Photo Critique: Out of Business

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This photo was submitted by Dan Gerth.

I have to say up front that I really like this photograph. And the title really brings it all together.

What I like: clean, simple composition with strong graphics and a very well established center of interest. Really nice color harmony, with warm and cool tones interacting in a very dynamic way. The juxtaposition of the kids’ lemonade stand against the “big brother” of the higher-end store is very appealing. This photo has a great story, and loads of character.

What doesn’t work for me: although the shadows are deep and dark and should be, they are actually quite plugged up, with some posterization around their boundaries. In these transition areas, color noise is very evident. I’d like to see some smoother transitions here. Also, there appears to be some chromatic aberration visible in the lines of the shingles on the front of the building.

This is a wonderfully expressive image, made under difficult shooting conditions. With a little technical refinement this can be an excellent image.

Thanks, Dan, for submitting your photo… really nicely done!

Photo Critique: Jemez Mists

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This photo was submitted by Dan Gerth. At first glance, the atmospheric effects are sublime, and definitely pique my interest. I love the balance and interaction between the sun-streaked clouds in the middle and the clouds at the top left. These are two very different design elements interacting in a way that imparts a lot of energy.

The tones in the black and white conversion were handled very nicely. There’s a wide range of brightness levels, from near pure white to deep black. I love how the layers of mountains are rendered in different tones.

My one real nit about the image is the composition. I get that it’s a picture of the sky, of light, and of ethereal atmospheric effects. However, I find that my eye tends to wander somewhat randomly around the bright part in the center of the photo, without finding a place to rest.

For most photos, having a strong, well-defined focal point or center of interest is crucial. In this photo, I’m not sure exactly where to look, which becomes a little unnerving after a few moments of viewing the photo.

An eagle soaring in the bright part of the sky would have solved this 😉

Overall I think it’s a well seen and well executed photo; I’d just have preferred to see a bit more strength in the design. Thanks, Dan, for submitting your photo!

Photo critique: Yosemite

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This photo was submitted by Christy Tebsherani. This photo is bold and dramatic, with a lot of immediate impact. Overall I like the way you handled the composition. There’s a lot of depth conveyed by the perspective of the receding mountains, and I like how the focal point resolves at Half Dome.

Usually, grand scenic landscape photos like this look their best when photographed at sunrise or sunset, or with dramatic weather conditions. Notice how the trees in the forest in the middle of the picture appear as an almost solid field of green. This is because the light is coming from behind the camera position, resulting in front lighting on the scene. Front light is the least attractive kind of light for most landscapes, because you can’t see any shadows. (The shadowed sides of the trees and mountains are on the hidden side of the objects, facing away from the camera.)

In most all types of photography, the quality of light is the most important factor in creating a superior image vs. one that’s just ho-hum. There’s no such thing as “bad light”, but you always need to match the light with the subject matter to produce the best results. For wide landscape images, side lighting reveals a lot more depth in the scene. For this reason, most nature and landscape photographers don’t make photographs of landscapes during the middle of the day, because the light is harsh and unflattering on the land. In nature photography, you’re working with natural light, and the time of day makes all the difference in producing a winning photograph.

Photo critique: Statue of Liberty

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This photo was submitted by Christy Tebsherani. I like the simplicity of the composition. The Statue is portrayed cleanly and strongly. I like that it’s centered, but I wonder if it might be a bit more dynamic if the Statue was placed more to the right, so the flame of the torch is perfectly centered. Might be worth trying some different cropping.

Overall the image is pretty flat and lacking “pop”. This is due to the lighting conditions and atmospheric haze, neither of which renders the Statue in its most flattering light. You might try adjusting the contrast to help overcome this. Generally speaking, though, a subject like this will look its best with strong sidelight, which would add depth and drama. Shooting at the end of the day just before sunset would be a good approach.

I couldn’t adequately evaluate the sharpness of the image; it’s pretty low resolution and there are significant artifacts from the JPG compression. However, there does appear to be some color noise that could be reduced with noise reduction controls like those found in Adobe Lightroom.

Overall this is a clean, strong composition. It could have been improved with better weather and lighting conditions. Thanks for submitting your photo, Christy!

Photo Critique: Child Portrait

© Becky Bourget. Click for larger image

This photo was submitted by Becky Bourget for critique. This is an engaging photo that conveys the spirit of the child. Overall the image looks very sharp and properly exposed. I like that you used a wide aperture to produce a shallow depth of field that keeps the child’s face sharp but blurs the background.

The first place my eyes go when looking at the image is the child’s nose/mouth area, then the eyes. Then the hand on the cap. All these graphic elements are near the center of the frame, which is OK in this case… when you want to show symmetry (such as with a human face), placing elements in the center of the frame emphasises this. The photo would be more appealing if the child was smiling.

My eye then goes to the graphic on the shirt, which has lots of color contrast and interesting shapes and lines. To some degree, the graphic on the shirt fights against the kid’s face for attention. I think the image would have been stronger with either a different shirt or a composition that minimized the shirt’s effect.

The shadows on the top part of kid’s face are a bit problematic. The light is quite harsh and contrasty. You can handle this by using fill flash to add light into the dark areas. When shooting outdoors in bright sunlight, using flash can make a big difference on the overall quality of light in in a photo. It looks like there may be a small amount of fill flash used; using a stronger amount of flash would balance the highlights and shadows, and would also create more prominent catchlights in the eyes.

One trick you can use when shooting outdoors in harsh light is to use a large diffuser to create softer, shadowed light for the subject. Placing a diffuser to the upper right of the subject would create much more flattering light. You can also use a reflector to bounce into shadow areas.

Lastly, the dark elements in the background are somewhat distracting, especially because they are at or near the edges of the frame. Always keep an eye out for distracting elements along the edges and corners of the frame. In this case, the strong contrast between the light tan background and the dark blobs draws the eye away from the main subject. The photo would be stronger if these are eliminated; you can do this with software, but in the future you can improve your compositions by watching for these distracting elements and reframing the shot to remove them.

I think you’re on the right track; the image could be improved with just a little refinement of the composition and the manipulation of light to reduce contrast on the face and brighten the eyes.

Thanks for submitting your photo!

Photo critique – Barn by Kevin Travis

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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.