Friday, May 30, 2008

Improving Images, Accepting Criticism

NOART wrote a very effective criticism of the above image.

Let me try to critique this image.

George, my reactions to your images are quite different, and I do like many of them. This one looked too busy in small, so I clicked to see the large version.

My first reaction was very positive, but after a minute or two of looking, I was not so sure any more.

Obviously a lot of care has gone into choosing the image crop (mostly in camera, I assume), and the composition looks very well balanced. The darker stump on the left balances well with the two larger ones on the right. I find it good that the parallax distortion has not been corrected -- the not quite vertical tree trunks start a nice arch that is continued by the very light needle tree in the lower left. This arch is nicely picked up by the two large stumps on the right and returned back into the image by the thin branches in the upper corner.

While traveling along this arch I notice the interesting water swirls, but the dark stump in the lower middle of the image stops me dead in my tracks. Obviously there is nothing you could have done about it, but I find its presence nonetheless unfortunate.

OK, so now I've looked at the entire image. What it is about? What is the main subject? Do I want to look at it any longer?

That's where I'm left hanging in the air. The entire image is in focus and the entire image is almost equally bright. The arch that I was talking about exists because of the shapes in the image, but not because of the tones. There is no depth. Due to the uniform sharpness and brightness, all elements of the image appear to be at the same distance from the viewer (which of course is not true). And they appear to have equal importance, which too is not true.

I suspect that the original image had more tonal depth and maybe even more focus depth (this might be a blend of several images). I read your blog regularly and know that you go to great lengths to bring the tones and the focus under control, but I think for this image you've gone too far.

Apart from this main critique point, I'm also slightly bothered by the alignment of the dead tree trunk (second from left) and the needle tree behind it.

Overall, I'd say I like the image, but not enough to bookmark it and come back to it later. (But I have bookmarked several of your other images.)

Do you care to critique my critique? I'll be happy to hear your thoughts about this image.

My own assessment of the image, before reading NOART's comments was nice, but hardly great, simply the best I could do on the day, and with nothing better to post, it was marginally acceptable for showing on the blog.

Having now read NOART's comments, I have to agree. First, it does need to be seen larger, second, there is an evenness to tonality which makes the image harder to 'read' and less effective. The black stump I have mixed feelings about - certainly there's nothing else quite like it in the image.

Frankly, I may be simply trying to work on an inherently mediocre image, but I thought I'd play with some of NOART's ideas on the image and while the result still isn't a great image, I do think it shows substantial improvements, enough that it's worth showing the difference that a little editing can make.

Here's my thoughts on the 'new and improved' version.

Pretending that the original version never saw the light of day, I'll comment just on what I see in this new version.

This is an image in which there are several good elements, but they don't quite come together. The waterway would have been better had more been seen, a def. pathway through the woods. The stumps on the right would have been better without those branches in front on the far right. The only thing balancing the stumps on the right are the dark trees further back on the left and given the different nature of them and the higher position on the print, I don't think they do an adequate job in this balancing act.

Overall, even in a goodly size, the image is just too busy. Though it was photographed in the rain, there is absolutely no sense of atmosphere in the image, nothing to suggest the weather.

In the end, while I can improve the image, it is flawed at a fundamental level and I should probably stop trying to rescue it.

This raises some thoughts about the value of having spent 4 hours in the rain, if this is the best I could do. The following points occur to me.

1) practice is never wasted. The work on that day, will pay off sometime in the future.

2) getting out in the rain and enjoying the forest and streams, floods and the brilliant fresh green of spring growth in the rain is never wasted.

3) I got some exercise and fresh air - never to be sneezed at.

4) You can never predict whether today is going to be the day. The only way to ensure failure is to not go out in the first place.

5) Who says failure is such a bad thing. Imagine if you never ever lost playing chess, I suspect it just wouldn't be as interesting.


noart said...

George, I like the new image much better -- now it's much more "alive".

White I'd have to agree, the image does have some issues that no amount of Photoshop-mastery can resolve, in its new rendering it's certainly quite good, and many of us would be happy to get something similar.

The four hours in the rain were certainly worth it -- hotographically and non-photographically!

Now here is a tough question. If you say that this image is fundamentally flawed, will you erase it from your hard drive? I mean, you've got better ones for sure, and if it's flawed, you wouldn't want to show it to anyone, right?

Currently I'm struggling with this question. I've gotten quite good at parting with flawed images, but I'm still not tough enough to erase as many as I should.


George Barr said...


interesting question - how flawed does an image have to be to dump it. So far, my policy is to save any image that I have been working on in Photoshop that I think is half ways good. I do this for several reasons. First and foremost is I might simply change my mind about how I feel, deciding down the road that it's a lot better than I thought.

Also, I might discover the right way to edit the image in the future.

And, sometimes when you get accepted for publication, they want every possible image along the same lines. This happened with Lenswork and the industrial images (issue 57) in which Brooks called for everything possible, let him be the judge. Now, I wouldn't and didn't send him any crap images, but I did send some I wasn't sure about and damned if they weren't some of the published ones.

It probably doesn't hurt to have some of your less successful images hanging around if only to assure you that your better ones really are quite good in comparison.


George Smiley said...

I disagree with the critique. I really like this image. It may be my favorite that you've posted in the last couple of months. The stump is a major reaon why I like it. It' sunexpected in a picture of this sort, but it's much more like the real countryside than most images, which sould omit the stump. It feels a lot mor real, and it arrests the viewer's attention.

George Barr said...

George, that said, do you prefer the original (top) or edited version (bottom)?