Three shots for critique

Thanks to all those who gave me some salient advice over in the ‘help!’ section - was most appreciated.

So here are some shots I’ve been playing with since, ready for critique (he said biting his nails!)…

Happy new year, one and all!

Surfer making the most of almost non-existant waves on Ohope Beach.

A careful acknowledgement of White Island, an active volcano some 50km offshore…

The beauty that is Tarawera Falls.

Hi @fotonut,

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. :smile:

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: , 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… 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.


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As Peter said, it is all about what you want to see in your photography.
Now, for my opinion. Images: #1: Surfer @ Ohope Beach: I really like the foreground and would have cropped out at least the upper half of the image. #2: White Island: To me, there is too much not going on in the image. A big expanse of blue ocean; a small, indistinct image of a person in the lower left, and a washed out background ( due to distance, not photographer or PP). It all looks too flat. #3: Tarawera Falls: To me, the whites of the water look clipped. I think this image could look great if you were to try to blend multiple exposures, for one well exposed image.
I see potential with all of the images. But, they can be improved with practice in the field and with post processing.
Most important is to enjoy what you are doing and to get the look of the image, that you want. If the images you sent are the way the you wanted, then that is great. It is only my opinion that I am giving, and that is all, no right or wrong.
It looks like you live in a fantastic location for photography.

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First Image:
Not my cup of tea. I can’t really see the surfers face or emotions. And the tiny wave is not exciting me either.
Processing wise I’d try to be a bit more gentle. A bit less sharpening, less saturation and less denoising might have improved the look of the image a bit.

Second Image:
I like this one a bit better. It’s a calm looking image. it would have probably looked a lot better if the sun was a bit lower (warmer light, less harsh shadows) and the air was a bit more clear (better visibility on the vulcano). With a more interesting sky you could then have tried a lower angle/ shooting position. This would compress the ocean a bit and show more of the sky. Raising the surfer over the horizon line could also be interesting.

Third Image:
I like this one. Nice colors and a pretty scene. I like the exposure time, nice blur to the water without completely loosing all detail.
I would have tried going either wider (if the scene allows for that) or a bit tighter so the focus is really on the water fall.
The processing is appropriate too. I would try to make it a bit brighter via curves while trying to keep the water from blowing out. Also there seems to be some sort of quite strong tonemapping applied. I’d try dialing that back a bit to get just a bit more depth. As Peter stated, a foreground object like a interesting piece of wood or leave could also help.

Here is a slightly edited version:

I made the whitebalance a bit colder and removed a tick of green. Slightly desaturated the image. Cropped it a bit tighter. Removed some of the CA with a masked defringe in darktable. I’m not sure if I made it better or worse, but it’s different at least.

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So @plaven already did a great job overall, I’m just adding my own two cents. :smile:


I think the questions about focus (intent) are good. I understand you probably wanted to bring a bit of the environment into the image as well (and with good reason, looks like it’s gorgeous out). Composition seems find to me, but I agree that the repetition of color makes things monotonous, and the haze hurts the volcano in the background (washing out the colors and detail). Of course, some of us get spoiled seeing surf photographers shooting from the water at the base of the wave (where it’s probably hard to get a bad shot, to be honest). It’s tough to make something dynamic looking from shore, where you’re constrained in composition.

That being said, probably cropping tighter and/or getting something with a bit longer reach could bring the action up closer and make it pop a bit more dynamically? I also probably would have softened up the sharpening and denoise a little.


This has similar things going on as #1 for the mid/background, though honestly the composition is better for me personally in this one. I rather like the expanse of water (and wonder what it might have looked like a little wider as well? - or on the other side, going really long (telephoto) to compress everything). I’m wondering if a polarizing filter would have helped here a bit to remove that haze?


I also like this one the best (I’m a sucker for pretty long-exposure waterfalls). I agree with @Jonas_Wagner for the most part about cropping a bit (in particular the tufts of grass that @plaven mentions as well). This is overall very pretty and well-exposed, though it looks like there was a bit too much sharpening? The light is very pretty there (diffuse and soft), if a little bit flat (i totally want to bring a model in to stand in the water down there :slight_smile: ).

I’m wondering if you could use some gradient masks to accentuate the global contrast a little bit? Sort of “add in” directional light a little bit? Just a thought.

This is just some of my random thoughts. These are all neat images in a gorgeous place. Please, keep them coming!

Your example images are quite pretty! Just an FYI, if you put the Flickr link on a line all by itself, the forum will automatically go grab a preview and embed it for you:



Also, thank you for the well written and thought out response!

Thanks so much for all your responses! I will continue to work through them and adjust accordingly.

It seems like workflow along with some further composition tightening might be the rule here. Though, in the Tarawera Falls shot I was as tight as I could go with my 18~55mm kit lens due to the steep terrain and fast moving water.

I try to shot for both myself and other people, and I use the likes of 500px to gauge peoples response, so if I get a high target there would probably be a better chance of a sale. Might be a bit of flawed logic going on there. Sadly though, it’s lead to a bit of despair as I’ve compared my work to the highly polished output of others and got somewhat frustrated and discouraged as a result. This hasn’t helped by the fact that I’m highly critical over my own work. So I definitely take your point, it’s bought me back to ground zero so I can refocus.

Thanks again to one and all, particularly @plaven for your insights.



Then why not crop and resize? You’ve got way more sensors pixels than you need.

I have to confess that I’ve taken about zero pictures of smooth blue tropical oceans. But looking at the first picture, something unpleasant seems to happen to the wave textures as they go off in the distance - a sort of smudgey moire. Some gaussian blur might have smoothed them out.

My recipe would be

  • Use a better lens (my 110mm effective fl Takamar is much better at making subjects “pop” even in poor UK light - but this option is cheap for me because I use a mirrorless camera)

  • Selectively process the surfer for sharpening and microcontrast and the distant waves with a blur

  • Consider blending the surfer with a pop effect produced using an edge detection filter or GMIC:

  • Crop. I know you want to include the land opposite but there’s just too much blue water between. (You might get away with cutting and pasting to remove some ocean and blurring the join if that’s your thing.)

  • Next time aim to take the shot when the surfer’s eyes are visible - or at least one of them in profile. This guy is turned away and that remove an enormous amount of energy from the shot, especially as the shading on his body emphasizes that so strongly.

The second pic is just a snap and I’d cull it. I’d have said the same about the 3rd but JW’s crop transformed it - you found the right shot, you just have to be more willing to crop!