrise albiet had to clone out the club folk. But overall, I preferred this shot taken 45 minutes or so later when the color was gone and at a different location.

I was drawn to the rabbit bush texture, the soft hills and the sky.



AuntiPode
Registered: Aug 05, 2008
Total Posts: 6646
Country: New Zealand

Easy in PS CS5 or S6.

- Expand the canvas.
- Draw the rectangular selection around the expanded canvas.
- Hit shift-delete and the return.
- Use the clone stamp to fix the fill that looks wrong.



ben egbert
Registered: Jan 31, 2005
Total Posts: 6115
Country: United States

Thanks Aunti. I missed this one for sure. Great tip.



sadja
Registered: Nov 05, 2002
Total Posts: 285
Country: United States

A new sun has not made me smarter or vested me with more energy.

To me the most important ingredients of a landscape are the quality of light (not necessarily golden hour) and composition (I find your list odd and perhaps even trivial), and maybe subject. Your emphasis on focus has to do (I think) with your habit of scrutinizing prints from too close a distance, which emphasizes details at the expense of the overall image. For instance your image in this thread is is not very interesting until you nose into it to start enjoying the individual plants, or details in the mountains only visible by close examination. But when you back away to normal viewing distance, i.e. to where you can see the overall image, the whole loses impact reveals itself to be a dull view of a somewhat dull subject.

I think Aunti has said it about as well as can be said.



ben egbert
Registered: Jan 31, 2005
Total Posts: 6115
Country: United States

Hi Sadja: Once a pixel peeper always a pixel peeper I guess. Or perhaps a natural result of being profoundly nearsighted. Or maybe the training of 50 years staring at a drawing board or CAD/CAM screen. Who knows.

I am trying to learn something here and I just rewrote the thing trying to incorporate some of the comments. It changes flavor I think with the modifications. I will share the rewrite if there is interest. I could put it here, but it is long, or I could put it on my webpage and link it. But I am not sure that is allowed.

I am also not sure about using other peoples words there.

You questioned the term subtle with respect to this image, and I replied, I will add one that has wow, but to me lacks much intrinsic value. This in an effort to provide an idea about what I mean by subtle versus wow.

In another post on landscape vs portrait you showed two images that I considered subtle. The tree was a landscape, the other was another venue to my thinking.





sadja
Registered: Nov 05, 2002
Total Posts: 285
Country: United States

This certainly has impact, but why do you consider it of lower instrinsic value?

The FG grasses are certainly less interesting than the 'rabbit brush' of the other other image. In fact I think the high impact image should be cropped just below the rocks in the water (or better, you should have walked to them to use as FG.)



ben egbert
Registered: Jan 31, 2005
Total Posts: 6115
Country: United States

Hi Sadja. The other guys walked to the water and missed the show, I just barely got in a few shots by staying high and I knew it.

The problem with this is I had to lift the foreground too much, and I had to clone out too much of I-15 along the far shore. I have a cropped version but I decided to show this one for an example.

To me a photograph captures some real moment in time. If I wanted to idealize it, I would use oil paint and canvas.



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