“Images for Your Critique” Revelations « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

“Images for Your Critique” Revelations

“Salt and Pepper Snow Geese.” This image of both light and dark (White-fronted) geese blasting off was created at Klamath NWR, OR with the Canon 800mm f/5.L IS lens and the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV professional digital camera body. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +2 1/3 stops: 1/640 sec. at f/6.3 in Tv Mode. For a greater appreciation of the image above, click on the photo to view a larger version. Then click on the image or the X in the corner to close it.

“Images for Your Critique” Revelations

On June 16, 2011 I posted “For Your Critique: Image #1.” It proved to be a popular post as it garnered 46 comments. (I followed that post up the next day with “My Comments on Your Comments/Image #1.”) In all there were 20 images in the series that ended just the other day with the Northern Gannet image in “For Your Critique: Image #20.

Each image in the series included language to this effect: This image is presented for your critique; feel free to praise it or rip it to shreds. Would you keep it or delete it? Let us know why either way, what you like or what you hate. What would you have done differently?

This was always followed by the promise to post two major revelations when the series was complete. That time is now.

Revelation #1

Despite the fact that virtually every image in the series was trashed by someone, and often by many, the twenty images in the series were my entries into the 2011 Veolia BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPOTY) Competition. I felt that each had contest-winning potential. I will be sharing my thoughts on the 19 remaining images in future blog posts.

Revelation #2

When I posted the first image in the series, Image #1 above, “Salt and Pepper Snowstorm,” I had just learned that the image was Highly Commended in the Creative Visions category of the competition. I was thrilled and honored. (Click here for proof :))

A Sampling of the Positive Comments

“It reminds me of prehistoric cave art. Beautiful, in an abstract way.”
“I think it is very special and it reminds me of a Japanese print. I agree with David P that it is a beautiful abstract.”
“I like this one because it doesn’t look like a photograph. I looks almost like it’s done with rubber stamps.Or ink strokes. Amazing what can be done with just a camera and a lens.”
“I really like it, tho’ I’ll have to study it a bit longer to figure out exactly why. One thing seems obvious to me: It’s not a blur; look at the well-defined snow flakes, some of the wing tips, and legs; and all the birds in lower right corner are sharp. The blurry effect seems to come from the snow obscuring the bodies behind it. At least part of the appeal is the muted color, which accents the black-&-white impression. Photography works in many different ways, and a “painterly” photo isn’t bad just because it doesn’t look like what we normally think of as a photo.”
“There is a balance in this image between chaos and order that’s very visually intriguing, and that makes the image work on multiple levels. Interesting chaos such as this is hard to come by.”

The Negative Comments

Not everyone who commented on the image agreed with the judges; here–in part–are excerpts from some of the comments that were posted:

“I might not delete it but neither would I call it one I would want to showcase.”

(Note: I am glad that I like the image enough not to follow that advice!)

“Personally I would delete it… This photo just seems washed out and almost looks like …. something that I tried to clean off a wall. I get the pattern and repitition but think that it’s too irregular to work well in this instance. I like nearly every photo you post, but this one just doesn’t do it for me.”

(Note: it is important that folks form there own opinions. But I am glad that I did not scrape this one off of my wall.)

“I’m also not a big fan of blurs, although I do find some of them visually pleasing. For this shot, it would be an instant decision to delete.”

(Note: this is not a blur. I like folks that are decisive as in “insta-delete!”)

“I would probably delete or modify. There isn’t anything contrasty to catch my eye or hold my eye.”

(Note: well, it caught the eyes of a few influential folks at least.)

“… but to me it is not photography.”

(Note: Well, that comments leaves me quite confused as I can assure all that it is a digital photograph….)

“Can’t find order out of such Chaos. Delete it.”

(Note: I find the somewhat ordered Chaos to be a big plus.)

“I don’t like it. I feel it is so busy, it makes me feel nervous. Someone, a very well known and talented bird photographer, once told me that you should never have wings that cross one another. Since then I have tried never to have that happen. This image definitely breaks that rule. Sorry that I dislike this image but that’s the way it is.”

(Note: No need to be sorry if you do not like an image. But you gotta love being mis-quoted and misunderstood at the same time.)

“I would probably delete image. Actually I would never have taken it except by accident.

(Note: it was not an accident :))

And finally, “I would DELETE. It does nothing for me. Just a boring image. Nothing to get excited about.”

(Note: If only the judges had realized that….)

My Thoughts

First off, I always get excited when one of my images is chosen to be honored by WPOTY judges. 🙂 Was I insulted by so many negative comments? Not at all. Amused would be a better word. I am a lover of what is (see The Work of Byron Katie here.) And I strive to never take things personally. Of the 46 comments there were many positive comments. I strive not to get too excited by those either. All of the comments are appreciated. I am fine with those who hate non-traditional nature photography images, out of the box if you would, and I am fine with those who love them as I do.

Are there any lessons to be learned? Probably the most important would be: “If you decide to enter a contest it is a good idea to study the results of previous competitions very carefully.” In recent years the BBC has moved away from what we used to think of as traditional nature photography towards images that many would consider way out of the box. Like “Salt and Pepper Snowstorm.”

A comment made by Linda Jones seemed a perfect way to end this blog post:

“It is interesting to see the different views of this photo! I guess that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. From the artist side of me, I see a workable abstract; on a very large textured canvas it would be very provacative! I like subtle. Not everything has to be glowing, oversaturated and perfect. Breaking the rules is pure bravery, with excellent results! It means you have a brain that can think and create. Photography becomes pretty boring if you choose to go by all the rules.”

Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Portfolio 21

I must say that this year’s Portfolio is the most stunning edition ever. Though they are understandably out of stock, you can order a copy here from Amazon. You will be helping support the Blog and the Bulletins to the tune of a few pennies and will be getting to see some amazing photographs a lot larger and more dramatically than on the web where they are pretty much presented tiny…. Once the book is back in stock I will be discussing various images on the blog (as promised previously).

Shopper’s Guide

Below is a list of the gear used to create the image above. Thanks a stack to all who have used the Shopper’s Guide links to purchase their gear as a thank you for all the free information that we bring you on the Blog and in the Bulletins. Before you purchase anything be sure to check out the advice in our Shopper’s Guide.

Canon 800mm f/5.L IS lens. Right now this is my all time favorite super-telephoto lens.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV professional digital camera body. My two Mark IVs are my workhorse digital camera bodies.

And from the BAA On-line Store:

LensCoats. I have a LensCoat on each of my big lenses to protect them from nicks and thus increase their re-sales value. All my big lens LensCoat stuff is in Hardwood Snow pattern.
LegCoat Tripod Leg Covers. I have four tripods active and each has a Hardwood Snow LegCoat on it to help prevent further damage to my tender shoulders 🙂
Gitzo GT3530LS Tripod. This one will last you a lifetime.
Mongoose M3.6 Tripod Head. Right now this is the best tripod head around for use with lenses that weigh less than 9 pounds. For heavier lenses, check out the Wimberley V2 head.
4th Generation Design CR-80 Low Replacement foot for the Canon 800.. When using the 800 on a Mongoose as I do, replacing the lens foot with this accessory lets the lens sit like a dog whether pointed up or down and prevents wind-blown spinning of your lens on breezy days by centering the lens directly over the tripod.
Double Bubble Level. You will find one in my camera’s hot shoe whenever I am not using flash.
Be sure to check out our camera body User’s Guides here.
The Lens Align Mark II. I use the Lens Align Mark II pretty much religiously to micro-adjust all of my gear an average of once a month and always before a major trip. Enjoy our free comprehensive tutorial here.
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV User’s Guide. Learn to use your Mark IV the way that I use mine. Also available for the 7D and the Mark III here.

12 comments to “Images for Your Critique” Revelations

  • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    A bit more. I am pretty sure that nobody in the world would agree with all the judge’s pick in any contest. Once the current portfolio is available through Amazon, I will be commenting on lots of the images. That will probably happen in late spring/early summer. artie

  • Derek Courtney

    I always enjoy and learn a lot from the posts and subsequent comments, and of course Artie’s responses to those. This particular BBC honored image (Salt and Pepper) of Artie’s doesn’t strike a chord with me. I certainly appreciate the technical info and story he gave with original posting. That’s the best part of this blog, the teaching he offers and insight into his though process. And I could certainly see the appeal of the image printed, especially very large. But it wouldn’t be one that I would purchase (or make) for my own collection. Artie’s comments to prospective contest entrants is sound advice. But maybe, for example those who offer the more negative responses, the aesthetic tendencies of some don’t align with contest judges. The comment above about impressionists in art was interesting. Did the likes of Monet, Degas, and particularly Manet develop this school because they fought against the establishment or wanted to please critics. Difficult to say for certain of course, but in Manet’s case at least he “… paint(s) what I see, and not what others like to see”. I wonder how much of the BBC’s (and many other contests’) awards are made with an eye toward moving away from “non-traditional” wildlife photography simply because so many brilliant images of “traditional” wildlife photography have already been made, honored, seen, etc. Maybe this is even a good thing as it offers direct a direct financial benefit to those who push traditional boundaries. All good things to think about I suppose. Regardless, although I certainly didn’t agree with the BBC results and, myself at least, don’t necessarily agree with the concept of making images to meet projected expectations of some panel of judges … it’s always wonderful to see wildlife photography through another’s eyes. Especially here where Artie offers so much of his insight into his own photographs. Nothing ever wrong with learning.

    Hi Derek and welcome here. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. And for your kind words. I agree with much of what you say, but…. I did not make this image “to meet projected expectations of some panel of judges.” I made it as I was having fun in a snow storm with thousands of geese. I remember switching from blurs to sharp just because. I did enter it because I thought that it might do well with the WPOTY judges but that is not why I created it! There is a big difference there. Six of the 20 images that I entered made it to the final round of judging…. This is far from being one of my favorite-ever images but I am proud of it. 🙂 artie

  • Jay

    Negative comments are always interesting. If informed, they can provide insight into how to improve one’s work. If they are a simple knee-jerk reaction to something that doesn’t follow a traditional approach, the reaction can be less useful. At the start of the movement, the impressionists were highly criticized. Today, impressionist paintings are much beloved. Obviously, at this point in your career you’re much more comfortable sticking your neck out in both inviting criticism and trying newer approaches. As for me, I’m still trying to get a clean shot.

    I do consider all comments and try to learn something from each of them. I have always enjoyed sticking my neck out, in fact I relish it. I do not mind stirring the pot a bit :). artie

  • Phil Ertel

    I really like this image. I love how you were able to capture a image with an abstract feel that created by nature itself. Well seen and excited! Congratulations on an exceptional image.

    Many thanks Phil. artie

  • Eric Thomson

    I still think it’s a great image too and congrats on it being a winner!

    Tanks a stack! artie

  • Alan Lillich

    “but for me it is not photography” – leaves me confused too, or more accurately thinking “So what?”.

    Pat and I were recently in a workshop with Steven Johnson. One afternoon he took the group to a Jerry Uelsmann show at the Center for Photographic Art in Carmel. (If you’re in the area before January 7, do go, it is amazing! All the more so when you find out his work is entirely analog.) Steve mentioned that Uelsmann was scorned at first by some of the fine art photography world because his work “was not photography”.

    I’m thoroughly happy that I don’t care one iota about the definition of photography. Or how any particular image is made. I only care about whether or not I like an image. Which includes this one, indeed almost all of this series.

    Hi Alan, I am with you on all counts. Do you have a link for Steven Johnson? artie

  • cheapo

    I still like it. And I still think it could be sold to a wallpaper manufacturer for printing. 🙂

  • harvey tabin

    I really do not care for it at all. It is washed out and has no meaning. It is just bland. You are a great photographer. But this stuff is just not nice look at.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Harvey. I am glad that you were not a BBC judge last year. When you write, “this stuff is just not nice look at” would that be fact or your opinion? artie

  • I am a fan of realism but you have opened up my appreciation of blurs. Thank you!

    Jeanette. YAW. But you actually gotta read the post :). This is not a blur…. artie

  • David Policansky

    Hi again, Artie. I just wanted to add that looking again at your image gave me an idea. I took a photo a couple years ago at Bosque of a dense flock of snow geese flying. After looking at your image I went back and desaturated the image, added a lot of contrast, and cropped it a little, and now I have this almost abstract very contrasty B&W image of geese; you can still tell they are geese but mostly what you see is the black outer primaries and faces in a very dense and complex pattern. I haven’t decided how much I like it yet but the point is looking at your image and reading what you wrote made me think about things in a new way, and for that, I thank you, as ever.


  • David Policansky

    Thanks, Artie. I like the image a lot. Apparently I liked it earlier, too, unless there’s another David P who posts here. I especially appreciate your advice on photo contests, which is to look at recent versions to see what the judges like. Of course, sometimes the judges change! I entered a photo contest recently becaue when I looked at last year’s winners I thought that I had better photos than all of them (in the nature and wildlife categories), and so I submitted some of them. But I didn’t even get noticed. It is disappointing! Does that ever happen to you? But even if it does, in your case you know you’re one of the best.

  • I think it is interesting to read the many comments that folks have. I still love it 🙂

    Thanks Lady D. I remember that you loved is from the get-go. Me too. Who would have thought that I would like the sharp one best; I made a zillion blurs in that snow storm. artie