The Snake Tips

Thinking Critically about Photographs

Critique 50


This is LONG overdue. I apologize to the person who sent this to me that I haven't gotten it up sooner. Part of what I do in workshops is teach night time photography. I hope that on most of our trips we are lucky enough to get a clear night with interesting skies.  It's getting to be winter, so it's not the perfect time for photographing the stars. The main reason is the dry cold air. This causes less humidity in the atmosphere. Humidity is what causes stars to seem like they are "twinkling". You can see of this image, that is what is going on. Right above the horizon line you see small green haze. It's humidity (and maybe some light pollution from a nearby town).

Here's the questions this photographer asked me to address. I LOVE that they asked, because it means they are actively thinking about what is going on. Night time photography is very challenging. Before I start, I think that this is well done. Overall I would be happy with it and use it as a "I can do this" photo.

  1. funny green cast above the horizon - That's humidity and light pollution. Not a lot you can do about it and I don't think it detracts that much from the image.
  2. I get a black halo if I increase exposure - You can try and turn it into a black and white image and paint back in with layers and a lower opacity.
  3. way more stars than what I saw naked eye - Yep, your camera will tend to expose for more stars than your eye can see.
  4. definite problem with distortion correction - To photograph big star fields you need a very wide lens, this is going to cause some distortion. You can use a lens profile from Adobe to correct for it (or DXO labs) or use Photoshop to manually correct for distortion. I don't overly correct for it, because it's somewhat expected.
  5. star trails or vibration (should have used mirror up) - The dreaded star trails. These are cause by having an exposure to long. Unless you want star trails always try to keep your exposure to under 30 seconds. The shorter the better. But they are star trails and not vibration.  I blew it up and you can see the all tends to go up and down, you don't get that kind of movement from vibration. Vibration will make it look blurry. Starmove
  6. cabin too bright? - I think the bright parts of the cabin are just right. If anything I would have liked to see a little more of the outside of the cabin. A little light painting.
  7. stars and sky too blue - They look a little blue, but not overly so. The mind thinks cold and blue is usually associated with that. If they were red or orange, I'd worry. Blue keeps the sense of night time and coolness.


Critique 49


I have basically this same image. So, even though this isn't my image, the critique is as much for me as anyone else. It does help me as a photographer learn to divest myself from the great fellowship and stories to tell about making an image like this, when I critique someone else's work. I sometimes hold an emotional attachment to an image that doesn't come out in the image itself. I like the retro look of the 2 color image. It really punches up the jammer.

First, to my eyes, the image is out of focus. I had a dickens of a time trying to get those lights to not blow out on me. I am glad to see it wasn't just me. I think the photographer controlled them the best they could. I know a lot of car photographers, both old and new (cars not photographers). Photographing cars is like photographing horses, you want to see all four legs (or in this case wheels). If you don't show all 4 then have a reason as to why not that is evident in the image. Crop in tighter or stand back. I am always torn about leaving reflections of the photographer in the image. In this case it would be relatively easy to get rid of the mass of us in the chrome reflection. take the right side copy it reverse it and put it in place.  Do you need to? no. Would I? Most likely.

A big giant thank you to the photographer who sent this and several others in. If you all didn't send them in for me to toss my two cents in, I'd have to show you all of my crappy images (I'd have enough for a year or more). Keep them coming!


Critique 48


The photographer who sent this to me said: "not the greatest light but cool subject.  Any help would be great"

I'd disagree on the light. I happen to like the light. It's not hard light, there are enough shadows, depth and softness to it that it feels nostalgic. I rather like the images but I wish 2 things about this image. (you knew there had to be a "but")

1) I wish both motors were in focus. The front motor not being in focus really breaks my concentration and takes me out of the image as I look at it.

2) I am not sure if there was a lot of extra junk around these motors that couldn't be moved, but I would like to have seen a slightly wider shot. Show the props and a little more of the red barn to the right. It looks like something might be there, but nothing a clone stamp wouldn't take care of.


Critique 47


I am not a sports shooter. I don't claim to be good at it or be able to critique a sports shot. I am, however, lucky to be good friends with one of the finest sports shooters I know. Dr Chuck Barnes shoots everything from pro ball to high school games. He really knows how to get the shot in professional stadiums with amazingly bright lights to a ball field with no more than car headlights for a Friday night game. He critiqued this image and said that it was a good shot, if you want to remember the game  from sitting in the seats. It's not what a professional sports publications are looking for. They are looking for the "game face". They are looking for the action shot or the mood of the player. In the crop below, you know it's a Braves player during a game. Any fan of the Braves will know it's the pitcher. So you don't really need to show the environment. Thanks Chuck for the good advice. Critique47After

Critique 46


This is another image where everything is done right.  Miles Smith is another amazing photographer who comes on our His Light Workshop trips. I am envious of Miles. I stood right next to him when he took this shot in the Palouse. Yet, I can find no trace of anything that even looks this good. Great capture, great lines, great time of day and a really great guy. You eye goes exactly where he wants you to go. He tells a story and makes you want to sit there and listen to it.

Critique 45


The dreaded HDR halo. My friend Jim Begley is the master of HDR. Fortunately for His Light Workshops, he'll share that knowledge with you. All to often halo appear around where light bright skies meet dark object in HDR images. It happens to me and I am sure it happens to you. The only real way to get rid of them is to have the original set of images and use a layer mask. I don't have the original images and I'm not going to try to fake it in Photoshop.

Critique 44


I like the artsy effect, but the white spots in the top of the frame keep leading my eye astray. I think overall it tells a nice story, but I would simplify it down to it's base element. The front of the church with a little bit of the trees, tells me that it is a church in the woods. All the other elements don't give me any more information that what's needed. Critique44After

Critique 43


This has a lot of potential. The thing I have the most trouble with in this image, is no clear defined subject. As my good friend Bill Fortney says, "every image should be able to be described in a few words". This could do with a lot of extraction or finding a subject and composing around it. I am sure one could spend a lot of time, with a chainsaw (only kidding).  

Critique 42


Overall a nice image. It has a subject and good composition. I think it could be slightly better.  The trees and little building don't add a lot to the story. The subject, to me, is canoes on a pond of duckweed. I would isolate them and clean up the pond of all the distracting elements. I ran the tonal contrast filter from Nik on it as well (I like the look, but it looks good with out it also.  I added, you guessed it, a vignette. Critique42After

Critique 41


This is an image of just bad timing and bad light. Not a lot of Photoshop work will help it. It's a nice location with a lot of potential. Sometime you just shoot it and come back later when the lighting is right. What do I mean about the lighting being right? The hot spot in the center of the leaves tells us that it was shot in the middle of the day with little to no cloud cover. It's bright with no contrast to give us a greener, more even look to it. Trust me, I have hundreds of these kinds of shots. I was recently up in New England and drove around on a nice sunny day, snapping my little heart out. I came home and deleted 90% of the images. I enjoyed taking them, but the light stunk and they were flat.

Critique 40


This is not a bad image. It's nice and I'd hang it on my wall. I would make a few adjustments. I think I might move the leaves around a bit and certainly get rid of the one circled. It isn't going anyplace and the light isn't changing rapidly, so you'd have time to play around with it. I would also crop it. I think the lighter bark on the right side is a little bright and my eye keeps wandering there. Slap on a vignette and I think you have a slightly more powerful image. Critique40After

Critique 39


I am going to post the occasional image that, in my opinion, does everything right. This image is from Lynn Rogers. Lynn was a student on our workshop in Glacier National Park in September. I have known Lynn for a few years, we were on a Moose Peterson workshop together in Washington State.

What makes this image "right"?  I think the light is just right, she got the duckling in perfect light, so it's a little sidelit, but you can still see the duck. It's perfectly exposed. The leading line from the log going into the water, leads the viewer right to where you want them to go. There are no distractions or any place for your eye to wander. The duck is doing something interesting with a really nice reflection. Ok I would have put a vignette on it, but hey, I'd be happy just to get the duck in focus *grin*


Critique 38


This image is mine. It's the final edit. I am just as critical of my images (if not more so) than others might be. I have learned that in order to step up my game, I needed to be. When I first looked at the original I considered tossing it into the trash and moving on. But I thought it might be a good learning exercise for me. I really love the end result. Here is where I started:



I knew it needed help. So I started playing with it. I have started a new (learned) editing technique of adjusting the highlights, shadows, blacks, whites, clarity and vibrance in Lightroom. I also cropped it to get rid of that annoying branch at the top.



I like this edit much better, but I was still not happy. I was dreaming of autumn colors and thought I would processes it with the acquired by Google Nik Color Efex Pro. I used the Indian Summer setting to turn all the leaves a rusty gold. My buddy Jim Begley took a look and said, you know it would look more natural if you paint back in some of the green. A DUH! of course it would, I'm glad I thought of it (thanks Jim). I took it back into Photoshop and layer masked some green and yellows back in to create the final image seen above.

Critique your own images. Keep striving to make yourself the best photographer you want to be. Don't be afraid to play with and learn your software. I am truly surprised on how far software has come (or maybe it's always been there and I am now learning how to use it).

Critique 37

Crabtree Falls

Nice image overall. I prefer to make the water a little more silky by using an ND filter. If you don't have an ND filter you can take several shots and combine them in Photoshop to create that silky smooth water effect. With this image you could do all sorts of artsy fartsy effects, taking it into Topaz Clarity or the Google Nik filters and adding some flair. Or you could leave it as is, well almost as is. What do I find most disturbing about this image? I know you think I'll say the brightness at the top of the waterfall, which isn't that bad (I would drop in a nice blue sky). Outside of the Caribbean, I have never seen blue water and this water is certainly blue. All I did to the image is adjust the color temperature (and added a vignette because I couldn't stop myself). See how a small adjustment can really make it look more natural. Crabtree Falls

Critique 36

"The Path" - Yellowstone NP

Right time, right place. However, it's a little flat. When photographing water use a polarizer, it will cut down on reflections and specular highlights. The ground is a little flat. It does tell a story, but almost to much of one. We know it's sandy, near water at sunset. I would like to see a little less of it and hone in on the important matter. I did some adjusting in Lightroom 5 (including adding a radial filter to brighten up the path). I also made the whole image cooler then painted warmth back in with the adjustment brush by just editing the color temp back to warm. These edits are just to suggest what you could do to the image, they are not meant to be the end all edits. Also, as always, it's just my opinion.

"The Path" - Yellowstone NP

Critique 35

Morning View

I think this was a well thought out image that was possibly taken at the "wrong" part of the day. A little hazy on the mountain and could use a slight bit of cropping. I worked this image over adjusting the highlights, shadows, blacks, whites, clarity, vibrance and gave it a tad bit of vignette. Using clarity makes the mountains a little more defined and takes away a bit of the haze.

Morning View

Critique 34

Lunch Shack

Here again, I think the image just needs a little bit of cropping.  However, with that said, I know this photographer (and he's a darn good one), I think he sold this image as is.  I do like my crop a bit better. It, in my opinion, is too dead center with to much road (which is not where the interest lies) is showing. Lunch Shack

Critique 33


Not a whole lot to say about this image. I feel like it's a little tippy to the left. I personally feel it's a little busy, but it works really well. I made a minor edit by straightening it (just a little) and cropping it to more of a panoramic style. I like it a bit better, you can still tell what it is, it tells a story and gets rid of some of the extra "stuff" in the image that makes my eyes wander. Purely my taste.


Critique 32


When this photographer emailed me this image, they told me this was their first stab at HDR processing. With that said, I think they did a good job over all. A few minor issues I had with the image (remember, this is my opinion only).

1) It's a little crooked. If you look at the emblem it slants to the right. I just straightened it a hair.

2) The bits of grass bother me. If it was part of the subject or scene, I wouldn't mind, but it's a case of border patrol (taking a look around the edge of you frame to ensure you have no distracting elements). We had an attendee bring a pair of lawn scissors and start cutting out distracting elements in the field. Talk about pre image photoshopping! *grin*

3) This shadow on the left kept bringing me out of the image. This is a case of the darkest thing in the image was distracting. A little bit of cropping took care of that.

I adjusted the blacks, whites and clarity just a bit along with a little cropping to get this image.


Critique 31


I love the subject and it well processed. The main suggestion I would have with this image is the "center-ness" of it all. It's a little bottom weighted and the pine straw on the top and left hand sides is a little distracting. A little cropping pulls your eye more and evens the weightiness out.