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This photo was submitted by Kevin Travis. It was taken with a Nikon D90, ISO 200, f/22, 1/4 sec. Processed with Adobe Photoshop 7 and Lightroom 3.2.

At first glance this photo has great impact; the WOW factor is huge. It has a simple, clean composition and the color is nice. The image looks sharply focused and shows a wide range of tones. Overall, it’s a very well captured and minimally processed image.

The first thing my eye goes to is the cloud streak; my eye sweeps down and to the left. The eye movement stops at the cluster of dark trees. And looking closer at the composition, all the lines seem to point to the dark bunch of trees. This creates a strong focal point for the image. But what’s the subject? It this a picture of an old barn, is it a picture of clouds, is it a picture of trees?

Looking at the photo longer, things start to come apart, quite literally. There’s a lack of cohesion between the graphic elements in the frame. First and most important is the bright streak of clouds. It attracts a lot of attention and subdivides the frame. The line created by the bright clouds creates a directional pointer to the dark circle of trees. Your eye travels down the line of clouds, ends up at the trees, and there’s no visual reward to be found there. The old barn becomes irrelevant.

The left side of the picture is distinctly separate from the right side; it’s two separate pictures mashed together in one frame. The left side of the image doesn’t add much to the composition; I’d suggest cropping in from the left.

Bringing the graphic elements of the composition together would have helped the picture a lot. On location, I would have recommended moving to the right so that the roof of the building overlapped the clouds a bit.

The trees on the right edge of the frame are distracting, too, because they’re in a bright area of high contrast. Your eye gets sucked into that bright spot and again, there’s no payoff.

Overall, the composition looks “crooked”. There’s a horizontal line that goes all the way across the frame and it looks slightly tilted counter-clockwise.

In all photographs you need to pay attention to how the graphic elements in the frame interact with one another. Although you need to maintain visual separation between elements and avoid mergers, in this case the picture would have been stronger if some of the parts weren’t so separated.

Finally, I’d recommend burning the bottom of the picture to add visual weight, help ground the composition and hold the eye in the frame. You can do this in Lightroom with the graduated filter tool.

Thank you for submitting your photo, Kevin! I hope you find this critique helpful when making future photos.