Nature Photography Photo Critique
clouds by josh neate
by joshua neate
Category: Nature Photography
Fujifilm FinePix S1500
Lens: Standard: 30-50mm
Description: i liked the look of the cloud and the light it was making
Subject of photo
Composition & Perspective
Use of camera, exposure & speed
Color & Lighting
Depth of field
Clouds of all types can be extremely engaging and interesting. The colors, shapes,textures, mood, not to mention weather, associated with clouds is quite varied. I'm a bit partial to cumulus clouds because I grew up in the Midwest and so I'm also a big fan of thunderstorms (which is why I now live in the Northwest, go figure). When you think of everything related to clouds - how they're formed, the weather they produce, the way they interact with light, their shape and color - they become more than just puffy or wispy or thick objects in the sky. Anyone can point their camera to the sky and photograph a cloud. But if you can create a visual story or emphasize an aspect or characteristic of a cloud or relate it to something in the sky, on the ground, or both, then you've created something other than just a photograph of a cloud. I hope that makes sense and maybe it will as we go through this feedback session.
For me, I like photographs of clouds that 1) are wide angle views that show the ground also in the composition, but mostly cloud, 2) are of isolated cloud details and textures only, like a flower close-up, 3) are solitary, interesting-shaped clouds, and usually the entire cloud, 4) storm clouds showing some action like heavy rain, lightning, wind-driven rain, odd or brilliant color and lighting. In this photograph there is an interesting cloud in the center that has a lot of character, but it is competing with the dark cloud at the right and another bit at the left. In this photo I'm curious to know what the ground/horizon line looked like and if it was interesting enough to include. That would reduce the amount of blue sky, but increase a sense of perspective, size, distance, dimensionality. Showing a small amount of ground and lots of sky is a dramatic way to compose clouds, especially when done vertically. There is a dark object at the bottom center that detracts but could easily be removed. These things on the edges are often not seen when you view the scene originally because the viewfinder doesn't have 100% coverage, it's usually between 90 - 100%, and typically around 95%. So it's easy to capture things intruding into the frame and if it's not critical to the composition, often it's easier to crop that side of the image altogether. But, in your case, you could clone that out easily using any number of photo processing applications.
Your focus is good and sharp.
Your exposure is good, shutter speed is fast enough to capture sharp detail. The information isn't specific enough as to whether your focal length was 30mm or 50mm or somewhere in between. I'm going to guess closer to 50mm. Did you try a wider angle view at 30mm and also shoot vertical compositions?
I like the polarized sky, it keeps the attention down on the cloud. The lower sun angles in morning and afternoon/evening bring out the texture of cumulus clouds and allow for exposures that show details in the shadows and highlights without losing detail in one or the other. If you shot this in auto mode, you could also experiment with your exposure compensation settings and slightly under and over expose scenes like this to see which approach you like better. Sometimes over or underexposing by +1 to +2 will change the emphasis enough to turn an ordinary photo into something more interesting.
Depth of field for far away objects is usually not an issue, especially at wider focal lengths and the limited apertures available on some cameras and lenses (i.e. f3.5 - f5.6 are mid-range apertures giving you a generally broad depth of field in most situations).
Josh, I share your interest in clouds and I encourage you to continue photographing them. Clouds have many more looks and moods than most people pay attention to, so if you can capture those variations and make people aware of them you'll be helping others appreciate what you already do. Be aware of other things you can add or remove from your composition by changing your focal length, angle of view, physical position, etc. and how you place your subject in the frame (in relationship to other elements in the photo such as the ground, and other clouds or objects in the sky). Continue following and photographing clouds and weather. It's a fascinating subject.
How to improve your photo
Try different compositions, vertical and horizontal. Showing the ground or other subjects in the frame will help create a sense of scale and dimensionality.
If you don't have a lot of telephoto capability with your lens choice, try cropping the photo down then enlarging to isolate interesting parts of the scene, such as contrasting cloud colors, tones, or shapes. You might be able to crop a vertical composition from a horizontal image or get a horizontal from a vertical.
Audubon publishes a Field Guide to North American Weather that includes many photos and descriptions of clouds, how they are formed and under what conditions, where in the country they are likely to be seen, what type of weather they produce (if any), etc. and is a great reference.
Get feedback on your photos from Pro Mike Shipman