Focus or lack thereof

What technical feedback would you like if any?

Any or all feedback welcome. I was thinking of printing this image large. (12x18 or 24x36). However, I think the background is too out of focus to work in a large format. It looks pretty good small, but large, I am worried with such a large percent of the image out of focus it might seem sloppy. What do you think?
I am starting to learn how to focus stack. (which I think would have helped here) Do you know any good resources on this topic?

What artistic feedback would you like if any?

would you consider this an abstract image? It seems so when viewed in a small format but not so when viewed larger.

Pertinent technical details or techniques:

Nikon 750. 70mm 1/350 at 7.1. I used Lee Grad filter #9 (I think? Might be a 6). I bracket shots and then blend using masks in photoshop to increase dynamic range and to create emphasis on the foreground tree. I finished by using Nik filters Color Efex Pro to improve contrast, vibrancy, and clarity, and Dfine to clean up noise.

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Janine, focus stacking would have increased background sharpness here, if that was your goal. There are lots of resources out there on how to do it, just Google it and you’ll get lots of good tutorials. If you already own Photoshop, it does a decent job of focus stacking, and is easy to use. If you plan to do a lot of focus stacking, Helicon Focus will often yield better results. and it has the advantage of outputting the stacked image as a DNG file, allowing you to make raw adjustments to it, while PS outputs a TIFF file.

A different question about this image is what elements here need to be in sharp focus to produce a pleasing result. I essentially see three planes of focus here, the nearest tree on the right (your main subject), then the row of trees in the water behind it, and finally the background grass and trees in sunlight. In real life, the closer an object is, the sharper it should be, and the further away it is the softer it should be. Our eyes are used to seeing the world this way. so an out of focus background is not necessarily a problem. And you can use the contrast of sharp foreground tree vs. soft background to place more emphasis on your main subject (the tree). Total sharpness front to back can sometimes work against an image in this regard. NPN recently hosted an interesting webinar by Alister Benn inside the Learning with Experts section that discusses, among other things, how to use sharpness and softness to create contrast and impact. And how luminosity enters into this equation as well.

In this image, the mid-ground trees are large enough in the composition that I wish they were a little bit sharper, although they do not need to be as sharp as the near tree. But more importantly, the background is one of the brightest things here, which pulls your eye away from the main subject. I would suggest darkening the background trees, and dodging or brightening the main tree to place more emphasis on it. Differences in luminosity can help direct the viewers eye too.

The bases of the trees and the reflections are the most interesting part of this image. There 's a lot of beauty in that part of the image.

It’s unusual to have the background dominate an image, which is what’s happening here due to its brightness. The composition suggest that the following is the order of importance: fg tree, water reflections, and bg woods. Yet the tonality forces the viewer to look in the opposite order: bg woods, reflections, fg tree. The fg tree, which is your main subject, is treated as an incidental object. Somehow the processing needs to overcome these issues and make the image consistent with the composition. I would just reshoot at more favorable light conditions. This is clearly a subject that’s captivating and worth working on.

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Igor has hit the nail on the head, the composition is inconsistent with the luminosity. One way to address this would be to darken the background highlights, add a strong vignette to focus the viewers attention on the center of the image, and then dodge the main tree to make it brighter than the background. I might also enhance the clarity/texture of the main tree to draw more attention to it as well. I did a rework direction-ally addressing this concept.

Janine, I also had one followup thought about your question on sharpness and focus stacking. your technical information indicates you used f7.1 as an aperture. That may be part of the reason the mid-ground trees are less sharp than you like, perhaps using something like f11 or f16 would have added some Depth of Field and gotten those trees sharper.

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I totally see what you are talking about! I like how you broke that down. I’m going to go mess with this one some more.

Hi Janine,

Really nice subject to explore–beautiful scene! The trees and reflections in the water are wonderful. I like that you made space to show the reflections and placed the foreground tree in the right third of the frame. And the dappled side light coming through the forest is pleasing. The challenge in photographing trees is simplifying the scene for a strong, cohesive composition. That’s not easy to do! One challenge to be aware of is trees that merge. In this scene the foreground tree, prominent in the composition, appears to merge with the midground tree, which can serve as a distraction. If there were more negative space around the foreground tree, that would help to isolate the key piece of the composition. Or maybe simplify the scene further. If there was a way to isolate the trees on the left of the frame and just compose the group of 3 and their reflection, that would be a nice option–if possible. Sometimes a super shallow depth of field can work in forest scenes to pull one tree into sharp focus and blur the rest of the scene. So, a wide aperture, f/2.8 for example and choose a distance and focal length to blur the entire background. Still have to watch for merges though. Focus stacking is a great tool to have in your tool box, especially for forests that you do want sharp from front to back. If I can help in any way on that front, just let me know! Thanks for sharing your work!