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PhotoZAP: We Critique Your Photos
PhotoZAP 5: Bogged Down

Our critics praise and pan your pictures


“The [HDR] tone map process yearns for, searches for, and emphasizes contrast, even when it is slight or negligible, as is in the case with the nasty banding areas in the sky.” —Jack Howard

Photo © Howard Mandel, Highland Park, IL. Gear: Canon 40D, Canon 17-85mm f/4-5.6 lens at 33mm. Exposure: Five images merged via Photomatrix into a single HDR image. Basic exposure, f/27 at 3 seconds, ISO 100, with -2, -4, +2 and +4 EV compensation bracketing for other images.

Photographer’s statement: “I’ve passed this location numerous times, often wishing that I either had my camera, or that my wife wasn’t with me.  On this particular night, I was alone, and had my camera with me.  I walked down to the shore, and shot about 140 images. I chose to submit this photo because I thought it was interesting, especially as an HDR.  Normally I wouldn’t put the dead tree dead center, but I felt it worked in this particular shot.”




Our critics say:


Jack Howard: Our PhotoZAPee confirms what I originally thought: This is a tonemapped image from a bracketed HDR sequence, and in many ways, there's a lot of cool things going on in this image that the HDR process makes possible: ground exposure and full moon exposure, surreal nightscape colors, and overall well-controlled haloing. But there are a couple of major detracting elements the get in the way. The tone map process yearns for, searches for, and emphasizes contrast, even when it is slight or negligible, as is in the case with the nasty banding areas in the sky. Dialing down some of the tone map settings may help with this issue. I'd also go with a slightly looser framing. The center tree needs some breathing room. My advice: run the 32-bit file through every tonemapper in Photoshop, Photomatix, FDRTools and DPHDR 'til you find good colors without sky banding issues.

Monica Cipnic: The photo breaks the rules, but that's OK. Usually you don't want your subject dead center, but that large center tree is anchored by the two trees to its right and left, and this reinforces the crop and composition. I like the foreground of the grass and the angles of the broken tree trunks in the swampy water. They lead your eye into the picture, give a dynamic sense of depth, and reinforce both the horizon line and the vertical trees. It's the top half of the photo that could use some technical help.

Mason Resnick: This is a wonderful location. You really should take your wife to see it! Seriously, though…I like the subtle reflections in the water and the decay-filled landscape. However, my eye is first drawn to the sky because of the abrupt tonal transitions. Jack’s the HDR expert here—try his suggestions to get rid of the banding in the sky. I’d sacrifice a bit of saturation if that’s what it takes to get a smoother sky.


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