Reader HDR Image Critique – Bill McClung

Well it looks like this is a big week for reader featured images and critiques. But I think they are fun and a good learning experience so I am going to add one more this week.

This image comes from reader Bill McClung.

Click to enlarge

 Here is what Bill had to say about his Image:

1.  The photo was taken from the back deck of our home, in Hendersonville, North Carolina (Western NC).  It was early morning (around 7:45 a.m.), before the ground fog lifted.  I had played around with the trial version of the Photomatix Pro software, before purchasing it, but this was my first “real” attempt.

 2.  I used a Panasonic LX5 camera , tripod mounted.

 3.  Three images were made (-2, 0 & +2), using auto-bracket.

 4.  I used the Photomatix Pro  software and made several manual adjustments.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t smart enough to record the changes (I AM doing that now!). 

 5.  The modified image was then imported into PhotoShop Elements 7 for cropping and some minor tweaking.

 6.  We live in a beautiful part of the Western North Carolina mountains and have many spectacular sunrises and sunsets.  I manage to get a lot of nice sunset photos, but sunrise photos are very rare for me.  Fortunately, my wife hauled my butt out of bed when she saw how beautiful it was outside.  I wasn’t all that excited at the time but, when I saw the image results, it was WELL worth getting up early!

 Thanks for submitting this Bill, The image is beautiful BUT, now for the critique



The subject is very beautiful, the fact that there is fog in the valley adds to the image immensely and that is indeed the subject. However there are two subjects in the image and I will address that in a bit.


Absolutely beautiful light, shooting at this time of day or it’s corresponding evening time will add to any image. This image shot even an hour later would have been lost. Because of the subtleties of tone if it was shot any later with more contrasty light the image would fail. The nice transition of the early morning skies with the purple to pink hues is excellent and well captured

HDR & Post Processing

3 images 2 stops apart was the right choice for this image. The Dynamic Range was wide because you have the lightness of the fog but you also have some deep shadow areas in the wooded section. More frames would have done nothing for this image. The HDR Processing in PhotoMatix Pro is very good too. Bill went for a very natural look which is what this calls for. The colors and light are so subtle that if you went any further it would have ruined the tonality of the image.

The only thing the image is lacking is a Pure black for the small amount of shadow areas there are. Without that the image comes off slightly flat especially in the foreground tree area. I either would have moved the blacks sliders up in Photomatix or fixed it in post with a level or curves adjustment


Well I kept the worst for last because this is where the image falls a little flat; composition. But the image still has it’s good points. Using the tree as a natural frame works wonderfully. It frames the “Subject” of the image; the fog encased valley. However Bill’s eye was caught by another subject, That Flame Red tree, which of course is beautiful. The eye naturally goes to Red, Orange and Yellow objects first. And there in lies the problem. It pulls the eye from the true subject of the image. It by itself could have been another image, but in this case  it actually detracts from the composition of the image.

Now possibly, if Bill repositioned himself far to the left or right, he may have been able to move that tree closer to the primary subject to get them both in, but from this angle it doesn’t work.

The next problem is the placement of the foreground subject, the other tree that frames the image. It’s in No-Mans-Land. It’s neither centered for symmetry nor is it placed in the more correct “Rule of thirds or ” Golden Section” zones. I think if Bill would have placed the tree off to the right and instead off all the periphery of the wooded area and concentrated more on the distant subject of the valley it would have helped 

Rule of Thirds

For those of you unfamiliar with  the “Rule of Thirds. It is an aesthetic  design and art rule for placement of objects within a scene

Here is what a Thirds grid would look like on this image. What we are trying for is to have our subject at the intersection of two of the thirds lines

Bill did do a good job of keeping the horizon line of the valley low and not centered in the image which is a very common mistake

 Now, the Rule of Thirds is the most well known of compositional elements. But look closely at this image, because of the size of the foreground object. There really isn’t a good way to place the trees into the image since they really are spread across the image. Rule of Thirds  don’t really help us with this image. Plus the tree itself does not make a good subject, it should instead serve it’s purpose as a “Frame” of the real subject

Golden Spiral

So instead I am going to suggest two much more radical approaches to the composition of this image: A square crop, based on a Golden Spiral. A golden Spiral is based on Golden Ratios or Golden Means which in themselves are based upon Fibonacci Series. Now I could go into the whole math explanation…actually no, I couldn’t because I suck at math. But without making this complicated and instead making it for the right brained. Picture a nautilus shell and overlay that on your photo

 Now I would crop to that shell and it would give me this composition on a square crop

Is this correct? Who knows, it’s just another way of Seeing.

Overall Bill has a very good image. I just think that composition could be worked on. Remember when we are standing on Bill’s beautiful deck looking out on his view, we can use our eyes and mind to find the elements that are beautiful and pleasing to us and our mind isolates them from the periphery. When we now have a  photograph we no longer have that luxury and must instead lead the viewer where we want them to go and we do that through composition

Thanks Bill. Great share.

All Images copyright Bill McClung, do not copy or use without permission, all rights reserved

Remember if you would like to have your HDR Image Featured or Critiqued just follow the directions here




  1. Bill McClung November 18, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    Thanks for the critique. Some good lessons learned! Looking forward to seeing more image critiques. A great teaching tool!

    • Peter November 18, 2011 at 9:10 am #

      Well, Thank you bill for the submission. Giving critiques are hard because you don’t want to offend anyone and they aren’t meant to dismiss the image. Just what to look for the next time. I learn something new every time I shoot. Thanks again!

  2. Bill McClung November 18, 2011 at 5:04 pm #

    I got my first camera ($3.98 at the post exchange!) 59 years ago, at the age of 7, and I’m STILL learning!

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *