Critique the Community Episode 27: Telephoto Landscapes and Cityscapes

Episode 27 of Critique the Community took one of the most popular genres here on Fstoppers and added a twist. We asked the community to submit any landscape or cityscape shot taken above 50mm. Creating a compelling landscape photo with a telephoto lens can be a challenge but Lee picked out some incredible submissions and even gave out a few 5 star ratings. From the submissions, we chose one entrant to win a free Fstoppers original tutorial. Congratulations to Cris Magsino on being chosen! We'll be in touch with you via your Fstoppers profile to claim your prize. 

If you'd like to participate in future episodes of Critique the Community, we invite you to join our brand new platform for our next episode featuring Portraits. Although this is a broad category, we want to see your best work that fits that description. Not only will we be giving away a tutorial to a randomly selected entrant, we'll also be giving away an extra tutorial to the highest rated image of the submissions. Be sure to check out the new submission page, submit your image, and rate your fellow community members photos. 

The Fstoppers Community Rating System

If you have an Fstoppers account, you are able to create your own profile and portfolio directly within the Fstoppers Community.  Once you have a portfolio uploaded, you can browse images in the community and rate the photos of your peers.  Even though art is usually a fairly subjective matter, we wanted to create a rating system that was as objective and unbiased as possible.  This way, if one of your images has been rated 50 times and has received an average rating of two stars, you could feel confident that maybe that particular image is not up to par.  Below is a simple chart explaining the Fstoppers Community Rating System. 

One Star: The Snapshot

One-star ratings are limited to snapshots only. Snapshots are usually taken to document a time or location, but little to no thought has gone into the creation of the image. If an image has been "lit" with external light (besides a direct on-camera flash), it is at least a  two-star picture. The majority of one-star images have had no post production work done to them, but do often have an "Instagram style" filter added to them. The average person these days snaps one-star images every single day with their smartphone. Most one-star images that pop up on sites like ours are images of flowers, pets, landscapes, sunsets, objects around a house, etc. If you read Fstoppers, you should not be sharing one-star images for any reason. 

Two Stars: Needs Work

All images, besides maybe five-star images, always have room for improvement, but two-star images "need work" before they should be included in your portfolio. As photographers, we are snapping thousands of images per year, but only a few of those images should ever be shared or put into our portfolio. A photographer who has taken a two-star image has put some thought into the composition, exposure, and post production, but for some reason has missed the mark. Two-star images should not be in the portfolio of a full-time professional photographer and amateur photographers should strive for something better. Even complete amateurs who don't understand photography at all are capable of taking two-star images from time to time. 

Three Stars: Solid

A three-star image is an all-around good image. The photographer has a solid understanding of the basics: composition, color, focus, subject matter, and post production. A three-star image is good, but it's not great. Most part-time professional photographers have mostly three-star images in their portfolios. Usually, a level three image would have been rated four stars if it had been shot in a better location, or with a better model showing a better expression, or there had been better post-production. A photographer capable of taking a three-star image is capable of taking four and five-star images if they would simply pay more attention to the details. 

Four Stars: Excellent

Four-star images are fantastic. In most cases, four-star images have a certain style to them that links them directly to their creator. Four-star images usually require planning and attention to extreme detail. It's almost impossible to shoot a four-star image by getting lucky. Four-star images have almost flawless conception, composition, lighting, subject matter, and post-production. If you have any four-star images in your portfolio, you should be very proud of yourself.

Five Stars: World-Class

Five-star images are flawless and unforgettable. The amount of time, energy, and talent that goes into the average five-star image is staggering. In many cases, these pictures require a team to produce, including a professional retoucher. The concept, lighting, subject, location, and post-production on these images has to be perfect. In some cases, the jump from four to five stars may be as simple as changing the unknown model in the picture with a celebrity or bringing in a set designer or stylist to make the image slightly better. Although there are always exceptions, most five-star images take days, if not weeks or months to produce.

Strengthening Your Own Portfolio

Even with our objective rating system, people are going to disagree over what they like, because ultimately, art is still a matter of opinion.  However, I believe once an image has been rated over 25 times, it will have a rating that is pretty fair and honest (we hope to deter trolls by giving negative Karma Points when a vote is more than one star away from the community average).  If one of the images in your own portfolio is rated lower than what you personally feel it should be rated, I'd urge you to try to look at the image from an unbiased angle.  Step back, erase your memory of the photoshoot itself, and try to imagine an art buyer, stock agency, potential client, or local gallery as they decided if they wanted to invest in your services.  Would your image make the cut?

Lee and I are not the greatest photographers in the world.  There are many many genres of photography that we have not been successful in or in many cases, have not even attempted in our careers.  However, I believe we have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't in terms of commercial viability.  Not every image is meant to sell or book you work and that is okay!  Snapshots and sentimental images are great and most definitely have a purpose.  Hopefully, our insight and critiques can help you decide what is and isn't worth putting in your public portfolio.  I hope these video critiques can help you see beyond the technical and personal elements that make up an image and begin looking at your own work in a new light.    

Log in or register to post comments


Jannick Clausen's picture

Thank you very much for the critique of my two images. Wonder what was the third image was that nearly made it. The barcode flight “2nd image critiqued” was shot at 57mm. Thanks guys 😃

Alex Armitage's picture

Love the critiques! Thought it would be interesting to share my photo completely unedited (except for white balance change).

This moment happened so quickly that I really didn't get much time to do anything but point and shoot. I've included the unedited photo and a photo I took literally 1 minute and 5 seconds later to show how rapidly the light was changing. I wish I had shot bracketed but it was handheld @ 145mm. So in editing I made the decision to keep the clouds pretty blown out, which was certainly a choice.

Thanks for taking the time to do these guys, love to see what you have to say!

edit - For anyone who might ask. I actually didn't do much to this image outside of removing the orange snow guides and straightening the road. The majority of it was warming it up, adding contrast, and a could GND's in lightroom.

Patrick Hall's picture

Wow, thanks for sharing the original. I guess the road really was like that huh? I'd love to see a slightly different edit to keep more detail in the sky and less of a dramatic transition between the foreground and the mountain.

I was thinking exactly the same things. More along the lines of the edit below. Of course the original RAW would have allowed for a much better job, especially in the sky. The original edit/entry is way over cooked and way too far from realistic for me.

Nevertheless, good job on capturing the image Alex. That would be a nice large print to wake up to.

Alex Armitage's picture

Everyone has their own tastes! I hope the edit was still in the bounds of “tasteful” for you, but just not to your style.

I think we can all agree there’s a “line” for pushing your edit and making it look too pushed. Obviously I don’t ever want that to be the case.

Sorry Alex. Your edit, the amount and kind, is not within my tastes at all. It's making the scene look more CGI than a photo. I think that's a problem that affects most photos from serious amateur/professionals of today. A lot, if not most, of the otherwise top notch photos posted to this site have that CGI look. Like I said, I simply prefer the much more realistic.

That said, I would at least consider recovering some detail in the sky.

Alex Armitage's picture

Yeah. Basically that cascading light was happening in the distance and because the road elevated a little at the end, it caused the effect you were talking about.

My choice for the clouds is interesting. Typically I follow the rule of keeping data wherever possible. Actually speaking of. Typically I just do more editing period. I might go back and manipulate the light more to create a more dramatic effect in the sky. Could be fun!

Stephen VG's picture

Alex thanks for sharing, love the location and the photo :)

Alex Armitage's picture

Thank you for the kind words!

That winning shot was done at 19 mm... Tilt shift lens.. Some amazing shots though and hopefully the person that submitted the hdr shot sends in some raws. That shot is amazing (minus the processing) and I'd love to mess around with it.

Kaden Classen's picture

Haven't had the chance to watch the video yet, but I just want to say that Patrick's expression in the thumbnail is pretty solid. Gonna have to copy that.

Mikkel Beiter's picture

Thanks for including my photo and thanks for the feedback guys!
Have a great day!

Alexander Meier's picture

Nr. 9 seems to be a wide angle shot, doesn´t it? I mean, look at the distortion in the corners. Hmm.

George Durzi's picture

Thank you for choosing my image :) This was taken from one of the buildings in Dubai Marina shooting towards Jumeirah Lake Towers. I was on the 74th floor and it was harsh sunlight. I had to underexpose abit and bring out the shadows to see the details in the buildings. I did some minor adjustments with the tones and that was it.

Once again, thank you for selecting my images. I'll be posting for the next one as well :) Portraits.

Hey Lee you could have picked this... 300mm one :p

Amboise heights by Quentin Arrault

Amboise heights

Andrea Re Depaolini's picture

Regarding the last shot, I'm not the photographer, but the yellow halo that you see behind the mountains is light pollution coming from a town, definitely not a sunset. The shadows on the mountains are made by the moonlight. That shot was taken on the Italian Dolomites and sadly in Italy, we have a lot of light pollution that you don't have in the US.
Anyway Congrats to all the participants, really awesome work by everyone, but now I'm curious to see what were the other 2 pictures that are missing :)

Lukas Neuwirth's picture

Well analyzed. I took the picture. It is light coming from a town down in The Valley. ;)

#11 isn't straight, everything is leaning left.

Cris Magsino's picture

Wow thank you so much Fstoppers for choosing my work. Im sorry for entering my photo which was shot using a 19mm tilt-shift lens. I joined without paying attention to the parameters. I just saw the cityscapes and landscape photos entered and hurriedly posted mine. I understand if I get disqualified. Hearing your objective critic is enough for me. My sincerest apologies again and congrats to everyone who where chosen.

Jannick Clausen's picture

All good mate.. great image and folio you got there

Cris Magsino's picture

Thank you so much Jannick! Still doesn’t feel right for me to get the top prize ☹️

Hey you snuck it by even me so you won!

Cris Magsino's picture

So sorry Lee Morris , will read the instructions next time 😅 thank you brother!

Paolo Veglio's picture

Uh nice to hear your feedback on my photo (n. 4). A few details for the curious/geeks:
- it's the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone NP
- shot at 600mm from a hill nearby
- the "fog" is actually steam from the hot spring
- the photo is almost as it was straight out of camera. I only applied lens correction and dialed in a bit of dehaze in Lr

I knew it! Great picture.

Paolo Veglio's picture

[edit] oops double post

Thanks for the critique. My Golden Gate bridge photo is a single shot. Canon 60D | ISO-100 | 70-200mm 2.8 @ 80mm | F-13 | 25 second expo | Lees Big Stopper ND Filter. And yes, I have to clean those sensor spots. I'll post the original when I get home tonight. Thanks again.

Alex Armitage's picture

Are you in the SF area by chance? Flying there in a few days and want to try and shoot some of these rolling clouds but it’s hard to find information on looking out for it to occur.

I am in the SF Bay area. I captured this shot in December. Its a roll of the dice, but Nov, Dec, Jan the weather conditions are right for this to happen. The day I shot this, the fog hadn't rolled in yet, I arrived headed to battery spencer an iconic spot but the clouds started getting higher and higher. So I relocated up the hill which is where I captured this shot from.

Alex Armitage's picture

Love the shot. Any recommendations for places to shoot? Obviously have the tree tunnel place on the list.

More comments