1 Kings 3:9 VPO: Calm and Contemplative (ends June 16)

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    James Staddon

    Think you’ll be able to make it to the critique webinar on the 10th to talk about these differences? https://www.lenspiration.com/photo-critique-with-lenspiration-july-10/

    Benjamin Holmes

    Hello everyone!

    Another VPO has ended, a VP has been designed, and my critique been written out, or perhaps a better way to say it is has been talked about on camera! James invited me to critique the submissions live on July’s webinar and I really enjoyed it. If you’d like to watch a longer breakdown of why I couldn’t use some of the photos that were submitted, why I chose the photo I did, and also a bit on how I edited the winning submission, check out the webinar replay! https://www.lenspiration.com/video/webinar071118/ (accessible to PRO members only)

    Please realize that I’m not critiquing your photos as much as critiquing how well your photos work for a specific purpose–the specific purpose of being the background of a VersePic! There are a ton of gorgeous photos out there taken by masters that wouldn’t work for this, so if I didn’t pick a photo that you are really proud of, it isn’t necessarily because I didn’t like it.

    Before we start looking at photos, let’s rewind a bit and take a look at what I was searching for: photos that felt calm, contemplative, and meditative with, if possible, the subject of a man praying. If shooting that subject just wasn’t possible, then I could also use photos that could easily be connected to prayer or devotions.

    On to the critique! (Because of a lack of time, I wasn’t able to embed the images in this post but all of them can be found here on the VPO by looking for the appropriate photographer and file name.)

    Josiah Waldner

    My primary issue with using this photo is that the person low in the frame–within or just above the bottom half–so half of the verse being overlaid on the image would be on the person’s head and the other half would be on the sky, which would be pretty distracting to the viewer.

    Another problem I had in choosing this photo was the black bar on the right. Josiah mentioned this is a photoshop composite, so my guess is that the original photo of the sea was shoved over to the left and this black bar was painted on. I believe that it was painted or digitally put on because when I turn up the exposure on the RAW file, it remains a steady black–there’s no information or texture there whatsoever. I didn’t really want to use a photo with that much empty space there as the VersePics are first and foremost wallpapers. My attempts at healing the bar out were fairly successful, but because of how the lighting of the photo is the image started to look unrealistic.

    James Staddon

    The reason I didn’t want to use this is that of the sharp, black lines in the wave rippling away. Those dark lines immediately grab my attention and, honestly, keep my attention. The issue is that when I put a verse on top of this photo, the sharp contrast created by those lines is going to compete with the verse for my attention, which is something I don’t want. As far as the VersePics are concerned, scripture should be the subject with the photo complementing but not competing with it.

    Additionally, something I noticed once I started playing around with the photo is that the boy sitting off to the left is a bit too far over to the left to display properly on phones. Most people would end up seeing just his arms and legs, which isn’t ideal.

    Lydia Bennet

    There were a lot of photos, so I’m going to try and keep the critique short and to the point!


    The lighting is fairly strong which creates a bit too much contrast between the foreground and the background. Plus, the photo also has the strong texture of the tree’s bark on the left and leaves on the top. With so much detail and contrast, the photo didn’t really fit the calm, clean, and simple mood I was going for.


    There are two things I have a problem within this photo:

    The subject is *just* off center to the left. This throws the balance of the VP off when cropped on a phone in that the subject is pointed into the left direction while also being cropped just on the right edge, which felt weird to me. Attempts at cropping to fix this issue got rid of the open space in the photo, which made the photo feel a little too busy and crowded for the calm feeling I was going for.

    The contrast is fairly extreme. You’ve got bright, solid whites and very, very dark areas. And, as this is a JPEG and not a RAW photo, there isn’t any way to get back any detail in those areas. This makes putting text on the photo problematic as your eyes will automatically be drawn to the two extremes in the photo, light and dark, versus being drawn to the text, which is important in a VersePic!


    This was closer to what I wanted with a fairly calm atmosphere and pastel colors.

    I like that the sun isn’t being heavily featured which lets the person be the main subject, but unfortunately, the person is so much darker than anything else in the photo it becomes the only thing that you look at. In the end, it would compete with the verse for your attention.

    The photo feels a bit too far removed from the person for the context of the verse. The verse is very personal and intimate. Because of that, I want to feel like I’m there with Solomon as he talks with God, not feel like I’m observing him from a distance.



    What I really liked about this photo was its potential. It had a lot of variation in color with the oranges in the sunset, clouds, and sand mixing with the blues of the ocean and sky. This variety along with some nice textures throughout the photo helps to create more visual interest and keeps the viewer’s eyes from getting tired of looking at the photo after a few seconds, which is important for a wallpaper!

    Additionally, something that was great about the photo was its subject placement. The subject is on the right third and is large enough that we immediately identify it as the photo’s subject without it competing with the verse for our attention.


    The dark silhouette of the person heavily contrasts with the bright sunset. This is a problem because of where both objects are placed in the frame.

    The sunset grabs your attention as the bright, central object in the frame. Because of its size and prominence in the photo, it makes the person feel secondary. As I wanted the person to be the focus of the VP, this is a problem.


    The photo feels TOO heavy and dark for what I was looking for. Everything is fairly dark and monochromatic (very orange) with a bit too much contrast between the foreground and background. I was looking for something a little lighter and more colorful.


    This almost felt right, but I was looking for a photo with a greater variety of colors to increase visual interest.

    Additionally, the photo felt a little heavy in terms of the overall tone/exposure, which I couldn’t fix with a JPEG file.


    While the person looks fairly contemplative, the overall photo didn’t really feel that way.

    It looks about evening with some fairly sharp, defined shadows. The lighting in addition to the many details in the grass, fences, water, buildings, and the person made the photo feel a little too busy for me to use.


    Much like the previous photo, the sharp shadows and many details in the fencing, person, buildings, and concrete made the photo feel a little too busy to feel calm and contemplative.

    That’s a lot of photos! I hope I’ve explained things thoroughly, even if I did need to abreviate a bit!

    Thank you all for submitting and helping us out here at Sharpening Character! I always have fun going through these submissions and your support means a lot to us.

    Sharpening Character’s VersePic Director

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 11 months ago by James Staddon.
    Caitlin Compton

    Congratulations @bennett-family for getting your picture chosen. It’s a lovely verspic!

    Thanks for taking the time on the webinar to share with us the thoughts on those pictures and the process behind how you design them, @bensharpeningcharacter! It was really interesting hearing your perspective. I was wondering if you could explain in more detail how you pulled out all that information from the black area in Josiah’s picture?

    Also, I found it interesting that in one of Lydia’s pictures there was what I thought was a sunburst, but you mentioned that it actually wasn’t. I’m curious about that – I thought a sunburst was always a sunburst. 🙂

    Benjamin Holmes


    Hi Caitlin! I’m glad you enjoyed watching the webinar.

    Actually, one of the large problems with using Josiah’s photo was that there was no information in that black bar whatsoever. Even though he gave me a RAW file, there wasn’t anything I could bring back. What I ended up doing was cloning and healing out the area to see if I could use the photo with the black bar removed. There were some other issues with using it, though, so I couldn’t. Hopefully, that makes sense!

    You’re absolutely right. I was trying to speed through the rest of the photos to finish on time so I don’t know how well I did explain this as I was having some difficulty clearly explaining that my problem with the photo wasn’t the sunburst, but the special noise and lens glare that was introduced into the photo from the sunburst. It isn’t very noticeable in the original photo, but it showed up very clearly whenever I tried to adjust the photo’s color or exposure and would have been fairly difficult to remove. Because there were some other issues with using the photo, I found a different one to use!

    Let me know if you have any other questions or if I didn’t explain something as much as you would have liked!

    Josiah Waldner

    @bensharpeningcharacter, You were totally right in assuming that the black bar on the right was painted on- it was my idea of a person looking out over the ocean from a window. I more or less threw it out as a concept, to see if that was what you were looking for. Thank you for your insight!

    James Staddon

    Thanks again @bensharpeningcharacter!

    Here’s the replay for those in The Click: https://www.lenspiration.com/video/webinar071118/

    Caitlin Compton

    Thanks, @bensharpeningcharacter!

    So you cloned out other parts of the picture and put them on the black bar area to make it look like it was there? How did you get it look so realistic?

    Oh right! So the sunburst is a sunburst. Phew! That makes more sense. 🙂

    I remembered one more question. . . With the picture you actually ended up using, do I understand correctly that you painted some more clouds on? If so how did you do that? Was it with the clone tool?

    Benjamin Holmes


    The trick there is both cloning AND healing. When you clone, you’re taking the exact pixels from one area of the image and duplicating it to another. The main problem I have with using the cloning feature is that there are often very easily identifiable elements that get cloned. For example, in that photo, after I finished cloning out the black bar, there were several wave crests that you could immediately tell were identical, giving away that I had been cloning the image in those areas. What I do is selectively use the healing tool those easily recognizable cloned elements in the photo to either remove them or visibly change them to the point where your eye doesn’t see them as identical. Then, once the easily recognizable elements of the photo are taken care of, I’ll go through the general areas (the waves in the background) and selectively heal those areas as well.

    It’s all about trying to get the eye to not see the cloned area as identical to the original area. I will say that I was nowhere close to being done with touching up that photo, so that goes to show how little touching up you really need to do in order for your eye to not think of areas being identical!

    Yes, I did paint on those clouds using a similar technique as what I just described above! One major difference, though, was that I set my cloning tool to horizontally mirror both its relative position and what came out on the cloned end. I repeated cloning with a soft brush at a low opacity in order to give me better control over how I wanted the clouds to look. After cloning in what I wanted, I went through with the healing tool and refined edges and re-created easily identifiable areas so that the two halves of the photo wouldn’t be identical.

    Hopefully all of that made sense, Caitlin!

    Benjamin Holmes

    With that, I’ll close up this VPO. Look for a new one dropping soon!

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