This month the club is trialling a virtual appraisal by one of our experienced judge members of images submitted by other members. 14 images were submitted by 14 members and were judged by Alan Walker. He introduced his comments as follows:
“The following comments are just my thoughts on the images I received and of course another judge may well have a different overall opinion but I hope, nevertheless, you find them useful. Basic image faults that I have commented on, often called ‘judge bait’, will probably be picked up and taken into account in the marking by most judges. It is worth mentioning here that the rules around the judging of Nature have become a little more relaxed allowing the removal of small artefacts in the image that could be distracting. This has, however, resulted in some judges expecting to see these distracting elements now being removed.
In this appraisal I have tried to give an honest constructive appraisal of each image on the basis that the author may be considering entering it in a future KPS open competition or indeed any other competition and the image will therefore be subject to the scrutiny of an independent judge (or three judges if a Salon or a PAGB comp.) at some time next season and this advance appraisal may help in deciding upon your entries. But remember these are just my thoughts and suggestions, the final decision for the selection of a competition entry must always rest with the author. Should any member wish to discuss my comments on their image in more detail please feel free to contact me.
Alan Walker MPAGB, ARPS, MPSA, EFIAP
The image captures a nice family moment. The composition shows enough to tell the story of the draughts, however, it is unfortunate the child’s face (the main focal point of the image) is not sharp as the focus is just off. The angle of taking could have been improved, by a move to the right, to avoid the distracting white steps in the background. This would have given a better angle on the child’s face, avoided the steps and the tree stump coming out of the child’s shoulder. As the image is now it could be improved by selectively darkening the white steps or cloning the green bush over them, but as it is a family picture it is unlikely to do well should it be entered in an open competition as a judge will have no emotional attachment to the image and will judge it on face value.
Great butterfly shot, with good handling of depth of field, exposure and background. Although well positioned in the frame it is a shame the author was not able to include all the butterfly’s body. I think a little selective darkening of the bright part of the leaf would reduce any risk of distraction from the focal point. Finally, I would crop a little of the bottom to make the butterfly less central in the frame.
I think the combination of the waterfall with the hint of autumn colour works and the use of a slow shutter speed renders the water nicely. The image is well exposed with no blown highlights (which is often a problem with slow water shots), but it would, however, be much stronger if the waterfall was larger in the frame and thereby a more dominant focal point. Currently the waterfall is dominated by the foliage and whilst a bit of cropping would improve the image, I think a closer zoom at the taking stage would have resulted in a stronger composition. In this image the top of the waterfall is separated from the bottom by quite a long drop and when this is the case it is often a better judgement call to select either the top or the bottom to photograph to avoid a long narrow image with no real focal point.
Race to the Finish:
Strong sports image capturing the athletes straining at the finish line. Exposure is good, but I would selectively lighten the faces particularly the runner on the right. Great non-distracting background with just enough detail to show the track event story. I wonder if a slightly ‘punchier’ treatment of the mono would add a little more drama to the image? A very small point, I would suggest you remove the partly cropped writing on the track at the bottom of the image, as it is a slight distraction.
I think this fine art nude study works very well. The use of natural light provides a softness which enhances the exposure. There is detail in both the shadows and the highlights, I would, however, slightly darken the left side of the model’s chest to balance the light on her body. The angle of shot is different and confuses the viewer’s perspective, but I think that just adds to the strength of the square framed composition. Finally, I’m not sure about the hair the way it is. I wondered if it runs the risk of being a distraction (or judge bait!) and would have been better tucked under the model’s body? Having said that it does not distract from it being a cracking image.
This is a good sharp capture of the stalking Tiger. With excellent exposure in what looks difficult light, I also like the slightly off-centre wary look of the tiger. It is unfortunate that the author has chopped the right foot off giving a judge plenty to comment on. I would suggest a square ‘head and shoulders’ crop (unless you have other equally good shots with the whole tiger). This would overcome the cut off foot and the partial rear end of the tiger’s body and produce a strong tiger portrait.
The author has skilfully captured the beautiful atmosphere of what looks like a dawn shot and the exposure is well handled to compliment the mist. The image has a softness which I think works, but I am not sure it enhances it overall and would be inclined to make the foreground just a little more defined to add depth to the image. Finally, as to composition, the tree on the left is a beautiful shape and strong focal point. The trees on the right, on the other hand, do not have a distinctive shape and do not (in my opinion) add much to the image. But…..the beautiful light seems to lead your eye to the trees on the right ! I think a crop might be too much off of the right and I suspect these trees are too much to remove in PS. In any case the light would need to lead the eye to the left to complete the composition. Personally, I would like to have seen the shot taken at a slightly different angle to make the single pine the sole tree on the left point of the thirds, a shot the author may of course have if it was possible to achieve and be able to add the lead in light where necessary !
A classic monochrome image which has a good perspective balance using the Pier and Groins to lead the eye into the image. The use of a slow shutter speed has removed any distracting waves and created a smooth finish to the sea which also compliments the feel of the image. The highlights and shadows seem to have been handled well, but there has been some ‘burning’ under the pier which is quite noticeable on the right and could result in reduced marks in a competition. A small concern the image file size is very small, just 127kb and this could well present problems when projected.
Gannet Fly Past:
A good flight shot of a Gannet showing it in its environment which is currently popular in nature photography circles, but does not always find favour with club judges who often want to see more detail in the subject matter. Although in this shot it is important to see some of the background the bird unfortunately has similar colouring to the cliffs behind, thereby preventing it from standing out due to the detail of the cliffs still being quite pronounced. As to the framing I think the image would benefit from a tighter crop. I would take the sky and buildings out, a little off the sea and finally a bit of the right to make the bird less central in the composition. The background cliffs which are a little too much in focus could be improved by blurring in Lightroom and/or P.S. thereby helping the bird to standout. Finally, a little work on the gannet itself to enhance the tonal contrast of the bird would also help to make it standout. The adjustments suggested would not make the image ineligible for a nature competition.
Bejewelled Temple Goats, Guwahati:
An interesting Travel shot which is nicely framed and shows a slice of Asian life that we don’t see in Keswick high street. Although tightly cropped at the bottom I think you have just got away with it as there is enough detail to keep the image framed. In fact, I would be inclined to improve the balance by bringing in the left side to remove the partial back legs of the bottom goat and on the right bring the crop in to the middle goats left foot to complete the composition (and thereby removing the distracting white ‘fluff’ to the rear of the top goat) . The foreground exposure is good and the background has been handled well, being rendered dark enough to preserve some detail without blocking up the shadows. I think, however the author may want to further darken some of the lighter bits of the roof and window frame, to avoid them becoming ‘judge bait’. Finally, I would suggest you desaturate and darken the red steps the goats are sitting on to make them less intrusive.
Heron with eel:
A well seen nature shot of a Heron with catch. It is a perfect crop including enough of the surrounding area to put the bird in context resulting in a good composition. Sadly, the main point of focus is the rock just behind the Heron’s head, whereas it should be the bird’s head with the eel. The result of this has rendered the main focal point of the image out of focus which will lead to a judge reflecting this in the score. Unfortunately, there is little you can successfully do to recover an image where the main focal point is out of focus. Whilst there are sharpening and detail extracting tools in post processing software, in my experience they just tend to exacerbate such a problem.
Little West Lake 2:
A striking high key monochrome image that is well exposed and captures both the reflection and the atmosphere of the scene. I like the crop and the balance of the bridge on the left, but would maybe look at taking about a cm off the bottom to reduce the symmetry with the reflection. As it is the focal point it may be worth selectively increasing the definition of the structure on the island to make it a little more pronounced to ‘appear out of the mist’ as at the moment it competes with the darker reflection for the viewer’s eye. This could be easily done via an adjustment layer using soft light or the burn tool to darken and increasing the tonal contrast. I would then lighten and reduce the contrast of the foreground reflection to make it less dominant. Finally, I would add a slight darkening vignette to the corners which would help to draw the viewer’s eye into the image.
Kestrel and Stock Dove:
Great nature action shot with plenty of storytelling (an element that often earns extra marks in nature competitions) and enhanced by the fact the birds are not against sky. The exposure has been handled extremely well in such harsh light with detail in the plumage of both birds. The depth of field is good with detail in the birds, but the background although not in focus is a little distracting and could, I would suggest, benefit from being darkened, de-saturated and a slight reduction in contrast. Finally, if there are still any distracting details the blur tool in PS could help to disguise them. All these actions can be done using PS tools through layers and do not disqualify the image from being entered in a Nature competition. I assume this is quite a big crop to achieve the square format, but I would be inclined to take a little off the bottom to reduce the size of the rather bright tree stump and also darken it down to ensure the eye is not taken away from the main subject. To finish I think the image would benefit from a darkening vignette to draw the viewer in.
A pin sharp capture of a Whimbrel with a beautiful out of focus complimentary background and perfect exposure. I think the crop would benefit from a little off the top and righthand side making the bird less central in the frame. It is a shame we can’t see all the bird and although the foliage is not too distracting, I would remove the out of focus twig coming out of the bird’s breast and also remove the white grasses randomly coming out of the bird’s body to reduce any risk of a judge commenting on them. Again, these suggestions if applied would not disqualify the image from being entered in a nature competition.
Mending the Nets:
A strong portrait which I would normally judge on face value, but here I have assumed the image is a composite (albeit an excellent one) and therefore my appraisal and comments are based upon this assumption which I hope will be more helpful. I love the wistful expression on the ‘fishwives’ face and the grubby detail you have achieved in her hands. You may want to clean up the edge of her right arm which looks like it may have picked up some artifacts. The exposure has been handled extremely well particularly as your subject is in what appears to be sunlight. The background is nicely muted but I think the shore and cliffs would benefit from a little more blurring in either PS or Lightroom. Lighting in composites is, in my opinion, the single biggest challenge and whilst I appreciate you can get single shafts of sunlight I would be inclined to add a small amount of ‘soft light’ or the dodging tool here and there on the water and beach through a layer to help balance the foreground sunlight with the background thereby making it look less like an added background. Finally, I think the crop is a little tight and your main subject looks a bit cramped in the frame. If possible, I would add a couple of cms to the bottom and a cm on the left which will hopefully give you just enough space around your subject.
Sunset at Borve Bay:
A powerful seascape capturing the sunset at its zenith. The author has handled the exposure (particularly the sky) very well indeed. The composition too is good with a strong foreground and interesting wave leading to the adjacent rocks going out to sea. Whilst I know in these after sunset conditions you can often get colour casts, I think here the green and brightness of the sea is a little distracting and competes with the sky. To avoid a judge commenting on it I would suggest, you reduce the green and darken the sea through a layer and adjust the opacity until you are happy it compliments the rest of the image.
Many thanks to Alan for his time and expertise in critiquing these images and sharing his thoughts.