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My Top Eleven Nature Photography Peeves

Text and photography copyright © Stan Rose. All rights reserved.

Six years and nearly 20,000 image critiques have revealed to me a number of common photographic themes that never fail to annoy me. In my admittedly heavily biased and somewhat deranged opinion, these are the compositional ploys most likely to ruin your reputation as a fine art photographer. In compiling this list, I was both surprised and dismayed that I was able to grab examples of nearly all the subjects that annoy me the most from my very own portfolio, soundly proving that one should always do as I say, and not as I do! So, without further ado and in the spirit of the Late Show, I now humbly present my Top Eleven list of the most annoying things in nature photography ( My list goes to ELEVEN).

11. The Big Foreground Rock

What's that big ugly bare rock doing up in front, blocking my view of the lovely sunrise? Let that lake be; big foreground rocks are almost never welcome or needed. I used Photoshop to expand the big rock in this example, because I've just never felt the urge to photograph gratuitous rocks.

10. Star Trails

Why do photographers want to make stars look like vinyl records, anyways? Even compact discs are going out of style... Well, OK, some trail shots are kind of intriguing--if paired with interesting foreground material--but most star trail shots I've seen just remind me of how cold and boring it must have been sitting out all night with your camera turned on. This is one of only a couple peeves that I couldn't find an example of in my portfolio, since I simply do not have the patience to stay awake all night, so I created this typical example using a little radial blur in Photoshop. I think I like it...

9. Corn Lilies

Enough already! If I see one more corn lily composition, I'm going to take a pair of heavy duty shears to the whole lot of them, make a tossed salad out of it and feed it to the elks in Rocky Mountain National Park! This peeve is sort of a corollary to the copycat icon peeve, (#5 below) but deserves special mention. "But they look so pretty with the dew drops and all..." Phhhttt!, hand me the shears! I used a ghastly Orton Effect on this example to make it doubly nauseating.

8. Faux Impressionism.

I knew Degas, Degas was a friend of mine... Folks, panning your DSLR across a stand of aspen trees does not make you a Monet or Manet. Besides, It's a lot easier to add blur in Photoshop, as I did in this example. I really wanted to include the Orton Effect in this list, but that would have made an even 12 peeves--too aesthetically pleasing, so I'll just tack Orton on to the general theme of pseudo-impressionist artistry.

7. Super Long Water Exposures

Turning poor defenseless water into milk or smoke...oh the humanity! Somewhere down the line, photographers everywhere heard that using an uber-long exposure would make their images look moody and atmospheric. Well, they don't; they just make milk and smoke. I don't drink milk, and I don't smoke. Gimme a hard & fast exposure, so that I can enjoy my water naturally pure and clean!

6. Dandelion Waves

I coined the phrase 'dandelion waves' a few years ago in an attempt to describe the effect a certain DSLR exposure gives to crashing waves. They don't look like waves, they look like mutant white dandelions that are ready to drift in the wind; soft and fuzzy. I don't think I've ever seen a dandelion wave in film, so it must be a uniquely digital annoyance. Dandelions are weeds, folks--don't allow them to pollute our beloved oceans! I've never photographed a true dandelion wave, so I 'enhanced' this wave a bit in Photoshop to give you the full floral experience.

5. The Copycat Icon

I like icons. Show me an icon from a unique perspective, or in unique conditions. However, show me yet another look at Maroon Bells, Delicate Arch, Bandon Beach, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, the Matterhorn, Namibia Trees...(I sense a new list forming), and I will PUKE! OK, I won't puke, but I will insist that you contribute $20 to the Stan Rose Stop The Iconic Madness Fund (SRSTIMF). Or, endure my merciless mud-slinging critique. Has anyone NOT seen this composition??

4. Negative Space

I first learned to love to loathe negative space when I viewed a blank blue canvas at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art a couple decades ago. It was entitled "blue." OK. Folks, blank things are not good. We go out of our way to cover our blank walls with pretty pictures, so why take photos that look like blank walls?? If I want negative space, I'll close my eyes.

3. Ignoring the Rule of Thirds

If anyone tells you it's cool to break the rules and go with 5/8th or 6/7th rather than thirds, they're likely trying to sabotage your career in photography--it's a conspiracy, I tell you! Rules arose from way more experience and expertise than any one of us will ever amass in our lifetimes. Ignore them at your own peril. Since the two sins are commonly committed together, I used the same example as my 4th peeve to illustrate Numero Tres.

2. The FALES Shot

Flowers-Alpine Lake-Exceptional Sunrise. Whoever came up with this often abused compositional tactic should be tarred and feathered, or at least thrown into an alpine lake at sunrise... Flowers are pretty. Alpine lakes are pretty. Sunrises are pretty. So, put all three together and the result should be Spectacular Fine Art, no?

No! It FALES, miserably! The result deserves to be hung on the wall of a Motel 5. Shown here is a nearly classic example (Ok, I shot a FALES shot once--but I didn't inhale!) but one that probably falls (or FALES) a bit short since it isn't really an exceptional sunrise and even the usual vertical format here wasn't enough to earn it a cheesy magazine cover appearance.

1. Bad HDR

My Number One most annoying thing in nature photography. Everest was climbed because it was there. High Dynamic Range was removed because it can be removed. HDR can be a great tool if used tastefully, but it so seldom is. Instead, It's routinely employed to create the photographic equivalent of Frankenstein's Monster. Contrast is sucked lifeless by this beastly tool. Here is an exaggerated example, for your viewing disgust. Shot at Maroon Bells, of course!

Please spell-check and proof-read all of your hate mail at least twice before sending it to me!

Comments on NPN nature photography articles? Send them to the editor. NPN members may also log in and leave their comments below.

Stan Rose,is a long time NPN contributor and Colorado based landscape photographer whose work has appeared in venues around the globe. When not working his job as weather forecaster, he is busy taking photos in bad weather, chasing tornadoes, and writing weird songs on the guitar. He insists that no animals were harmed in the writing of this article.






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Comment posted by Bill Chambers on 10/03/11 at 11:24 am     

Good stuff Stan!  What's really scary though, is that I find myself agreeing with you in some of the instances!!  That's REAL scary!!  You need to write more of these!

   Bill Chambers
Gulf Breeze, Florida
Please visit Enchanted Light Photography
Landscape & Man and Nature Co-Moderator

“You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.” - Ansel Adams

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Comment posted by Stan Rose on 10/03/11 at 1:13 pm     

It's even scarier that i agree with some of it, Bill!   Thanks!

   Stan Rose
Pueblo, Colorado
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Comment posted by Luis Argerich on 10/03/11 at 3:44 pm     

Very fun article Stan I liked it. Now off I go but with a Smile.

   Luis
Buenos Aires, Argentina
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Comment posted by Floris van Breugel on 10/03/11 at 5:23 pm     

Stan, if you extend the FALES category to include its brother BOES (Beach Ocean Exceptional Sunset), and add in your unstated pet peeve of iso 3200 star shots, is there anything left that doesn't bother you? jk  

Honestly, I agree with it all, and unfortunately that leaves very few images that are actually interesting, fun to view, and thought provoking!

   Floris van Breugel
Seattle, Washington
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"Perfection is the enemy of good."

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Comment posted by Stan Rose on 10/03/11 at 6:49 pm     

If i ever make it back to the coast  ill be sure to add BOES to the list--thanks, Floris!  I really like ISO 3200 star shots, they just depress me cause they remind me how bad my night vision is...

   Stan Rose
Pueblo, Colorado
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Comment posted by Michael J Greene, on 10/03/11 at 10:59 pm     

Impressive list and great article Stan. I really like the picture in #2.

   Michael Greene
Fine Art Wilderness Photography
"Classically Capturing the American Landscape"

http://wildmoments.net

Latest Blog: Photographing Slot Canyons 2012 http://wildmoments.wordpress.com/

"Even divine mercy will not act independently of human desire" Dr. Lamar Vest

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Comment posted by Tony Siciliano on 10/03/11 at 11:24 pm     

How about the corollary to #11: the big gnarly old branch or log in the foreground? Great article!! Still laughing.

   Tony Siciliano
http://tonysicilianophotography.smugmug.com/

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Comment posted by Pam Colander on 10/04/11 at 12:14 am     

#12 - The Martian-dayglow-green-microphone-swallowing-alien-abduction-done-to-death-album cover.  I HATE that!  Who knew Stan was funny? 

   PAM COLANDER
COLORADO
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Comment posted by Jay Levin on 10/04/11 at 12:22 am     

I really enjoyed it, Stan.  It's most instructive, and your humor makes me realize what a lovable guy you really are.   Also many thanks for all of your incisive comments as I attempt to pursue my hobby.  Now back to those HDR's!!

Jay Levin
Farmington Hills, Michigan
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Comment posted by SandyRichardsBrown on 10/04/11 at 01:18 am     

LOL! Great article and sense of humour!

Small nit - #2 - FALES should be FAILS. Even brilliance can be spelling-challenged!

 

Sandy 

 

   Sandy Richards, NPN 0367
San Francisco East Bay
CA + PNW Regional Member
NATURE'S MAJESTY IMAGING
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"All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small, All things wise and wonderful: The Lord God made them all.
Each little flower that opens, Each little bird that sings, He made their glowing colors, He made their tiny wings."

- Ce­cil F. Al­ex­an­der, Hymns for Lit­tle Child­ren, 1848, Ireland

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Comment posted by Kory Lidstrom on 10/04/11 at 01:34 am     

Haha, great stuff, Stan. What about macro shots of partial flowers, especially roses? Does that make your top 15? ;)

   Kory Lidstrom.
Minneapolis in the summer.
Virgin Islands in the winter.
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Comment posted by Stan Rose on 10/04/11 at 02:41 am     

Never Roses, Kory--that would tarnish my good last name!

Jay--you're the exception that proves my rule! Seriously, you give me hope for the future of HDR in photography.

Sandy--spelleeng wuz never a consern of myne.

   Stan Rose
Pueblo, Colorado
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Comment posted by Jim Bullard on 10/04/11 at 08:07 am     

You forgot the photos taken from a canoe/boat that have the bow of the canoe/boat in the bottom center of the frame pointing to the mountain on the horizon.

Sandy, I believe that he meant FALES to be an acromyn (Flowers, Alpine Lake, Exceptional Sunrise).

My own take on slow shutter speeds with water: It should be slow enough to show motion (our eyes don't see freeze frame images) butfast enough to show some detail and differentiation (no milk or fog).

Jim Bullard

   Jim Bullard
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Comment posted by David Graham on 10/04/11 at 08:13 am     

Well, Stan..... You've certainly shortened my lifetime "... To do... " list Damn. . Now I'm gonna have to do my OWN previsualization. Dave Graham East River, South Dakota

There is a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in. Leonard Cohen

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Comment posted by Tom Kennon on 10/04/11 at 12:47 pm     

Oh man! I mean Stan, great rant. If you need any more examples, I am pretty sure I can find some in my archives. Seriously, a fun and informative read.

   Tom Kennon
Fort Smith, Arkansas
http://www.tomkennonphotography.com

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Comment posted by Bob Maynard on 10/04/11 at 1:59 pm     

Speaking of bad HDR, did you all see Tom Till's cover on the recent Outdoor Photographer

Bob Maynard
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Comment posted by Tom Haxby on 10/04/11 at 2:01 pm     

I guess one of my pet peeves is top ten (eleven) lists. I am guilty as charged. I have done the faux impressions, big rock foreground, and a few star trail images and an occasional slow water shot. Never to the cartoonish HDR, the corn lillies (they don't grow in Michigan) and  we don't have FALES in Michigan either. So, from now on in order avoid committing unpardonable photographic sins I will be taking all of my photos with the lens cap on. Great article.

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Comment posted by Charlie Baugh on 10/04/11 at 2:21 pm     

Good one Stan. To avoid any future lists like this, I'm gonna cut short my smoke shots,

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Comment posted by Basil Greber on 10/04/11 at 6:41 pm     

Hilarious!

   Basil Greber
Switzerland
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Comment posted by Bruce King on 10/04/11 at 8:00 pm     

WAAHAHAHA!!!!

Nice Stan....slightly humorous. Now I know why you rarely comment on my images, it's just too painful for you. BTW, I'm still looking for my corn lily.

Bruce King
Bonney Lake, WA
"Mother Nature can be a cruel mistress and in pursuing our passions we are forced to court her." -B.K.

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Comment posted by Harry Lichtman on 10/05/11 at 09:44 am     

Nothing left to photograph - I'm going to switch to people pictures.  Nicely done!

   Harry Lichtman
Newmarket, NH

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Comment posted by Lucy VanSwearingen on 10/05/11 at 2:34 pm     

Great read and good list. Would not have expected any less from you! I miss your wicked comments on the Weekly challenge gallery.....you can still stop in from time to time, just to annoy us! ............Still waiting to see your "mothra" photo.

   Lucy VanSwearingen
Richmond, TX

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Comment posted by Lucy VanSwearingen on 10/05/11 at 2:37 pm     

can't say that green is your color.........scary thumbnail...the microphone looks like a beard gone "horribly wrong" on my small screen.

   Lucy VanSwearingen
Richmond, TX

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Comment posted by Morris McClung on 10/05/11 at 2:42 pm     

Wow, you just took away half of my shots, Stan. Too funny, my friend!

   Morris McClung
Parker, Colorado

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Comment posted by Walt Sterneman on 10/05/11 at 4:36 pm     

Great article Stan. Still laughing! Now what am I going to do with all my pictures?

   Walt Sterneman - Indiana
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Comment posted by Stan Rose on 10/05/11 at 6:16 pm     

Hey guys, i said it was my list, dont let it stop you from annoying me
Seriously, i just got back from the Maroon Bells, one of the most overshot subjects around--i really wanted to hand out cards with 'Peeve #5" written on them to the 100 photographers lined up on the lake shore, but i never would have made it out of there alive...

   Stan Rose
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Comment posted by Kurt Bowman on 10/06/11 at 10:09 am     

I read this and see 11 reasons to photograph wildlife instead of landscape! :) Great read Stan. Gives me something to think about when I shoot my 3 landscape shots per year.

   Kurt Bowman
Littleton, CO
  
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Comment posted by Dietrich Gloger on 10/09/11 at 07:41 am     

Hi Stan, it was due time to post something like this. And of course it is Stan who dares to go public with this. Thanks a lot and congrats. It pretty much sums up all the generic, formulaic recipes we see in nature and landscape photography. Particularly No#2 hits the nail on the head in my opinion.   Admittedly, we are all guilty of it. And I want to add that when thing look good and appealing, then it doe not matter whether the idea is old.
I have a suggestion for a 12th item: The "pointing the camera upwards in a gove of trees (aspens) against a blue sky"...

And since you mentioned Matterhorn: This is what I will try to photograph in the coming week

   Dietrich ("Didl") Gloger, Linz-Vienna, Austria.
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Comment posted by D J Kuklinski on 10/10/11 at 11:53 pm     

I laughed so hard that tears came to my eyes. Great stuff, Stan!

   D J
Colorado

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Comment posted by Nathan Buck on 10/12/11 at 08:03 am     

Couldn't you have just said 'Any photo not of dunes...'?  ;)  Funny stuff Stan.

Nathan

Nathan Buck
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Comment posted by beth summer on 10/21/11 at 2:52 pm     

Critiques and comments are always welcomed and appreciated.

Central Illinois

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Comment posted by Mark Metternich on 02/03/12 at 4:35 pm     

Although I agree in some respects to the article, this is viewed through the eyes of a photographer. I think people should do whatever draws them and attracts them and not be influenced or intimidated (even in the slightest) by our opinions based on our seeing way too much photography. Many of the things disdained here I love. I love soft water. I love the surreal. I love the exploding waves. I sometimes like the impressionism and star trails... This is art and it is, and should remain, free. Let folks do what they love, without thinking it should be done a certain way.

   Mark Metternich leads Photo Workshops throughout the Pacific Northwest, the SW, Patagonia, Glacier National Park, Hawaii, the Canadian Rockies... He is also a Digital Imaging Specialist who produces a wide variety of Post Production Instructional Videos, teaches Post Processing online via Skype, as well as does post production for fine art photographers.

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Comment posted by Stan Rose on 02/15/12 at 1:40 pm     

You're free to make up your own list, Mark  
My point is that you should do what  you want to do, and not shoot long water exposures or whatever because Mark Metternich does it and since he's a respected photographer he must be doing it right. IMO, from what i see over and over again, too many photographers do just that (abandon their vision for sake of doing what's popular). That's what i "disdain".

   Stan Rose
Pueblo, Colorado
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Comment posted by Mark Metternich on 02/15/12 at 2:44 pm     

Well as a teacher of photography thinking back on some of the very best materials and advice I got (and have thus given) as I was developing, the advice to mimic other peoples work until you slowly and eventually develop your own style, was one of the very best tips I ever got. I loved Tim Fitzharris' work and went out and went to all the same locations and went crazy on those reflection shots. Next, I loved those overly long water exposure shots I saw from someone else's work I liked and went crazy on that. And so on and so forth. So, maybe as a counterbalance to the info here, I will say (to the aspiring developing landscape photographer) go shoot the very SAME types of shots (even the very same locations) that appeal to you as you learn how to make great photographs. Don't let skewed photographers (I'm skewed too) influence what appeals to you. In a word, do all that is a peeve to us as you find your own voice and interests. Be it HDR, or star trails, or overly surreal (BTW we are in the opposite camp on that one - as I usually like photos that look as far from realism as possible most of the time) or whatever. Now having said all that, I do see your humor here and found the article funny!

   Mark Metternich leads Photo Workshops throughout the Pacific Northwest, the SW, Patagonia, Glacier National Park, Hawaii, the Canadian Rockies... He is also a Digital Imaging Specialist who produces a wide variety of Post Production Instructional Videos, teaches Post Processing online via Skype, as well as does post production for fine art photographers.

*PHOTOSHOP VIDEO TUTORIALS AND 2015 WORKSHOPS: HERE.


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