Critique – Sarah S.

Chris Lane / Critique, photography, Retouched / / 3 Comments / Like this
I have learned through both college and work experience that one of the best ways to learn anything is through critiques of your work and other’s work. That is why, in the spirit of teaching through this blog, I am happy to critique the work of submissions from readers. If you would like a professional critique from me and learn how to better your artwork, be it photo, design, painting, et al, just read these submission guidelines and submit an image through my critique contact form. You can also email your submission to photocrit [at]

Photo from Sarah S. Prairie Smoke

Today I have a photo from Sarah S. She said she took this photo of Prairie Smoke (aka Old Man’s Whiskers or if you are really hardcore Plantae Tracheobionta Spermatophyta Magnoliophyta Magnoliopsida Rosidae Rosales Rosaceae Geum L. Geum triflorum Pursh) in the North Dakota Badlands handheld in a shady ravine. Looking at the metadata, it was taken with a Canon PowerShot S3 IS at f/2.7 at 1/60.

The composition in this photo is quite nice. She follows the rule of thirds well. Some of the “whiskers” can lead the eye off the image, particularly the one going off the right side. Despite this, I like how the one on the right fills in some of the right of the image, especially since the focus is sharp on that “whisker.” I also like that the crop cuts off the stamen at the top, filling the frame with this interesting flower. The base of the flower has an interesting reddish hue, which is broken up with the yellow part in between. The red is particularly nice because it is a complimentary color of the green in the background.

This color does, however bring me to a slight problem. The entire image has a cool color cast to it. This is probably a white balancing issue. I don’t know if Sarah used the auto WB or a specific setting when she was taking pictures. This problem can easily be caused by taking pictures in bright sunlight then moving into a shady area and forgetting to change the white balance setting. This kind of photo alteration is easily fixed in post, however. It is particularly easy if shooting in RAW, but if it was shot in JPG it is a simple matter in Photoshop. With a levels adjustment layer, or a curves adjustment layer, just adjust the blue channel over slightly. It won’t need much adjustment. See what I did in curves below:

Blue Curves Adjustment

The next thing I did was a curve adjustment layer to increase the contrast and brightness overall. First, I brought the whites in a bit, brought the quarter-tone up and brighter which also increased the midtones, then brought the three-quarter tones down just slightly to be darker. This could also be done mostly the same in Levels by shifting the mid point and bringing in the white point. See my adjustment in curves below:

Contrast Curves Adjustment

That bumped up the saturation of the image, so I went back to my first adjustment layer and brought the greens down a bit also. This is a great example as to why to use adjustment layers in Photoshop. The main benefit is that you can always go back and adjust the change. Nothing is permanent and doesn’t truly affect your pixels until you flatten the image. If you don’t use this workflow, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Again, see below:

Green Curves Adjustment

The only other thing I wish was different with this photo is that the depth of field is extremely short. It can be an artistic decision to focus on such a small area, but I personally would have preferred if at least half of the flower was in focus instead. The bokeh, or blurring, in the background, however, is superb.

Last thing I’d do here is run a quick Smart Sharpen filter. Remember to copy the original as a new layer, then run the filter on that so you can always go back to the original if necessary. For my settings, I used Smart Sharpen with an amount of 125%, Radius of 2, Remove: Lens Blur.

Not much needed here, but now I’d say that photo is ready for the printer! Nice job here, Sarah. What does everyone else think? I encourage you to leave a comment below. One last time, here is the before and after:
Before and After Critique

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