Critique Photos Ruthlessly
What’s wrong with this picture?
Never be afraid to critique photos — yours or anyone else’s. Carefully examining photos to assess lighting, composition, layout, design, mood — anything and everything about them — educates you and helps you shoot better in the future. Be your own worst critic.
The above barn image doesn’t exactly excite me, even though I loved the barn and the setting at the time I took this shot. But let’s be honest. It’s rather boring. I tried to give it some context by framing it on the right side to show the forested canyon and rolling hills behind it, but it’s not enough. There’s also not enough depth-of-focus to show the background sharply.
I also don’t like that the foreground hill cuts off the barn’s anchor, it’s connection with the world. Floating or hovering subjects make more sense if they’re birds or planes, not barns.
The power lines are a distraction. So is the silver horse trailer and old snowmobile. Finally, the lighting doesn’t exactly make things sparkle. Shadows on the right create a bit of mystery and give it some depth, but the right edge seems too abrupt to let that play out. There’s no room for the eye to wander and search that mystery.
Try, Try Again. Keep Shooting New Angles
Whenever I feel as if my first efforts left something to be desired, I try again. If you’re serious about a subject, work it. Examine it high and low, left and right. See the potential and work it, baby, work it. This second attempt to capture the barn isn’t perfect, but works a lot better. The strong foreground field with its planted rows gives great context, visually explaining that this is cultivated land, not pasture, so the barn may be superfluous. Indeed, it was empty, no longer needed to shelter horses or cattle. The far wheat stubble on the right and the yellow trees informs viewers that this is autumn, and the skyline mountain range suggests we aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.
I’m not crazy about the near-center location of the barn. I should probably have cropped harder on the left, maybe just up to the edge of the barn’s shadow. I did elevate it near the top third of the frame, but that, too, could be a smidgeon higher. So let’s make it that way…
Digital Manipulation to the Rescue
One of the benefits of digital imaging is the ease in manipulating pictures. In the old days we did this with enlargers, paper and chemicals in a dark room. Now we do it on computers. I use nothing but a simple image manipulation program, something called Preview on my Mac. With it I reframed this shot and added more saturation and contrast. Maybe too much. But the picture certainly has better balance and more punch now.
Before we conclude, notice how my new, elevated shooting position atop the field lets more of the forested canyon behind the barn show. This position gives the barn a solid anchor to the earth, too. I could still do without the horse trailer, power poles and lines, but this is the real world, not an idealized postcard of what we think rural America should look like. Well, not too idealized.
We’ll do more of these critiques in future blogs and eventually invite you to contribute your images to our ego bruising assessments. For now, just critique your photos with an eye toward improving your work. You’ll be glad you did.
Ron Spomer “Hunt Honest, Shoot Straight”