Can you stand the heat?

Many photography sharing and discussion sites have come and gone for me over the years. Some I wish I still remembered and hadn’t left, others are gone for reasons. Still more are just too boring and don’t do anything for me other than ‘nice shot’. When I stumbled upon a site while searching for a photo product, I was intrigued and I immediately fired up a trial membership. Its specialty is critique & technique for nature photography. Not only did I join, I paid to join – that’s the way the site works.

Why would I do such a weird thing as to pay for an internet site? Because it’s worth it. And it wasn’t the first time I’d done it. The old saying ‘you get what you pay for’ is true. Free sites these days are contests for the most likes or hearts or flowers and rainbows or whatever award gets you ‘noticed’. I don’t want to be noticed. I want to get better at my craft.

This isn’t an ad for them. If you are curious and know how to find me privately, I’ll share the info with you. Instead I wanted to post some shots that I feel were improved by the comments and suggestions I received at my new hangout. After a decade of processing images in a bubble, so to speak, it’s been really interesting and rewarding. We all see things so differently.

  • New crop (3:2 ratio) to eliminate distractions on the left and bottom and top
  • Selective adjustment brush work on the left to even out exposure & contrast and keep eyes from being drawn there instead of the water
  • Bumped clarity and texture in the water itself
  • Bumped overall shadows
  • Bumped saturation a teeny bit
  • Reduced highlights (overall and some with adjustment brush)

Likes won’t make you a better photographer.

Followers won’t make you a better photographer.

Better photographers will make you a better photographer.

– Me

  • Remove distracting sky w/clone stamping or content aware fill
  • Fill frame via transform, warp & scale


  • Clone out contrail
  • Pull color out of the sky with Color Grading
  • Improve contrast on pallets


Besides offering advice and commentary, the site allows an image you post to be downloaded so another member can work on it and show the results. Yes, it’s a risk of theft, but the rules are clear that you should delete after re-posting and so far as I know everyone abides by it (I do). I’ve found it valuable for both having folks work with my images and to play with other people’s. Being disconnected from the shooting part of the process leaves you pretty free to interpret and experiment. And having someone else take the time to do the same with one of mine is flattering as well as educational.


  • Remove sticks/branches on the log w/spot healing brush
  • Burn in some of the log & reflection
  • Tone down highlights on the right ferns by the tree


Giving criticism is just as important as receiving it. It teaches you to see, evaluate and express your opinions and advice in a constructive way. We all want to be better and that’s why we participate on this site. That’s how all criticism is given and received – in the spirit of improvement and instruction. There are plenty of people with more experience and technical expertise than me and I’m happy to have that perspective. I’m also happy to provide mine when I feel I have something to offer. It’s a nice give and take that has already paid dividends in my work.

That said, you have to be in a place where you can take criticism on your work. When I was younger it hurt me too much and I even left a site because of it. Immature, I know. Now I’ve progressed to old age, I can take it and I embrace it. I’m not so emotionally invested that I can’t realize there’s room for improvement. Sometimes the advice is good and I take it, other times it isn’t and I don’t. Everyone’s personal vision and artistic preferences are the first priority, but if there are real problems with an image, they get called out.


  • Crop left side to focus attention
  • Luminosity masking to manage highlights
  • Quick mask to darken water & lighten some hanging moss

It isn’t always a complex or drastic change. Sometimes it’s just a more experienced eye picking out a noob mistake. Here I thought this crop with the rule of thirds in mind was the right one. It wasn’t.

  • Re-crop to put the empty space where the bird is looking

Another effect being part of this community is had on me is how I evaluate and shoot in the field. Many of the lessons and advice come back to me and influence how I take the photo in the first place. That’s proven useful because now I can begin with a better photo that will need less processing to make right. It makes me more mindful of conditions and techniques which is something I have always needed.

Oh and before I forget I have to mention that participation on this site has improved my photo processing skills as well. Not just with my primary editor, Lightroom, but with Photoshop which is a very new addition to my toolset. Just seeing what other people do with it has encouraged me to explore as well. I might never get to be a power user, but knowing more about what it’s best for has brought out the best in my work. And what more can you ask for?

4 thoughts on “Can you stand the heat?

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  1. Thanks for this excellent post. While I thought the original photos looked good, the suggestions taken really do improve the image.

  2. I thought this was an excellent post, so I shared it to the Facebook page of a local photo group. Several people said they loved it, and there was this surprisingly long kudo from one of the members, a very seasoned photographer:

    Hello Folks,
    Kudos to Pat Nelson for sharing the link to wickeddarkphotography.com.

    Throughout my professional photography career, whether I was a college student, a working professional, an instructor to college/military/professional students, or a commercial photo lab owner/manager, the critical analyses of both the aesthetic quality & the technical quality of an image were paramount in the continuing process of each photographer’s development as a visual communicator. The worst possible response a photographer could receive when presenting an image was: Gee, that’s Nice!

    A photograph is a visual STORY. What does it say? How well does it say it? And how can I make that story stronger & more clear?

    I long for the day when CRITICAL & CRITIQUE were POSITIVE concepts.

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