Photographers often learn by example. None of us who get deep enough into this hobby have made it where we are today without seeing something we like and taking note of it. Good techniques are copied and put to use in future photos. That’s why it’s important to step back and critique our work and the work of others. The more we notice what we like and don’t like about certain photos, the better we get at creating more of what we love.
This week, I am critiquing a photo that was sent in by Torbjørn Øvrebekk. Let me say there is an amazing sense of wonder to this photo. It captures a rare moment that typically never lasts longer than a few minutes. Torbjørn manages to use motion and action in a constructive way that helps with his composition. Having tried to capture many images like this one, I know how difficult it is to get everything in the scene to work with your agenda. Torbjørn was either incredibly lucky or very determined. I’m guessing it’s a combination of both.
Let’s begin, as we always do, with composition. This photo is visually interesting for several reasons. It does more than merely obey the rule of thirds. It has elements that naturally guide our eye through the composition. Take a look at the snow. It isn’t just falling downward. It’s actually swirling around the the top of the photo in the direction that the eye would naturally move through it. If you allow your eye to follow the snow starting from the upper left hand corner, you will move downward through the photo and end up on the far right side. I have no idea how Torbjørn managed to get this to work, but it’s incredibly powerful.
This photo correctly uses another handy composition tool, and that is the presence of a big element placed against a smaller element. Notice the smaller version of the bigger tree, right next to it. You may not know you are doing it, but you are unconsciously comparing the larger tree to the smaller one, giving you a sense of scale.
On a final note, the rock outcropping helps to guide the eye out of the photo. It doesn’t impede the sense of motion already present. You can sweep in and out of this picture with ease, and that is what makes it so inviting.
Although this image has a limited color palette, it uses color in an intriguing way. It has a lot of white in different varieties and densities. There is the solid white snow of the foreground, the scattered snow on the rocks, and the speckled snow in the sky. You immediately get a sense of multiple textures, each with its own element to contribute. On top of that, the white balances out the blues and the browns of the sky and trees, conveniently sandwiching itself between everything.
The dark blue lake in this photo adds drama and balances out the light blue sky. It also provides a nice horizontal line that goes right along the lower third. This helps to draw more attention to the large tree while contrasting it with the snow on the ground.
There is a play of opposites between the browns and whites in this photo. The trees have more white than brown while the rocks have more brown that white. When seen on opposite sides of one another, the two balance out in a pleasing a way. This contrast also works to guide your eye through the photo, drawing you toward each opposing element.
This photo is very expressive for being a photo about a tree. Naturally, the tree is the subject because everything in the composition points towards it. As a subject, it brings everything about the theme of the photo together. How improbable it is that the snow swirls to right and not to left, and how lucky we are that the frost has become so thick on the branches of this tree. It is a symbol of fragility, of a season that is on its last breath.
There is only one thing I would change about this photo. If it were possible to take a few more steps to the right and get the smaller tree to stand out more on its own, I would have done so. As it is, the smaller tree blends in with the rocky backdrop a little too much. Its message gets mixed in with everything else.
All in all, I’m amazed at Torbjørn’s work. This is a truly lucky shot, and I am happy to show everyone what makes it work so well.
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