Scenic Cycle Round 5 Results

Hi folks! For last week’s challenge I asked our photographers to go out and take a shot in the style of Amsel Adams, which meant grey scale and beautiful mountain majesties. The judges were impressed at all the tricks folks used to render good quality black and white in the in game engine, and also loved the variety of mountain peaks everyone brought to the table. The round was very close this week, but the winner was Zukira Phaera with Memories of Nym.

Memories of Nym

Congratulations! There’s so much to love about this shot, but I’ll leave it to the judges to gush over the technicalities and I’ll just add in that we have a mountain, a lake, a castle, trees, cool clouds – there is just a lot of great stuff in this shot, and taking it in black and white transforms the familiar ruins into something quite different.

Please continue reading on for our judge’s critiques! We have one more round before Scenic Cycle 1 ends (just in time for Shadowbringers) so stay tuned!

Judge Forthyn

Coerthas Valley: Good depth, there is an interesting flow created by the line quality in the pathway and creek which pushes the activated space; the viewer is drawn through it. There are various minute details which provoke the continued search of additional elements, not a bad thing, as it keeps your viewer entertained of the idea of there being something more. While the snow is quite restful, there is a sense of dissonance with the middle ground: the crater is a curious facet to the landscape, and I want to see more. The fading, blending background creates an inquisitive atmosphere; I can almost sense the stillness.

Spiked Ranges: Interesting mountains communicating with shadows and textures. The sky seems lonely in comparison to the activated foreground; a push in depth to accentuate the distance, or zoom in to frame and take advantage of the rock formation and allow it to interact with the sky (separate cloud formations). Less can mean more here (hard crop), especially if you want to utilize negative space; a landscape doesn’t necessarily need to retain that horizontal layout. In doing this, consider your cast light and how it makes objects communicate around itself. One of the most important things in achieving a successful black and white photograph is attaining strong light and shadows, don’t hesitate to go bold.

The Bridge: Lovely backdrop of the mountain silhouetted against the sky; the faint glow/haze pushes the distance and interactive shade element while keeping them separate from one another. The bridge is an enjoyable path leading into the space, though in the area we’re lead to the hierarchy of objects becomes more muddled with a shared tone of grey. More light to create contrast can help form an order to this area: I know there is another section behind those middle-ground rocks, but your viewer may not look for them. I appreciate the outcropping of rock in the foreground almost points to the background, the dead trees there break up an otherwise overpowering plane.

Baldesian Geysers: Dark, yet clear, the lack of “proper” lighting does not hinder the deep contrasts seen in all areas of the image. The sections of illuminated areas provide a pop of attention to play into the surreal landscape; an exotic area with mysterious atmosphere. There is depth attained and the wide range of grey tones and shades assures no detail or crevice is lost; while there is no obvious light source seen, it is present. Good visual weight with left and right panels and creating strong focal elements.

Is This The Real Life?: Unfortunately, it’s just fantasy, yet very Amsel Adams with the strong light and hard mountain focus. There is a full sense of greyscale of varied range. If there was some touch of foreground, or one other element which was grounded to push the scale of the mountain, it would be excellent. Even then one can look up to the skies, and see the wonderful accent the clouds make with the summit. Mind this however: this piece is strong even without a foreground, several of Adams’ photographs feature abstract and zoomed subjects of nature, but he gave extreme attention to light, its source, and how the shadows accentuated what he was photographing. Only truer blacks would make this photo closer to perfect and hold a heavy presentation. Anyway the wind blows.

Spires: Very exciting angle and mountain range to choose, these mountains are one of my personal favorites to visit, namely for the interactive cloud cover they receive as you’ve captured here. I like the shadows present, but this scene needs more light to heighten contrast to truly appreciate the drawn out details and expose the other interesting elements you’ve gathered in your valley; the pillars on the ground with casted shadows would be exquisite. It may take some time waiting for the right weather/time of day, but go bold with the light, or if this angle isn’t quite working out even in favorable conditions, consider adjusting the angle (ground up), to get those shadows.

Memories of Nym: Excellent depth. The castle is a strong focal point further pushed by the curious and complete range of greyscale, proper light reflecting off its corners. The sky is a wide negative space that is balanced by the heavy foreground: there is some slight overweight, but it is not directly distracting from the overall scene; broken up by almost-halving and the partial foliage on the left. The value shift of the hills leads wonderfully towards the background, and the captured reflection in the lake is delightful, keeping that space from becoming muddy. Well executed and delivered.

War-torn Valley: A wonderful strong light to create contrast in a highly activated space, the title “War-torn” is quite fitting. There is a considerable amount of information all about the space; what is distinguishable and has some figurative shape in the foreground becomes pieced apart and broken towards the background. This is sellable, considering the title (good!!). The sky is smooth to offset the jagged mountain range; the subtle facets of stars are a gentle touch to notice at a second glance. I would say consider an area of rest outside the bare plateau host of a dragon’s corpse, but bearing in mind the atmosphere and mood you’re potentially looking for, its appropriate.

Autumnal Rift: Excellent linear flow, the eyes travel throughout the space; it creates forced depth. Baelsar’s Wall is an ideal horizontal anchor to lead us towards the focal element of the scarred mountain, which is pleasantly highlighted by a more negative sky, the illusion of a glow adds contrast. The neighboring hills and riverbed are distracting enough to pull the eyes back towards the forefront and delve into the details therein. Superb textures and divided elements to maintain diversity and interest, the scene becomes enjoyable to find various tidbits of information. Exceptional find.

Poems Written Upon the Sky: Good value tone and transition, the present shadows are clean and distinguished; the pops of light within the grass and cobblestones is an inquisitive and charming touch to the foreground. Compositionally, the road leads off the space: while the mountain is a powerful accent, the pull of that linear path makes it hard for a viewer to deviate. Some areas of the mountain share the same tone as the foreground, a detail to make note of as it can create confusion on the elemental hierarchy you’re looking to arrange. There is a nice play of distance with the framed area underneath the bridge. Consider more depth or strain your perspective to tidy up some rough edges. Overall, the balance captured with the sky and land is captured well.

Judge Ona

Coerthas Valley

I will rise to alpine stature
I will be a mountain
firm and ever a humble beacon
a lofty rising peak
that calls to the brave and strong
urging all yearnings
to look up
to arise
and stop determined storms

“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” -AA

Bravo! This image is beautiful and absolutely captures the feel of Amsel Adams. His image resounded with a crisp focus and depth and a feel to them that captured this essence of something more. Amsel’s use of black and white, instead of color highlighted the ability to see more of an image, by removing the distractions that come with color and its balance. What you have done here, is just that. The image is sharp in the foreground, highlighting the tree limbs, the little stream meandering through, the details and cervices of the rocks, and blends into the foreground of this immense mountain range and crisp clear clouds. I love how the foreground is darker shades of black and grey, and the background is lighter and creates a sense of the unknown. This shot is well composed and I am here for it!

Spiked Ranges

The whole world on the horizon, like a painting in an old man’s home.
The river down below, trickling and meandering to its long-awaited destination.

The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance. Each performance differs in subtle ways.” – AA

I really appreciate this image for the simple focus onto the mountains, ensuring that the viewer understands what the theme is. The shadows being cast on the spires on the left are really striking and provide depth.

Unfortunately, the shadows seem to end with those spires and that part of the image. The farthest mountain ridge blends into the second mountain and if not for the sharper focus on the second ridge, the two would be undiscernible. When shooting in black and white, it is important to create strong highlights and contrasts to provide that dimension.

I do, however, like the balance between the sky with those beautiful clouds, and the mountains below. This image being split equally only serves to assist the viewer in the balance of the image. The focus on the first spire is also incredible.

The Bridge

This mountain and me are one
It know I mean it no harm
It allows me to live here in peace

“A true photograph need not be explained, nor can it be contained in words.” – AA

I am not sure what the other judges have to say, but this image is speaking to me. Something about the innocence of that bridge, while those ominous and dark mountains loom in the skyline. A contrast is being made here. Safety of the bridge, the fear of the mountains. The softness of the clouds and the jagged edges of the tree branches. It is a well developed image.

I appreciate the vast array of shades held within this image. Extreme white of the clouds and the black of the rope bridge, but I do feel in some areas, the greys blend just a bit too much. Lighting is your friend in black and white, to create shadow and definition.

I commend you for the Amsel feel from that extreme clarity and focus on the bridge and the trees. It fits the theme and allows the viewer to connect with the inspiration from the greatest black and white environmental photographer of our time.

Baldesian Geysers

Opaque shadows in a landscape without light
Soon to be dispersed in burning atmosphere
Only to impend its shroud again in deceased hours of night
It was a misty mountain

“To photograph truthfully and effectively is to see beneath the surfaces.” – AA

It is without a doubt where your eye is drawn in this image. The lights firing onto the door, the smoke rising from the geysers, the subtle lightning within the clouds above. The contrast and use of grey in this image is strong and powerful, and definitely leads the viewer to a dark world.

But I am not sure that the darkness of this world is enough to evoke strong enough emotions to tell a story. It is an interesting image, and it is a well composed image, but the feeling behind it just doesn’t resonate with me. I am more drawn to the little cactuar guy.

I feel this image of the geysers along would have been significantly stronger and I would suggest leaving the building itself out altogether and focusing on that element of nature.

Is This the Real Life?

White-tip mountains, majestic, stand tall.
Images of trees, reflections of clouds in blue.
Birds in flight look down to see years gone by,
years still to see.

“No matter how sophisticated you may be, a large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being” – AA

Something can be said about an image like this. It provides the viewer a subject. It doesn’t stray from its intent. It connects, even just briefly, with the viewer and reminds them of the beauty of the simple things. And though I tend to find images of rolling rivers and gentle valleys more appealing, it is unfair to say that when presented with this image.  The mountain is clear, the ridges are defined and striking. The horizon line draws the viewer along the image and towards the billowed clouds floating through the sky above.

My only wish for this image was for the shadows to be a few shades darker to create a bolder contrast, and deeper dimension to this already beautiful image.

How different I feel this image would be if it were in color, and how glad that it is not. It really is a stunning image.


Misty smoke floats over and covers mountains and valleys spreading out for miles in front of and around me.

“Landscape photography is the supreme test of the photographer – and often the supreme disappointment.” – AA

That is a whole lot of spires, and a whole lot of mountain. And a strong, powerful one at that! I love the shadow play across it, and the misty fog partially obscuring the summit. The curve of the mountain to cradle the valley below helps to further illustrate the magnificence that this mountain is.

I just wish there was more “white” in this image. It is so very grey that elements tend to become lost. Adding a light source, or using a filter to highlight more would have benefited this image.

I will say though, the clouds in this image are interesting and unique. It kind of reminds me of those “The longer you stare the more zombies you see” images. The longer you stare, the more clouds and dimension you see growing in the sky.

Memories of Nym

Have a drink of your water
Let me scale your silver slope
With my tears of woe for years

“It is my intention to present – through the medium of photography – intuitive observations of the natural world which may have meaning to the spectators.”

It is strange how this water does not seem this clear when running through this zone. It is murky and the reflections of the building do not stand out to the viewer as they do here. I almost feel as though I need to find this spot and see how the image looks in color, just to see how much more striking this image is in black and white.

I really connect with this image through the sharpness in the trees to the left, and the building. The destruction of this manmade by the natural elements of this forgotten place brings home the raw power of nature. Surrounded by the mountain in the background, faded just so allows the image to really sink into the lore and story of this image.

I love how you off centered the building, and allowed the trees to stand in front of the building, instead of angling it to not overlap. This is breathtaking, and I appreciate you sharing it with us.

War-Torn Valley

The old mountain are tall, silent men
Standing with folded arms, looking over the world,
Lonesome and lofty in their manner.
They have seen empires come and go,
Civilizations rise and fall,
Stars break on their breasts.

“Millions of men have lived to fight, build palaces and boundaries, shape destinies and societies; but the compelling force of all times has been the force of originality and creation profoundly affecting the roots of human spirit.” – AA

An interesting location to take a mountain shot indeed! Although it is daytime, the scene is incredibly eerie. The harsh contrast between the white snow and the black shadows of the hillside has set a mood then reflected by the image itself and the elements contained within it.

I am only slightly taken back by the complete lack of any elements within the sky. It appears that you may have used the particle filter to provide that to the image, but unfortunately it does not add enough, especially with how inconsequential the filter is. I actually tried to brush off my screen, so I would say, either amp up the definition in the filter, or take it away altogether.

Finally, I love the focus throughout the image here. While other’s images had a far away mountain range to set a further, less focused background, your image keeps the horizon line semi-focused, and provides a clear boundary to the viewer.

Autumnal Rift

where the water meets the mountain
and the mountain meets the sky
the words will flow, 
like the ocean waves,
like the clouds above

“Our lives at times seem a study in contrast… love & hate, birth & death, right & wrong… everything seen in absolutes of black & white. Too often we are not aware that it is the shades of grey that add depth & meaning to the starkness of those extremes.” – AA

Herly shert. This image has so much emotion, without even having a person to convey it. I feel the hate within the man-made wall, but the peach within the gentle river below. The spires draw the viewer directly to it first, and then the wall takes the viewer along it through the trees below and into this image.

Although I am drawn into this image, I struggle to see the trees for more than a large group. With a light source, from above, there may have been a bit more definition. Remember in black and white photography, using a very sharp focus is not enough to create focused dimension, and more is almost always better.

I do, however, love the high shadows on the small hills and rocky landscape. The definition there is perfect!

Poems Written Upon the Sky

Let us go home with the sunset on our faces–
We that have wandered far
And stood by noon in high, disastrous places,
And known what mountains are
Between those eyries and the morning star.

  “Not everybody trusts paintings but people believe photographs.” – AA

I am really impressed by these clouds here! It seems as though there are two cloud types here and I am not sure if this happens during weather changes, or if it was purely coincidental, but either way, its really cool. The path is an interesting choice to include in an image theme that is a mountain, I wonder why you chose this spot.

The inclusion of the path is interesting, but as the eye follows the path, it appears to end abruptly, instead of fading into the vanishing point. As the trajectory of the path appears to go along the natural arch, ends there focusing on the darkened tree and away from the mountain. The trees in the foreground appear to be more focused than the background, but unfortunately so does the ground and the bricks. I would consider adding a light source to provide the trees definition to assist with the sharpened focus of the trees.

I appreciate that all spires have kept their peaks, and that the mountain slopes downward towards the natural arch. Likewise, the risk that you took with this location and elements within the image are commendable, and I feel with a little light and tweaking this image would have been in my top 5.

Judge Ni’ko

Coerthas Valley
There is so much mystery and wonder in this shot. The angle of the shot shows so much of this vista, and really showcases the path as it winds around the circular structure, over, and beyond the river. There are so many rocks and peaks on display here, but the focus still pans down to that unusual structure. This was a great focus for the shot, and a smart use of black and white; it works so well if the area is already snowy! Your wintry sensation gave me a Rocky Mountain High. Well done.

Spiked Ranges
There are a lot of elements that mystify me, in both senses of the term. The clear sky is inviting, but the mountains are so imposing, and jagged. It’s a contrast that makes me wonder what the story is here. However, because we don’t see more of this vista there is nothing to really further the story. I feel as though you gave a snapshot of a much larger story here, and I would have liked to see more of what this portion of mountain meant to you. Your eye is sharp here, but the story felt a bit cut short here.

The Bridge
This shot has interesting textures, and an element of mystery. The bridge is seemingly the lone structure in this environment, seemingly devoid of life. It brings a sense of wonder, and mystique to the shot. But the coloring here comes across as flat, and so any depth that there is to the shot is lost. The shades of grey blend together here, even as the shot pans up towards the sky. There are a lot of great elements to this shot, but it lacks dynamic. In bridging the gap here I cannot help but feel this simply falls short.

Baldesian Geysers
I enjoy how dynamic this shot feels; the landscape is rich, the sky is practically erupting in some measure of wild weather, and the silhouette of the building to the far right draws one’s curiosity to look again. It is a very interesting shot. However, in all of what this shot has to offer what I feel it’s missing is story, and a focus. You could argue the geyser-mountain in the left’s foreground is the focus, but because so much else of the shot is busy it’s hard to pin it down. Your shot is bursting with potential, but feels a bit lost in the wash.

Is This The Real Life?
What I genuinely enjoy about this shot is how it almost feels like one of those illusion shots, such as do you see two faces, or a goblet? If you turn this image upside down you can see a snowy mountain against a night sky with some of the most unique clouds I’ve ever seen. It is a rather interesting little bit of mountain. Is it from the Sagoli Desert? That aside I do not feel this is a very strong shot. I’m not getting story, dynamic, or interesting play on lighting. It has all of the elements of the challenge, but little to wow your audience. It just comes across as an assignment complete. Your mountain piqued, however I wasn’t feeling much range here.

This shot has some strong boundaries to it. The sky, the mountain range in the middle, and the grassy area with pillars jutting out just so. It’s a bit of a busy shot, but there is a bit of a break here and there. What really kills me for this shot is the lighting. It is just so dark and monotone that this shot just comes across as forced. I’m not really certain what the focus is here, and because of how muddy and dark the shot is there’s just nothing that really draws the eye. You made to channel Ansel, but honestly I can’t tell.

Memories of Nym
Once again we see Nym, but once again I am glad to see this city of a bygone era. You will recall in challenges past I criticized over using the same locale in another shot, however this is how you do this correctly. This shot feels so unique, from a totally different angle as though this is a hidden lake, unspoiled by society. The beautiful sky drapes along the background, and Nym is a clear focus on this shot, partially off-center, the ruins dotting along the lake for much of the shot. The greenery in the back is a lovely splash as it helps break up the glassy lake and the mountainous backdrop. Overall this is a marvelous shot that takes everything into account while playing well with the black and white medium. How literary of you to show us the secret of Nym. Well done.

War-torn Valley
I am enjoying this shot despite the chaotic landscape. There is a tinge to it that really makes this shot feel straight out of an old newspaper, and really helps put this shot on target for the challenge. It is a straightforward shot that revels in its simplicity, as the landscape is simply anything but. I find my eyes darting about, however the cliff stretching from the middle across the left is a good anchor for the eye. I cannot praise the lighting enough here, as this shot could have come across as too white or too shadowy. You’ve found the perfect balance here. Your frigid valley is a winter wonderland, well done.

Autumnal Rift
There is so much to take in with this shot, but you have done such an excellent job in bringing our eye right to the focus here. You’ve done what I enjoy best; you turned this challenge on its ear. That mountain is so unique, and so full of story that it just cannot help but lend to an interesting shot. The angle here really shows off the landscape well, the babbling river spilling out in the bottom right, the foliage to the left, the wall stretching across the middle point of the shot, the clear sky above. This is a great example of bringing such stark contrasts together to make a great shot by using just the right angle to help make sense of it all. Your shot tore down barriers, and moved mountains. Or at least one. Well done.

Poems Written Upon the Sky
Where does the road wander, one wonders. What an interesting shot this is, focusing on an road winding to what seems to be the sky. The clouds are so wispy and unique, and the mountains are a unique silhouette to this shot. There are some great elements here, but unfortunately they seem to be overshadowed by the muddiness in the right half of the shot. Some extra lighting or perhaps a different time of day could have helped in breaking up that block of dark, and making it more dynamic. The shadows under the landbridge are just fine; they’re expected. But those mountains during midday just aren’t doing your shot any favors here. You may have followed the road less traveled, but unfortunately it would seem you’ve taken a dark turn here.

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