Photo Critique Series: Re-Processing a Misty Forest Scene

Yes, the critiques are back—finally! This critique features a beautiful forest image called "Mist," by David Eaton. The photograph was made in an area called The Chase near Birmingham, England.

This is my second video critique, and I've broken it into two parts. The first video discusses the processing (briefly), light, composition, exposure, and sharpness. In the second video I demonstrate how I re-processed the image in Lightroom.

After my first video critique I received many helpful suggestions, and I appreciate all the thoughtful comments. I've tried to incorporate as many of these suggestions as I could. One idea was to summarize the main points in writing, and I've done that below. However, the videos are still pretty long: the first is 15 minutes, and the second 10 minutes. I guess it's just not in my nature to gloss over things. If the critique brings up an issue—like the one about determining the cause of a blurred image that I discuss here—then I want to explore that topic, because that might be helpful to many people.

Video is a great medium in many ways—you can actually see a demonstration rather than trying to interpret a written description. However video isn't well suited to skimming and gleaning bits of information. I hope this summary will help the skimmers:

Part 1

00:00 Processing

The first thing that struck me about this image was that it looked too dark, and the color balance seemed too warm. David was kind enough to provide the Raw file, and here I compare the original with my re-processed version that's brighter and has a more neutral white balance.

What puzzled me about this photograph was that the Raw file was a bit underexposed, and yet David made it even darker in processing. It's possible that he just liked that dark, moody look, but I also wonder whether this might have been a monitor calibration issue. Most photographers don't calibrate their monitors, and if your screen is set too bright you might think that the image needed to be darkened.

In the video I mention the tool that I use for monitor calibration: the Eye-One Display 2 by X-Rite. Although this model has been discontinued, it works great, and you can still find it on Amazon here, and at a great price: $149.95. (Note that the software that ships with this doesn't work with Mac OS 10.7 Lion, but you can download a new version of the software from X-Rite).

The Display 2 has been replaced by the Display Pro, which has some nice new features, like automatically adjusting your monitor profile to compensate for ambient light.

05:35 Light & Composition

The re-processing brings out the clean, strong composition. There's lots of repetition in the vertical lines of the trunks, and there are no unnecessary distractions. One interesting feature is that the prominent trunk on the right edge is cut in half—usually a no-no. But I think it works here because it's balanced by half-a-trunk on the left edge.

The soft light and fog are beautiful, a perfect complement to the scene, and the image has a wonderful, quiet, foggy mood.

09:33 Exposure and Sharpness

This image was made with a Sony A100 with a 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens at 50mm. The exposure was 1/10 of a second at f/11 with 200 ISO.

The photograph is a bit underexposed, but certainly salvageable. A zoomed-in look reveals that the image is a bit soft overall. I discuss how to diagnose whether blurring is caused by camera movement, subject movement, or focus, and conclude that in this case the culprit was probably camera movement, created by either hand-holding at too slow a shutter speed, using a tripod without a cable release, or perhaps using a tripod with image stabilization on.

13:33 Summary

Although there are some small technical flaws, and I think the processing could be improved, overall I think this is a really beautiful image. It has great light and color, a clean, strong composition, and a wonderful mood.

Part 2

00:00 Lightroom Workflow

This isn't the appropriate time and place for a detailed explanation of my Lightroom workflow—that would make the video even longer! But my eBook Light & Land explains the workflow in depth. Here I briefly explain why I prefer to start with everything "zeroed" in Lightroom, and then talk about moving the white point with the Point Curve.

03:49 Curves vs. the Exposure Slider

People sometimes ask me why I prefer to lighten a photograph by moving the white point in the Point Curve rather than pushing the Exposure slider to the right. The short answer is that the Exposure tool boosts the midtones more, which tends to flatten highlights and wash out light colors. I make a comparison here.

06:18 Setting the Black Point and Making an S-Curve

07:54 Setting the White Balance

As shot the white balance was 5550K, which looks a little too warm to me. I show what it looks like both warmer and cooler, and discuss the merits of leaving it a bit cool to set up a color contrast, before settling on a relatively neutral color temperature of around 5100K.

09:12 Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation

I add a bit of Clarity, but the big increase in contrast created with the Point Curve already boosted the saturation, so I leave the overall Vibrance and Saturation alone.

Your Comments

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this photograph. What do you think of the composition, the light, and the fog? What about the processing, and the changes I made? Please post a comment and let me know!

Thanks David for sharing your photograph! You can see more of his work on Flickr.

If you like these critiques, share them with a friend! Email this article, or click on one of the buttons below to post it on Facebook or Twitter.

As part of being chosen for this critique David will receive a free 16x20 matted print courtesy of the folks at Aspen Creek Photo. If you’d like your images considered for future critiques, just upload them to the Flickr group I created for this purpose. If you’re not a Flickr member yet, joining is free and easy. You’ll have to read and accept the rules for the group before adding images, and please, no more than five photos per person per week. Thanks for participating!

—Michael Frye

Related Posts: The Power of Curves; Using Curves in Lightroom and Camera RawPhoto Critique Series: An Intimate, Wide-Angle Composition from Scotland

See all the critiques here.

Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author and photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters, plus the eBook Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom. He has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.

In the Moment: Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog

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    The videos are a neat idea, but is there any chance of posting the image like you used to as well? I know it isn’t great for visual quality, but I like to read blog posts on my phone and am not always able to watch a video when I’m doing that. The “summary” of the video is a great first step but having the image there to accompany it would be even better.

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