Wow! We had 251 images submitted in August for our monthly critiques session, from more than 160 photographers, which is pretty awesome. Hudson and I saw lots of newcomers and some old hands, and, as usual, a wide variety of image types. We really appreciated the fact that almost everyone kept their submissions to one or two photos. That really helps us when we have so many photos to look through.

Finalists for the August print giveaway

This month, we had a print giveaway for three of the most compelling photos submitted. There were many worthy shots, but these three photographers deserve a special shoutout for their work.
Steel Blue Morpho, by Amy Perlmutter

This is an exquisite macro panorama, created with extreme patience and care. Amy’s description says it all:

“I am working on a macro butterfly project. This butterfly is gorgeous and I was inspired to work on presenting it the best that I can. This image is made up of 1,000 photos (using focus stacking and doing a pano). I used a 1:1 magnification lens.”

It’s rare to see a macro that is so well-thought-out, so beautifully composed, and of a subject that truly is worthy of such work. Amy, you hit it out of the park on this one — congrats! This one is going to be a beauty to print.
Young Grizzly Sow and Golden Grasses, by Rick Weigel

Rick is a regular contributor to the Plus galleries, and he is the master of the grizzly portrait (among other wild animals). This photo, shot in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska, is yet another of Rick’s gorgeous animal portraits. The light is perfect (look at those hairs on the bear’s head!), the exposure is spot-on, it is sharp where it needs to be — not only is the bear sharp, but that tuft of grass in front of it is as well — and the framing is superb.
In an instance like this, some might say that the subject itself is so majestic that all you need to do is press the shutter, but Rick has worked hard to take his animal portraits to another level. He’s put in the time to understand his subjects; he pays attention to light, composition and focus; and he clearly has the patience to wait for the right moment. If you’re interested in nature shots, especially of subjects like this, it’s worth taking a look through Rick’s Plus gallery. Click on the link above, and scroll through the shots at the bottom of the screen.
A Night Under the Bridge, by Richard Waas

I love urban night shots, especially in that time before darkness completely sets in, and Richard clearly does as well. Here, the colors, composition, and sharpness take what would have been a blah scene at any other time of day and turned it into a stunning twilight photo. We loved so much about this one: the leading lines into the center; the blocks of the platform, which also reinforce the movement into the center; the mix of perpendicular lines with the curves; the stars of the streetlamps; and that beautiful sky in the background, with just enough light to help the whole scene pop in the frame.
Nice work, Richard.
Amy, Rick and Richard, we’ll try to reach out to you via the Plus forums, but if you see this, send me a note with your email info, and we can start the process of getting your work printed. And if you weren’t selected, don’t worry, we’ll be adding print giveaways again in future critiques, so keep submitting your best work.

Other noteworthy photos this month

A Lot of Hot Air, by David Harris

Hot air balloon festivals are wonderful places to shoot, but they can be overwhelming as well, making it hard to really zero in on great shots. That said, David wowed us with this photo. The colors, as you would expect, are spectacular, but the composition and focus are what elevate this photo for us. It’s a chaotic group, but the red, white, and blue balloon at the left really sets everything up, pushing your eye into the scene. As you look a bit closer, you’ll notice that the balloons and the baskets are tack sharp; they aren’t oversharpened, even when viewing the uploaded JPEG. We might like to see a bit more sky below that bottom balloon, and maybe a little less on the right, but these are small points, and they don’t diminish the power of the photo.
This image is a good example of knowing when the the rules of composition can be broken. The big balloon on the left actually helps move you into the frame, but it also violates one of the rules, in that it cuts off a subject at the edges of the frame. Without it, though, the overall photo would suffer; it would feel static. With it, and at the scale that it is, you get a greater sense of motion.
Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau, by Thomas Butler

Thomas’s interior shot of the former Hospital de la Santa Creu in Barcelona (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is a beautiful example of using light and space to capture the sense of a place. The light is darn close to perfect: even the blown highlights of the top windows and the doorway help contribute to the scene. We liked the slight off-centeredness of the composition, which makes it a bit more real, and the muted color palette is perfect. We really appreciated Thomas’s light hand on the processing front; it would be easy to crank up the saturation a bit, or to oversharpen the image.

Amazing replacements

A Little Grumpy, by Donald Swingley

Native Woman, by Jerry Negele

If you’ve watched any of our critique videos, you’ll know our stand on background replacement: we understand why people do them, but we also feel that most photographers don’t put in the time and effort to make something like a sky replacement look real. There really is an art to making the proper selection, separating it from its background, and finding an appropriate, new background to use. To get a replaced background right you need to pay attention to things like the angle of light and the direction of shadows, overall brightness, exposure blending, color temperature and more. There is nothing wrong with compositing to improve a photo (or tell a story), but if you’re going to do it, you need to be able to work through all of the issues to make your composite look like the disparate elements belong together. And, as Hudson says, you have to start with a compelling subject.
We see good compositing work in the Plus galleries on a regular basis. The two above, submitted this month, were exemplary, from our perspective, and each fulfills Hudson’s dictum of starting with a great subject. Upon first glance, neither presents itself as a composited photo, which means that our eye doesn’t register that there’s something amiss. And the work done by both photographers on the little things — the balance of light in Donald’s eagle photo and the shadows in Jerry’s portrait — are sterling examples of how to do things right. I’d love to know how much time each photographer spent on these images, but regardless of the time, their effort resulted in two great photos. Period.

Looking ahead to September

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to submit photos in August. It was wonderful to see new faces, and the regulars who’ve who continue to step up their game.  The critiques video is a bit longer this month, but we urge everyone to take a look; we believe that constructive, critical feedback (from anyone, not necessarily Hudson and me) is a great way to improve your photographic eye and your sense of composition and the frame. It doesn’t matter whether it’s your image or one from a fellow Plus member; we can all learn from studying the work of others, and practice those lessons in the field.
As I said last month, Hudson and I can’t critique each and every image submitted, but we try to balance each critique session with regular contributors and newcomers. We also try to highlight great images that are worthy of discussing for reasons of technique, composition or post-processing, and choose other photos that illustrate some traps that we all (yes, including me) fall into from time to time. As you look and listen to some of the comments, think about your own work, and how you might have handled something similar in the field (or in the digital darkroom).
Hudson and I will be doing the September critiques from the road: we’re scouting out workshop possibilities in Yellowstone and the Tetons, on our way to our Moab workshop late in the month. Thanks for being part of our little photo community, and happy shooting!