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06/07/2015 - 11:06 AM

The City Below

The City BelowAnthony, this is rather appealing: it suggests a hot, muggy day, perhaps with a storm to come...

I think that you've overdone the burning-in round the clouds: if you use the burn tool set to shadows, it won't affect the clouds much - and, indeed, you can brighten them by using the dodge tool set to highlights. I'll do this in my mod...

For my taste, the horizon is a bit too central: I've cropped at the top, losing that lovely cloud, top left, but tightening the composition. I don't think the trees are excessive, as they add to the feeling of a city surrounded by lush growth.
06/07/2015 - 10:59 AM

Books Knowledge world

Books Knowledge worldBooks are a very honourable trade: in many ways, I feel that having, reading and respecting them is a mark of civilisation. A wise man said if people burn books, they will soon be burning other people, and I think that's true. So I like this man already!

If you could have stepped back a couple of feet, you could have framed the whole shot with the arch over the door, I think - I'd certainly have tried to do that. Also, you could lose a foot or so at the bottom of the shot (I've cropped in my mod, though this loses the shadow framing the shot, and I had to burn in the pavement a lot).

The bright triangle on the right is a problem, as it's distracting. I've done a long (but crude) job of cloning it out, but a better solution would have been to take the picture 20 minutes later, when the sun had moved round!

You could correct the verticals in software, but that's beyond me. I don't particularly object to the curves, anyway.

For me, the very best things about this shot are the respect the man has for learning and books, and the respect you have shown to him in the way you've shot and described this picture. Thank you for sharing them.
04/07/2015 - 5:43 PM

Seeing through my eyes

Seeing through my eyesWelcome to the Critique Gallery, Sandipan - you've been a site member a while, so I assume you have posted here to seek specific comments.

The gritty, high contrast look is fine, and it gives me an insight into your world - I'm not sure if I see it through your eyes particularly...

I'd have preferred the shot to include a little bit of window frame on the left, as well as on the right: I've done a modification cropping down to the next window along to show the sort of thing I mean, though this really changes the result a lot. I know you may have been right at the end of the tram or bus - but even leaning back an inch or two would have brought it into frame.

Please let us all know if this is helpful...
02/07/2015 - 9:51 PM

Dawn, Cemetery Beach, Narooma

Dawn, Cemetery Beach, NaroomaI don't have experience of stacking filters, but I know that very many filters do have a colour cast to them. And perhaps there's an effect on sensors with long exposures? There may be some non-linear responses, as there were, very definitely, with film.

Willie comments on processing: you used three different lots of software! Again, I wonder if there's a similar effect to that of multiple medicines: you start to get interactions that no-one could easily predict... One medical response when a patient is unstable and on a dozen different pills is to drop all of them, and see what happens under highly controlled conditions, reintroducing individual medicines as a real need becomes apparent.

There are two big reasons for stripping back, in my mind. One is that it just takes so long - I suspect that you spent an amount of time on processing this that dwarfs what I have ever put into a darkroom print. The other is that you risk ending up with something where all pretence of a natural result is gone, and even if the viewer can't pin it dow, it simply looks wrong.

So, as we often ask, how about posting the unprocessed original?

In such complex conditions, I wonder if you need some sort of neutral grey card in a test shot to calibrate everything? However, there's a risk that this will give a technically correct result that doesn't look the way that you remember it (which is the benchmark for me in these matters!)
24/06/2015 - 9:01 PM


AlleyIt does, though mainly in terms of helping me understand the task you faced!

You had very little option but to clone over that very bright area, if you didn't make a feature of it. What you've done makes it a mystery picture.

Willie or Tanya may be able to suggest a post-production way to deal with it, but my suggestions are confined to shooting it again. I think you either need to combine two images by cutting and pasting, or by using HDR: either way, you'll need to take one image with the sort of exposure you used here (maybe a fraction more), and another at least two or three stops less, to get detail at the other end.

I'd also suggest shooting from waist height, so that the perspective on the columns nearest to the camera is straight, rather than angled.

I've tried a Nik Efex mod, to try to give the bright tunnel a sort of host story feel...
14/06/2015 - 1:05 PM

Old shed

Old shedWhile everything above is true, I live in the past a bit, because I still have a darkroom, and use film a bit... That gives a slightly different perspective on control.

It's perfectly true that digital mono conversions allow absolute and minute control, providing you take the time and build up the knowledge of how to do it. Rather like manual exposure control, which offers ultimate control - but only if you know how to do it!

With film, you effectively have a series of presets, and some things you can vary if you do your own processing. But a red filter does not have a variable effect, it can't get redder or paler: you're stuck with it. Ditto, camera presets.

In-camera presets vary, and will almost always need fine-tuning with Levels or curves, just as a film negative needs to be printed on paper of the right contrast so that it doesn't look grey and muddy, or soot-and-whitewash. On a really good day, the contrast of the subject will match the camera settings perfectly, so no extra work is needed. But only on a really good day!

My feeling is that it's worth learning to do conversions, but it probably doesn't work if you just choose a default in PS or Elements. Nik is lovely, and great fun, but many of the effects give edge effects at default settings that are - to my mind - not usually acceptable. They appeal to many togs because a lot of people believe in sharpening to the maximum, and that gives an edgy, gritty, wiry look. Some love it: I detest it!

The bottom line is that it depends just how much control is enough for you: as, when buying a car, you may decide that you want economy above all else, and choose a Blueline Polo, with a lethargic start, but a reliable 60mpg, or demand lightning step-off, paying the penalty of 20mpg in something like a Mitsubishi Evo.

If you see no difference that matters to you between Keith's mod and your in-camera mono, use it, and do software conversions where the in-camera stuff doesn't deliver what you want. Just as many drivers are entirely happy with a mid-range, moderate economy, medium-performance front wheel drive car...
12/06/2015 - 5:54 AM

May flowers in the rain

May flowers in the rainI can see the second flower as a part of the composition, though I'd like to see it fractionally lower, and smaller. Go closer with a wider zoom setting, perhaps.

You've applied a heavy vignette to this (to suppress background detail, I imagine). There are still intrusive bright greens there. I'd clone, or (ideally) have had someone stand so that their shadow fell on the background plants.

There are some oddities in the EXIF data: why not up the ISO so that you could have a higher shutter speed? I agree that this is nicely sharp, but who take the risk? And having compensation set doesn't work in manual exposure mode...

The water beads are a good idea: to really make the most of them, maybe you needed to go in very close indeed, and have lighting that makes them sparkle even more.

It might be interesting to see the original, unprocessed shot, which would offer more options...
12/06/2015 - 5:38 AM

along Deal pier

along Deal pierAs Moira says, this doesn't quite work. All the elements to make it great, but not quite coordinated... I'm going to ramble a bit, I think, trying to work out why it didn't work.

I've tried a crop which came out rather like Guy's: this uses the thirds, but the right hand side looks empty... If the clouds had been over there, maybe?

As things were, I reckon you could have moved to your right to get more of the pier in, and put the right hand edge of the frame closer to the end of the pier: sometimes an extreme crop works best.

This would allow you to get the left side anchored with both of the supports visible.

It looks as though the lighting was not very exciting: then, you need to find more texture and form to make a good picture. That would make pointing the camera down so that the stones are the main part of the picture good, perhaps.

I wonder if the 10x filter is the problem: I suspect that the technique meant that you had to include a lot of sea (and a windy day would make the sea attractive, to get white water). And maybe the lighting and location didn't really suit the technique?

Ah, yes. The wind. This sort of shot needs to be perfectly sharp to be really impressive, and the wind may have wobbled your tripod a bit. A good tip is to hang your bag or some stones from your tripod for stability - but (and most people don't know this) it's important that the weight touches the ground so that it can't swing around in the wind, and make things less stable rather than more so!

This nearly makes it, but I think it needs to be more extreme. More wideangle, more contrast, more angles... Or, on the other hand, it needs to be like a large format shot, utterly sharp, completely forensic, showing every detail.

Yet again, you're experimenting, trying different things, which is the way to learn, and to master techniques.

This leads to one further suggestion: stick with each technique, and apply what you learn as soon as possible - don't try, then abandon things. (And I realise that with one post a day you will be doing loads of stuff that we're not seeing!)

Keep taking the pictures.
11/06/2015 - 5:08 PM

Tatton Park

Tatton ParkMoira's said almost of what there is to say.

I'll add a couple of thoughts from a Heather Angel lecture fifteen or twenty years ago: she advocated carrying what amounted to a tidy-up kit: a cloth, as a neutral background: black ribbon, for tying back stay branches, and so on. I don't recall if she suggested a piece of muslin on a frame to soften direct sunlight, but she may well have done. A sort of miniature version of a California Sunbounce (see my otherwise-irrelevant mod, showing one in use on a beach at Lindos. Odd what you spot on holiday!)

A cruder device is to deal with things like the background highlights by asking someone to stand so that their shadow avoids having hotspots behind your subject. (I can occasionally persuade Mrs D to do this, if there's an interesting flower for her to look at while she's acting as a French Flag.
11/06/2015 - 10:21 AM


FreyjaYes, definitely worth keeping and improving, because it's a lovely picture.

And you have a RAW file: that means you can do a great deal with this.

For me, the main thing is that it looks underexposed: so I opened the file using Adobe Camera Raw (yes - you can do this with a JPG file - look at the dropdown menu for 'File' in Elements, and I suspect it's the same in Photoshop). I increased exposure, and opened. I then cropped slightly, removed the dust bunny in the sky, and cloned out the light blob at the bottom left.

I hope this is the picture you wanted to take: doing the ACR thing from RAW will let you do the same, only better, and with a full-size file.

Then back it up multiply, and get a dozen prints to send round the family!
10/06/2015 - 5:06 PM

Water Lillies and A Gold Fish

Water Lillies and A Gold FishAnd welcome from me, too, Daniel.

Willie's said it all on the technical side: to generalise, an awful lot of the advice we give in the Critique Gallery is about taking charge of your camera, and getting it to do exactly what you want, instead of letting it make important decisions about focus, exposure, and colour.

However, if you're really new to photography (you describe yourself as a beginner, but that covers quite a range of people!) you may want to take these one at a time.

This is a very pleasant result: the lack of sharpness doesn't terribly worry me, as it gives a sort of dreamy quality. However, having a really sharp area undercuts this a little.

This is actually all about the flower: and I've done two mods: one cropped a little, top and bottom, to lose some of the less interesting areas, and concentrate attention more on the bloom. I took this further with the second one, and cloned out the fish - it could be a counterpoint, but it would need to be a little more visible than it is here. That's a good argument for taking plenty of shots when you have the chance, and possibly waiting and seeing what develops.

Please say if any of this is using words and processes you're not familiar with.

I look forward to seeing more of your work here soon.
09/06/2015 - 3:18 PM

Curves 2

Curves 2A lovely abstract image: really well seen and shot.

I'd suggest upping the ISO a little to allow a smaller aperture (for quality and depth of field) and a higher shutter speed (for lack of camera shake). Having said that, this works pretty well, technically.

Good work.
08/06/2015 - 10:26 PM


CurvesWelcome from me, too, Anita.

Do you use any editing software? Essentially, this needed a couple of simple changes - it's rather underexposed, and not terribly sharp, because of the dim light, and a fairly slow shutter speed, along with your maximum aperture.

My mod used Enhance/Levels in Elements 13, where i moved the highlights slider to the left, the shadows slider to the right, and the midtones slider to the left.

I then used the 'Dodge' facility to brighten the highlights on the building.

Willie's done something similar, but more sophisticated, I suspect.

If you need more detail, or if yo uhaven't started editing, please jsut say, and we can give you more information.
04/06/2015 - 6:27 PM

Model in red.

Model in red.First off, I have to admit that I don't use, and don't trust speedlites. And, looking at this and your previous post, I am fairly sure that part of the trouble is that they lack power. With my studio lighting (the mainstay is an Elinchrom D-Lite4 2-head kit, which was around 500 new, complete with softboxes and stands) would give me f/8 or f/11 here, and better light quality than the Gary Fong gadget.

Set the camera to manual, try a few exposures before your model arrives, and keep the camera on manual. 1/125 is a good shutter speed for flash: 1/250 would not work with many lesser cameras than your 1D-X, allowing only half the frame to be exposed.

And - take incident light exposure readings with a handheld meter. TTL is rubbish in the studio, I think. Incident readings are based on the light falling on the subject, not the light it reflects. So they take proper account of light and dark subjects.

You've nearly got there with the set. This is simpler than the sofa shot, and that's good. The background is one colour. The green candle looks a little out of place: a plain one would have been better, and supported the composition without competing for attention.

I'd have had less space at the top, and included the model's feet and all of the red material. I'd also probably have had all of the table in the frame.

As Moira says, black-and-white solves several problems: I'm wondering if a vignette will solve more of them...

Keep working at it: and, particularly, set up the lights and props before your model arrives. Then you can relax, and put all your efforts into making the model feel at ease, so that she can give you natural and elegant poses and expressions.

A final thought: the shoes are spectacular, but they come into the category I call 'stripper slippers' - they're at odds with the gentle pose, and look as if you'd expect to find them either on a girl who is out for a night clubbing in her minidress, or a lady who takes her clothes off in a nightclub... There's nothing wrong with either of these people, but you're going for an art nude look here, not a razzle-dazzle image!
01/06/2015 - 1:02 PM

Lake - Mont Tremblant

Lake - Mont TremblantThis is an interesting one, Ali, and I have a slight suspicion that you are not entirely happy with it.

Which is odd, because it follows several ideas that the Critique Team members (among others) often put forward as good ways to make an effective picture.

First, you've got a main subject: the trees on the promontory there. The are almost in silhouette, contrasting nicely with the lake and the background. You've placed them pretty close to a third, which is normally close enough.

Next, you've got a frame in the foreground: the leaves on the left and at the bottom.

And the whole of the picture is all of a piece: every single element speaks of wilderness.

And the sunlight brings out the colours of the trees.

So why isn't it a spectacular image?

I think it's partly because the main subject is dark, in a lighter landscape: the opposite of a performer on stage, lit by a spotlight against a darker background. Doing it this way can work, but it tends to be harder to get it to do so. Here, there's a lot of detail all round it - everything else has individual leaves.

There's just a spot of lovely colour showing in those trees: earlier or later light, making them stand out in that glorious reddish-orange would have made the shot. Morning and evening sunlight is often better for landscapes than the middle of the day (or even afternoon, when you took this shot). The last hour and the first hour are best!

Also, there's a lot of foreground compared with the main subject. Making it a bigger part of the frame would make the shot work better. I've done a mod to illustrate this.

Maybe, finally, it's the foreground foliage. There's a lot of it, and it's neither very blurred, nor sharp. That's a lot of space to take up with a semi-focussed subject.

It's easy to be wise after the event: but I think shooting from a little closer (so that you could reduce the amount of leaves around the subject, and get them more blurred) and shooting near dawn or dusk would make a far more impressive shot. That may be very hard to do in practice: and that fact is what makes the really great landscape togs stand out - they can and do take the extra trouble, when the rest of us shoot when we're there, rather than going there when the shots will be best.
01/06/2015 - 7:57 AM

Three Romeo

Three RomeoThis is a delightful and quirky triple portrait.

These things are always slightly tricky to do: I cannot believe the effort some members have put into wide-aperture and close-up self-portraits, where focus is critical, and composition is hard.

Here, you had the marker of the two other people in the shot to line up on - and since you had the lens at its widest focal length, they may not have realised they were going to be in shot. That's neat!

Willie has lightened and colour-corrected in his mod: there's always an element of artistic choice in these matters, but a little lighter makes the picture more accessible, I feel.

My regret (and it would definitely apply if I'd taken the shot) is that your hands are not fully in the image. Just that fraction lower, and there would have been a sense of completeness that's missing here.

I've done a mod cropping a bit at the top, to make the picture semi-panoramic. This loses some of the graffiti, but maybe puts the focus more squarely still on the three Romeos. I suspect most Juliets will choose the one in the middle...
31/05/2015 - 3:17 PM

Lost in the Infinity

Lost in the InfinityAn interesting idea, Graham. It's a good use of a vehicle-sized infinity cove, and it's close to working.

For me, it doesn't quite, because Ayla's so dead central in the frame. I'd want to put her on the thirds (mod 1), or possibly right in a corner (mod 2).

Other unusual crops will also work, and the canvas is easy to extend in any direction.

I'm slightly tempted to 'clean up' the foreground, and get rid of the hint of shadow, but the part of me that likes pictures grounded in gritty reality insists there should be some sign of the real world!

I'm sure you're aware of the benefits of cropping closer, in terms of quality, and this is a conscious use of 'negative space' - the only thing, as I've said, is that I think the space needs to be focussed, so to speak!

Good use of light, and of a lovely model and costume.
30/05/2015 - 10:55 AM

Mexico. Waiting for the bus

Mexico. Waiting for the busYou already use RAW files, so that you can recover good detail if exposure isn't quite perfect. Good.

Added to that, an assessment going on in your mind whenever you shoot should give you a thought along the lines of 'Quite a lot of white and some light colours. Maybe plus half a stop?' It won't always make it perfect, but developing that sense of when to dial something in (and, until you develop it, thinking very hard about what's in the frame, and what that means for exposure.

The less modern the camera, the more it imposes this sort of slow and thoughtful process on you: with fully auto digital, it's easy to bypass it: and Photoshop et al make it easy to recover things, very often.

Processing is a long business, compared with a tweak in taking...
29/05/2015 - 9:30 AM

Joko's Birthday Party

Joko's Birthday PartyI really like the dynamic look to this - the advbantage of photographing actors!

Ideally, a little basic processing (to straighten the verticals - this is slightly tilted), and framing to include the tip of the foot on the right and the stick on the left, rather than the 'art filter' that I think you've used... Thsi is such a strong picture because of the way the group are posing that it needs no extra 'lift'...
The Holy Family of the Galapagos IslandsFor my money, the version you've put up as a mod is the better: the other viewpoint struggles to make sense of the composition, I think.

You were obviously very close, using the lens at 28mm - I wonder if it was possible to shoot from the left, looking down the steps, and stacking up the seals? It could have been a view with real potential as a pictorial composition: as these two versions stand, they are, essentially, record shots.

Albeit irresistible ones!

I notice that this is around 7 years old - the progress in your work in newer images really shows.