Viewer Photo: Directions

directions from a viewpoint

This is another compelling image, and a good subject for discussion. First of all, I like challenging images that I have not seen before, so this attracts me from the get-go.

What I see: you saw a direction indicator at a viewpoint and found a dramatic way to photograph it. The outstanding feature is the strong focus isolation between foreground and background, which gives the image an almost cinematic quality; it could be a close-up in an action movie where the good guy is trying to figure out which direction the bad guy ran towards...

It is always interesting that we can understand what we are seeing, even when things are very out of focus: we know there is a rock at left, trees, and the ocean in the distance.  

So the concept is strong, the execution is pretty good, so in cases like this I often ask myself, "What keeps this photo from being one of those superlative, once-in-a-lifetime images?" (I use this question on my own images all the time.)

The first thing that strikes me as a bit of an off-key note is the stone and "stuff" on the far left. Looks like cigarette butts. I think the lightness of the stone and the trashy clutter of the "stuff" are not adding to the total story here. If you cover them with your hand the photo quiets down, I think in a good way.

Next up for me is the somewhat inky black in the trees. The trees become a bit blobby and while we know they are trees, their heavy visual quaiity doesn't add to the story. (I could argue that they are part of the action movie way of seeing this, and become threatening shapes, but I don't really see it that way.) If the dark trees could be lightened up enough not to fall into that deep blackness, I think it would help.

The alignment of the three trees is not ideal: the two center ones almost touch, but I suspect having some space between them would be better. Moving a bit to the right, if possible, might open up space between them.

The arrows on the circular sign are good, but three on the left point at the problematical stone/trash area; one points towards an open area, then there is a blank sector on the right. That blank area loses umph. Try cropping off to the right of the Hilton Head Arrow. See how that works for you. 

There is another interesting problem here: the in-focus part of the image is just the bottom 1/3. So 2/3 is out of focus, which is asking a lot of the viewer. It is possible for a photo to be compelling with most of it out of focus, but for that to work both the in-focus or out-of-focus area must be pulling their weight. Here, the out of focus area is not strong enough. What if it was framed or cropped so that 2/3, or 1/2, was in focus and the out of focus background area was much smaller?

Bottom line: there is a strong idea here, and carried out pretty well. I would suggest in a case like this to "work" the situation: see how many different ways you can get the in-focus arrows and the out of focus background to "dance" together. Moving a few inches left or right, up or down, can make a huge difference. Shoot with the light stone area in the center; shoot without the light stone area and see what works best for you.

Afterthought: what if you cut out the circular sign in Photoshop and plopped it in front of other backgrounds? I suspect you would discover some interesting results that way. Even if you don't like that way of working it could be a great learning tool.