Photo Critique Series: “Sunrise at Sunset Point” by Raymond

The critiques are back! With my trip to Utah, and then having to restore my blog, it's been awhile, but I'm happy to be able to present another photo critique this week, and I hope it won't be so long until the next one. Thanks for your patience!

Light

This week’s photograph was made by Raymond in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. Perhaps the most striking feature of this image is the colorful sky, with clouds appearing to radiate out from the sun just before it clears the horizon. The warm hues of the red-orange clouds, along with the rusty rocks, form a nice color contrast with the cool blues of the sky and distant mountains.

Composition

What I like most about this composition is how the foreground and background complement each other. Those radiating lines in the clouds are subtly echoed by the folds in the landscape below.

Raymond said, “I found the scene to have many things going on—the snow, the hoodoos, the colored bands across the canyon sides, the ridges running down the sides, etc. In circumstances like that I find it difficult to feel “sure” of how the elements are arranged. I basically placed the horizon at the one-third point and placed the sun at the left/right midpoint. With my fingers crossed, I was hoping the colored bands would help lead the eye into the distance and the canyon’s bowl-like shape to cradle the elements of the scene.”

While there are "many things going on" here, the overall design is simple, and holds everything together. The colored bands do indeed lead the eye into the distance, and the canyon’s shape does “cradle” the elements of the scene, and better yet, echoes the shape of the clouds. Centering the sun was the perfect choice, as this emphasizes that radiating pattern in the sky.

But those colorful clouds are the most interesting part of the photograph, and I think they deserve more space. Plus the lines in the sky would be stronger, and echo the foreground more, if they were longer. I don’t think you’d want to split the photograph in half—centering the horizon rarely works unless you’re photographing a reflection—but I think a 60/40 division (60 percent land, 40 percent sky) would have been better.

Simply pointing the camera upward with the same focal length lens wouldn’t have worked, as that would have cut off important V-shaped lines near the bottom of the frame. But Raymond’s 10-22mm lens wasn’t quite zoomed out all the way—it was at 12mm—so he could have pulled back to 10mm, kept the bottom edge of the photo the same, and let the wider lens encompass more sky.

Technical Considerations

Raymond used a Canon Rebel XSi, 10-22mm lens, and an exposure of 5 seconds at f/16, 100 ISO. He used a 3-stop reverse graduated-neutral density filter to to darken the sun and sky.

The overall exposure looks good. The graduated filter did a decent job of balancing the contrast between the sky and foreground, and the result looks fairly natural, although an experienced viewer would know that something was done, because normally the sky would be much brighter than the landscape in a situation like this. But the contrast here was extreme, and it would be difficult to make this look completely natural no matter what you did.

I think, though, that the graduated filter darkened the top edge of the sky too much—that part of the photo does seem a bit unnatural. It would help to lighten that edge and the top corners.

Raymond said, “In processing, I removed some sensor noise and dust spots, then did the usual color, saturation, and contrast adjustment, as well as sharpening and spot removal. The 3-stop filter didn’t hold back the sun enough, so a bit of effort was spent on toning that area down with the burn tool. Finally, I darkened the image by a tad to my liking.”

Overall, the processing looks good. There’s enough contrast and saturation to give the image life, but it doesn’t look overdone. One small problem is that, when viewed larger, there’s a distinct halo along the distant ridge, probably the result of oversharpening. Also, the snow in the lower-right corner is too light—it pulls the eye out of the frame. Darkening this area would make it less distracting.

Conclusions

Raymond pulled off something all too rare in landscape photography—he used lines to tie a foreground and background together visually. The result is a coherent, dramatic image of an often-photographed national park. Technically this is well-executed, although a little less sharpening and some dodging and burning would improve the image.

Your Comments

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this photograph. Do you think the composition works overall? Would you also like to see a little more sky? When you first looked at the image, did it strike you as unnatural-looking, or did the blend between bright sky and darker landscape look fairly seamless?

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

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As part of being chosen for this critique Raymond 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

In the Moment: Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog

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5 Comments

    I think the composition worked pretty well. I didn’t really notice the post processing, after you pointed it out I suppose I can see it a little, but you have to look for it, so I don’t think it detracts from the picture.

    I like the series, makes me realize what’s wrong with my pictures (I have no idea what is going on in them in the way you analyze them), so looking forward to more.

    Thanks for the lesson your giving here, I agree that an inclusion of more sky would have perhaps given it a little more drama, but a great photo nonetheless, I, like a previous poster will be making a trek to both Zion and Bryce in October… looking forward to applying the techniques when that time comes…

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