Scenic Cycle Round 3 Winner

Last week I asked our photographers to send us a postcard from their favorite lake or river. The judges felt that the photographers have all really stepped up their game – this was a fantastic round, and it was a challenge for the judges to rank them.

But after all the votes were tallied, the winner this week was Zukira Phaera with Mystic Cavern.

Mystic Cavern

Congratulations! Hullbreaker Isle is gorgeous from start to finish, even the caves. I think a lot of us are going to be saving his one as a wallpaper.

For all the photographers, the judges critiques can be found below.

Judge Forthyn

We’re halfway through the cycle and it pleases me beyond measure that all ten of you submitted such distinctive work for this round; and here I considered last week to be challenging to cast a ballot. I have high expectations next week (and hopes). It will truly be exciting to see how ambitious you are.

Tranquil Midday: Always a fan of cast shadows, I am truly enjoying the play of sunlight across the bridge and foreground, the dapple of sunlight playing on the ground from the leaves; it keeps your scene activated and moving. The camp in the background breaks up the green palette and pushes the idea of there being more depth than what the foreground suggests. The sky serves as a moderate division for the trees, though I would like to see more. While the bridge is a soft focus element, it creates an imaginative feel of passage between scenes, making one curious of the space and explorative.

Lunar Lakeside Lull: Truly exceptional; I adore the likeness and homage to a Polaroid picture. You were very aware of the use of frame. The photo itself is mystical—fantastical. The scene is dark, but not too dark one cannot discern the details you wish for them to see: there are different shades of black at play here, muted hooker’s green versus burnt umber. The trees and rocks are a lovely accent against the water; the submerged details there along with the reflected light of the moon pose an interaction that draws your eyes everywhere. The communication going on in the sky with the crescent moon nestled like a small treasure; soft stars; no one element is overpowering the other. A strong, established harmony. I am 50-50 on the split tree on the left.

Hot Spring Getaway: Absolute lively atmosphere. The hotspring serves as an excellent forefront and powerful area of rest. You’ve established a color harmony here that accentuates the finer details; one does not become lost in all the possible findings, and because of that the viewer is encouraged to comb through the entire piece. This creates a flow of eye moment, something you most certainly want in a piece with as much depth as this: each level of ground has appropriate level of action to remain interesting. The frame mimics the texture of the foliage and becomes part of the work, not distracting in the least, and in fact lends to the balanced weight of the photo. The top of the castle does seem to generate an area of tension, but being broken with the frame it is hardly disrupting. Most certainly wall-worthy.

Just Around the River Bend: This most certainly calls out as someone’s vacation picture, and sent off as a memento. Overall pleasant scene that is reminiscent of the Big River (CA). The faint cloud cover/mist adds and interesting element as the river leads us through the photo, yet I want to be brought back. I am immensely curious what is creating those large cast shadows across the water, especially with such a nice ripple effect you’ve captured on the river surface; the color interaction is well-addressed. Give me more.

Lilies: The first thing I saw was that filter used, but it did not bother me in the least: it was used correctly. The composition and subject is already strong, thereby the watercolor filter heightens the scene in delicate detail. The rock on the riverbank leads the viewer to the background in a delicate path, just on the edge, casually pulling the eyes towards the treated details. The river and lilies supply a counterweight to the rock path. Pleasant color harmony coupled with dappled light, you’ve caught a natural blend that everything appears curious and worth a moment’s inspection.

Eyecatcher Gully: The play of colors and shadows certainly is eyecatching and inviting, almost to a hauntingly exciting atmosphere. The background has strong movement of lines and interaction within itself, whereas the foreground is relatively empty. Not necessarily a bad thing: you’ve replaced subject matter with light, and though the river isn’t easily discernible, the hints of blues and soft reflection of the flowers toys with the viewer that, yes, it is there. There is not a noticeable flow from the foreground back, but rather from the background to foreground.

I Found This For You, Just Now: Did you really? Thank you, this happens to be one of the few locations I personally enjoyed when I first started playing. While this is a popular spot, you avoided taking it at “typical” popular angle. The elements of the frame are all occupied and bustling with details for the viewer to see, the centered root in the foreground almost acts as a directional, diverting to one side or the other. The torch lilies provide a nice complement to the greens within the scene and that is paired with the waterfalls. Yet, the right panel almost seems pale in comparison; there is a strong tree there whose weight helps to establish a balance, but that balance would be even better if there was something more to draw the eye. Be mindful of cropping corners (upper left panel).

Nocturnal Memoir: I am not a fan of extremely dark scenes unless a clear emotion is portrayed, and at first glance this seems to be a landscape almost swallowed by a heavy element of light. Yet on a second look, the viewer can find and see the deep greens of vegetation and steely greys of limestone. I can see there is a type of reflection upon the water; the sky is nicely broken up by the overcast clouds; the foundational, horizontal lines with which to generate hierarchy of the space. The attractive elements I find here are all without giving the light of the Gridanian hut the attention it demands. Because of the unadulterated difference between light and dark, the viewer’s eyes will be pulled to the brightest and warmest element. A filter perhaps, or an earlier time of day, would’ve exposed the details you’ve cornered here to a fuller appreciation by the viewer.

Mystic Cavern: Gorgeous, dark, mysterious, luring… mystical indeed. You’ve activated the background to draw us towards the light at the end of the tunnel (?!), one would rather hope there is treasure there. Wonderful color harmony: the fireflies add the soft green needed to break up the dark blues of the rocks, casted light reflected in the water below adds visual energy that keeps the background moving; a soft background, caught emitting an enigmatic light instead of being dark an unappealing. The rock formation here is powerful and heavy indeed, but the cast shadows divide them into interesting shapes that holds one’s attention. I would certainly visit this location, receiving this postcard would be a treat.

Lily Pond: I appreciate the strong horizontal line you’ve established that allows for so much play in the foreground. The blues and greens communicate lovely here, as does the pop of color from the lilies; the reflections of light on the water are an appropriate tint to really pull your cast shadows into attention. While the background is largely subdued, the sky provides the necessary breakup to keep the background present, but not disrupting; you’ve made it clear what you want your viewer to be engrossed with. Interesting perspective and while there is lots of green, the different pigments keep this from becoming monotone. I would say be wary of objects kissing the edge (looking at you, Mr. Rock), but it’s an essential element to balance that existing space.

Judge Ona

I am going to apologize in advance for my critiques this week. I had paperwork due at my job for monthly billing, was the manager on call for any weekend support needs from my staff, and had to prep for a procedure yesterday and today has been sleeping off sedatives. So please bear with me.

Tranquil Midday:

“And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;…”

A simple, yet lovely shot. The flash of sunlight peeking through the treetops throwing a spark onto the bridge. It definitely is a pleasant little spot at the midday.

The bridge, takes the focus of the viewer and since it appears to be the only standing item in the image that is manmade, it keeps the view on itself. I just wonder if it overshadows the remainder of the image. Likewise, the little orange light in the background seems out of place from the rest of the image.

I love the angle of the image, straight on, to highlight both the bridge and its planks as well as the fullness of the trees and the moss on the rocks.

Lunar Lakeside Lull:

“Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.”

By far one of my favorites of the week. This is really lovely. Initially I didn’t even notice the moon, because of the intensity of the clouds against that beautiful purple sky. The outlining of the foliage in the background bridges the purple sky to the blue grey of the waters.

I wish that perhaps you would have chosen a different frame to show more of this scene. The polaroid frame chokes off what else could be adding to this image. Perhaps you chose this frame to hide something, but overall, the smallness of the image takes away from the overall feel.

Finally, I love how the rocks are almost glowing in the cast from the sky. The light reflecting off of them and the water highlights the focus to the water and the theme. Nice touch as well on the reflection of the moon in the water as well.

Hot Spring Getaway:

“A lonely impulse of delight Drove to this tumult in the clouds; I balanced all, brought all to mind, the years to come seemed waste of breath, A waste of breath the years behind In balance with this life, this death.”

This is a beautiful interpretation of the theme. Lake or River, but what feeds the hot springs? Underground rivers. I love the fact that there is almost no one in this shot. You really took a chance, especially with the influx of Sprouts coming to FFXIV. I love the softness in the image, especially the background. The layered effect of the calamity to the outlying tree line the tower and then the spring itself.

I am not a huge fan of this filter on this image. I think the image has a significant amount of fading and softness to it, that this choice of frame breaks that up too much. Its too sporadic and jagged. I feel a cleaner line would have worked to your benefit here.

Otherwise, the shot is well executed, and really well balanced.

Just Around the Riverbend:

“The wandering earth herself may be
Only a sudden flaming word,
In clanging space a moment heard,
Troubling the endless reverie.”

Very interesting shot! Aerial shots are tough, but I like how you executed this one, to allow the water to guide the viewer along. Creeping out of the misty clouds and into the darkness ahead. The use of the sun to offset the overcast from the mist adds dimension to the image and allows the viewer another element to take in.

I am genuinely a fan of the risk you took here trying a new angle, however I am concerned that the landscape seems too barren for this point of view. When I think of these images, I usually envision pine-tree-thick mountainsides or lush rainforest, this one makes me feel as though you’re trying to show me the plight of the forest.

One parting thought, I enjoyed this image, and I do love the ambition here. What I think is the most striking is the use of the sun to cast various glows and shadows throughout, but especially on the river. It creates enough depth to the image to allow the idea that this water is moving, and probably fairly quickly.


“In a field by the river my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder she laid her lily-white hand.
She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.”

What a lovely use of the watercolor filter! It is fitting, especially with the call to water lilies in the title. I love how the sun creates this dappled look upon the rocks and the waters adding dimension to the image.

Although I love the gentleness of this specific location, I fear that the image has too much going on in the background the does not specifically add to the image. I think if you would have taken the image at the point of the lily and pivoted it so the blue awning was not in the image that it would have helped to make the image a bit stronger and kept the view on the lilies in the water.

I do, however love the colors here, the softness of the sunlight and the fact that the pink lilies do attempt to draw the viewer to them. I may have said it in other’s images as well, but I appreciate the layering of the background in the image. Little glints of buildings and trees are slightly visible beyond the rock, the trees and the rocks are less focused and the main focus is drawn right to the lilies. It is a great use of the depth of field tool!

Eyecatcher Gully:

“Before me floats an image, man or shade,
Shade more than man, more image than a shade;
For Hades’ bobbin bound in mummy-cloth
May unwind the winding path;”

Another night shot! Those shadows are intense, and the moonlight offers refuge to the viewer from the lurking darkness. The red glow draws the viewer down the stream and towards whatever is waiting at the end. This spot here, and using the darkness and the lights definitely keeps the viewer engaged with the stream.

For all that is lovely and beautiful in the stream, I lose the depth of the image in the background. I understand that a lower angle would have broken the engagement from the viewer, however the overly darkness of the upper left-hand corner breaks my view ever so slightly, especially with the tiniest little peekaboo red light popping out. Likewise, the tree at the end of the stream, though I know you cannot move a tree, causes some eye distraction.

I love this location choice, however, and how you used very little light source to guide the viewer. The focus on the rocks in the foreground marks the starting line for this image and brings the viewer on their path, just try to keep them on the path in future images, by making sure all bright or dark elements play to your plan.

I Found This For You:

“Go gather by the humming waters
Some twisted, echo-harbouring shell,
And to its lips thy story tell.”

This image has so much vibrance and movement in it! I love-love-love the waterfalls, and how you have captured the spray at the bottom of each one of them. The view from far enough in front of the falls allows calm waters to begin the viewers journey, while also allowing for the focus to be taken by the intensity of the falls.

It is difficult with this image to identify what could be improved, or what I feel isn’t as strong. Initially I thought that a closer-cut image to remove the tree on the right may have been a good choice, however, in framing it myself, it loses depth and dimension.

I also love the glow from the flowers in the water. The orange of them draws the viewer to them and then allows the waterfall to take over. The root system as well, cascading down from the ridges add a beautiful touch to the overall image. I absolutely love the composition of this image. Definitely one of my top two.

Nocturnal Memoir:

“There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow, And evening full of the linnet’s wings. “

Night shots can provide such a different take on the same location. The darkness of the night can create new shadows and new angles that the sun removes. I think this is a wonderfully starry nights sky, full of that glimmer from the stars and the multifaceted blue hues from the clouds and the sky itself.

Unfortunately, I have trouble seeing anything else in this image. Other than the glowing orange lights, this image is so dark it is difficult to see what else there is other then the sky, and the building.

I would love to have seen this image with just a hint of lighting thrown across it for dimension.

Mystic Cavern:

“Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams
Come away, O human child, to the waters and the wild with a faery, hand in hand
For the world’s more full of weeping, then you can understand.”

I don’t know who you are, but take your faery magic far away from me. Actually, don’t, can I join you in your cave?

This image is stunning. The placement of the lighting source to strike directly in front of the cavern is breathtaking, and the focus and depth of field sharpening the image using that spot as its focal point is wonderful. The small faery lights, the limited but subtle use of foliage to provide contrast to the rocky banks, as well as the scattered dappling along the banks adds so much to this already beautiful image.

Interestingly enough, the small blue swirl of the pond in the foreground does not take away from the cavern, instead it adds to the overall image by providing another source of light that reminds the viewer of the water in the image and the theme.

I believe I will be saving this image and wanting to know, if it is not #1 who took it.

Lily Pond:

“I must be gone: there is a grave
Where daffodil and lily wave,
And I would please the hapless faun,
Buried under the sleepy ground,
With mirthful songs before the dawn.”

So Green(e) is my favorite color. Obviously. And this image has so much green. It is a very lush location and it provides a great color balance to the blue from the water and the shadows in the background. I enjoy the background being ever so slightly faded from the pond in the foreground, allowing the image to be full, but not overly distracting from the water itself.

The image, unfortunately, lacks something to pull you in and hold your attention. Those branches are cool, but they are the same color green as everything else, and due to their size, they pull much of the attention away from the little lilies to them. Perhaps adding a spotlight somehow of lighting from above onto those lilies would have been enough to make them the focus.

I do love the attempt to keep the image in a simple minimalist color palette, but I don’t feel that it worked to your benefit this week.

Judge Ni’ko

Tranquil Midday: As a lover of all things The Black Shroud this shot really warmed my heart, and brought me back to the early days of falling in love with Eorzea all over again as I had just started out in Gridania. There is some classic rule of thirds play here; the shot genuinely feels like something is interesting in every portion of the imaginary tic-tac-toe board. This shot missed slightly with me, though, because I was not feeling much of a story regarding the focal point here, the bridge. It is also a shame we did not get to see more of that little waterfall and river. Your shot is beautiful, but it came off as a little abridged, and I’m having difficulty seeing the forest for the trees.

Lunar Lakeside Lull: This shot is just full of mystique. You’re really playing with my aesthetic here, and I genuinely love it. The puffy clouds here are a really great blend of texture against the night sky, and the glow from the rocky lake is subtle, but powerful. My concern here is while I love thinking outside of the box the frame you chose really narrowed everything away. It was a smart choice to use that frame to force our gaze right where you wanted it, but closing off the shot also closed a lot of opportunities to indulge in the overall beauty of the moment. I also feel that the trees presented are not very interesting as a silhouette. Overall I love your lavender fantasy, but it feels a bit eclipsed, and overcast.

Hot Spring Getaway: This location is so interesting to me. I love the history in the locale; the ancient city of Nym continues to be such a source of fascination to me since so much of their land is still accessible. This is such a great shot filled with little pops of interest, right down to the warped structure of hardened aether in the distant background. There is a lot of jumble in taking everything in at once, but there is some great framing at play here that really zeroes in on the story the region tells. The hot spring area in front is a great modern bottom third of the shot, the ruins are solid reminder of the past, and then this bright fluffy sky speaking of hope in the top third. Genuine eye candy all around. I normally don’t enjoy the frame chosen, however this is one of those times where it just works. It doesn’t feel intrusive here. I must profess you’ve given us the full spa treatment here, and I’m not wandering away.

Just Around the River Bend: Admittedly I almost passed over this shot, because at first glance it appears a bit muddy. But upon a second look I found myself falling in love with this unique topography, and the illusion the lower left corner brings. I kept feeling as though I was coming off of a waterfall to this winding river below, but at second glance it’s a clever trick involving the clouds of fog rolling in. The whole area is just stunning in its own contrast. It is just such a clever shot. My only big nitpick here is that the coloring is a little muddy. A different filter would have brightened it up a little, or made it a little more dynamic. But the setting is just so interesting, and the winding river breaks it up, so it genuinely is just a nitpick. I looked once more, and found myself beyond the shore. You’ve given us a great turn here, well done.

Lilies: Exquisite is the first word that comes to mind with this watercolor sensation. This was a great filter choice to use. I feel lakeside, enjoying a nice, calm, Spring day. The water is sun-kissed, and there is just a lot of interesting little tidbits to take in. Nothing feels intrusive, everything feels peaceful, and lovely. I love how the little flourishes of flowers are accentuated by the angle; the cluster in front is joined over by the mossy roots to have you look at the other in the distance, and by then you’re looking onwards towards the background. I feel as though any nitpick I would state for this shot is too much of a reach. I genuinely love how this was pooled together, as gentle as a Spring breeze. Wonderfully done.

Eyecatcher Gully: I enjoy a twist, and a risk. This shot was a bold choice, giving us pops of neon red against a darkened atmosphere. This little area is such a fun, interesting locale; taking a shot at night makes the location mysterious, and shows it off well. There is some great framing and use of thirds here; the log stretching across the area is a nice horizontal line of indication. That being said, where this misses for me is in presentation. The theme this week requires a body of water be present. As a player I know the location, and I know that is a river. But as an outsider looking in the night lighting is not doing the water justice here; it’s hard to tell that it is actually a body of water and not just marble stoning. This is a great shot, it just doesn’t quite live up to the challenge simply due to perception. Your nightlife shot was lit, but it came off a bit dry.

I Found This For You Just Now: I love how whimsical this shot feels. These gentle waterfalls emptying into a calm pool, little twists and turns of vines giving dots of framing. Even a little viney tree is in the foreground, but blends into the rest of the shot seamlessly. Overall the presentation is lovely, and the shot is lit quite well. Where it misses for me lies in how monochromatic it feels. Despite the efforts of the splash of multicoloured flora in the foreground I’m seeing a lot of green, dark green, light green, mud green, and even green green. Did I mention green? The greens are broken up somewhat on the left side of the image, but almost half of the right side is just green, rocks, brown, green. More green. In the end you gave us verdant, but it felt a bit more verdon’t.

Nocturnal Memoir: What I love about this shot is the cozy familiarity here. It looks as though you’re overlooking home. It’s a lovely backdrop, and good off-center framing of the watermill and city proper. The trees in the background are clearly defined despite such a dark shot, and the vibrant lighting of the city’s lights draw the eye nicely. Clarity on this shot isn’t my concern at all; it tells a good story to me, and I appreciate how it was presented. That being said, I feel it’s missing something dynamic, such as some light on the lake to really bring out the ripples of waves. Perhaps a slight change of angle to include more of that night sky. It is just missing that it factor to make this a really clean shot. You had us aglow, but left us on the outside looking in.

Mystic Cavern: This is simply applause-worthy. This shot tells such a great story. Where does this river lead to, what is at the end of this cave, what is this glow, the lights in the air… so much about this shot makes me feel a blend of uneasiness and excitement all at once. This shot is an adventure. I can honestly see this as a postcard at a gift shop in some random tourist trap locale touting deep cavern tours or something. The shaft of light lends to the mistique, the little dots of green glows, the glow on the water, the shadowy rocks and leafy bits. Everything folds together so perfectly here. Your spelunking adventure gave us mystery and drama; it was easy to cave in. You rock.

Lily Pond: The colors here are rich and vibrant, and there are some good little details to this shot. The coloring is great; nothing looks muddled or unusual. I almost feel as though I were swimming in a crisp, cool pond as I look at this shot, the water just up to my neck. It is a refreshing shot with some good contrast. Beyond that, though, I do not feel much of a story or focus on this shot. The angle is so low that I’m not seeing this little patch of water come to life. The difference a bit of angling can make for a shot; getting a bit more of that sky we only see a hint of would have given some great dynamic to the shot, and allowed the pond to be part of the world. You really dove at the chance here, however it just feels you took it a bit too literal and fell off the deep end.

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