Study Group 2


Dave Ficke (B)

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FEBRUARY 2021 ROUND
Title:    Nest Building

Goal:   I noticed this gray tree squirrel bring materials up to the top of a tree building a nest. My goal was to photograph him bring nesting materials up the tree    
 
Equipment/Source:     Nikon D850 using a 70-200mm lens at 200 mm, f5.6 and 1/1000
  
Technique:    sitting on my deck watching the squirrel going up and down the tree using a tripod and just having a great time watching him go back and forth.  

Processing:     Cropped, adjusted shadows and highlights 

Score this image: YES

Comments/Scores (N, T, P, E, Total)

   Critique Image (only members of Study Group Two may critique this image)

Review by commentator Rick C.

Your timing was excellent in catching it just as the forelegs hit the lower branch. Viewing the image at the larger size we can see the nesting material in its mouth and that provides the context for the nature story. While the exposure is good for the total lighting, it was biased by the light background resulting in the primary subject being largely in shadow. That aspect is impacting the effective strength of the story by making it more difficult to discern. For me it holds the story value back at the 2 level despite the behavioral element.

Primary focus looks good to me. I do feel there may be a little room for additional sharpening but don’t see that as critical given the tonality issue with the squirrel primarily in shadow and the bright background. That problem keeps the technical rating to a 2 for me.

The core composition is fine. The branches in the upper left are a distraction, but I see no way of cropping them out without making the image cropped far too tight over all. Here again the bright background and limb behind the subject with the shadow on the subject are the core problem and significantly limit the pictorial effectiveness of the image. The pictorial rating is 1 for me.

N-2, T-2, P-1 = 5 (excellent work on the capture but the lighting really hurts it.)


This Review is written by: Rick D.

NATURE REVIEW OF THE IMAGE
Hi Dave. Shooting while lounging on your deck sure beats an hour drive to a wildlife reserve! And squirrels can really entertain! You hit your goal by catching this one with a load of building material in his mouth. Interesting but normal behavior.

TECHNICAL REVIEW OF IMAGE
Your settings work fine. I do wonder if sitting limited your ability to quickly move to a better vantage point.

PICTORIAL REVIEW OF IMAGE
You did good to capture a fast moving squ irrel at all. You have a nicely blurred background. However, that background has pretty much the same tonal value as the main subject, the squirrel’s head. You came close, getting the patch of light on the shoulder. Almost always, when shooting wildlife, the head (the eye more specifically) is the desired target. If you were standing you would have more opportunities to get a better capture. Of course, there is always the possibility that may not be available for you. A physical reason, for instance. In addition, a tighter crop would eliminate some distractions, such as the two branches in the upper left corner. Also, the well lit branch behind the subject actually competes against it for the eye’s attention. That would be difficult to correct.

NATURE SCORE 2-Nature story of average strength (portrait)

TECHNICAL SCORE 2-Average exposure

PICTORIAL SCORE 1-Inadequate composition and impact

TO TAL SCORE 5


This Review is written by: Nirmalya B.

NATURE REVIEW OF THE IMAGE
The photograph indeed is telling a nature story.

TECHNICAL REVIEW OF IMAGE
From technical angle subject is in focus with acceptable exposure. Nothing wrong with capture in my view though I would suggest a bit of digital enhancement interference. The shadow on the subject and the highlight in the hind branch of the subject reversed the viewer’s attraction otherwise. This perhaps can be taken care of to some extent through digital retouching.

PICTORIAL REVIEW OF IMAGE
From pictorial point of view unfortunately the good story or even the right exposure did not help much because of the presence of diagonal distracting branch which is very strongly competing with the subject.

NATURE SCORE 3-Nature story strong

TECHNICAL SCORE 2-Average exposure

PICTORIAL SCORE 1-Inadequate composition and impact

EXTRA POINT 0-No extra point

TOTAL SCORE 6


This Review is written by: Suman B.

NATURE REVIEW OF THE IMAGE
no question about this one being a nature story as the presented animal is with a branch in mouth for building nest obviously.

TECHNICAL REVIEW OF IMAGE
sharpness is adequate and so is your capturing of the glimmer in the eye. What ails me is the disturbing background which in the previous month's review Rick Cloran explained so beautifully of LC Boros's submission. You need to read that or make a copy which usually I do for the future post processing.

PICTORIAL REVIEW OF IMAGE
the L composition gives the picture a support around the right bottom edge and helps to make a frame within a frame

NATURE SCORE 3-Nature story strong

TECHNICAL SCORE 2-Average exposure

PICTORIAL SCORE 2-Average composition and impact

EXTRA POINT 0-No extra point

TOTAL SCORE 7


This Review is written by: Bogdan B

NATURE REVIEW OF THE IMAGE
Good to catch it with building material.

TECHNICAL REVIEW OF IMAGE
Upper part of background is a little bit too bright. I suggest, that you burn it. Then the squirrel will be more visible.
One branch is overexposed. I also suggest to darken it.

PICTORIAL REVIEW OF IMAGE
Composition is good. Just upper left branches are distracting.

NATURE SCORE 3-Nature story strong

TECHNICAL SCORE 2-Average exposure

PICTORIAL SCORE 2-Average composition and impact

EXTRA POINT 0-No extra point

TOTAL SCORE 7


This Review is written by: LC B.

NATURE REVIEW OF THE IMAGE
Interesting story but hampered by technical issues.

TECHNICAL REVIEW OF IMAGE
Your squirrel has the same issues as mine from last month: too much shade on the squirrel with the background super bright. On top of this detail is lost as while the tree is pretty sharp, the squirrel is a blur. You don’t mention ISO but you may want to try bumping it up and then in the future working to darken the background and brighten the subject.

PICTORIAL REVIEW OF IMAGE
I like the initial composition and my only kvetch is the framing branches in the upper left corner. One option might be to work the crop to include more of the top of the image and less of the bottom: keeping both branches to really frame the action within the frame

NATURE SCORE 2-Nature story of average strength (portrait)

TECHNICAL SCORE 1-Inadequate exposure

PICTORIAL SCORE 2-Average composition and impact

TOTAL SCORE 5


This Review is written by: Adrian B

NATURE REVIEW OF THE IMAGE
Hi Dave.
Ive never seen a squirrel with nest building material - well done. As a nature story, yes fine.

TECHNICAL REVIEW OF IMAGE
You will know that this is far too dark. The chap was in shadow and with bright light at the rear, this has affected your exposure. You have a very good camera, so you will be able to pull detail out of the shadows in a way that does not leave the whites distracting - so more PP work is needed I feel

PICTORIAL REVIEW OF IMAGE
Pictorially, it will be a challenge to make this stand out over and above the nature story, because of a complicated setting. It is certainly an interesting image though. Thank you for posting

NATURE SCORE 3-Nature story strong

TECHNICAL SCORE 2-Average exposure

PICTORIAL SCORE 2-Average composition and impact

EXTRA POINT 0-No extra point

TOTAL SCORE 7












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JANUARY 2021 ROUND

Title:      Bluebells
 
Goal:     To go out to Joshua Tree National Park and see what spring wildflowers are out
 

Equipment/Source:     Nikon D810, Tripod and shutter cable, 1/50 second at f9 using a 105mm f2.8 lens and ISO 400
   
Technique:     Set up tripod and camera - using a remote shutter cable and mirror lockup. Used umbrella to block sun and black felt in background.  

Processing:   Cropped, black white clipping some contrast 

Score this image: YES


Comments/Scores (N, T, P, E, Total)
    Critique Image (only members of Study Group Two may critique this image)

 
Review by Tom S.
The black background may or may not be a problem. Some people like it and some hate it because it doesn’t show the environment of the flower and looks unnatural. I have done flowers both ways so don’t mind the black, however, it does remove possibility of a higher nature score. Score: N2

Dave you did a great job with this flower portrait. Good exposure so that the whites are not blown out and good color and all the blooms are very sharp. Score: T3

I like the diagonal composition from upper left to lower right. Score: P3

N2, T3, P3, E0 = 8


This Review is written by: Haru N.

NATURE REVIEW OF THE IMAGE
Beautiful pictorial image. Nice color, details and texture are well captured overall. Unfortunately the image does not tell the nature story other than the information provided in the description.

TECHNICAL REVIEW OF IMAGE
Technically, there is no comments for improvements. Tripod is used, appropriate DOF is ensured. I assume that you used black sheet at the background, which I think it's debatable in my view.

PICTORIAL REVIEW OF IMAGE
It is good to follow the triangle line in the composition. However, it does not provide big "Wow" factor in the image. It is beautiful pictorial image but it did no go beyond that in my view. I feel odd to have completely black background for the nature image. Just a person opinion.

NATURE SCORE 2-Nature story of average strength (portrait)

TECHNICAL SCORE 2-Average exposure

PICTORIAL SCORE 2-Average composition and impact

EXTRA POINT 0-No extra point

TOTAL SCORE 6


This Review is written by: Susan N.

NATURE REVIEW OF THE IMAGE
nice portrait of flowers. Is using black felt as a background a true nature photo? isn't that a "hand of man"?

TECHNICAL REVIEW OF IMAGE
Seem a little soft in focus or development.

PICTORIAL REVIEW OF IMAGE
blue against black is very picturesque. Angle of the flower array is interesting. Soft focus on flowers detracts some from nature story

NATURE SCORE 1-Nature story minimal or contains unrelated hand of man

TECHNICAL SC ORE 2-Average exposure

PICTORIAL SCORE 2-Average composition and impact

TOTAL SCORE 5


This Review is written by: Natalie M

NATURE REVIEW OF THE IMAGE
I would say this is more like a studio portrait than a nature study. The black background looks un-natural and you have admitted to adding an artificial black background.

TECHNICAL REVIEW OF IMAGE
Technically the image appears a little soft. This may be due to a slight breeze impacting the slow shutter speed, or possibly more depth of field is required. I have found macro lenses work best at at least f12, or via photo stacking to maximise sharpness from from to back.

PICTORIAL REVIE W OF IMA GE
Although the black background helps to make the bluebell"s colour pop, I don't think it's the right choice for nature, and would better suit an open colour category.

NATURE SCORE 1-Nature story minimal or contains unrelated hand of man

TECHNICAL SCORE 2-Average exposure

PICTORIAL SCORE 2-Average composition and impact

EXTRA POINT 0-No extra point

TOTAL SCORE 5


This Review is written by: Dennis H

NATURE REVIEW OF THE IMAGE
You have certainly put some time and effort into obtaining this image of Blue Bells.

TECHNICAL REVIEW OF IMAGE
Good colour and definition on flowers. White parts of flowers a little blown out. Not sure if you can use an artificial background in nature competitions.

PICTORIAL REVIEW OF IMAGE
I like your positioning of the 3 flowers in the image.

NATURE SCORE 2-Nature story of average strength (portrait)

TECHNICAL SCORE 2-Ave rage exp osure

PICTORIAL SCORE 3-Excellent composition and impact

TOTAL SCORE 7


This Review is written by: Bruce F

NATURE REVIEW OF THE IMAGE
I think using a black felt background hurts the nature story. This image looks like it was taken in a studio. There is no imparted feeling of nature and the outdoors. Nature photography at club level, and in competitions like NANPA’s Expression Contest images that show the hand of man aren’t allowed. I feel strongly you should put your black felt backdrop back in the closet and leave it there.
Selecting the right background is all part of photographing wildflowers. Look at the works of George Lepp. He has a whole book devoted to photographing California Poppies. The key is using an aperture that provides enough depth of field to render all of the flower parts sharp and blur the background at the same time. Thus, the selection of the subject is a key for composition and a clean artistic background.


TECHNICAL REVIEW OF IMAGE
Depth of field is a key component for showing the entire wildflower in focus. Even at f9, some petals are out of focus, especially on the center blossom that is closest to the viewer. Macro photography isn’t easy. For wildflowers with depth, you might have to have use f32 to obtain a sharp focus on all the flower parts. With soft focus, then, your presentation is more pictorial than a nature presentation. In nature photography, identification is important, and sharpness throughout allows the viewer to see all the form and structure of the flower.

PICTORIAL REVIEW OF IMAGE
The diagonal flow from the left blossom to the right is good. Going back to my theme of a selection of the subject, I would not have chosen these blossoms or I would not photograph them as they are presented. The center blossom blocks the stem and where the other two blossoms join, creating mergers. The center blossom is of dropp ing down and covering the stems of the other ones. If it was upright filling in the negative space on the top right quadrant, you would have a nice compositional triangle between three blossoms. Three subjects are an exciting number, and in this position, you would have more compositional impact and drama. Gone would be the merger, and putting this blossom in this space would put the three blossoms closer together and closer to being in the same film plane, easier to have in focus elements.

NATURE SCORE 1-Nature story minimal or contains unrelated hand of man

TECHNICAL SCORE 2-Average exposure

PICTORIAL SCORE 2-Average composition and impact

TOTAL SCORE 5

Dave Ficke joined the Mountain News in September of 2015 as a sports photographer, covering Rim of the World High School sports.  In 2017 he was asked to also write the sports articles to accompany his excellent photographs for the Mountain News.  This is his first professional job as a sports correspondent; additionally Dave has done other articles on human interest and the environment for The Mountain News.  

Dave graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a BS in Biology, earned his California Secondary Teaching Credential and taught high school college prep Biology, Physics and Field Biology in Upland, CA. He led field trips to Yosemite National Park for his Field Biology classes for twenty-seven years.  Dave also earned a Masters in Environmental Education and is currently retired from a career that spanned 33 years, teaching high school through college.  

During his time in the field of Education Dave has variously been the coordinator for the California Regional Environmental Education Network (CREEC) for all of Riverside, Inyo, Mono and San Bernardino Counties for over 20 years; he was a Teacher Ambassador for Cal Recycle, presenting professional development curriculum the Education and the Environment Initiative (EEI) to educators throughout California for seven years.  Dave was appointed by California’s State Superintendent Tom Torlakson to help develop The California Blueprint for Environmental Education for the State of California.  

Dave has retired from rock climbing and rapids riding, but still loves to hike and take backpacking trips.  His informal avocation for photography developed into a second career for Dave; he currently shows and sells his landscape and wildlife prints at The Mountain Arts Gallery in Lake Arrowhead. He has won various awards for his photographs from The Orange County Fair, Inland Empire Professional Photographers, and the Redlands Camera Club where he was president for two years.

Dave, his wife Kathleen, also a retired teacher and guidance counselor, and their two dogs, Jordie a golden doodle, and Cedar, a golden retriever, love to travel in their fifth wheel RV for weeks at a time.  Dave’s love of the outdoors and his passion for landscape and wildlife photography complement his love for the environment.