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Saturday, 17 November 2018


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The top one is better. The lower photo looks chopped off at the top and mis-framed. The top photo has a complete mirror image, which for me is the most interesting element in the photo. I'd lose the post at lower right, too. It leads the eye away from the subject, which is the stillness of the water that produces the mirror image.

Your approach of "shutter finger editing" is how I worked (originally of fiscal necessity) for over 60 years of shooting film. And it always left me afraid that I would miss the really best frame. While that rarely was provable, it was a real worry. Now, in the digital age, for good or bad, I do less of such editing. And worry less. Ain't progress great?

IMHO the former makes better use of the negative space and matching colours of the water and sky by balancing the spit of land between them - and the eye is first drawn to the land, then drawn to the pattern of triangles of sky, land and water (you might even darken up the shadows to emphasise the triangular shape and blur the land/water distinction where the shadow is); the latter draws the eye to the water but there is nothing there and the impact is lost, as well as the pattern.

The trees being cut off so abruptly in the bottom photo is very distracting. Bring your eye outside the upper left of the frame and come into the frame on a diagonal then repeat this with the upper frame. Notice how the eye flows into the image better when the trees are not cut off. The top edges of the trees guide your eye into the image. Everything in the image is identifiable in the lower image except the trees because the tops are cut. The image looses its balance because the image feels squeezed against the top of the frame. Also the sky appears white in the lower photo and blue in the upper, since we know it should be blue this is distracting and the harmony of the image is broken.

Actually, Mike, I like the top crop better. In the bottom one, I feel pinched by the small arc of the sky. And in the top crop, the mass of trees you didn't like combines (for my eye) with the dark swoosh of the dark shoreline to pull my attention more strongly from left to right compared with the bottom crop.

But it depends so much! If the top sky were paler or washed out, I might like the bottom crop more. I think that's because the sky would be too weak an element to support the strength of the rest of the image.

Well, YMMV, right?

I agree with your assessment of the two images and I do prefer the latter. But as I also struggle, often greatly, with far too many images, my method would be more focused on intent rather than compositional sweetness. I look at the former and see sky, land and water, with the water and darker surrounds holding a little more sway. In the latter I see only the water, dark and a little somber, dominating the image with it’s dark surrounds of distant bank, more fence and slightly more foreground. If it was my intent to convey that darker mood, I would choose the later regardless of it’s compositional virtues.

Crop out the top tree line, now invert the pic!

I can hear Magritte giggling.

YB Hudson III

I agree with the first comment. I don't like to see the trees crushed in the second framing, and the color of the water is a bit more saturated in the first print.

To my eye, I like the first image better......I don’t care for the anomaly of the cut off tree in the upper left.

Since you ask, I like the second. I like/want scenes to look like/remind me of what I saw. The first looks like what I look at (or at least remember) when at scenes like that. (Water, sky, etc.) The second is all squinted up, like looking way down to cut out most of the sky. Who looks at stuff like that? And, the post and fence - OK, they were there, so ok in the first shot. There, but just. In the second, way too important part of pic. All this just my humble, of course. No real right or wrong in this, AFAIK.


Ray H.

Top one. What were you thinking?


I suggest you might like to ask Robin Whalley, aka The Lightweight Photographer.


Robin's a prolific master landscape photographer, also runs a parallel website called Lenscraft, and his books, videos and blog entries are chock full of useful tips. He also happens to be a very warm, helpful and communicative person. FWIW, he has now moved from M43 to Fuji.

I'm no professional or any kind of expert - just a happy snapper who's taken a whole load of landscapes. So here goes....

I think there are strong points in both. I like the way the second shot holds the line of the lower bank across the frame - in the upper shot the surface of the water almost starts leaking away through the bottom of the frame. Contrarywise, I prefer the treatment of the upper half of the frame in the top image: the sky seems to have room to breathe, and the trees (or bushes) in the top l/hand corner aren't brutally truncated as they are in the lower image.

Is it possible that the reason you can't decide between these two images is because at some level you can see that neither is quite right?

The first picture is closer to a classic rule-of-thirds composition, if that matters. The second picture shows more water and fence, but I don't find the still water or the fence particularly compelling. I'd prefer a composition without the fence -- but I wasn't there.

For me, the first picture is more pleasing, just by a little, because of the rhyme and balance between water and sky. The post on the right is too distracting in number two, although the gold of the field is better in the second picture - or appears to my eye to be. I often do this myself when shooting - with sky then without, and usually I end up choosing the picture with sky. It's maybe just more....human?....that way for me. More yin to the yang. I say tomato... with an ah....

My immediate reaction was that the fence post in the first picture is much too close to the edge, making the second picture preferable. And the grass is included better, too.

However, then I saw the trees in the top left being truncated in (what I see as) an ugly manner. Uugh.

You could crop out the fencepost from the first picture, but the result seems to lack oomph.

What I would do: Re-shoot it, and get it right.

This time, use a tripod so you can better control the placements. Step back a bit to include the far trees and grass this side. The post is distorted outwards, and that's distracting, so get the camera back vertical and use some front rise or whatever, as needed.

And while you're at it, use a mirror viewer (like the Cambo T-20) on your groundglass, it makes LF simple and responsive. Then you don't need a dark cloth and you can focus without a loupe. The converts to LF those things would bring if better known. :-)

Composition is so subjective. I agree with Bear. To me the second picture is unbalanced and concentrates too much attention on the foreground which is not strong enough to be dominant.

I like more the first one. The sky in the water reflection emphasize better the still pond intention.

Not that I would ordinarily volunteer, but since you asked, my preferences in ranked order:
The top of the first with the bottom of the second.
Or crop the left off of the second.
Or the top off the second.
Or if recomposing is not an option, then the first, but I like the tonality of the second better.

The upper left corner of the second hurts me, not that that is always a bad thing but to no effect here.

I don't think this will solve your problem, Mike. Half of us will think the first is better, the other half the second.

I like the first better as it allows a fuller view. The second pulls me in too much and my focus is more on the water than the overall landscape. Plus, on the second the stubble in the field seems to be brighter which looks less natural after seeing the first.

If I look a few times again later, I may change my mind. would you like an update with each change of mind?

Just another comment. On the first, on my monitor, the blue of the sky matches the blue of the water. On the second, what sky I can see if of a much lighter blue. Because of that, I think the first---the one on top---better shows the sky being reflected in the water. The clump is trees is neither more nor less distracting in either version, but on the first that dark clumps of trees is fully reflected in the water. In the second, it is just a cut off clump of what is reflected in the water.

I think so, maybe.

The first photo has a bird over the water, breaks the
bland feeling of just another scene...

I prefer the first variation. I tend to like images that are divided into horisontal strips. In the first picture I like the pointed arrow shape of the land from left to right and. Furthermore I think this strip of land is the main subject rather than the water. In the second picture the awkward cutoff of the upper left trees kill the shape of the land.

Mike, I think one looks for completion of the water reflections in the trees above in the first one. Your lighting already gave that part of the photo it’s importance. Although the fence at the bottom is interesting, you can always show more or less of that. What would be interesting is to see about a half dozen or more of the pix to get the editing struggle you’ve experienced. Then take a poll, maybe...

To my untutored eye the first photograph contains a pleasing balance of gentle curves and a more harmonious transition from light to dark. The abruptly truncated tree at top left of the second photograph is a little jarring and the reduction in sky tips the balance a little too far towards the shadows.
Number one for me!

The second shot gives me an impression of weight, as though I am being pushed down. I much prefer the first one. Perhaps if the second one existed on its own with no other reference I might have different feelings about it.

I agree with the first commenter. As a person that didn’t witness the scene, I’m drawn to stare at the sunlit land. The second doesn’t allow me to and seems to just deconstruct it. While staring at the land I sense the balance of the calm blue lake. And then as my eyes pull away I get a gift of the silhouetted grass and the surprise of some patterned fence.

The second feels too formal, abstract, and so never pays the dividends listed above, just spends them.

Of course, a week from now, I’ll instead be more drawn to the second and wonder why I even bothered talking about the first!


I like the first for the balance of elements and the second for the warmer tone.

Since it's winter, you might get a chance to shoot some nice pool table shots and show us.

Dan K.

I prefer the first, but then you know what opinions are like...

Also, I'm at a loss to explain why, other than "it feels right," which is how I edit (and I shoot way too much of any scene).

I like the first one better. I have the sense of that sky being squeezed down in the second photo, there's a little bit of breathing room above the lake in the top photo. Also, that line between dark and light that runs through the lake is more centered in the first photo. Plus the reflection is a little bit crisper in the first picture.

And BTW, you are correct that taking too many photos can be a problem, I do it on every trip, then I'm trying to figure out why I took a certain photo when I get them on the computer.

First one for me, too.

Feels like the second take was trying to concentrate on something in the water that wasn't actually there. It also makes the curve of the horizon feel uncomfortably dominant and, somehow, wrong.


The second photo has more vibrance in the wheat field stubble and trees, but the composition on the first one is more pleasing. I would put more vibrance in the trees and wheat field in the top photo and call it a day.

I think the top picture is the stronger composition. The triangle of land between sky and water is given the space it needs. The foreground grass and fence post are well positioned and have only as much space in the picture as needed. However, the yellow grass area is important to this picture, and it looks better in the bottom one. Were these my pictures, I'd use the first one but adjust the yellow tones to be a bit brighter (perhaps not as bright as in the second one).

I agree completely with Bear :-)

I prefer the first one. The cut off trees on the top left in the second one just bug me for some reason and it has the feel of a record snapshot, whereas the first is more balanced with the trees on the upper left and the fence on the lower right.

I prefer the first photo. It lets you soar over the water, imagine the hill over the field; it gives you freedom to breathe. The second one makes me feel like a photographer is telling me what to look at.

The first is more balanced and coherent. Truth is, neither satisfies. Toss these and try again. You can do better.

I like the backgrounds symmetry in the reflection from the first shot and the larger foreground grass from the second…which really isn’t an answer I suppose.

I always tried to limit my shots of a scene when I used film and still approach familiar subjects in this way but if a subject is new and exciting I tend to go overboard. I attended a festival type gathering the other day (Tucson All Souls Procession) and shot hundreds and hundreds of pictures. There’s just something about the costumes and calaveras makeup that I find fascinating.

This was my first time attending and I knew going in that my decision to use an un-stabilized 135 f2 without flash on a moonless night would not produce many keepers but I wanted something different from the wide angle flash pictures I found in every image search for this event. The high ISO and f2 aperture gave me the grainy, dreamy bokeh look I envisioned which worked well with the smiling, LED adorned skulls stalking the night.

Editing this shoot was fairly easy because the many, many bad shots were so obviously bad but it still took some time. Not needing to print as part of the edit process is something I haven’t thought about in a while and which I take for granted these days.

Keep up the good work and free association, Mike. No need to sanitize for our protection. :-)

the first one

The difference is subtle here, but I often face it myself: The second image is framed for impact, forcing a certain vision on the viewer, the first one is more of an invitation to explore the scene. Its a choice between a stronger composition and the inclusion of parts of the unruly environment from which it is selected. I used to always seek the strongest composition, but now I am less single-minded.

I agree that the second is the stronger image but for a different reason than you state. I prefer the second because it includes more of the dark foreground. It the 1st image the sky is larger. A principle I learned in matting prints applies to my thinking here. If one side of the mat has to be wider, it should be the bottom. It is a matter of 'visual weight'. The visual weight of the foreground in image 1 is too little vs the sky. In image 2 the foreground comes forward better and leads the eye into the pond.

Mike, I prefer the top one because it has a greater sense of place, which always is important to me in my photos. Depends on what you’re looking to convey, I guess.

At first viewing I picked the top one immediately. I like more sky I think. After reading your reasoning, I like the bottom one better. I like more fence, and I like how the bottom is anchored by more black, and more fence is better. Fun test. Love your blog Mike Johnston

I know how hard it is to look at something with the eye of someone who did not make the photo, and was not there.

That said, I think there is not enough sky in the lower image. The frame is crushing me.

I'd print the first one.
Largely because you must have walked forward for the second shot, thereby chopping off tops of the trees on the left and some sky. As mentioned the triangular tree shape is more pleasing.
[Does anyone use shoe leather 'zoom' any more or was this done by changing the focal length on a zoom lens?]
The second is a hair over exposed so the sky and water become boringly flat.

A good way to avoid all of those shots in the middle is to go back to medium format film. No middle there. I like the discipline.

For me, the second one drags my eye to the top and then across towards the left, where it then follows the curve of tree canopy up and smacks into the edge rudely. Maybe the content at the top is too close to the edge, also.

I see the attraction of the second one; it's better in many ways, but for me it has this one big problem that makes it not usable.

Are you going to show us the wrestling image? Please? :)

FWIW, I prefer the top image ...
1. I like to be able to see the top of the tree on the left,
2. I prefer the less garish rendition of the yellow-brown field (or whatever it is - the image is very small on my screen),
3. For me, the focus of the image is that field, not the ripple-free pond in the foreground, and its in a better balanced location in the top image,
4. I prefer to see less of the wire mesh on the right side - post is better located in the top image.
OTOH, I find the strip of grass in the foreground a bit thin in the top picture - this one point is done better in the bottom image.
Both nice shots, however!

I chose the upper photo or image.

1. There is a better balance between the sky and the land in the background.
2. I prefer seeing more of the trees. They are a better balance with the fence post. Also, there is no mystery as to what they are.
3. The fence post in the lower image is to large for the picture.

PS: You should do more of these. I'm waiting to see what everyone says about the images. It's a good way to learn composition and what folks think is the best of composition.

The first foto has some interesting counter-diagonal tension between the dark mass in the upper left and the dark mass in the lower right. So my eye travels thru the first foto more easily.
Do I have any idea what is "counter-diagonal tension"? No, I don't. That's just the phrase which popped out when I attempted my very amateur version of compositional critique.

Still have a darkroom but it only get’s used once a year (or so). I used to print on Galerie but went to Multigrade FB because keeping graded paper was just too pricey and Multigrade looked fine to me.
You got my curiosity up so I looked up a 100 sheet box of 8x10 Galerie. If any of you old school types want try this I recommend sticking a nitro pill under your tongue first. Bring all your money.

I like the first one. The second seems cramped to me.

Top one. i often find that just a bit of dialing down highlights in PS is welcome. Oddly, I rarely pump up shadows, though.

Thanks, Mike. As it happens this post comes as I am spending a lot of time indoors (Northern California smoke) and using it to go through the archive from 2011, when I made and kept TOO MANY digital images. I shoot too much when I am out with a digital camera--it's just too easy. My film cameras give me a lot more keepers per shot.

As for your images, I like the first one because of the balance between the upper right and lower left corners. The image just holds together better for me.

I remember Eggleston saying that he only takes one picture per subject, otherwise it gets confusing while editing. Though one account said to have seen him once taking three pictures of a subject, but the point still stands. Digital just makes it way too easy to snap pictures.

As for the photos, the first one: the black mass on the left is balanced by the fencepost. The second one is unbalanced and restless; am I supposed to look at the weeds, the fencepost or the opposing shore?

I like the first one. I'm not sure the water itself is a strong enough element to carry the picture; the second one feels somewhat claustrophobic, while the first is a pleasant landscape.

Obviously, both frames had content that you, as a photographer, wanted to record when witnessing the scene.
Alas, it all didn't fit in a single frame.
An honest suggestion: If I had these two frames, and before I relegated them to the oblivion of a 'maybe later' hard drive, I'd combine them in Lightroom's Photo Merge>Panorama>Perspective (or the Photoshop equivalent), which would stack the two frames one on top of the other [probably]without adding distortion. It is, sometimes, a miraculous solution for those of us that see beyond the exact prime lens field of view that we are stuck with in the field.

The second. Because in the first, the mesh fence is a vague irritant at the corner of the eye, but in the second it is an honest participant in the composition. Also, when in doubt, keep the sharpest version.

Hmm. I like the first one a bit better. I think cutting the upper left hand clump of trees off in the middle actually draws more attention to it; it seems abrupt. That's just me, though. I tend towards classic and "inclusive" framing for this kind of landscape.

If I had to pick one, it would be the top one, no contest. It has a more pleasing composition. Whilst I don't always go with it in this case rule of thirds is the winner. BUT - if I had taken these I would take the top one and crop from the top left until the fence was out of the picture. That results in a much better picture than either of the two you have.

On the wider topic, I take far too many pictures. I sometimes get my wife to judge between two near identical ones. Her judgement is often better than mine but frustratingly when I ask her to explain her choice - so I can follow the logic and make better decisions in the future - she can never explain her choice :(

The bottom one for me.
I think a simple lesson for new digital shooters is to take every image as if it is your only and best one. Subsequent ones should be a reinvention of the process from scratch, not multiple half hearted attempts at the previuos.

The second one seems better to my eye, because it's asymmetrical, but still maintains a balance.

Virtually all my photographic training was done in the context of news coverage, and I learned to shoot a lot during a moving event. I wasn't paying for the film or development, which helped, and I also wasn't choosing the final print or even its crop. Last weekend, I covered (I like to think of it that way) a blues workshop in Boulder, Colorado. I took about fifteen pictures of a singer, and not one of them was sharp. The problem was that the room was dim (a converted church) no flash was allowed, and the guy never quit moving. The best I could do was to salvage a "moody" shot, but it still sorta sucked. Lots of shots gave me a chance; a few carefully selected shots would have had no chance at all. IMHO.

For me, "Which version do we prefer", is the wrong question. Instead it should be, "What story does each of these pictures tell you?"
And that story can be what it tells you about yourself (the viewer), the photographer, the place, the moment, the society in which we live and its expectations, and so much more.
Personally, the first picture tells me about the allure of distant things, that the sun-basked meadow in the distance is where the opportunities are, with a limitless horizon beyond. It's always going to be the crowd-pleaser – the "inspirational" shot to post on Instagram.
The second picture tells me about the solitude and contentment of being away from the attention and clamour of others. The cool shade, a place to sit. The quiet waters of the pond allow me the quiet retrospection I need. The fence is down but I choose to remain here, where I can think and feel without the demands of the outside world..
The first picture has instant appeal but its cheerful optimism will quickly fade. The second, I would print and frame on my wall where I could live with it and appreciate it more each day.

How about:


Quick-and-dirty conversion using the abandoned desktop version of Snapseed. Higher contrast, higher sharpness, green filter, touch of vignetting.

#2, the bottom of the frame has more breathing room, the bottom of the frame in #1 looks like it’s been chopped off. Colour also looks nicer on #2, maybe a slight shift in the light.

I try not to overthink it. First impressions in a 5 second glance tell me a lot. The one with more sky and a more full bush on the left seems more coherent. Nothing seems lost by moving the bottom edge up.

Better late than never? I don't have time to read thru ALL the comments, but I don't really have to since I exactly agree with Hugh Crawford:

"The top of the first with the bottom of the second."

Who says it has to be either/or?

Just step back a bit or zoom out and you have it!

I like the top picture better, but would have cropped the top of the frame right where the top of the tree runs off of the page to the left. You can see plenty of sky in the reflection on the water. The second image reminds me of that movie called "Being John Malkovich", where Cameron Diaz would crawl through a room with a low ceiling into his mind.

A tangential issue in judging these photos, for me, is that the lower photo sky almost blends into the background color of the blog, so that it looks like an off-white sky above the light blue - not on second look, but that's the immediate impression. A black stroke around the border would help delineate image boundaries.

”Which is better?”.

Towards what communication goal, Mike? What are you trying to tell us you saw? I am not trying to be critial of your images at all. Rather, I’m trying to make a key point that I think is rarely made in shutterbug discussions, namely that there are richer goals for photography than simple prettiness (which I know you know). Much, probably most, of the most revered photography in the history of the medium offers simple prettiness as a secondary property if at all. Further, getting beyond prettiness and into using the camera for expression and communication leads to a far stronger bond with photography and its appreciation. It actually leads to the art possibilities of the medium.

Simple prettiness is fine...for a moment. But, analogously to other aspects of the human experience, it’s cheap, easy, and ultimately boring, eh?

We all have our working methods that over time have come to work for us. For me, shooting is like stretching before a run. I know that my first images will probably be weak but I both need to look through the camera to sense what and when, as well as make my subject feel comfortable. If I'm shooting a business portrait, it sometime takes awhile before people get comfortable. If I'm shooting some sort of event I need time to get physically and emotionally involved. The only way I know how to do this is to exercise that shutter finger and the mind connected to it.

I like the top one. Like Philip Storry, I feel that the gradient in the sky is important. Also, the second one feels unbalanced to me.

I understand why you like having more of the fence, though.

Jane Bown was indeed English. Herefordshire is bordered to the west by Wales but it's an English county.

I think it's safer to just say 'British' though, at least for now.

Are they both crops of a larger frame? If so, I'd be curious to see all of it.

My first gut feel was to prefer the first. Then I read some comments and started to doubt about what I liked. So I went away for an hour and came back and preferred the first again. I don't think I have adequate language to express why, only to say that the thin layer of sky in the second bothers me, but the brighter tone of the field of the second pleases me.

You once suggested using one camera and one prime lens for a year to see how one shot with that combo. What about forcing yourself to shoot without cropping during post.

My brain halts early with stuff like this. When it has happened to me, I end up not liking any of the options and give up.

Top works best. My simple analysis: You need more sky since the distance covered in the scene isn't that far. If this was a landscape with a far away horizon, cropping more of the sky could work.

2 steps backwards would have solved your dilemma.

[Everyone who's saying that should appreciate that it wasn't a dilemma. The second shot was the one I wanted. It was group consensus after the fact that decided differently! --Mike]

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