Expert advice and tips on improving your photography from Damien Demolder. He gives his appraisal of Road at Sunset by Lisa Elwen and offers advice on how it might be improved.

Photo: Road at sunset

Taken by: Lisa Elwen

Samsung Galaxy S5, 31mm, 1/136sec at f/2.2, ISO 40

Before: The original version is lacking in detail, and the line between the cloud and the sky is rather harsh

Before: The original version is lacking in detail, and the line between the cloud and the sky is rather harsh

Lisa is new to photography and has sent in a collection of images to get some feedback. Her pictures show a good deal of promise and she obviously has a natural eye for a subject.

I’ve picked this image because it is full of atmosphere. It’s a bit like a movie scene, where the hero is heading off into the sunset or we are waiting for him/her to drive out of the glowing light to save the day. I love the dark clouds, and the way in which they contrast so well with the warmth of the crack in the sky and with the golden light that gently lifts the hedgerows, reflecting off the damp road.

The highlight, though, is the curve of the road. I like the way Lisa has composed the scene so that the road comes towards us but veers away at the last minute as it passes us by to head into the bottom left corner. The road is neatly framed by the hedgerows on either side, and as it reaches us it opens out to allow the light to hit the grassy bank on the right. The winter trees against the dark sky neatly close off the left side of the image.

The dark exposure brings out the mood and colour, but the quality of the image has suffered a little because it was shot on a phone. Phones have lots of pixels, just like cameras, but tend to compress images a lot more, so a greater number can fit on the device’s memory.

The compression here has made a very hard edge between the cloud and the sky, which doesn’t look quite real; the details of the landscape are somewhat missing and the hard shadows have left some areas a little blank.

After: In this version, the shadows have been lifted, and a car added to tell a story about the scene

After: In this version, the shadows have been lifted, and a car added to tell a story about the scene

In my version, the shadows are lifted just enough to reveal the detail, and enough that the pathway the road creates through the composition is more obvious. I also added a layer of grain to disguise the lack of detail in the hedges and then warmed the shadows 
to compensate for the camera’s auto white balance system trying to neuter the warmth of the sun. The lifted shadows allow colour to show while deep shadows don’t, so the raised tones contribute to the warmth of the atmosphere.

I also added a car, just for fun, to show our hero racing up the hill to rescue us.

The composition is very strong, despite the elements that don’t work so well, so keep up the good work, Lisa, but use your Nikon next time!