Cherry Blossom Critique

dBsPhotos

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First post. Real briefly; enjoyed photography for about 4 years. Very proficient in Photoshop and I know my way around a camera. Program manager by occupation, but electrical engineer by education, so feel free to get technical with me!

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is a DC area favorite and is fast approaching. Overall pleased with my performance last year, but there's definitely opportunity for improvement. I've looked at these photos for a year now, and I'd like a fresh audience to critique it. Set me down the right course for this year.

Note: all images shot with a D7000 on a tripod with a wired trigger. Any excess sharpness is thanks to Flickr.

First one is the crowd favorite of the set. The editing was intentionally stylized. This was taken at ~4am and there was a slight wind which had to be contended with. I held and manually triggered a flash about 3 feet to the right of the camera. I only own a manual flash, so I don't recall the specific settings. Softened the flash with a large round diffuser and used a red/pink gel. If I were to redo this shot, I would have walked around to the left of the camera for another flash pop to create a clamshell illumination. Making this my first print soon. Thoughts?
Washington Memorial Through Cherry Blossoms by DeciBels Photos, on Flickr
Settings:
Nikkor 35mm DX @ f/11
13"
320 ISO
Used flash

Second one is my personal favorite because I think the composition is as perfect as I could achieve. Intentionally chose to keep the Jefferson Memorial just a touch out of focus to keep the viewer locked between the tree/flowers and the slightly out of focus Thomas Jefferson in profile. Despite being my personal favorite, something just feels like it's missing. I can't boost the vibrance/saturation much more before it looks too fake. Would love to know where I could give this just that little bit extra.
Jefferson Memorial Through Cherry Blossoms by DeciBels Photos, on Flickr
Settings:
Nikkor 80-200mm AF-D @ 80mm f/8
1/60"
320 ISO
No flash

Finally, my least accomplished from the keepers. This could have been a lot better but the technical limitations of the lens and lack of weather were limiting factors. Used a flash to illuminate the foreground. Again, with a diffuser and red/pink gel. The second flash further down the path was another photographer which happened to time my shot well. Had to photoshop out a number of photographers and camera equipment from this shot to clean up the foreground. Now have the infamous 14-24mm, and I will be renting the D810 for this years event, so I'll have another chance at this photo.
Tidal Basin Cherry Blossoms by DeciBels Photos, on Flickr
Settings:
Tokina 11-16mm V1 @ 16mm f/11
4"
400 ISO
Used flash and "borrowed" another

So let me know how I could do a better job this year! I like to always be upstaging myself.
 

NancyMoranG

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Love the 1st one as my favorite!
Not good enough to help with your question but the Jefferson Memorial might be better without the blown sky.
 

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Hey, welcome!

#1 lacks grace in the composition
#2 needs the memorial in focus
#3 also needs a better composition
 

Dave442

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Nice shots. In #2 it just seems to me the bright areas on the right are pulling my view there so I am only seeing Jefferson and the right of the image and while the cherry blossoms provide some nice framing I am not being led to them. Looking forward to seeing this years shots.
 

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First post. Real briefly; enjoyed photography for about 4 years. Very proficient in Photoshop and I know my way around a camera. Program manager by occupation, but electrical engineer by education, so feel free to get technical with me!

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is a DC area favorite and is fast approaching. Overall pleased with my performance last year, but there's definitely opportunity for improvement. I've looked at these photos for a year now, and I'd like a fresh audience to critique it. Set me down the right course for this year.

Note: all images shot with a D7000 on a tripod with a wired trigger. Any excess sharpness is thanks to Flickr.

First one is the crowd favorite of the set. The editing was intentionally stylized. This was taken at ~4am and there was a slight wind which had to be contended with. I held and manually triggered a flash about 3 feet to the right of the camera. I only own a manual flash, so I don't recall the specific settings. Softened the flash with a large round diffuser and used a red/pink gel. If I were to redo this shot, I would have walked around to the left of the camera for another flash pop to create a clamshell illumination. Making this my first print soon. Thoughts?
Washington Memorial Through Cherry Blossoms by DeciBels Photos, on Flickr
Settings:
Nikkor 35mm DX @ f/11
13"
320 ISO
Used flash

Second one is my personal favorite because I think the composition is as perfect as I could achieve. Intentionally chose to keep the Jefferson Memorial just a touch out of focus to keep the viewer locked between the tree/flowers and the slightly out of focus Thomas Jefferson in profile. Despite being my personal favorite, something just feels like it's missing. I can't boost the vibrance/saturation much more before it looks too fake. Would love to know where I could give this just that little bit extra.
Jefferson Memorial Through Cherry Blossoms by DeciBels Photos, on Flickr
Settings:
Nikkor 80-200mm AF-D @ 80mm f/8
1/60"
320 ISO
No flash

Finally, my least accomplished from the keepers. This could have been a lot better but the technical limitations of the lens and lack of weather were limiting factors. Used a flash to illuminate the foreground. Again, with a diffuser and red/pink gel. The second flash further down the path was another photographer which happened to time my shot well. Had to photoshop out a number of photographers and camera equipment from this shot to clean up the foreground. Now have the infamous 14-24mm, and I will be renting the D810 for this years event, so I'll have another chance at this photo.
Tidal Basin Cherry Blossoms by DeciBels Photos, on Flickr
Settings:
Tokina 11-16mm V1 @ 16mm f/11
4"
400 ISO
Used flash and "borrowed" another

So let me know how I could do a better job this year! I like to always be upstaging myself.
#1 is my favorite. I think the composition is wonderful, and love the way the branches add a sense of motion to the image.
 

Derrel

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#1 is a nice concept, and I like the foreground being lit up with the warm, gelled flash. The biggest issue is the gaping black space in the lower left....that really hurts the shot's composition. This might be a good frame to drop in some more branches and blossoms from another frame--if that's possible. The reflection of the obelisk is wonderful, and the focal length used makes it appear good-sized. You really have a nice, warm pinkish sky tone and tree colors...lovely color harmony from the gelled flash, with the way the sky looked at 4 AM.

#2...that bald sky really,really hurts. I also think the shot is in the wrong "key"...it's rendered far too brightly....I see hints of a warm, orange, sunset-time glow on the surface of the pool, and also in the sky area behind Jefferson, but the skies and reflection are so bright that that orange, sunset-time hint is lost...I would like to se this significantly darker on the highlight areas....more of that "sunset glow" feeling, even if it means the close cherry blooms are rendered darker and with less detail. I think the OOF statue works...it's hinted at, not shown in explicitly clear focus. It is an interesting near/far composition. I get the idea, I like it.

#3...that composition does not appeal to me. Foreground is large, mid-ground is uninteresting, obelisk appears small and inconsequential. I dunno....focus stack and 3x the focal length maybe? the NEAR in this near/far shot is too dominant, and the far is too small to appreciate at this size. I actually think the most beautiful part is the dark reflection of the trees along the far shore, and the obelisk...the foreground is of no real interest to me...wondering about a 300mm shot of the far shoreline with its trees and reflections on the water of the lights?
 
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dBsPhotos

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Love the 1st one as my favorite!
Not good enough to help with your question but the Jefferson Memorial might be better without the blown sky.

Thank you! I think you'd be completely justified in offering thoughts.

#1 lacks grace in the composition
#2 needs the memorial in focus
#3 also needs a better composition

Can you clarify #1? #2 I did intentionally, but also photographed it in focus on even more out of focus. Slightly out of focus was definitely better. #3 sucks on the composition, I completely agree.

Nice shots. In #2 it just seems to me the bright areas on the right are pulling my view there so I am only seeing Jefferson and the right of the image and while the cherry blossoms provide some nice framing I am not being led to them. Looking forward to seeing this years shots.

I think you nailed it. In all this time, I hadn't noticed that distraction. Not sure how easily I can remedy that without adding fake branches to the corner.

#1 is my favorite. I think the composition is wonderful, and love the way the branches add a sense of motion to the image.

Thank you. I'm excited to see that one as a 30x45" print. I think it's going to pop!

#1 is a nice concept, and I like the foreground being lit up with the warm, gelled flash. The biggest issue is the gaping black space in the lower left....that really hurts the shot's composition. This might be a good frame to drop in some more branches and blossoms from another frame--if that's possible. The reflection of the obelisk is wonderful, and the focal length used makes it appear good-sized. You really have a nice, warm pinkish sky tone and tree colors...lovely color harmony from the gelled flash, with the way the sky looked at 4 AM.

Thank you. I will disagree on the empty corner though. I trend toward negative space emphasized minimalism. In this case I think it works, especially as it fairly closely follows the golden spiral, in large part because of the negative space.

#2...that bald sky really,really hurts. I also think the shot is in the wrong "key"...it's rendered far too brightly....I see hints of a warm, orange, sunset-time glow on the surface of the pool, and also in the sky area behind Jefferson, but the skies and reflection are so bright that that orange, sunset-time hint is lost...I would like to se this significantly darker on the highlight areas....more of that "sunset glow" feeling, even if it means the close cherry blooms are rendered darker and with less detail. I think the OOF statue works...it's hinted at, not shown in explicitly clear focus. It is an interesting near/far composition. I get the idea, I like it.

Yeah, I think you nailed in this case. Where #1 the negative space wasn't distracting and arguably added to the atmosphere, I think you and Dave442 nailed it in #2. I never noticed how distracting that area was, even after all this time. It's the fact that it is so bright that makes it a problem. Your editing suggestions make good sense. I'll revisit the photo before I consider printing it...one day, lol.

#3...that composition does not appeal to me. Foreground is large, mid-ground is uninteresting, obelisk appears small and inconsequential. I dunno....focus stack and 3x the focal length maybe? the NEAR in this near/far shot is too dominant, and the far is too small to appreciate at this size. I actually think the most beautiful part is the dark reflection of the trees along the far shore, and the obelisk...the foreground is of no real interest to me...wondering about a 300mm shot of the far shoreline with its trees and reflections on the water of the lights?

I agree on all points. I was already at the limit of what my lens could do by that point. I would have preferred to go a bit longer focal length to compress things; bring the monument and path closer, and in better proportion. Recently purchased the Nikkor 14-24mm which should help me solve this problem this year! A longer shot of the monument is certainly possible, but this is a type of shot I really want to nail at this location. Next year, I'll try for both.

Thank you for your kind words and thoughtful critiques.
 

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Can you clarify #1?
The composition suffers from a lack of movement, poor balance, and awkward proportions.

Your comments to other posters have indicated that you have your own ideas on composition.

Good luck!
 
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dBsPhotos

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Apologies for the late response. Had guests over the last several days, so this is the first opportunity to reply.

Your comments to other posters have indicated that you have your own ideas on composition.

I'll happily listen to all critiques. The opportunity to learn how different viewpoints interpret and analyze such a medium should not be passed up. However, I sometimes will disagree. At such times, I will try to provide my reasoning for the mutual learning opportunity. Sometimes the best way to do this is by dialog and discussing the deeper reasoning.

The composition suffers from a lack of movement, poor balance, and awkward proportions.

Find plenty of results for those concepts within a Renaissance painting context, but not a whole lot within a photographic context. It's a photo of motionless objects, so I don't see the movement relevance. If there had been motion blur of the flowers, I would have probably seen that as a technical failure of flash use. I suspect this is not how you mean the term. Willing to elaborate?

For balance I can see a valid point. While the monument is at the golden ratio, the horizon isn't. Here I was limited in the vertical range I could shoot from (I'm short and was on my toes by this point, lol), but even when I attempted to position things in a traditional way (horizon line at the golden ratio), the result wasn't balanced. With that composition, it felt forced (overly weighted to top/bottom). With this composition, while the horizon is at middle--and intuitively poorly weighted--, the distribution of the flowers, branches, and non-distracting negative space provided the needed weight to provide balance. How do you see it differently, I'm genuinely curious to know?

I'm confused about the proportions comment. We know the monument is massive compared to the flowers/tree, and that the optical physics skews the perceived scale of the two subjects in relation to each other. I'm not exactly sure what you mean by this and my independent research produced no relevant results. Willing to elaborate, again? =)

The photos are beautiful .

Thank you! Hopefully, with the insight gleaned here, I will be able to do even better this year.
 

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Designer

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The "movement" that I referred to is not actual motion of any object, rather it is the "flow" of the photograph. How one's eye moves around the frame is one way to measure it, but not the only way. If there are not many examples of better composition in latter-day photography, I would chalk it up to a general lack of art education in latter-day photographers..

You don't quite understand balance in a composition, either.

There are good proportions, and not good proportions.

Instead of trying to learn the finer points of composition from a few comments offered on your own limited number of photographs, you could learn these concepts a lot faster and more surely by undertaking some independent study.

Good luck!
 

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