Well, after evacuating from a hurricane for the first time in 16 years, (I was here for Floyd) I think it's time to get back to business. I hope that those of you who were affected by Hurricane Matthew are on the road to recovery. My thoughts are with you.

I've received a couple dozen images for photo critiques in the last month and have picked one at random to discuss. I hope that the information I provide here can help everyone reading this, regardless if it was your image to be selected. 

Here is the original image submitted via Dropbox. 

First I'd like to say, I really like the play of color and texture here. Complimentary colors are those that are opposites on the color wheel. Blue and yellow, and in this case, green and magenta are pitted against each other. Noticing natural color contrasts while you're out and about can greatly increase your ability to create a successful image. 

These are the questions I ask myself when I take just about any photo. It's a good practice to keep them in your head while you're learning...and try not to forget them when you're seasoned.  

What's my subject?

How do I focus attention on my subject?

How do I simplify the image?

What's my subject can be pretty obvious in the case of a portrait or a macro shot of a single flower, but it can be a little bit more tricky when photographing landscapes. Landscapes involve just about everything around us so the second and third questions become critical. How do I focus attention and how do I simplify?

In the image above I would first think that the subject is the forest floor or plant life. That's a pretty broad subject. In this case, I'm thinking (and I could be totally wrong) that the photographer was specifically interested in the pink rhododendron petal and how it plays into the whole image. It's a bright splash of pink in an otherwise somewhat monotone environment which makes it stand out. The textures of the ferns are also enticing as well as the lichen and moss on the rock. There's a lot going on here and I like it all! But sometimes just because we "like it all" doesn't mean we should try to include it all which brings me to the second question...focusing attention. This can be accomplished many ways, choice of depth of field, framing, lines and curves, etc... In this case, I think a simple crop will suffice to help focus more attention where it is needed. My eye is particularly pulled toward the right with the single fern leaf there. It's a nice subject, but perhaps nice in it's own right and should be an image all to itself. Ferns tend to get greedy that way!

First, I cropped the image. It may need more or less but you get the point.

This has helped not only focus attention on the subject, but it simplified the image as well. Got the last two questions in one step...more bang for your buck. The moral is, when in doubt, get closer. Sometimes less is more. I find that the "simplify" step is the one that people struggle with the most. After all, you're sitting there with the whole forest around you, the birds singing, the wind blowing, getting the whole experience. The viewer, however, is only looking at the 2 dimensional result and needs a little more help in getting that "feeling". Simplifying the image often accomplishes this. 

I took it a step further and did some simple dodging and burning with a 50% opacity layer in Photoshop. I've got a YouTube video on it and I find it one of the most valuable tools I use during photo editing...and it's just so darn easy once you learn it! Adjusting the "light" also helps focus attention on your subject. I darkened the "background" and lightened the petal and ferns a bit...and it makes a big difference as seen here. The one on the left is the original and the one on the right is the altered. I did nothing else to the image. Notice how the fern and petals appear more separated from the grassy areas. They appear to pop out just a bit, giving it a more 3 dimensional feel and pulling the viewer's attention to where you'd like it to be. This is a technique I use quite a bit to "guide" the eye through an image. 

I hope you have found this helpful in your own photography. Enjoy your weekend.

And keep those affected by Matthew in your thoughts. Many people lost their homes and some, even their loved ones. My heart aches for you.

I'm going to go hug my family now! :)

Composition For The Landscape Photographer


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