Reader photo critique: Temples

Leica M9

Today is the second in the series of my reader’s image critiques. This images comes from Hilmar.

Once again, I’ll break down the assessment into three categories – composition, technique and other; the other category deals with things such as lighting, timing, subject opportunity, etc. Photography is subjective, so I won’t give points or scores.

The body of the composition follows classical rule of thirds division – 2/3 sky, 1/3 subject/ foreground. However, the intrusion into the sky of the tree at left both breaks up the monotony of the solid block of color, but also creates a bit of an imbalance, despite sitting neatly in the notch between the left hand temple and foliage. Lateral balance is good, with the architectural detailing mirrored somewhat in the plants and trees, as well as being roughly symmetric about the middle (again, except for the tree at left). It is a pleasing composition, but not a particularly strong or dynamic one.

However, the biggest question I’m left wondering is: what is the subject? The temple? Which temple? The tree? The sky? The scene in general?

The last point bridges into technique: clearly this image was shot with a wide angle lens; remember one of the golden rules of photography: select your perspective, THEN only select your focal length. I suspect that this shot was composed in reverse: get in whatever you wanted to get into the frame with the lens you’ve got. Although there is clearly perspective distortion and keystoning present caused by the perspective, there’s no clear foreground-background separation – which means the dynamic potential of the lens could have further been maximized. Yes, it would have resulted in a significant change in composition (as is the norm when moving the camera slightly with all wide angle lenses). However, it’s important to remember that the end goal isn’t to ‘get the scene in’ but to create a representative image which contains the key elements you wish to capture – in effect, the essence of the scene – not necessarily the entire scene.

I want to talk a bit about post processing. In a scene with challenging dynamic range, you’ve got three options: expose for highlights and lose shadows; expose for shadows and lose highlights; finally, HDR and retain all or nearly all tonal information. In my mind, only the former approach works well here; exposing for shadows would have resulted in a very washed-out image, with white sky (and lots of seemingly blank space). HDR looks unnatural, and should be avoided unless there’s no other way of retaining the desired tonal information – and even then, used with great care. In a nutshell: the exposure here is bang on, and the photographer deserves commendation for that. However, I feel a little more shadow detail could have been extracted through judicious use of ACR or the shadow/ highlight tool.

How would I have framed this shot with the same equipment? Assuming the key elements of the scene are sky, temple and tree (i.e. natural context/ setting), I’d have gone closer to the temple at left to place it in the foreground and lower half of the image; shot in portrait orientation and placed the tree silhouetted against the sky in the upper half.

In conclusion
One important takeaway here: choose your perspective then only compose, not the other way around.



  1. Good learnings here, i forget to follow that golden rule sometimes.

    Man, i feel even worse not making the Japan trip now. Just from a couple of photo critiques and there is so much to learn, imagine spending a week with you.

  2. Thank you very much for the assessment, Ming. It is very, very interesting to read and there are many things you mention that I haven’t thought about. For me it was absolutely worth sending a picture to you and have it assessed. You have a nice way of commenting on negative aspects.

    • I’m glad you found it useful. Think of negatives as opportunities for improvement – being conscious of them means your next image will always be better! :)


  1. [...] taking submissions again for the reader image critique. There are a couple of past examples here and here. Please send an image no more than 800 pixels wide on the long side to [...]

  2. [...] taking submissions again for the reader image critique. There are a couple of past examples here and here. Please send an image no more than 800 pixels wide on the long side to [...]

  3. [...] can be done over email. To give you an example, have a look at the past reader critiques here, here and here for an idea; one of my students has been kind enough to repost the entire live process on [...]

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