IMAGE TALK with Noella Ballenger: What makes that photo work…

In this Image Talk, we wanted to take our readers down the path of post-production work, so you can see what can be done with an image that has really “good bones” and what can be done to make it a great image. Remember, this will only work well when you have a really good image from the get-go. Nan Carder provided us with one such image.

A photographer doesn’t always have the perfect conditions while traveling to create that great photo in the field. Time was the enemy here, because our photographer knew what she wanted, but it didn’t happen while she waited. With the many post-production software programs available, we can stretch our “creative muscles” and make some changes during our post-production work.

We took a fascinating image created by Nan, and with her permission, Apogee Photo’s editor, Marla Meier, continued on with her creative process.

Longsheng Mountain
by Nan Carder

Original Image

Photo of field terraces on Longsheng Mountain in China by Nan Carder
© 2012 Nan Carder. All rights reserved.

Post-production Editing in Photoshop

Photo by Nan Carder of field terraces on Longsheng Mountain in China after Photoshop editing by Marla Meier
© 2012 Nan Carder. Photoshop editing by Marla Meier. All rights reserved.
Subject: Terraced fields at Longsheng Mountain, China

Conditions: The image was taken on Longsheng Mountain in the late afternoon. It was slightly overcast but still bright. We had taken a long walk around the area to get to this spot. The lines and curves were lovely. Unfortunately, the people in the scene moved to the different areas very slowly, so waiting would not have worked.


1. The repeating lines create multiple patterns, shapes and forms.
2. The terraces swirling around create a funnel pattern leading to the houses.
3. The man in the gold shirt adds interest and balance to the image.
4. Good depth-of-field facilitates detail and a flow down the terraced hills.

Noella’s comments:

In this shot we have a beautiful scene that is composed of numerous lines, which when combined, create a multitude of rectangles and S curves. They swirl around in a strong funnel pattern leading the eye eventually to the small homes in the background.

Because the overall patterns are complex, the soft tones of greens and browns are restful as we move throughout the image.

By Nan selecting a small aperture setting, she created a uniform depth-of-field throughout the image which enhanced each and every stunning detail.

We felt that there were two opportunities to boost the impact of this photo.

First, we thought that cropping would help to simplify a complex image. By removing the bright green foliage in the lower area and on the right of the image, your eye is no longer pulled away from the main features of the terraces – those green areas were “scene stealers”. Those crops created a balance from top to bottom and right to left. One can now cleanly follow the terraces down the hills without lingering around the outside edges of the frame.

Second, the image needed the man in the yellow shirt to add a touch of empathy, scale and a pop of color to the overall image. When we cropped the image to eliminate those strips of green, the man was nearly eliminated. Since he wasn’t moving fast in reality, Marla took the photographic privilege of moving him to a spot that balanced the image and left the intent unchanged. Marla was careful to also move the shadow and reflection with the man so that he would look natural in his new location. Had Nan waited there long enough, this might have been done in camera, but when traveling, you don’t have the option to wait or return to get that perfect image.

Everyone needs to make their own decisions about moving or changing objects in images, but I feel that if it is known and not hidden, and is done with care, it can enhance the image and still keep the photographer’s integrity intact.

Nan, you did a wonderful job on this image and we thank you for allowing us to take artistic privilege with your very fine image.

Super job!

Come back and join us for another IMAGE TALK in the near future.

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank Marla Meier for her editing assistance in order to present the images for this series. And, our thanks to the photographer/artists who allow us the use of their wonderful photos in these columns.
You inspire all of us!

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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