Professional critique of reader-submitted photos (Edition #1)
By Judah S. Harris
- Submission info at the end of the post
- Read past editions of A Second Look in the ARCHIVE
The door itself is interesting, a solid - no doubt heavy - piece of wood, with ornamental qualities, that shows signs of age, though nothing from antiquity. The photographer was intrigued and we can be too. Is this a house, some other sort of dwelling? The problem with photos that have a wide range of exposure - is that we often have to choose what to expose for (or the camera decides for those working in Automatic). In terms of visual interest, the door is certainly more important than the stone walls (which remain dark), but notice the leg in the background. Someone is sitting there and we don't have enough information to be satisfied. I find it a bit distracting.
There's really not enough happening in the photo. Ideally, there'd be some other element to contend with - a person, or even a piece of furniture. Or, compose the shot and allow a view of the door and also something outside, perhaps a tree or group of people. A mule if we're lucky. A lucky mule! One of the tests of a quality photograph is its lasting power. How long can we be entranced - seconds or minutes? Good subject here, but we need more.
Maybe the background is too in focus, but I think it's OK - as it's a busy photo in general, with lots of texture and lines. The human element - this woman - is strong enough (dominant enough) to keep our focus. There's mood here and the "real" environment - as opposed to some uncluttered backdrop - suggests something that is unposed and that prods us to look more deeply, maybe wonder what the woman is thinking, certainly what she is doing out in the natural surroundings. The hat is positioned as we'd imagine it, the wisps of hair add to the reality sense here in the photo. Maybe it's windy. Maybe she's warm - we actually care (we've connected with the subject, an accomplishment).
I think the lines are great. They run across her clothing, her face, her arms. What are they from? I was provided with some info about the photo from the person who submitted it, that this is an archaeological site. The woman has gloves (unfortunately cut off - would like to see more of the hands) and the lines are clearly from some tent or tarp in the field that stands alongside. The photo makes us think and figure it out.
Sunsets are often nice to look at in real life, but not always in photographs. They don't necessarily translate well. Most life experience don't translate well into a two-dimensional pictorial medium. When sunsets do succeed, it's because there's some impressive splash of color that helps the person looking at the photo imagine that the person taking the photo was enamored with some good stuff at the end of day, inches away from nightfall and darkness. When sunsets do work, it's also because there's more happening in the photo besides the sunset. There's a semblance of the natural environment and possibly people. This makes it more real and detailed. Colored skies we have seen before, but when it's in a certain context there's more to impress. This photo is nice because we can partake of a lot of sky and also a lot of land - a wide view. The land portion is not too dark. We see human habitat, the topography of this particular place in contrast to some other location (think landing in LA at night - I've done it a few time, a grid of lights, nothing that looks like this).
The buildings here are intriguing in their own right. I look closely and they seem to be new constructions. There is building going on. Truth be told, I would like something happening in the foreground. A portrait of two people, or a man and his dog, a shepherd and his or her sheep (give me an ice cream vendor - anything!). That addition would make for a great photo. It's a little bare without, but at least there are a number of elements in place that can, in a next sunset attempt, be built upon. I do like the brown hues of the land.
There's something here that calls attention. The soldier's eyes are closed and she is looking downwards. There's a subtle smile, or a pleasant expression on her face. She is ever-slightly resting, has closed her eyes probably just for a moment or two. It could be the heat, the sun. People who've seen this scene will find it familiar, not unusual. All of us can wonder for a moment where she is standing. The building could be a canteen on a base or somewhere on route (It's not a home - for a variety of reasons). The composition could be improved upon, but the way it is still pulls us in enough.
If someone would tell me that the subject of the photo is the young woman, I'd say that's correct, but a real close second (and maybe an equal) is the long strap of the rifle. It's dominant in the picture and parallels the shoulder flaps, the pocket flaps, the belt and other folds in her clothing. The strength of this photo is not just the fact that we see a woman with a gun - again, for many of us not unusual - it's that the gun and the strap is quite large relative to her size. We can imagine she stands with it for some hours. That we wonder more means the photo has indeed caught our interest.
If a picture makes you smile, that's a good thing. It's hard to get pets to pose, look at the camera. But sometimes they're curious and eye-contact is made. The angle here is from a standing position. The photographer didn't need to get down (on all fours!) to photograph the pet. Not adjusting our position is the easy way out, I think, but at least there is enough visual info to stop us and have us enjoy the picture. Without the "kosher" wording on the bone, the image wouldn't have the same quality. It's a visual bit of humor or playfulness. But even without the wording, the bone actually does a pretty good job. It's big and it's colorful, a nice contrast to the large amounts of black on the dog's fur. I like that we see the paws sticking out below the toy bone, which makes the bone seem all the bigger.
S. N. Busch
The person who took this photo asked it it matters that the top and bottom are somewhat cut off, a portion of the helmet and a small amount of the wheel. Where to crop a photo is part of the composition process. Sometimes we have no choice, or we have possible choices and we decide one way or the other (making maybe a right choice or maybe a wrong choice). I'll mention quickly that the photographer - or someone else - can also crop the photo later, during the editing or "presentation" stage (if the picture is being published in some form or displayed). They might have another idea of how to "frame that photo" after having more time to consider options. That which was cropped out at the time the photo was taken, of course can't be put back.
The "where to crop" question comes up with people and parts of the body. Usually we don't crop off parts of the face, but we might crop the very top of a head. We crop limbs at certain places where it's more pleasing or comfortable to the viewer. I see a lot of photos that are cropped improperly. I'm not concerned mostly about the extra space, when cropped too wide. I'm more concerned with that which is left out, for instance a part of a hand, leg, table, door, or something else in the photo that needs to be there for the visual comfort of the viewer or overall effectiveness of the photo.
Back to the photo of the girl on the bike... It's fine. Cropping tight can bring us closer to the subject and not let us wander too far. In this image it also makes it seem like the subject is progressing towards us. The problem with the photo is that the rest of the information doesn't support the movement. She is not riding "on the open road" where we can partake of some of the path of travel. The wall in the background is not interesting; the irrigation hose unwanted. Better would be to choose a different angle, or bring the subject to another location nearby. Shoot from a lower angle to remove some of the background emphasis. If the picture is about activity, show what will convey that activity. Cropping will help, but only if the ingredients needed are present. I do like the intense expression on her face.
This is an interesting door. Decorative and pretty. Photos that show us something new or different win more of our attention than photos that show us the usual. And that's the challenge of photography - to show even the usual, familiar - even mundane - in a somewhat novel way. I like the details here, the colors of the floral and fruit elements. The metal work is nice too - so I thank the photo for showing me this.
What I would prefer, though, is a closer look. The photographer could have taken this general shot and then looked further, focused on parts of the door. That would be more interesting from a photographic standpoint. It would exhibit the photographer's skill at choosing what to show us. There are many options within this larger encompassing image. If the assignment was to photograph the whole door, well "mission accomplished." That is not the assignment, however. There is a lot here to work with and that takes some thought and patience to spend the time and look, then look again.
This photo has strong graphic quality. Silhouettes offer that and here we have a large group of people, easily identified because of their hats. The hats add some more shape elements to the picture.
I am not sure about the sun. On the one hand it places the scene, but sans it we'd have only the human forms to contend with. They have enough drawing power. As an aside, never stare at the sun directly and especially through a lens that can magnify. You can include the sun in the photo, but frame it without looking at it. Sunsets too are problematic. Staring off into the sunset sounds nice, but various forms of damage can take place depending on length of exposure.
I would prefer to have more defined forms on the left and right. That would strengthen this photo. Another thing I'd like to see, is the same scene with some more detail visible - details of the clothing or faces. In real life, this scene was not as dark. The sun confused the camera and the exposure is not enough (maybe the photographer intended it this way). We still can have silhouettes, but offer some more gradations and visual information. When we look at the photo and see the human forms, we do notice one person who stands out - the fellow wearing tefillin. This adds a bit of contrast to the picture.
Here's an interesting location - and the address of the building is even written on the wall on the right, in case someone wants to look it up. I think I'd like to explore here. There's enough in the photo to suggest that there is more to be seen and worked with (as photographers we always seek good subject matter).
The image has depth to it. We're led into the picture - all the way to a figure who is wearing a talis. I think that is what the photographer found of interest, which is why I'm not so pleased that the head is bent down and that the white of the shawl blends into the background of white wall. I don't propose a solution, given that the talis is white, but a stronger contrast in tones would have added a lot and pulled us to the distance, kept us their longer. Perhaps the photographer could have moved in somewhat closer to help us connect more with the subject in the distance. It's a trade off, as we would lost some of the foreground. If the subject would have turned to face the camera, then we'd have someone in the photo to contend with. It might also be the start of a portrait.
Read past editions of A Second Look in the ARCHIVE
Have a technical or art-related question about photography that you'd like answered in this column? Send your photo question to [email protected] (put "photo question" at the start of your subject line). Select questions will be chosen for publication. Be sure to include your name and city.
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Janglo invites readers to submit their best photographs for professional critique and comment. A selection Will be chosen for each column. Photographer and filmmaker Judah S. Harris offers honest and valuable feedback to strengthen picture-taking skills, plus shares some of his philosophy on the art of photography and visual communication.
Readers may submit up to 5 photographs at one time
Photographs should not have overlay of text or design
Images should be at least 1200px in width
All images must have been taken in Israel
Technical information is not required, but may be included
Send everything to [email protected]
About our columnist...
Judah S. Harris is a photographer, filmmaker, speaker and writer based in Jerusalem and New York. A noted photo educator and founder of Judah S. Harris Photo Workshops, he teaches group workshops and offers one-on-one coaching sessions for all skill levels. Judah's eloquent narrative photography has been featured on the covers of more than 40 works of literary fiction, in advertising all over the world, and on the pages of a variety of Jewish and general publications ranging from The New York Times to Mishpacha Magazine.