Podcast 231 : Jan 2010 Assignment – Square Crop – Results

by | Feb 23, 2010 | Announcement, Assignment, Competition, Podcast | 2 comments

Today we take a look at the results of the January MBP/WebSpy Photography Assignment, on the theme of Square Crop.

The Square Crop assignment was much more difficult than I had imagined it would be to come up with something compelling, but many of you rose to the occasion, and as usual, posted some incredible images. Let’s look at the three images that amassed the most votes from their peers, as usual, in reverse order.

In third place, we have Super Digital Girl, real name Leslie, with a superb photograph, “Ballerina” (below). Leslie sent me a little information on this photograph, as follows:

This past year I have been working on more documentary style photography so I decided to take a workshop in Connecticut with Elizabeth Opalenik to get in touch with my creative side again. The focus of the workshop was using long exposures and movement to create an impressionistic image. It was a great experience. The dancers were wonderful teenage students from the ballet studio that we shot in.


Ballerina (© Copyright 2010 - Leslie Granda Hill)

Well Leslie, I can tell that it was a great experience and you came away with some amazing images. The two bars that run through the lower third of the image form a nice divide, and the third horizontal line separate the floor from the wall. The floor being a slightly darker tone helps to anchor the image too. The obvious star of the shot is the ballerina, placed perfectly in the bottom right corner, and blurred from motion, as she dances. You can almost sense the movement here, despite this being a still photograph. I see from the EXIF data that this was a 1/5 of a second exposure, which turned out excellent. If the exposure was much longer, the subject would be too blurred, and if it was much shorter, the movement would be lost. The lighting and black and white processing you chose here, with a warm yet subtle sepia tone is masterful too. This really is one of the best photographs I’ve seen for a while. Well done indeed Leslie!

In second place, we have Allen Oneal, with the image “Layered Earth” (below). Again Allen has sent us a great back-story, as follows:

We have many names for it here. Sometimes we call it “The Soup”, “Tule (two-lee) Fog”, or “The Dark Blanket”, but whatever you call it, dense fog is a fact of life for those of us living in the Central Valley of California. Although I always welcome the winter months (my favorite season), I dread the fog that comes with it.

Fortunately, there is an escape. Traveling up into the local Sierra Nevada Mountains quickly displaces you from “The Soup”. One of my favorite places to visit in winter is the iconic Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park. This massive granite dome offers incredible views of the Great Western Divide mountain range and the Central Valley below.

Layered Earth (© Copyright 2010 - Allen Oneal)

Layered Earth (© Copyright 2010 – Allen Oneal)

Recently, myself and two friends made our way out to Moro rock for a quick winter adventure to take in the beauty and to grab a few shots. Once we arrived at Moro Rock, we could immediately see the valley below us and the layers of mountains piercing through the sea of low lying fog. Actually, this is a very typical sight in the winter from here and depending on the time of day and lighting conditions, the view can be very dramatic. At certain times, it almost appears as if you are looking out onto the ocean. This image represents more of an average view.

When I took this shot, I hadn’t planned on using it for the square crop assignment but it was originally post-processed with a square crop from the beginning. Although most people seem to dislike square crops, I am a fan and I like to use them from time to time. Once I found out what the January assignment was, I knew of just the shot to use. This was the only square crop image I had made in January and that made it an easy choice.

I shot this image at 200mm using a 70-200mm zoom in order to isolate the layers and really make them fill the frame. Contrast and white balance were adjusted as well as saturation and clarity in Lightroom. Even though the exposure was centered very well, the sky was just a little too harsh for my taste so I used a graduated ND filter in Lightroom to bring it closer to what I wanted. The only other thing that was added was a slight vignette to bring the viewers attention into the layers.

One thing I remember well from this trip was the drive home. As we were making our way down the mountain the lighting had changed quite a bit and the layer effect became extremely contrasty. When we came around a corner and saw how much more intense it had become we all got really quiet. It was an incredible view! I started to look for a place to pull over, but there were none to be found. Every turnout was full and I was running late to get home.

I wish I had turned around that day to find a spot to park but I figured that this view happens so often that we will just get some pictures the next time we come up. Well, even though I didn’t capture that amazing view on the drive home, the view from earlier in the day was good enough to earn a second place and I couldn’t be happier with that!

To everyone in the always friendly MBP community, a big “Thank You”. Your votes are always deeply appreciated! Also, congratulations to Super Digital Girl with the beautiful ballerina image and to Dennis on the winning image. That image of the plant Dennis is just amazing and it got my 1st place vote right away.

Well Allen, I don’t know if the image that got away would have been better, but I do know that I really like this one. You made a wonderful image here. Not only was your initial capture awesome, the work that you did to enhance it as we just heard really paid off. This is very similar to what I’m finding myself doing sometimes these days too. I bit of a neutral density graduated filter in Lightroom to balance out the sky and the foreground, and a subtle vignette to keep the viewers eyes focused in the frame. It’s amazing how we pay all this money for good glass that doesn’t vignette, and then add it back in post! I do like to have that option though of course. 🙂

Anyway, it really is a great image. The tones and the warm colors in the sky, and the contrast between the foreground mountain and then each consecutive mountain as we move further back into the scene is beautiful. Well done indeed on a well earned second place Allen.

Finally, in first place, we have a truly classically beautiful image from Dennis Brennan, called “Becoming” (below). Here’s Dennis’ back-story.

I had been at work since just before 2:00 a.m. that day for a software release. By about 10:00 a.m. things were stable and I was free for the day. Time to head to a favorite spot to do some shooting. I’m lucky enough to live within a few miles of Longwood Gardens, which is a fairly large botanical gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania in the United States. On recent trips there, I’ve spent a good bit of time in the Silver Garden – also known as the Desert Room. The room is packed with a large variety of succulents and other desert growth. None of which are native to where I live.

Becoming (© Copyright 2010 - Dennis Brennan)

It was about mid day by the time I got there and started setting up to shoot. I let my eyes wander for a bit and then noticed a small patch of succulents with nice light from an adjacent window. On closer inspection, I noticed one very beautiful isolated sprout of what I believe is a type of Haworthia. What a specimen. The spiraling growth pattern, different shades of green transition from deep dark on the outside to a pale green on the inside, with lighter almost white specs and warts all over – I knew I had found my subject. Looking at it straight on, the light, patterns and tonal transitions were all working really well. Darker shadowy areas below the sprout would fade to black and isolate the subject nicely in the final image. I already had the 100mm macro mounted, so I locked in the tripod with the sprout dead center (I thought). I made sure to leave enough room on both sides for a square crop. After stopping down to f/13 to get the tips and center in focus, I underexposed about 1/2 stop to keep the deep green tones and not blow out any of the detail in the lighter areas inside. I bracketed the exposures by about a third to make sure I nailed it. The final image is a single exposure, but I like to bracket by small amounts sometimes with darker subjects just to make sure I have it nailed. I finished the image in Silver Efex Pro, then cropped and output with lightroom and mogrify.

When I was finished with the image it looked nice, but there was a problem. The original shot was slightly skewed as I missed lining up the lens parallel with the tips of the sprout. Subtle, but enough to annoy me. I knew I could do better. Luckily the weekend was coming and I had some time to get back there. I headed back that Sunday at about the same time hoping for equal or better light. Would it be there? I entered the room and smiled. Got it!

It’s always fun to participate and see what others come up with in the assignments. To place in the top three is a real honor for me. This is especially true last month with so many great images submitted. Thanks very much to everyone that threw a vote my way. And as always, a huge thanks to Martin for hosting the assignments, galleries, forums and putting together such a great podcast and surrounding community for all of us to enjoy.

You’re more than welcome on setting this stuff up Dennis. I thank you for taking the time to participate and enter such amazing photographs. I also thank you and the others for a great back-story. I’m really enjoying hearing how you make your images. Dennis also provided a flickr set with some more images from the Desert Room.

The winning image itself really is a beautiful photograph. The handling of the exposure is perfect, holding all detail in the lighter areas, and allowing the background to fall into darkness, while maintaining the darker greens, which were of course rendered in beautiful sepia tones with Silver Efex Pro. I really like the tones used in the conversion. I’m finding myself using these warm gold tones, or blue tones a lot in Silver Efex conversions and I’m really enjoying them. The texture and detail in each of these succulent leaves though is simply breathtaking! The little white spots outlining all the edges really make this for me. It’s simply masterful. Of course, the placement of the subject, in the dead center of the frame is also very important here. Whereas Leslie chose to great effect, to place her ballerina in the bottom right third, this subject simply demands to be centered, and I’m really pleased that you did so Dennis. It’s a wonderful example of when bulls-eye composition just works. Congratulations indeed on a very, very well earned first place.

A quick reminder before we finish that this was the second of a six month batch of assignments from which we will accumulate all votes to find five winners that will receive prizes made available by our kind sponsors WebSpy. The first prize is an amazing HyperDrive COLORSPACE UDMA portable storage unit. I actually just bought one of these myself, and found it to be very reliable and easy to use during my Hokkaido workshop recently. The second prize is once again, a Lensbaby Composer, and then the following three winners will each receive an X-Rite ColorChecker Passport, which I reviewed in episode 227 of this Podcast. I released a blog post with details of these prizes too, which I’ll link to in the show-notes, so check that out too for more details.

Don’t forget that the current assignment, the third in the six month series has a theme of “Free-for-all”. Note that you are only allowed to enter one image per assignment, and that image must have been shot during the month of the assignment.

Thanks to all that got involved in the January assignment, thanks to WebSpy for enabling us to offer these great prizes, and good luck to everyone taking part in the February assignment too.

Ending Notes

If you don’t follow me on Twitter or in the MBP Forums, you may not have heard that I have teamed up with Australian photographer David Burren to take a party of photographers on a photographic expedition to South Georgia and Antarctica from November the 8th to the 26th this year. I’m really excited about this, and I’m planning to get David on the show in the coming weeks to explain more of the details, as David is the location expert for this trip. In the meantime, if you are interested in joining us, you can see full details and download the booking form from antarctica2010.com.

Also, I finally managed to get through my images from my Hokkaido workshop, and uploaded 60 favorites to flickr and my own online gallery yesterday, for those that want to take a look.

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  1. Susan

    Hi Martin,
    I haven’t heard the podcast yet. Instead I have spent some time enjoying your 60 marvellous photographs.
    I am so grateful to be able to view your images; they appeal to me very much. Your panorama looks stunning! 1GB – but what a print it would make!

  2. Martin Bailey

    Thanks Susan!

    I am thinking of getting a panorama canvas of that done. It would certainly be something to see. The problem is, I have nowhere to hang it. Maybe I’ll have to wait until I get my act together and arrange an exhibition. 🙂


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