This is an exciting new style of post for me. Last week I asked you to submit your photos for me to critique – and wow thanks for all your submissions. I am sorry I can’t include everyone. I hope you though will get some good tips from this, and I’ll do another one of these again soon.
Before I get started though I wanted to offer up a quote that I came across that really spoke to me:
“I think the main thing a musician would like to do is give a picture to the listener of the many wonderful things that he knows of and senses in the universe. That’s what music is to me—it’s just another way of saying this is a big, beautiful universe we live in, that’s been given to us, and here’s an example of how magnificent it is. That’s what I would like to do. I think that’s one of the greatest things you can do in life and we all try to do it in some way. The musician’s is through his music.” John Coltrane
I just thought this was such a beautiful way of expressing the purpose of any art form – that you are expressing your feelings about this magnificent world, and it’s filtered by who you are, what you know and what you sense in the universe.
I am an advocate for finding inspiration for your mind and creativity from all sources. In fact one of the cool things my wife and I did this weekend was our favorite pursuit – mooching around in a bookshop. We each found an inspiring book, on very different subjects. My insanely messy wife bought that best selling book about the magic of tidying up and instantly transformed our house. I am quietly holding my breath in excitement because I am tidy, and even though I have come to terms with the fact that my wife is the opposite, I am beyond excited that after 17 years I might start living in a tidy house.
Now that’s inspiring! (Keep your fingers crossed for me please :))
My inspiring book, which is incredible, is The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Signs and Clues. I will do a full write up on this because it’s just the most perfect book for people interested in observation – us photographers!
Now let’s get to your photos! I’d like to start by saying my opinion is only my opinion. Not fact. Everyone has different ideas about what they like. So please take my tips with a pinch of salt, as they say, and only take on advice that feels right to you. You are on your own journey with photography – it’s totally unique to who you are. Advice that feels right usually is the one to follow.
My initial thought was – beautiful light!
To crop or not to crop? The question Johnny asked me was if a crop would improve this shot. He felt that the photo was missing a dynamic element. Would it have been improved by cropping? Well I’m afraid not. I’ll explain.
For me there are two interesting elements here. Can you guess what they are?
The beautiful light and the shadow of the lamp. But that is not enough to make the scene interesting. There are too many other un-interesting elements in this photo that are distracting the eye – the flat grey wall, the busy pavement – the eye is just bouncing all over the place with nowhere to land.
Now the lamp is interesting – but it’s too small of an element to make enough impact. I can also see the appeal of the shape the light is making on the wall, but still it isn’t enough to create a strong enough impact.
How to improve? What to me would have made a more interesting photo is to have got much closer to the light and the shadow of the lamp. I would have probably stood right next to the scooter and played with the lamp’s shadow, the texture of the mailboxes and that beautiful light on the wall. Making it a much simpler, less busy shot.
When you find a captivating element – like the light on the wall – try not to get blinded by it. Look around you, what other elements are present in your composition? Which elements add and which subtract. If you can’t get a strong composition then move around.
Colour: Steve said he was very drawn to the colours of the bamboo and sticks, and I agree, there are some lovely tones, colours and textures here. Plus the water adds a nice contrast.
But for me, the angle is wrong. Can you guess what I am going to suggest would be a better angle?
Well if you look at what’s going on here, there are some great, well ordered lines. And you know what the eye loves very much – order and patterns. So I would have gone down and to the left, shooting laterally. I would have wanted to get the green bamboo running lines straight down the photo, converging at the end into the fountain. Then you’d have this great lines of the sticks with the round bowls at the end. Super cool! All of these lines would have created a way for the eye to be lead through the photo.
Then you would get along the bottom of the photo a very lovely, soothing contrast to all that order – water.
Wider angle lens: I would have shot this on a 50mm or 35mm and decreased the focus to increase the depth of field, so that the focus drops off before the end of the lines.
Now undoubtedly composition can’t be fixed after the fact. So all of these points that I am making are about what you could do next time, how you can start to developing better ways of seeing and creating compelling compositions.
We are always in a state of learning, and improving, it’s a journey for us all.
If you have these kinds of issues then I recommend you read my post on positioning and angles.
This is a simple image, and I love simplicity, so my advice is very simple! I like the position of this, and I like the odd shadow – I think that is an interesting element.
Way to improve? I would crop it into portrait format. There is too much space that is draining the photo of the impact of the woman, shadow and sun. Take out both left and right, keep the woman centred, and see how that works. What do you think?
There is some beautiful colour, weather, elements and light here. But this as composition isn’t working for me I’m afraid. Here are my thoughts.
Small elements can be distracting: The bird (a bit like the lamp in the earlier photo) is an interesting element but it’s too small. It’s so small it’s distracting to the eye. You would need to either make that a much bigger element, by using a longer focal length, zooming in and perhaps getting some more abstract and interesting play between the water, the sky behind and the bird. Or get rid of the bird. I would not recommend a crop for this one as it would be too large and really degrade image quality
Editing: This is a very interesting photo for me for a totally different reason. I am thinking this is part of series of shots and there is one in the series that is much better. Almost all photographers will do this – pick the wrong shot out of the series. I know I do this, and that’s why there is always someone else involved in my edits – an editor, my wife, client etc.
Why do we often pick the wrong shot? This really comes down to a classic case of the photographer being so caught up in the moment that being objective is really hard. I would guess that the bird distracted Phil and made him think this is the best one. I think there is a better one. Remember when editing to distance yourself from the emotions you had when creating the photo.
And if you have to explain the shot in any way – then it’s definitely not creating the impact it needs to. Photos should always be able speak for themselves.
How to improve? If you have a series of shots of the same subject get all of your photos that you’ve taken of the subject and lay them out on a table (yes print them! It creates a totally different relationship with your photos.) Now you want to try to look at them objectively. Ask someone else to join you. Spend some time thinking about – which photo creates the most emotional impact (ie. which photo makes you feel something, anything, but something). Which composition is the most engaging? Which photo is your eye most naturally drawn to?
Sometimes I like to put my photos away for a few weeks then come back to them fresh.
I looked at Cathy’s first image a little while ago for the online critiquing webinar I did, and she sent me this second image for this critique. To me this perfectly illustrates a point I made above about how in a series of shots the photographers first choice isn’t usually the best one. I definitely prefer this second photo.
Good positioning: This second image of Cathy’s tractor pleases me because she has explored different angles with this scene. When you find something interesting like this you should always, always explore different angles in order to find the best one.
This is a better angle than the first image because the light is more controlled from this position. Shot later in the day the light is more gentle and soft and warmer, which contrasts nicely with all the green. The light is just superior in the second image, and she hasn’t had to work on it as much in Lightroom to reduce the contrast. I also think this is a nice angle.
Interesting elements: There are three interesting elements here for me – an old tractor that is being gradually reclaimed by the nature all around it, the beautiful dappled light and the subtle colours of the tractor.
How to improve? I would have preferred a wider f-stop to have a less depth of field to make it more subjective focusing.
When I was sent this Jean kindly included all of the technical information about how he took the photo, the lens and camera and what processing he’d done.
Those that know me know I am a deep lover of tech knowledge. I mean I just spent a week in the South of France teaching things like how to shoot without a light metre and giving my workshop participants differently textured blue balls and challenged them to shoot them in different light conditions. Tech knowledge (of any kind) is usually what I get on my phones news feed – so it’s the first thing I consume each day.
But, you probably know what I am going to say next right? Tech skills mean nothing if you don’t have an interesting composition. The composition in this photo is I’m afraid far too confusing and there isn’t a clear subject.
I’m not sure what to look at; the woman walking away, the group of men, the bicycle, the street sign? All these elements are disjointed, no interplay or relationships are being built. I walk around a lot and see scenes like this and say to myself “wow, what an awesome evening!” But the “awesome shot” doesn’t come together until I start to see in my mind the relationships between all the elements I am looking at.
This is a street scene of humans. And any photo of humans has to have a human, emotional connection within them. In this photo the eye is mostly drawn to the group of men to the left. This is the real subject of the photo. But one of the subject’s has his back to us (this is the second back in the photo, backs are not easy to photograph well by the way), which almost gives of the impression of disdain in the subject, that the subject was disinterested in being photographed (if they were aware at all).
How to improve?
Interaction. Get much closer to that group of men. Make it about them, either engage with them somehow, or observe them in their interactions and wait for a moment when they express something. Patience is what this shot needs.
When photographing groups of people you are looking to capture an intimate moment, something that reveals something about their dynamic, or the experience they are having, or often a comedic moment. It’s a group of men after all, men love a bit of fun in groups right?
To get more impact and feeling from your subject I would recommend you read my Photographer’s Manifesto and getting more out of your street subjects I would look at both my post about angles and photographing strangers.
Now as a broad piece of advice to everyone – nothing will save an un-interesting composition. Sorry. Let’s go back to that John Coltrane quote where he says that music is,
“just another way of saying this is a big, beautiful universe we live in, that’s been given to us, and here’s an example of how magnificent it is.”
Photo’s should be taken in the same spirit. Find a subject or scene that really deeply and truly makes you think ‘wow’ and then start from there. The rule of composition are pretty easy to learn, but the subject has be one that the photographer feels deeply interested in. It has to provoke a feeling of – I want to share this with the world.
Now that’s it for today’s critique. I really really hope it was helpful for the photographers who submitted – very bravely – to have their photos critiqued. And that it was helpful to the rest of you all.
If you have any comments to add to mine about these photos – especially if you have different ideas about how they could be improved – please comment below.
And if you are the photographer and you’d like to reply on my feedback, also please comment below. Even if you disagree, photography – like all art – is subjective!
Have an awesome week and happy photographing,
Anthony and Diana