Analyzing Photos Taken by the “Masters”

How can you tell if you are making your photographs look as good as the “masters” in the field of photography? One way is to do an analysis of their images using Lightroom or similar software. I used Lightroom for this example.

Here’s how I did it:

  1. I captured a photo from the “master” artist/photographer that I wanted to emulate.  I chose Peter Lik for this example because he is a great landscape photographer in my opinion. Here is a copy of one of his most beautiful photos from his website. You should choose whomever you want based on who’s works you find the best and whom you want to be most like in making your own. When doing this, don’t feel that you have to get full-size images. I took mine from his site at a low resolution and low size. This works just fine.
  2. Next I looked at his layout by going into the Develop module of Lightroom, clicking on the crop tool, and selecting different overlays by clicking on the “O” button. By repeatedly clicking on “O,” Lightroom will scroll through several different overlay guides that are superimposed on the image. I tried several to see if any of the composition rules were met. I could not see what would exactly fit his photo, but the rule of “golden thirds” came closest. However it was not very close, and his horizon line was just above middle and that is not following any rule of good composition as I know it. But, rules are made to be broken, and even though his photo did not fit the composition rules, it is still magnificent.
  3. I looked at the histogram of his photo. It showed that he has a wide dynamic range to this image, because the histogram shows levels distributed from low to high. There is no clipping at either end, and there are distinct peaks throughout it. The weighting of the histogram is toward the darker end, but there are spikes at the upper end as well. It has a good balance of light and dark throughout the image, but not too much in the center – and that’s good.
  4. Finally, I looked at the aspect ratio of the image. It fit into the 1:3 proportion, making it suitable for a 12″ x 36″ framed photo. This makes it salable because it fits a common size of framed picture – the panorama. Also, by being wide, it can break the composition rule because most in the panoramic category do not follow it and still look great by virtue of their width.

What did I learn from this analysis? I learned that to achieve a photo of this type, the histogram distribution is key. By having the distribution wide, it shows high dynamic range. By not allowing clipping, no image information is lost, also increasing the dynamic range. With the histogram luminance distribution in the lower portion, it makes for a ‘deeper’ photo with dark portions that help to give depth to the image. Although it did not fit the rules of composition, when I saw that it was of 1:3 or 12″ x 36″ size, it made sense that it really doesn’t have to follow those rules because the size of it makes up for this and wide panoramas like this are often not following any rules because they look great by nature of their size. But, this photo could have benefited from adherence to one of the rules of composition, and this may have made it an even better photo.

You can do this quick analysis and keep yourself on the right track when taking and tuning up your photos for display or sale!