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Another Look with Art Wolfe

Lesson 2 of 5

Landscape Image Critique

Art Wolfe

Another Look with Art Wolfe

Art Wolfe

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Lesson Info

2. Landscape Image Critique

Lesson Info

Landscape Image Critique

Alright, so we're gonna now start with the images and we have different categories. So in the landscape section, we're gonna start with the shot of Mount Rainier, one of my favorite subjects. I teach a workshop every year up there. It's my beloved mountain. And this is a beautiful shot of Mount Rainier. There's a couple things that would be better. Obviously, this is shot in a beautiful fall day, beautiful sky and actually the composition works quite well. The time of the day is a little flat. A little later in the day, a little earlier in the day and you get a little more shadows and shadows provide volume. So with noon daylight, you know, this looks kind of like mid-morning, it's a little flat because the white light of the sun is reflecting on all the surfaces so it's a little flat in terms of color. Composition looks really good. The other thing about this is this foreground rock and many of you can see my arrow moving across this image. That rock could have been a very nice foregr...

ound element. So as a second image, I would suggest, if the photographer went back to the same location and you just have the perfect world of another day just like this, I would have made, perhaps, a relationship with that rock in the foreground and Mount Rainier up on top. And you could have shot a vertical image and played with getting in closer to that rock, the textures and the red of the blueberry foliage and played with that rock in the foreground and the mountain in the distance. Basically, the left side of this image is not contributing so much to the entirety of the composition. So often people get looked into a horizontal format when sometimes the vertical format would work even better. So that's what I would say about this image. In this particular case, we have a interesting foreground of rocks and logs that have piled up on the shore. The distance is a few houses in the sunrise or sunset, I'm not quite sure. There's actually a crater or a frater in the far distance. Like that previous image, I'm suggesting that by repositioning the perspective the photographer is shooting could close the gap. Wherever the cursor is right now is quite a gap that's separating two elements of this composition. First the house and the sunset but also, I think we could further embellish and make this photo more interesting by making the foreground a little more important. Right now, we've got what? What's the critical thing Art would say? Horizon is right down the middle. And so our eye goes to the house and where the sun is and the horizon in the middle and we almost neglect to even linger very much in the foreground. And everything above this line is almost extraneous. So here's what I would say. Let's look at this. This puts the horizon out of the middle and could possibly be a way of seeing this composition. But if you want to incorporate the foreground which could be interesting, then if you got down a little closer and lower it to this rock and used it as a foreground element, you would close the gap by the very fact that you would get lower close to that rock and perhaps make it a vertical or as a horizontal, you could close this gap that's not really contributing, have a little bit of light and you could integrate the foreground and the background a little more effectively. So often it's a matter of using your knees and bending and getting a little lower. Most people actually shoot their landscapes from about three and a half feet above the surface. So just lowering the angle of view can change the dynamic of the elements in front of you. But the critical thing and the first thing I notice is where the horizon is and it's almost like we're hardwired. We are born, we eat, we go to the bathroom, we get a camera and the very next thing we do is we put the horizon in the middle and it just is deadly for creating movement of the eye. So I want to close the gap on that. We can either do it by having less foreground in this image like this and that's an okay shot or we can do something like this which is also not a bad image. So if I was to crop this, I would say anything above this line is basically already stated on what's below it. And so to me, if you're not gonna change positions maybe this would be a better solution. What I would further do is drop in a neutral density filter and you can see, I clicked on this vertical rectangle. That's called a neutral density filter and by clicking it and dragging it down and then this exposure mark, and again, I have to cover this even though it is not a tri-dus on Lightroom, I would be remiss by not telling you what I'm doing. So I'm basically darkening that sky a little bit, perhaps a little too much. But still, the real answer is taking that rock, moving to the right, getting low and having this rock as a form filling up the foreground because those hard edges right here are incongruous with the rounded form. The buildings are kind of rounded in shapes. The clouds are very organic and rounded. Then you've got these big old Cuban cigars laying on the beach and those are hard edge and my eye looks at those hard lines and they're almost like a visual stop. That's why I wanted to use that rock as a foreground element to work in a better harmony with those organic shapes in the distance, does that make sense? So it's just a matter of taking the subject you're looking at and really scrutinizing the elements. Is that foreground rock a potential subject and if it is, am I gonna get lower and fill up the frame? And usually by doing that, you create, what, a better sense of depth. When there's an element in the foreground that commands your attention, then everything sits back further. And when you raise the horizon line, that effectively creates movement of the eye to the distant shore. So when I'm saying movement of the eye, I'm not only talking or suggesting filling up the frame but creating movement to the distant horizon and all the way back. And in fact, that image that I showed you a couple minutes ago of the pilgrim on the Ganges just does that, that really conveys the sense of depth and movement of the eye. So as we reset, you can see now that horizon is right in the middle and that's where your eye just tends to stop. It's almost impossible to look at the foreground element without being drawn right to there and stopping. So here's another shot that I really love the elements. The sun looks like a painting to me because it's rising up through a really cold mist. You've got these frosted trees. I love the tendrils of branches with snow. But this is really incongruous with the rest of the image. It's like a visual stop. And maybe the person that took this image, maybe that's their property on this river or pond and they really love the craftsmanship in that railing. But for most of the audience that has no connection to that railing, it's like jarring compared to what lies beyond. So if it was me, if I was there, undoubtedly I would have come down here and shot from here and incorporated everything I could. I would step back, bring in these branches, which the photographer did, and I would just get rid of that hard railing which just it's like the elephant in a china shop. You know, it commands our attention whereas everything, look at the beauty of the frosted trees, the pastel light, all of that looks like a Robert Bateman painting to me. And yet this really hard edge, fairly uninteresting railing doesn't really serve and work with the rest of that. Does that make sense? So I mean, I normally try to fix things through a crop and I don't know, there's not much that I could do with this because that railing is just in the wrong place. But if I could, you know, there's ways of, you know, making things disappear but I'm not gonna walk down that path. But really the image lies in all the organic and it's such a beautiful morning that it's a shame that we have that railing in there. So based on what I just said, what am I gonna say? Well you know, I'm gonna try to resist saying, well, there's an easy way to do this. Let's just remove that and make that the shot but say you really want that structure, that house boat or that, I don't even know what it's called. It looks like it's from the south. I would say let's try to frame it to where it's a little more less on the side and less as a secondary element and make it more important. And you can do that by changing, what I typically will do by the way is I will take down highlights just as a matter of course and these are all in the order that they were designed. Highlights, shadows come up. So I'm opening up the shadows. Then I look at my histogram up here in the right, right up here in the corner, and I will pull the whites to the right. Many of you may not have heard of clipping. So now my whites and my black reside within what they call the histogram. And so if I look at this in its entirety now, you can see the exposure is a little easier and there's more information within that structure but at this point that's about as much as I can integrate that into this composition. My belief is if you re-shot this shot and used the structure to frame this distant one which got the dock as well, maybe if that's what you really want to say, you go back and you get within that structure and you're framing a picture within a picture because right now, in the original, it looks like an afterthought. It's waving everything to the right and if this is what you're after, then make it unequivocal. Because I think introducing it on the right just is a really tough thing to do. And if it was just the organic nature of the landscape, and you can see when I'm cropping, I'm not cropping because I think that's gonna make a better shot. I'm cropping to show you what I would do the next time you're out there and you put on a lens that you can do this. Because every time I crop that radically, I'm cropping out valuable pixels so I'm not suggesting that this is the answer. I'm cropping to show you what to do the next time around. And so when I crop, I usually go up to the four by six because it's the 35 millimeter framing from which most people are shooting. I don't want people to be aware I'm cropping. Do you get that? I want them to assume I'm just that good and I get it right the first time I click the camera. So when I'm cropping, I'm always going back and clicking on the crop mark, which is right here. And then I hit this arrow next to the lock and I go to the two by three or four by six then that's a 35 millimeter crop. So then I can change this, enlarge it and it stays in that format, as you can see. But everything above this mark is pretty blown out. So if I stay where I am and then do what I suggested before, highlights come down, shadows come up, then there may be a shot right there. That would be an alternative and then I would drop down a neutral density. So I clicked on that vertical mark right there and I'm gonna pull that down. And what I'm doing by using these filters like this gradient is I'm trying to control your eye actually. So I talk about moving your eye throughout the composition and those lines move your eye. Your eye naturally will follow lines within a composition but also your eye follows the light. So the brightest elements within any composition is like a magnet for the eye. And often, far too often, people have that on the corner of their composition directing the eye right up and out of a composition. So by using these filters, then I can control where your eye goes and that is a good thing. So what happens when you use these filters sometimes, they saturate the color. And there is a, the sided saturation that occurs by using that filter and so to get around that I can pull the saturation down. So when I click on that mark, that little vertical gradient filter, everything below it now is related to that. So if I wanted everything to go magenta above, you can see how I can change the color. So right now I'm desaturating the color so it looks more in keeping with just a single capture and that could possibly be a way of handling that subject. Right now, I don't know if the photographer was into that structure so much that they had to have it or if it was that morning with the beautiful clouds and the reflected water and if that was the subject, then they should have let go of the structure. But to have it as they did, it's kind of a mixed bag. It's giving me two signals and my eye doesn't really know where to go, I'm conflicted. So either have more of the structure as part of the frame or none of it, okay? So here's a, and I selected the order because all three of these photos are related. And this now becomes a much more integrated use of manmade structure in the image. But what did I say a couple minutes ago? When I crop, I try to crop into a 35 millimeter because I don't want people to realize I'm cropping. So if I did that and if I closed that lock, that's the 35 millimeter. What would happen if I did that? I'm losing some of the drama of that fence that this photographer really carefully crafted so I'm not gonna do that. But what I would do is open the lock and I would pull this down because there's a lot of white sky coming in those trees in the distance or above that mark-up in there. And so by cropping it into a panoramic, I can get rid of the contrasting light coming through the trees but this makes the horizon out of the middle and the horizon in this previous shot is right there. That becomes your horizon disappearing mark and then look where it is, right again in the middle. If we're trying to create a sense of movement of the eye down the path that this photographer carefully framed, then why not have it as a panoramic and it just begs to be a panoramic. So again, we open the lock and we bring it down and now, as a composition, to me, that works far more effectively. Everything in the original photo but in a clearer way and now the horizon's high in the frame and I'm conveying a greater sense of depth down that path. And we now have at least five or six different agreed upon croppings in a panoramic format. There's several different formats of panoramic so I'm not so concerned about that because it's an obvious panoramic format versus a 35 millimeter so I'm less critical about that. But I think anything that I cropped out of this frame, and let me go back now, if I click on anything up here really is already stated here. There's no really need to have all that bright sky and those trees because those trees are already in below that mark. So what I cropped down there, and I'm now getting a little redundant, I'm just trying to bring home that point that everything in here is already in the image. I don't know that we need those trees up there and I think what we gain then is that sense of depth, okay. And on this image, I would maybe adjust the color a little bit. I think the redness of the wood is a little strong so maybe what I would do is get into the temperature and perhaps pull it slightly to the left which brings back some of the blues and the greens. And if I pull the tint from magenta to the left, it brings a little bit of yellow out of the, so that's a very subjective thing. I'm a colorist, my background's painting and art and design so color is something I will use frequently in my images. And sometimes it becomes a little obvious for me when I look at the colors. Now here's an image that's very similar to the last one. It's got a row of trees in the background. But I wouldn't really change this composition. The horizon's in the middle. But I look at that image and what's happening is that rays that are occurring in the sun, the flare, that tells me that it's a small aperture opening. So when you just have a little bit of sun peeking around rock or in this case a grove of trees, it creates this natural burst of rays and that is kind of an interesting element to work with because those rays are facing upward and outward and all the way around so it's a very symmetrical starburst but look what's happening in the branches. The branches are upward as well. If you look at a lot of them, they're facing upwards. So there's a beautiful symmetry between the sunburst and the branches. And then on the bottom, everything's spraying out in an equal way as well. So in this case, I think the composition is perfect, is a very symmetrical image, and I wouldn't really touch the crop. I think the photographer in this particular case did a really great job, it's really beautiful. Alright, so now we've got, this is a bit of a challenge because we've got beautiful stratus or cirrus clouds, a really nice layer of fog over this lake, and a really nice reflection. So again, there's not a lot that I would change about this image. I think the composition really really works. If this was my image, well, and I'm sure somebody that shot this probably has done a lot of work on it in terms of Lightroom but I would still take the highlights down a little bit, open up the shadows and, boy, I hate to say it but I think there's not much I could do differently. I think the image really works. As filling up the frame, my eye wants to go everywhere in this frame. I think the use of the clouds above the mountain is beautiful and there's a lot of nice things contributing in this image. In most cases, and if I hit L, it makes everything black and when I hit it again, it opens it up. On a lot of my shots with reflections in it, I often will I'll hit that gradient filter and I've showed you examples where I've come from the sky down to take down the sky a little bit. In this particular case, I'm gonna go from the bottom up. And I could open that up just a little bit. So I want, the idea is normally on any reflection, it's at least two stops darker than what's above the water line and that's reality. But I don't care, I want to create the best shot possible. So often I'm brightening the reflection up so that every part of the composition works. So I slightly brighten that up but it didn't need much. That's all I would do with that, okay. Really really nice shot. And this is a really nice open image as well. When we look at this in its entirety, there's a sense of space. But what's Art gonna say? Horizon's right down the middle, okay. So, you know, I love the fact that the sun is behind the trees. I love the gracefulness of these cattails in the foreground. Yeah, there's this open expanse, but for me, this area here starts to fall away, you know. It looks less interesting than this area. I might suggest that after you've shot it as a horizontal like this to, again, go to a different way and think of taking the horizon out of the middle. So I'm gonna open up this lock. That frees me to change the composition. So I'm gonna bring it over here and now I'm gonna say, I'm thinking, if I use these reeds, these vertical reeds to draw your eye up to that sun, I'm gonna just basically get the horizon out of the middle. And now I'm gonna use this gradient and that you can see is a little too much and so I can just go to the exposure and brighten that up. It's a tough exposure because this area in and around the sun is blown out. The exposure has no information so by darkening it just simply goes gray so I'm gonna have to kind of keep it somewhat bright but just a little darker than it was. But I think this image now fills the frame better and has the eye that goes up to the horizon. And the last thing I would do on always with these kind of images is pay attention to the horizon because as much as I'm critical about horizons, I almost never get it right myself. I can spend hours trying to level the camera and all that and then I take the picture and it looks off. So in Lightroom, you just simply hit the crop and just grab it on the corner and you can rotate it and there's lines that appear and I will straighten up the horizon. And I think that that could be a really nice secondary way of seeing this landscape. It certainly exemplifies what I'm talking about getting the horizon out of the middle. It still doesn't look quite right to me. That may be better. But you can see how that works in a different way than the entirety because this whole area to the left is not really contributing to this composition so I think that works better. There's multiple ways of skinning a cat. We could have turned this into a panoramic as well by doing it this way. You know, and again, I do want to say this to the audience at home as well as in this room that whether you agree with my solutions or not, I think the most critical part of this whole process is seeing how I'm analyzing where the eye goes. So we can agree to disagree on that. You may say, well, the color doesn't look quite like, that's all fine but it's the process of how I'm looking at images and how I'm trying to enunciate what I'm doing in real time. That's more important than anything else. And you'll go to bed tonight thinking, horizons, I'm in the middle! You know, and if I'm ruining your life about that, that's a good thing because you will remember this amazing voice echoing in your head the next time you're out there in the bush trying to photograph a shot. Now as a horizontal panoramic, that actually works pretty well. But the horizon was the critical thing. So the photographer that shot this image did a really good job. They were up, it's a probably a sunset, maybe. There's no way I would know. But they were at this pond early in the morning or late in the day. They really worked with the reeds in the foreground and everything. It's just about fine-tuning that last few steps like the horizon, okay. So where's the horizon, where's the disappearing line? Right in the middle again. So you have horizons and you have disappearing lines and usually they're the bullseyes. So there's a couple things I would do with this image. First, I would go to the highlights and take the highlights down. The next thing I would do is open up. Now I should say this and this would be an appropriate time. If I had all raw images brought into this process, there's a lot more I can do. And the reality is, we had kind of a mixed bag. We had very large JPEGs that were really fine and then there were some very small JPEGs and then there were images that may have been taken with less than the latest cameras. So we're dealing with what we've got and some of the files are a little iffy as to what I can pull off. But by just taking the highlights down, opening up the shadows, gives me kind of a more even playing field. So the next thing I'm gonna do is try to make that middle horizon change. And when I look at this image, I'm gonna give more value to the foreground than what's above the horizon. So I'm gonna go to the crop, open up the lock, and bring this down and I'm now making this into more of a panoramic. And why would I do that rather than keep to a 35? Because if I made this a 35, then I'm gonna lose some of those moss-covered logs or fence which I think is really important in this image on both sides. And maybe I'll bring this right up to where these lines are coming out of the corners. So when I hit this, there's not much that I lost in this image. I lost some of the trees but we got the trees so it's not a critical loss of subject matter. I've raised the vanishing point. The other things that I would do is those are really orange needles that are on the ground so I might take the saturation down a little bit and that's probably more true to what the reality is. The one thing I cannot do is reclaim the brightness on that road because there is no information whatsoever left in that. This is all a proper exposure, this is all proper exposure, but this is kind of a wet road and it's reflecting white light and that is a problem. So on a subject like that, maybe a polarizer could take down some of the shine on a wet road. And if you were to do that, it's likely you could reclaim that light. So polarizers, I use polarizers, I've almost let go of using graduated neutral density filters because we've got it now in Lightroom. But there's nothing that can replace a polarizer and people, oddly enough, still only use polarizers on sunny days in mountains or in deserts. But in fact, even on overcast days in forests and rainforests, I use it because wherever there's light, they're reflecting white light. So on shiny leaves in forests or wet roads, it would be a great use, but it's a rather nice image. It's a moody image. I love the way the road became the subject. It's just about the exposure at this point. I think this is a very nice shot, a really nice shot of these draped rocks along the sea. And I don't know where it's shot. It looks almost like it's Scotland or Ireland. The first thing I'm gonna do to help this image though is, the composition's really nice but the light's a little, it's pulling your eye up and into this area where there's not a lot going on, right? So probably the first thing I would do is either keep the 35 millimeter and close it but now I'm losing part of the really nice rocks. Or and more and more frequently in the last couple of years, I'm going to more of a panoramic format. So I've closed a little bit of that bleached-out sky. I'm gonna use the highlights and that really takes care of a lot of that sky and open up the shadows a little bit. And now you can see it's like putting a big cloud over the subject. And then I'm gonna go right back up to the histogram up here in the upper right and make the blacks as black as I can and the whites bright and that revitalizes this image. And I can use a healing brush and take this down a little bit which is a little clumsy but I'm getting to the point. I mean, anybody that knows Lightroom can spend more time and fine tune this but the point is, I'm trying to bring the exposure into alignment and to be commensurate with the rest of the image and I think that's what I'm after in an image like this. I think it's a lovely image but my eye now goes throughout the entirety. Of course, I love the high horizon line. The interesting foreground rocks are full of texture. There's beautiful texture on the ones in the upper left. There's nice texture in the clouds. But I think taking the clouds down, and you can see there's a little bit of a imperfection in what I did here. You can spend a little more time burning this down. But for the sake of looking at an image in just a couple of minutes, that basically gets to the essence of what I think needs to happen in this image. Beautiful shot. One of the best cow shots I've ever seen in my life. You know, it's a nice shot of a cow because the mountains in the background are terrific. So when I look at this image, I want to definitely make it a panoramic because all the major lines in this composition, including cow, are kind of horizontal. It's a very linear, long, lateral image. So if I open that up and open up the lock, I can bring this down to maybe about there, okay? But that's not the main thing I'm gonna do. The brightest part of any composition attracts your attention, right? So right now, the beautiful background's competing with this bright sunshine. I love the fact that it's almost a chiaroscuro light, the Rembrandt type of light. And so with a neutral density filter, I'm gonna bring in a shadow and I'm gonna frame those cows. So by bringing up this filter, and again, I clicked on that horizontal, this rectangular shape, that's my neutral density filter. I'm gonna darken it, I'm gonna darken it to make it look like a natural shadow. And suddenly, that whole bottom area now doesn't pull my eye away from the cow and the mountain and it creates more of a mystery. And now some people would say, well, you're changing the reality of the situation. Well, we've done that for years using graduated neutral density filters with glass and plastic. How is it doing it in Lightroom somehow less real? And but what it really does then is it holds your eye to the cows, there's nothing being drawn away, but also it allows your eye to see that background mountain which I think is beautiful. So it makes the cow seem like a exotic animal and I think it's a really lovely image. But that shadow really definitely helps that image. You see that, you would agree? You're gonna pass this workshop now. Let's look at this image. Whoever shot this image did a great job. This image is beautiful. It can be improved but low horizon was a very very fine choice. The beautiful color of those trees and, to me, it's either Midwest like Minnesota or it's up in New England, I'm not sure where it is, but it's beautiful, the variety of color in there. But that brightness of the sky is overwhelming the color in the trees. So I think the composition is perfect, I would never change that, but let me show you what I could do with this. So the first thing I'm gonna do is highlights come down. That reclaims a little bit of the detail in the clouds. Shadows come up and the shadows now reveal more of the color in the trees. Then I'm gonna go to my rectangle, graduated neutral density filter and bring that down. And you can see, if I close it, it becomes a hard line. That's a real hard line. But if I open it up, it becomes a soft line. So we want that soft line especially with soft subjects so I'm gonna grab it, straighten it out, and bring it down just above. Now we've got that really watery beautiful cloud. And I might even darken it a little bit, a little more moody or I can even go down and play with blacks. See, if I go into the blacks, it makes whatever's dark darker and gives this sky, it really turns this sky into something a little more dramatic. But then I'm gonna do that old cow trick. I'm gonna bring in that neutral density filter from the bottom and I'm gonna darken the water and that holds your eye on the bottom. I haven't really changed the composition but what I have changed is the way you look at that image. Now the trees become absolutely not overwhelmed with the sky or the water but the composition works. So that becomes a stunning image to me and it's just a matter of using those filters. So bing bang boom, it's done. So yeah, we live in a time where we're using digital cameras. For the longest time in my history as a photographer, the moment I click my camera, all creativity ended. And if I was lucky enough that one of my images would wind up in a magazine or a book, they may choose to print it slightly different than the slide that I looked at. But that's the only time I could see something different than what I shot. In today's world, in seconds after taking the image, I can use the pixels that are in the raw capture and basically emulate what the eye does. If the person was standing there at the edge of this lake and his eye or her eye was going up in the sky, our retinas stop down or our irises stop down and suddenly we see those details in the clouds. But in a single capture, you wouldn't necessarily get it. So what I'm doing is emulating what the eye would do naturally, stopping down whether it's high and opening up where there's shadows and now I've done it through the process of Lightroom. Beautiful shot, Denali. Horizon's in the middle, okay? So I look at this image, and everything that I'm doing with these photographers' work, I would do with mine. So I'm not, like, really lecturing, I'm just going into kind of a rote, this is what I would do with this image. And so I'm gonna open up the lock and I say everything below this mark is already stated in what lies above. You know, everything down here isn't adding dramatically to what's happening in the image nor is anything above here really adding to the image. So I'm making it, again, a panoramic but that gives more emphasis on the mountain, okay. So then I go down here. Now that I established the way I think this image should see because the Alaska range is very broad. It's just not Denali but it's Foraker and these other mountains that lie in that range. They're very dramatic mountains. I'm gonna take the highlights down, shadows come up. Then I go down to the lights and I'm looking at that histogram in the upper left and then the blacks, okay. Then I might drop in a neutral density filter again. So I'm gonna zero everything out and drop this down. So I've zeroed it out and you see no effect at this point until I start to play with perhaps contrast. Maybe I'll bring that down a little bit. Play with lights and blacks and that makes that mountain pop a little bit. Because in the original image, it was a little light, it was a little overexposed. And now the mountain really sings and, if this was my image, I could bring in that neutral density filter a little bit and just slightly darken and that, again, directs the eye up into the frame. So I turn that off, I hit L twice and we got the image. So it didn't take much, it did not take much. But as we look back and hit reset, you can see this is filling the frame, movement of the eye, whereas this, all the meat of the shot, all the interest lies right in that middle quadrant and that's where I went, okay? I think this is a beautiful shot, a magic moment of the sun looking through that wave cresting. But that rock in the foreground, oh now I see it. I didn't see that. So there is a fur seal there, alright. So what can we do? Well, if the seal and the wave are the two critical things, maybe what we can do is make it unequivocal the relationship so we talking about relationships here. Everything down here, that whitewater down here, this rock, perhaps that wave part, that's secondary to what's happening between the wave and that seal. And I think maybe the photographer wants to retain, and I think they would. So this is the way I would look at that. I would just crop it in tighter. I did it too much. We need a pedestal for that seal. You can't have that too, what I'm trying to do basically by doing this is everything here, all this white down here and the white down there pulls my eye away from the relationship between that fur seal about to get hammered by that wave. And it's probably not true. I think this was a telephoto shot, of course, and it compressed the distance between that seal because the rock that it's on is dry. So those waves are not reaching him but with a telescopic telephoto, you can press it and create more drama. So this even creates more drama by making the relationship between these two elements unequivocal. And so maybe highlights come down a little bit, shadows come up. And again, I have no way of knowing whether this has already been gone through so I might be doing something a little more redundant. And when I look at this, I'm just always gonna test the color. You know, if I pull it to the blue, everything becomes blue. If I pull it to the right, everything becomes jaundiced. So somewhere in between, and if I pull this to the right, that helps a little bit. By pulling this to the magenta side, I'm bringing out more of a nice color in the rock and this water becomes a little less green but that blue is still nice and it brings out the blue in the water so that's perhaps what I'd do. I might actually, if this were my image, I would go to the Photo, Create a Virtual Copy. Now I've got two of these. I would open up the lock. I've got one as a horizontal and maybe what I would do is this and this even becomes, if the image can allow it, that even becomes a really nice way of seeing that subject. Then it's unequivocal there's a relationship between the doom of the wave and the fur seal, okay? Okay, in this image, boy, that's a challenge. You've got a rowboat and a dog. This image has got quite a bit of grain so it tells me that maybe this has already been cropped or it was shot with a high ISO. ISO was 400 so I think it's been cropped. Doesn't really matter. But I'm gonna reduce the noise a little bit so I go down to the detail and I'm gonna look at this image. I think if it's an artistic shot and there's no horizon so it becomes really kind of very artistic. I'm gonna just close this and make it a little more graphic. I'm gonna use those elements within this frame. What I would do in this case is I'm gonna make a very broad graduated neutral density filter and bring in volume to that to be more like a watercolor painting which is what it reminds me of. With no horizon, that's something I can work with. So by dropping in this filter, it creates volume. It looks different, it has a graphic feel to it. And I could say, well, I'd leave it at that but what if I did the same on the bottom? Let's just see what happens here. I think it anchors the image. It gives more of a sense of place of that boat, the island. The darkness of the shadows now creates distance and depth to the image but it still retains the simpleness of the island. And you can say, well, I don't like the filters and that's fine too but this is probably my best call on this one. Closing the gap, paying homage to the fact that it's a very open, breathing landscape but I want to make it a little stronger and graphic than it was. In this particular case, I think highlights really reclaim that. So we live at a great time to be photographers, as I've often said. Our ability to open up shadows and take down highlights, we can never do that with a slide, with a single capture in the past. And that really, then, makes sense of this beautiful shot of clouds and light up in the mountains. By taking down the highlights, you could do that with a filter but let's reset and take a look at what we had. We had a dark foreground and kind of a lighter than should be sky. So just by those simple acts of highlights down, shadows up, it makes the overall exposure much more interesting. And if I pull this to the blue side, you can see the blue of distant mountains comes out. If I pull it to the warmer side, it looks like it's later in the day and I kind of like that effect. Basically, I think that's a beautiful image. The horizon is kind of in the middle. Maybe I would close the lock and see what happens here. That's also nice because what happens in that case is I'm eliminating including that. And I don't think that there's any detail whatsoever in that which is fine for a slideshow but if you were to make a print of that, it may be problematic because we do, when making prints, you want there to be details in the blacks and details in the bright areas. I don't think that really alters the quality of this image by cropping it in and around that area but it certainly, the playing with highlights and shadows really revive this image. Compositionally, I love this image. And in this exposure, it's really about this water coming out from under a rock in a river in a canyon. Okay so, it's got that Game of Thorns kind of cold austerior landscape going on but I think there's a couple things we could do to make it a little more interesting overall. And so the first thing is taking down the highlights, not all the way. Opening up the shadows starts to reclaim detail. And if I warm this up a little bit and exposure-wise and change the tint on that, now I've neutralized the color. It's to me, just minor adjustments in color and exposure then allows the rock, the moss on the rock, the texture of the rock to be part of the story of this powerful river coming out from below the rock. So this is like a big boulder that fell into this canyon, got wedged, it'll be there forever and the stream that cuts through this canyon is still flowing out from underneath. It's a beautiful beautiful shot but this adjustment, I think, brings out all the best in that image. So highlights and shadows are critical in an image like this. Beautiful shot. Boy, you know, in the last couple of years, we've had amazing years with Auroras, Northern Lights. And they're tricky because when people see them for the first time, they're much more duller than what you see our photos depict. They're much more duller. You have to kind of be there in a really dark night and then you see color but it's pretty obscure. And so you overexpose or you brighten up the exposure in post op to see it. In this particular case, it's got a really nice angel-like feel to it but that whole right side of this image is really dark and not contributing. So there's a couple things I would do for this image is I would start to pull it to the right on the tint. And there's a lot of red in the Northern Lights but red is a very, it's hard for us to perceive red in low light. It's a very short waved color. So by pulling this tint to the right, we are bringing out some of the magenta that actually is in there. And if it wasn't in there, it wouldn't even show up. So that's one thing. Then I'm gonna go down to the highlights and take this down and open up the shadows and then adjust the overall exposure. And by doing that now, I'm starting to bring in the right side and the left side of this image. Now this is a very low res, let's see, what is this shot? 6400. In most cameras these days, you can shoot Northern Lights at around so I'm gonna really just brush in this area really quick. In fact, let me make it smaller. So really quick, I'm just gonna bring in a little more of this background and what am I really doing? Well, I'm making this overall exposure a little more even. Before, as you remember, it was all about just the light. And what I may also do then with all of that is just kind of take down the saturation a little bit. This needs fine tuning but you get the idea. Highlights down, magenta, revive some of the color and I think that's a much better way to see that image, okay? Because now the entirety of that composition is working. These kind of images really take a little softer and more thoughtful time to actually make work. On this one, I'm just gonna change it. I'm using those clouds to define where I'm gonna crop it and it's obviously about this tree and the sunset. And bing bang boom, it's maybe what the photographer would have done if they had a telephoto lens. On this image, I think the highlights need to come down, the shadows, it's really a nice shot of willows but I think that whole top area is blown out. So what I would do is adjust the foreground and then take the healing brush and brush over this area, darkening it, bringing out the detail. And again, in the time I've got, I'm not gonna do it really great but, you know, the healing brush, the neutral density filter, those are all filters that are designed to help us bring an exposure back into balance and so that helps that image. In this waterfall shot, it's like there's energy to the right, energy to the left. What I would do, and it's a beautiful shot, but I would just simply make it a simpler composition. I would say, alright, let's make that, because the water is flowing vertically, why not make it a vertical waterfall? Because there's so much going on all the way around it, I think the simpler this shot is, the better it is. And the last thing I would do is pull it to the left and make that tree a little more red, take the green, make it more green and that white becomes white because originally it was very yellow jaundice so I want to just adjust the color. This is a nice shot of eastern Washington. The only problem I would have is that road, that Nike swooth or whatever that was called, looks a little bright. So digitally, you could bring that down by burning it. The rest of the composition looks really nice. I think this is a perfect composition. Beautiful forest, looks like New Zealand. Yeah, my eye stays right down the creek. I think there's a beautiful balance. Luxuriant, giant tree ferns, very very nice exposure. This photo also is a really beautiful image of eastern Washington. The only thing I would do with this is just bring in a little filter on the bottom and darken it just to hold that corner in. And by doing that then, your eye stays on the farm house. It's an aerial shot I think or it's from steptoe butte but beautiful light, very early in the morning. Just really dreamy, it's a great place to work. That's a beautiful image. This is really a nice, this is probably what the dock down in Santa Monica perhaps. I just played with the highlights. I think having that pale sky there contrast from the water is critical and I don't think we lose all that much in the shadows so that's all I would do. It's perfectly symmetrical and I think the photographer did a great job on this image. And the Matterhorn is beautiful with this black and white. The only thing I would do slightly, because it's a really tight shot around this cabin in the foreground, the only thing I would do with this composition is close the lock and just slightly bring it in. By bringing in the composition, I'm closing the gap between the top of the frame and the top of the mountain but then it makes this cabin seem less pinched on the bottom because everything's tight around that, okay? So that's the landscape section and I think there's a really nice mix of photographs and variety of photos. We're now gonna migrate onto portraiture. Question from Kate Clark Photography was, how do you feel about vignetting in landscape photography in general? I know we saw a little bit of that. Yeah, I think vignetting when it's not obvious, you know. In fact, a lot of lenses naturally vignette. If you have a telephoto lens like a one to and it's a very flat gray sky, often you see a vignetting. Sometimes it's very noticeable and in that case, I try to override that or crop it out. But in a lot of portraits of people and wildlife, I naturally put in a slight vignetting because I'm directing almost subliminally directing the eye to the face of the animal or the person I'm photographing. So vignetting depending on, again, either works or becomes a distraction and it's really a judgment call. Great, thank you. Again, all about that eye movement, moving the eye around. Yeah, moving the eye where you want to go. You know, us as photographers are communicators. You may not think of yourself as that but we are, and I think the best thing that we do and the thing that really gets us exciting are taking the images, pictures of subjects that we thought are important that maybe all your friends and acquaintances would miss and you make that subject important and they see it and they go, wow, where was that? And then you say, well, it's right there, you missed it. I love that moment. So we love to communicate but if people look at your image and go, what's that about or why did you take that picture, maybe the communication is less thought out. So I try to make things clear. And when I critique, I'm basically looking at the essence and what the person was after and I try to boil it down and simplify it to make the message clear. The fewer words in a sentence, the clearer the statement. The fewer elements in a composition, often then it becomes a clearer more graphic image, okay? I love that, Art, that as photographers we are communicators. Absolutely. One more quickly, because we did see a lot of images with reflections. And so Katherine had asked, should the reflection always be a little bit lighter than what the scene that it's reflecting or is that not necessarily the case? Well, here's what I do with almost all my reflections are I'm trying to get a perfect reflection. And so if I'm trying to get a perfect reflection, I am generally putting the horizon in the middle so that whatever I'm reflecting is perfectly symmetrical. That's when I would use that horizon in the middle. And therefore, I'm lightening up the exposure because I'm not really trying to capture reality. I'm trying to make a more graphic abstract composition out of whatever's in front of me. So I almost invariably and always will brighten up the reflection. Even though it's unnatural, I'm going for the most emotional impact of the image. I'm less concerned whether scientifically a reflection should be as bright, I let go of all that. I'm after the emotional impact of an image.

Class Description

Join legendary wildlife and conservation photographer Art Wolfe, as he critiques a select group of nature photographs. In this curated review, you'll get expert insight into improving your work in the field and through post-processing so you can begin capturing unforgettable images of the world.

Art critiques images in the following categories:

  • Wildlife
  • Landscapes
  • Abstract Nature Photography
  • Portraits and Travel

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes


Sal Ahmed Photography

Nice to have well known and our local world famous Art Wolfe to critiques our works.Glad to have a chance to have him critique my Hummigbird image with a top score. Is like to me winning an award. Thanks Creative live for the opportunity.

Tanya Lillie

What an amazing opportunity to learn from a master. Thank you Art Wolfe for sharing your expertise and teaching us to simply take "Another Look." Thank you Creative Live for yet another great session.

Bob & Lorraine

Outstanding class with Art Wolfe's critique of student's work. Thrilled one of our images (Snowy Egret) was selected, honored Art felt it needed no other cropping and even though it was one of the last images reviewed and short on time, would have loved to hear if the image required any other adjustment. Will try Art's "Highlights down, Shadows up" in Lightroom Classic to see if the image looks any better.