Professional critique of reader-submitted photos (Edition #3)
By Judah S. Harris
- Submission info at the end of the post
- Read past editions of A Second Look in the ARCHIVE
As with many photos taken in poor lighting conditions (here an overcast, rainy day), with cellphones or cameras not held properly or set properly, this photo when enlarged is not sharp enough (this photo was taken with a Canon Rebel DSLR). Only a smaller-size version is reproduced on this page, but if one look at the larger image, as submitted, we can see that the sharpest part is in the foreground, and yet the important part of the photo is in the distance - the main subject lies there.
Let's talk about the image, though, as I chose it because it represents what the photographer found to be of interest - enough to take the picture, enough to submit it to this column. This is Mea Shearim - the street is known to many and the girl with her braids, as well as the outfit, including darker leggings, typifies the way that young girls dress here. What stands out is the pink umbrella. It offers an additional color in an environment that has a lot of black and white, and some other colors, but usually not an abundance of pink. This doesn't mean we won't find pink, mint, or light blues, it's just that Mea Shearim dress is not the place to expect Caribbean Island colors. The reasons are many - having to do with, to a large degree, modesty as well as what the environment and climate offers as inspiration. Women in this Jerusalem area are overwhelmingly more likely to sport colors than men are, but many also dress in the darker black or gray tones and when colors appear, they are simple print patterns. Children have more latitude.
The pink umbrella has to be understood in this context. It's not just of interest because of its appearance on a non-sunny day, but also because of the neighborhood. What I would prefer is a closer view of the girl and the umbrella - not too close that we lose the distance which provides anonymity and shows some of the path she's walked along, but closer to be able to be more connected to the umbrella. I also am not satisfied with the distracting white garbage bag on the left which takes me away from the girl and her umbrella. The rain has spilled it over, but it doesn't help facilitate the feelings we are looking to gain from the main subjects in the image.
This was taken quickly - as the photographer noticed the moment - but if at all possible it's best to work the situation and to be aware of the other dominant items in the photo. I doubt she wanted to show the contrast between the main subject and what I term distracting elements. Garbage in a scene is a problem in many situations. We have here soaked cardboard in the extreme foreground, what was once a corrugated cardboard box or sheet. Photographers are not expected to pick up every piece of visible debris (we can pick up some if it is easy enough and essential enough), rather just to reframe the image to exclude things that detract and also don't reflect well on the neighborhood (this is an issue in many neighborhoods).
Here the photographer should have gotten closer to the girl, followed her and also waited for the person in the distance to be more in sight (notice the dark-figured person walking towards us?). A photo should draw our eyes around the scene, offer more than one thing to look at. We can be drawn into the distance more if we have additional figures that we can make out. This requires (1) being aware of what is happening throughout the scene, (2) anticipating what might happen, and (3) being patient to get the shot. This is something that every photographer needs to keep in mind at all times, in order to increase the chances of obtaining successful photos.
I look at this photo and I'm brought right into the story - two men involved in something, and then we see it's a game of chess. Whenever the subjects of a photo (usually people, but it could also be animals) are immersed in something, we as the viewers also become immersed in the picture and curious as to what they are doing and thinking. Immersion is conveyed clearly by the glance of the men towards the game board, the hands resting on their heads and face, and the fact they are sitting forward in their chairs. I happen to also find the chairs interesting - the plastic and the angular shape of the metal frame. There's really nothing in this photo that can distract us from the main event. The room is stark - offering a very clean background. The men are isolated in this white room and it's almost as if they're playing their game of chess on a cloud.
Once a photo is easily readable, we invariably start to look for other things. We might focus our sights on the game pieces, who is winning or what stage they're at in the game, though the pieces are a bit too remote to make it out. What is noticeable when we look closer are the tan shoes of the man on the right. The brown adds a new color to the lower area of the photo and also relates to the brownish chessboard and the paper or Styrofoam cup, as well as the faces of the men.
If we want to read even further into the picture, the man on the left is backed up against the wall. He can't go back any further, and it's almost as if his opponent is pushing him into a corner. But we don't know this to be true, so it remains an added visual element to think about and at least be aware of, and this visual metaphor may show itself more truthfully in a different image we encounter.
In photography when two or more people are doing the same thing, a sense of the activity becomes more blatant. This would make sense. The viewer looks at the photo and sees the unity of involvement between characters, and there's also symmetry at play (a separate topic). We bounce between the people and wherever we turn, they are doing something similar.
Here we have two to contend with. We look at the person on the right and then turn to the left, then back to the right (some may see it the opposite way). And then we pull back and notice a person who is sitting behind them, hands folded. We don't see a face, only a part of the body and the hands. That reinforces the photo as being about the two men with their books; it frames the photo and pushes us forward to pay attention to the two men. It supports our understanding that this is on the bus, adds believability to the scene, almost like the function of an extra on a movie set. After moving forward to pay attention to the two men, we come back to look at the hands, but then head back to the two men who are holding the books, involved in their activity.
Actually, they are not doing the same exact thing. The photographer pointed out that she thinks that the chasidic man is saying Tehillim (Psalms), while the other, of Litvishe background (non-chasidic, referring to a right-wing ideology), is learning. The page layout and knowing what people do on the bus or while waiting for one seems to support that, but that's already getting into what inspired her to take the photo, and the fact that they both are reading in some form provides enough unison. The photographer, with her submission, actually commented on the differences, how she finds each person so distinct yet identical. She "marveled" at this moment of commitment and others she sees on the buses, or of the people she observes waiting for them while using their time to read or to pray.
The photo does need to be lighter, the metal pole behind the man on the right is not desirable, and the overall quality of the iPhone 7 image is nowhere near professional standards when we look at in full dimension, as I have. But the photographer admits that she cant offer that, rather something that inspires her: "I have no photographic skills but I think I have an eye for a certain perspective." The moment can inspire and noticing moments is a needed skill for photography - more important initially than technical precision.
This photo falls into the fashion genre. I browsed a lot of photos that this photographer shared with me, and what she photographs are couples with their kids, children alone and other portraits of people outside, and what seem to be her friends posing in various available environments, sporting assorted outfits. With her submission, she described herself as an "aspiring photographer" and in her hashtags she indicates that she is a fashion blogger and striving for photos with "attitude." The outfit in this shot and those in some others she's taken are from a Jerusalem clothing boutique.
A lot of the images of this photographer that impart or embody "attitude" need some enhancements to raise them to a higher place. The photographer tries various poses and does find some interesting "props" to work with, having her models leaning against textured stone walls, or sitting on outdoor public benches, or framed thought metal bars or slats. She finds potential backdrops with ease and has fun with light and shadow, clearly aware of the potential of the environment for the picture. She also has fun with her models, likes people, and they seem to respond to her well. Composition and believability are the next things to work on (even "attitude" shots, which are somewhat contrived, should employ believeability, where the images don't call attention to affected posing of the model or a fashion pout or coy expression, to the exclusion of the overall feeling of character and place being imparted in the image).
I feel the photograph here is one of her more successful shots. It's cropped very well right above the girl's eyes, focusing our attention to that area. The red lipstick, the lips, and the red flowers are all connected - the only real dominant color in the photo - and it's a believable moment, with some of the requisite "attitude" that the photographer likes (the pattern of the dress also offers the same). The contrast of soft fabric and the metal steps also helps.
To judge a successful photograph, we ask ourselves "Can we connect?" - to the moment, the person, anything. We don't want to be wondering instead about why the person is posed this way or that, or be bothered by an expression or choice of composition. It all has to blend together to allow us to partake of the image and grasp what the photographer found appealing, even if not presented to us yet in perfect form.
Where is this, we might wonder? But the answer is right there in the photo - the boy with tefillin on his head indicates that we're at the Kotel (for those familiar with the area) and the women are standing behind the stone separation that divides the larger plaza expanse from the men's and women's prayer sections of the Wall. This photograph is from the 1980s. It's possibly from a scanned slide, given when it was taken, that it was taken by an avid photographer, and based on the color palette.
The expressions of the two women in the middle are rather engaging. They seem to be sisters. To me they look alike and they also both have, for some reason, red strings around their wrists. The one on the left is more emotional. My assumption is they are watching a bar mitzvah right below, and this woman might in fact be the mother.
What works well here is the framing. The partial faces on the left and right, and even of the boy's head below, convey a reality. We know there's more happening around this scene and we are getting only a cropped view. I like the hands near the faces of the three woman, and all the arms are also visually engaging and perhaps the second-most important subjects in the picture. One other element that helps the photo is the woman in the white kerchief who is rearing her head in back of the woman in the front row. She is peering at whatever interests her and the fact that we don't see all her face, conveys that she has to peer above and beyond those who might be, in part, blocking her view.
The tall broom dates the photo and also makes the photo. Here is a street cleaner resting in a spot in the sun. There's no shade, only shadow visible in the photo. The shadow present accentuates the fact that this is a sunny day, though not the heat of the summer, as the man has a hat and also a jacket, and notice those boots...
The red hat stands out against the many brown tones in the photo. The broom itself is unique and attention getting - something we don't see anymore and the size and tall vertical line of the handle works well with the vertical composition of the photo. The photographer might have moved in closer, but that he took the picture from a distance allows us to understand the man in the context of his environment. He doesn't dominate and we don't lose context - we see the street he has been cleaning, part of it. Because we observe the man resting, together with the tool of his trade, we can relate to some degree to the man's fatigue and can imagine easily that he has been working for a number of hours and has some hours ahead of him (otherwise he would have probably headed home).
A photograph should strive to show us something new (or something familiar but in a new way). That's not easy given the amount of imagery we see daily. We know about street cleaners and know about midday naps, but this photo is successful in sharing something not as familiar - and so much of that hinges on that wonderful broom. We won't find a scene like that anymore. Only in this photo.
A photograph from Judah S. Harris...
Judah S. Harris
When I walked into one of the rooms of an older period home at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut, I noticed these chairs and became very enthused with the lines - not just of the chairs, but the window in back. As this is a a museum setting and also because the display is roped off, I couldn't touch anything, let alone move any furniture. But what I could do is move myself.
I tell my photography students that we can't move trees, can't move walls, and often can't even move people into a different position (if photographing candidly), but we are able to move ourselves in a number of directions to adjust the perspective. Here it's all about the lines - though the furniture is also quite interesting - and although there's a lot going on here with the many lines at different distances, and in different directions, it all comes together. A busy photo, in some respects, but a satisfying one.
Last week at a private home in Jerusalem, Jewish International Community (JIC) Israel held a summer event to raise funds for their many programs that take place in Israel that help people connect. There were close to 100 guests who mingled in the yard and inside the house, partaking of food and talk and a nice ambiance ranging from planted sunflowers to art pieces adorning the walls. I provided photography of the event.
Jewish International Connection Israel 2018 Fundraising Dinner
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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?
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Janglo invites readers to submit their best photographs for professional critique and comment. A selection Will be chosen for each weekly 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.
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