Let me start by saying this, anything I say is purely my opinion. I’m not a trained photographer, I just like getting out with my camera and I post a ton of photos on various sites etc. My biggest fan is my mother, so I have no street cred when it comes to peer acknowledgement.
When it comes to your pursuit of photography, keep in mind it should always be about you, what you want, what you want to achieve. So in saying that what do you like most about doing photography? What do you want most from your photography?
If it’s peer recognition and lots of likes, +1’s, stars or hearts, then you will find these images aren’t going to get that. The internet is saturated with images, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for each of us. Remember that we all live somewhere that the vast majority of the world don’t, so there’s plenty of scope to be seen and followed and enjoyed.
So to the images. You said that you have the fundamentals of photography down pat, ie exposure, composition etc. That much is fine to my eye… each image pretty much fits a rule of thirds. However in saying that, the two ocean images are fairly bland. Both at shot in fairly bright light, the classic high contrast light that makes your shadows deep and the highlights, which in both cases there aren’t much, very bright. I think your first image might be enough to make a local postcard, technically it appears that you captured the image with just the right shutter speed to keep motion in the wave and splashes around the surfer, but fast enough to avoid the subject becoming blurry.
The first image though is just another surfer shot with a lot of blue. The blue water, the blue sky the blue mountain (and a fair amount of haze by the looks). The question with this image is, what do you want to show here? If it’s surfing, then it’s likely you will need to get closer (longer lens), or if it’s a seascape, then either end of the day for golden hour where the sky and hopefully the clouds change colour.
The second image is a bit like the first, it’s just another surfer shot, however they are looking towards the mountain/island in the background… but to what end? The contrast is high here so there’s a lot of dark around the person. Overall though when I first look at the image I see the middle then see the dude on the board and then follow their glaze. Is this a stand out photo? Not really. So processing this image won’t result in any greater return.
The final image of the waterfall, I like it. Only because I like waterfalls in general. I think the processing in this image is fine from the web view, I did download it hoping to see the EXIF (so we can see ISO settings, time of day etc which helps when critiquing). For the most part though the image follows rule of thirds well, the water flows down and to the right of the image an easy path for the eye to follow up or down.
What’s distracting though are the puffy grass heads. For starters, try cropping out the ones on the hard right hand side, they sort of peek their heads into the image. It does look like the top of the waterfall was brighter, due to shadow?, and you can see that the left side of the water is much brighter than the right… it’s possible some further editing with Gimp using layers might be able to pull that bit back to match the rest of the exposure of the right side.
I do wonder how this image would look during golden hour, or even shot differently, could you, for example, walk to the right more (as you are looking at the image, so camera right) and shoot a tighter point of view (zoom in) to capture the top part of the falls only?
One of the techniques you see used a bit in wide angle waterfall images is something in the foreground, like a golden left or a log/branch that points into the image. By going ‘tighter’ on the waterfall here you might be able to take out the distractions of the grass heads I mentioned earlier. That might also be done at a different time of year when the heads aren’t in flower.
Overall though, I’m not sure the processing in these images is all that bad, the waterfall image is quite good to my eye. The issue I think more so is the subject matter of the first two images, and the time of the day it was shot. That’s not to say you can’t get great images during the middle of the day, you are however going to lose colour in the sky and the contrast will be much higher, and harder to deal with in some ways.
I know in your other post you felt like you were on the verge of chucking it in. I don’t want my thoughts here to be the catalyst to that happening…
I also don’t think the problem here is the processing, or the equipment. What needs to be refined here is the photographers eye, pick the right time of day to take photos and look for the composition to give the image the impact you want. Post processing is simply a means to that end.
There are a lot of people out there that you can look through their images and learn from. Dani Diamond for his portraits, mostly natural light (so you see what the impact of shooting at the right time of day has) and his extensive post processing, of which while I like his images, is too much for me to bother with (ie he shoot under exposed and does al ot of work bring back in the highlights), Thomas Hawk for his “I want to post 1 million images” and seriously there’s a lot of images there that are shot all around the place and at different times of the day, Sean Archer on 500px, his portraits are stunning, and were the example I used to grab a nice image of my wife who was sitting on the couch next to the window with diffused light from the curtain lighting her up. Scott Jarvie has great images full stop.
Take a look at how other people create images of impact. Think about what makes that image stand out. I like taking milky way images, but each time I do it I need to have something in the foreground: https://www.flickr.com/photos/14541985@N02/shares/DZX952 , technically these are a little harder to do, and you need good fast glass and a wide angle, so these images can come at a monitary cost, I also like sunsets and sunrises… https://www.flickr.com/photos/14541985@N02/shares/7E1rX8 both of these images rate as some of my better ones for different reasons. The sunset photo was taken at F9, an aperture that any kit lens can match. I like the sunset image as it has contour through the grass on the hill I was on, colour and a couple of elements of interest, for me being the large eucalypt.
But for all of that, anyone can look at it and think what they like. Any image I take, is mine of my own effort and desire, I’m doing to meet someone elses expectations, nor to get a lot of likes etc. I do however keep learning the craft through sites like this and through looking at other’s images and getting out there and clicking the shutter button.
To wrap up here, I use RawTherapee for 90% of my post processing. I’m trying to get a working digikam to do the asset management side of things, ie tagging, starring etc to search later… I’d really like to do more in digikam so that it’s easier to find the final image, but I need to learn more in that respect. RT does everything for my needs and I rarely ever use Gimp for image manipulation.
Keep at it.