Exploring Fine Art Photography


“Hi Professional Photo Critique, 

Lisa here from Paper Hearts Photography (previously Bliss Photography). I am currently trying to change up my style in my work to reflect a more fine art photography look in my images. I have always loved the darker, more artsy type images but wanted to wait a few years to dip into it so I can get the experience I needed with basic photography to obtain the goal I want in my work. So each month I am going to set up and shoot a different themed session. This month I started with what I call, “FOREST”.

So now I am hoping to get some feed back on my images and see what I can do to improve what I am going for exactly. Please note I do use overlays and actions in my work to try to give it a darker look and I have decreased the contrast a bit.”


NIKON D7100 50mm f1.8 1/4000 ISO 400


Welcome back to Professional Photo Critique Lisa! I’m so glad you’ve found our online photography critique helpful and are back for another session. It’s nice to see you branching out and doing something “for yourself” by exploring fine art photography. Too many times, as artists, we focus on the images that generate income. We get so busy working to generate imagery that satisfies the needs of others that we forget to satisfy ourselves. Eventually, this will lead to dissatisfaction with photography. Telling other people’s stories is fine, but we also need time to express our own. These singularly unique ideas are what will set us apart from every other photographer out there.

“Concept without execution is like coming up with a beautiful idea for a poem and then misspelling some of the words when you publish it.”

So let’s begin an analysis of your departure into the fine art side of photography. Fine art photography is one of the most difficult genres of photography to define. Even the dictionaries only offer ambiguous references, “photography created to fulfill the vision of the individual professional.” This definition would seem to apply to all commercial photography. I would add that in commercial photography we often have to satisfy the client and in the documentary and photojournalism world, we are trying to be objective. Fine art photography is the only genre where we are 100% free to express ourselves. But that freedom doesn’t always mean an endless outpouring of imagery. More often than not, we are so accustomed to shooting for someone else that we are out of practice when it comes to generating our own unique ideas.

I believe there are three characteristics that are extremely important to achieving success with fine art photography. The first, and probably most important is concept. This is the story you’re attempting to communicate. Having a strong concept behind your piece not only gives the viewer a reason to look, but gives them reasons to continue looking. Your concept will direct your lighting, color palette, composition and all other storytelling elements in your photograph. Whenever you have a question about any element of your photograph, you simply return to your concept and realign yourself.

When viewing your photograph, titled “Forest,” I’m left wondering what the story is. What are you sharing with me and what am I supposed to feel when viewing your image? The first thing I do is look to the model’s face for cues on what I’m supposed to be feeling. Without this interaction, I’m left to roam around the image looking for meaning. And I don’t really find anything. These are questions that I shouldn’t be asking. But they are also questions that you are asking. In your submission, you wrote, “…to obtain the goal I want in my work” and “…what I can do to improve what I am going for exactly.” It seems like you executed a shot without a concept or intent.

A photograph without a concept is simply a pretty picture. There’s nothing wrong with a pretty picture, but in a day when millions of pretty pictures are being uploaded to social media, an image that makes me feel something will stand out in the visual onslaught. A good conceptual photograph will give you enough information to understand the story but it won’t tell you the ending.

An excellent source of inspiration for conceptual photography are our memories, our dreams and nightmares, variations on other photographer’s work, current events and popular and obscure literature. The story is so important that when we do get a vision or have a moment of inspiration, it’s important to write it down. Always carry a notepad or write it in your phone. I like the notepad because I tend to sketch out my ideas so that I can ensure that I retain that visual. A couple of my favorite fine art photographers are Brooke Shaden and Martin Stranka. Shaden is known to sketch out her ideas in much the same way I do, although her sketches are far superior to mine. Each of these artists has achieved a high level of success. Pay special attention to their color palette, their concepts and how their intention and concept are executed to achieve their narrative.


Sketching the ideas that you get so that you don’t forget them is an excellent way to preserve moments of inspiration.


Brooke Shaden


Brooke Shaden


Brooke Shaden


Brooke Shaden

The next element of fine art photography is intent. If concept is your story, intent is the reason you are sharing it. It’s the WHY. Why is this image important to you? What inspired you to press the shutter? Is it cathartic? Are you hoping to share this experience with others? Your intent will inform your choices for framing, lens selection, lighting, composition, posing, etc.

The final trait of fine art photography is execution. If you have a great concept, backed by genuine intention then it would be a shame to stumble with the technical aspects. It’d be like coming up with a beautiful idea for a poem and then misspelling some of the words when you publish it. Sure, you got your point across, but sometimes the errors detract from the potential beauty.


Martin Stranka


Martin Stranka


Martin Stranka


Martin Stranka

I really enjoy your styling, the headdress and bouquet are spectacular. I would expect the story to be just as spectacular and I don’t see it. I’m left with the impression that the story was built around the props, instead of the props being used as elements in the story. A lot of the frame’s information is used to establish the setting or environment. This must be important because there was so much information dedicated to this. But yet, I don’t see a whole lot of justification for this much space around the subject. I believe the subject is supposed to be the center of interest. And that’s where I believe the crop should be.

And if your center of interest is the woman, I think there are a couple of techniques you could utilize to help emphasize that. You can provide separation from the background with contrast (a light subject on a dark background or vice versa). She’s a dark object on a similarly dark background. I think she would stand out more if she’d been placed against the light background behind her. Depth of field would also help to further establish the woman as the center of interest. I know your depth of field is extremely shallow, but you can increase this by pulling the subject away from the competing elements behind her. The last technique I’d suggest for separation is color. You can use complementary color to help bring that subject forward by placing a warm color in the background and cooling the subject down or vice versa. This effect can be achieved with any color on the color wheel, simply choose your color and then head across the color wheel to find that color’s complement. Movie posters regularly utilize color as a means of separation and emphasis.

I love the color palette you chose and I think you created a beautiful image. If this is your beginning, I’m excited to see where this new direction will take you. Congrats on your new direction and we look forward to seeing your new imagery!


Based on your theme ‘FOREST’, I think you clearly represented the connection between the subject and the environment. I like the how the twigs in her headpiece echo the texture of the background. The costume and attention to detail are all present in color palette as well. In your retouching, the added warmth shifts the mood. As a fine art image, I can see this being pushed even further one way or another just in tone. The original image had a cooler feeling, which could send the viewer a message of sadness, isolation or make me wonder more about the subject. Adding the warmth makes me focus more on the connection to the environment in a more positive correlation.

When experimenting with fine art stylized images, I think its worth pushing it a little further, with style, tone, and even separation between the subject and background. The tiniest shift in details of color, texture, form comes loaded with meaning and mood. In addition, I feel that I get a feeling/mood when I look at this image but I still don’t really have enough information, or that I desire to see it pushed further. It appears as if she is holding a dried petal to her chin. It’s hard to make out exactly what is happening. The subjects body language and posturing is crucial in telling me more about this moment. I prefer the message to be subtle, but not lost upon me. Knowing that the theme is ‘FOREST’, perhaps are there more images to help tell the story? Or various images reflecting different moods and places in the forest. This image reflects a space in the forest, but I also envision tall trees, green canopies or even fallen trees when I think of the word forest. There are so many directions to take this further. If you’re going for a warmer feeling, allowing more light into the scene would emphasis that. I see a great start with this image and I want to see more and know more.




Hi Lisa,

Thank you for submitting your work. Being successful through fine art photography can be a very challenging, but personally rewarding experience. That means that the work is very personal to the artist and it can be difficult to find the niche market that it can serve. A focus toward fine art is more than making something look more moody or interesting. Establishing a career in fine art photography means that you have a strong and valid concept. I’m glad that you are looking into a theme of “Forest,” but you’ll need to be able to describe your imagery in more detail than a vague description. What is it about the relationship of the subject (a model) to the location (nature)?  People become interested in fine art for what it says through it’s visuals. What the visuals say about the message is important. How the photo speaks to people and what it says in more important than what it shows.

If you look at the technical aspects of your image, it’s pretty good. There’s a clear center of focus and a nice color aesthetic that informs the mood. It’s not as “dark” as you initially described it, but that may be a difference in the value that you consider “dark”. The time of day with the warmer sunlight in the background doesn’t give it a “darker” mood than if it was during the dusk after sunset. Giving it a colder tone can change the feeling. In regards to the sunshine in the background, it does tend to pull my attention away from the model. Not but much since the model is wearing white, but it does compete for the attention.

The model’s interaction with the surrounding nature gives me some thought with no clear messaging. What does her expression say about the location? Her posture seems unnatural and forced. It sends a message that she was told to “stand here, hold this, put your hand there.” This can be seen in the hand held out and flowers tilted in an awkward position. Consider what you are saying with your model. What is the messaging? What story does the model provide for the audience? is this a forest queen? Is she heartbroken? What is her relationship with the flowers? There is a disassociation with the flowers that could have provided a stronger message.

I would encourage you to look into Alexia Sinclair as there is a subtle influence of her work in this image. But consider how she is responsible for every detail of her work. The gesture, the pose, the framing, the design, the aesthetics; all of it provides a visual work of art. And what does it speak about? It uses aspects of the renaissance art to provide contemporary aesthetics of beauty and fashion. There is a fascination and seduction for the antique of luxury.

I think your image holds my interest, but I encourage you to stay focused on the details of what I am suppose to see from your image. What is the story that I am to know? There are many distractions that take away from the messaging. Is it the model’s attention? No, she is shadowed more than the dress. Is it the flowers? No, they do not have much compositional structure to bring my attention to them. Is it the crown? No, it is lost in the details of the background. Is it the location? No, there is no strong focus to its composition or focal point of interest. All these things are elements of the image, but they are not working to add to the concept. Rather, they pull my attention to a variety of aspects, stories and themes. Thinking more about your messaging can develop a particular criteria that your images will include. This will allow your work to represent a clearer concept and transform it from just an interesting piece of art to a purposeful work of fine art.

Portrait Photography Critique



My name is Andreas Perminow from Norway and I would be grateful for any guidance I can get to improve my photography and retouching. I currently enjoy taking pictures of my kids and family and sometimes take photos of friends and family as well.

Lately I’ve considered taking paying jobs as a photographer, but I´m still uncertain if my skills are at the level they need to be for me to be confident enough to charge someone for my work. It would be great to get an online photography critique in order to help strengthen my confidence. 


EXIF INFO: Canon Eos 6d, 50mm, 1/100, f1.4, ISO 200


Welcome to Professional Photo Critique Andreas! It’s good to see our online photo critique site is reaching people all over the world. I’ve never been to Norway but it’s been on my bucket list for years. Let’s dive into your beautiful image and see if we can’t give you some sound advice.

Let me begin first with where I think you could improve. While I appreciate your use of a warmer tone, I really like the original background. I’d love to see what that would look like if you warmed it up. I understand that there’s a dark pattern in the background on the shadow side of his face. It was a good decision to remove this because it takes depth away from the shot. Light on light and dark on dark generally flatten an image and the exact opposite help give the image depth. So I appreciate the change you made.Another technique that gives the image depth is having a complementary color contrast – this means if you have warm tones in your subject, to have cooler tones in your background.

I really appreciate the organic patterns in the original capture. The locations you find make your image unique (unless of course someone finds the locations where you like to shoot!) and anyone can purchase a digital background set.

The last element of your image I think could be improved is the wardrobe. As photographers, it’s understood that everything that we present in our final image is intentional. Your subject is wearing a white shirt. As a rule of thumb, anything that is brighter in tonality than the subject’s face attracts the viewer’s attention first. It’s best to have your subjects wear something that is less interesting than their face; avoid abstract, interesting designs, lines, patterns and bright colors. What saves your image is that the shirt isn’t incredibly white and you didn’t blow out your highlights.

Your light is fantastic. I love the beautiful catchlights in the little boy’s eyes. They are situated at 10 o’clock and provide an aesthetic lighting pattern on the boy’s face. I really appreciate your choice of warming the color up instead of leaving it colder as in the original capture. I think your depth of field is used to perfection. I enjoy shooting wide open, especially in environmental portraits like this one. Your crop has also improved the image by eliminating unnecessary information and forcing the viewer to engage the portrait’s eyes. The last, and probably most important aspect of this image is your connection with the portrait. The little boy’s expression is fantastic – it’s mischievous and engaging.

And finally, to answer the question posed in your email, I would not hesitate to pay you for your portrait work. You are producing a quality product where you engage with the client, use good light and have a set of Photoshop skills that compliment your photography. You are more than ready to begin making money with your photography. We’d love to see your growth and see some of your work you produce for your clients! Please keep in touch.


I really like a simple, shallow-depth-of-field portrait. The post work on this image has strengthened this portrait in many ways, such as the added warmth and the elimination of distractions in the background. Adding the warm tones makes the image have a much different mood than the original. So depending on the client and purpose of this portrait, one style would be more meaningful than the other. Eliminating the various shapes and tones in the background creates an even background that makes the focus stay directly on the subject, and the nice sharp focus on the eyes.

As for the other post work done on this image, such as the skin retouching and color choice of the background I have some considerations. I happen to prefer a less retouched skin. That is a personal preference that I have. Many clients want that work done, and will choose you as a photographer for that work. The background, I am not drawn to that color. The background tone is too similar to the skin tone that it blends all together. In addition to that, since the background is so clean and now warm, it makes it look like a backdrop instead of an environment. I don’t know your intention, but I prefer having a sense of separation between the subject and background as well as a sense of space/environment. If I was shooting on location, I may in this situation moved my subject slightly so that I wouldn’t have to face as many background distractions. Then from that point forward I would have approached the post edit of the background differently. I would have left the uneven background, if subject was place more methodically in the environment, as well as keep the tone similar to what it is now. I am drawn to the warm skin in a cooler, cyan background. The two colors work together very harmoniously together. Again this comes down to personal style and what your client is interested in.



Hi Andreas and thank you for you submission. I don’t spend much time post-processing opting for getting it in camera, but I do appreciate someone with a good skill to improve the look of an otherwise bland image.

I think you’ve done a lot to this image to improve it. I really like the decision to warm the image as it adds a bit a life into the youth’s smile. The warmer tones adds a more elated feeling toward the subject. This matches with the subject’s expression as it does not reflect a more dramatic and thoughtful style.

There has been a lot of work done to remove the distractions in the background. This brings focus back to the subject. There seems to have been a lot of cloning used to removed these distractions. This appears to have caused a bit of blotching in the background. You can see the blemishes in the gradient on the right corner of the frame as well as the top left corner and left side. The transitions are not as smooth as they should be and the pattern is not as uniformed as it could be. You may consider shooting a smaller section of the wall that can be used as a background plate and then overlaying the subject on top of that image. This would alleviate some of the banding issues while retaining the same lighting aesthetics to the image.

The original image appears to be lit only by a nice window light. The natural light is nice and soft. If you are paying attention to details as a retoucher then you want to understand the locations of the bright and dark areas and their relationship to the viewer. The highlights are pulled forward while the shadows are pulled back in the attention for the viewer. What this means is the brightest spot of the image is what you give attention to. For this image, the brightest area is located on the side of the face to the left of the subject’s eyes. The darker area to the right of the frame pulls the focus from the center of both eyes to the left. Consider brightening just a little bit of the right side to bring back the focus. Or darkening the cheek to draw the attention to the eyes.

Overall there is little that really needs to be done to this image. It’s a great photo in the original that was only improved by the editing. You should consider taking paying jobs as people would be happy to have this type of images of their own family. There are many people who pay for photography with less skill. Having a client see several images from you allows them to make the decision if the price matches the quality of work.

Bridal Portrait Critique


Howdy from Texas, I am so excited to find your photography blog and your amazing photo critique. This is exactly what I need as a beginner photographer. This photo is my first try doing a bridal portrait. I am looking forward to hearing from you!

Best regards,
Georgian Mihaila


EXIF INFO: Canon EOS 5d Mark III, Canon EF 24-70 f2.8 II USM, 1/50, f2.8, ISO 1600



Welcome to online Professional Photo Critique Georgian, and thank you for your submission. As I’ve mentioned many times before, it takes a lot of guts and humility to submit a piece of work for others to critique. As artists, we are emotionally connected to our work, and because of this, have a hard time retaining enough objectivity to find weak areas or areas that could need improvement. I’ve chosen to begin listing the EXIF information (exposure, camera, lens, etc.) immediately before the images because I believe these choices have an impact on the final image. In many cases, it’s the preparation that you do BEFORE you squeeze the shutter that can positively or negatively affect your final image.

We ask that you submit your original RAW file (or jpg) and your final edit so we can see some of the changes you made to the original. In your case, it doesn’t appear that the original and the final are the same image. If they are, the body has been seriously manipulated in post production. I actually appreciate the length of the bride in the original capture because the edit looks to be quite foreshortened. This means that the distance between the head and her body appears to be very little. This visual distortion makes the bride look like there is very little body between her head and knees. I think the original capture makes her body look longer.

Before I comment on the editing, I’d like to address some fundamentals. One thing I noticed immediately is that your ISO is 1600. I know that there are many programs, including Photoshop, that offer noise reduction. I use the 5d Mark III as well and have found that shooting at ISO 1600 doesn’t produce enough noise that would ruin the image, especially if the image is exposed correctly. There is visible noise in the shadows of the original capture that appears to be cleaned up in the edit. Photographing someone at 1/50 isn’t always the best choice simply because you are running a risk of camera shake. This isn’t necessarily motion blur from the subject, but blur that’s caused by the holder of the camera. The lower the shutter speed the more you increase the chance of this user-generated blur. I also noticed that in your original capture, the focus is on the bride’s ear. The eyes are soft. While they are sharpened in the edit, you want to make sure that you nail as many fundamentals as you can – this can eliminate hours of post production work.

Lighting: When I first address an image I try to determine where the light is coming from. In your portrait’s case, the light source is coming from about 7 o’clock. This is an example of a bottom-lit image. Because we are terrestrial beings and walk around on the earth and are lit from above by the sun and sky, it is often odd to see a human face lit from below. I would try to move your subject so that she’s lit from above (10 o’clock or 2 o’clock). This would also eliminate the shadows that are cast from her eyelashes on the top of her eye bone. This is most prevalent on the left eye. Additional lighting or some kind of fill light could give you some separation on the right side of the image, where the bride’s hair blends into the black.

Crop: The original crop, while a little tight in the top corner is really tense in the edit. The bride’s eyebrow bleeds right into the top of the image. Cropping her head this tight into the corner creates tension, which is contrary to the intent of this type of portrait. In a bridal portrait, you generally want to convey soft, beautiful, warm, peaceful, etc. and a tense crop doesn’t help convey this.

Criticisms aside, the expression on the bride’s face appears very genuine. This speaks to the fact that you have a good rapport with her. This is probably one of the most important attributes of a portrait photographer – the ability to establish a rapport and relationship of trust with their subjects.

Let’s talk a little bit about your editing. While many photographers who shot film never edited their images, in the digital age it’s commonplace for a photographer to edit their own images. This forces us to acquire a completely different skill than image capture. If you look online for examples of how to edit portraits, you’ll get immense amounts of information – from software that does it for you, to “experts” espousing the use of the clone stamp, to tutorials on frequency separation. This is probably the reason why we see so many examples of bad editing done by portrait photographers. I think the most telltale sigh of a bad edit is LACK OF TEXTURE. You know what I’m talking about, anytime you see a smooth surface with no pores, no hair, nada, you know editing has been done. And heavy-handed editing at that. The human face should always have texture. I advocate a philosophy on post production that goes something like, “If people can tell it was edited, then you did a bad job.” The trick to successful editing is that you leave no trace of your technique.

For portrait editing, I prefer frequency separation. One of the best (and simplest) explanations I’ve seen of this is from Aaron Nace on his Photoshop program PHLEARN. You can see a full video tutorial of frequency separation here. Nace does a great job showing how to clean up acne and other troublesome texture on a portrait WITHOUT removing the important texture that makes us look human. I’ve included some examples of celebrities on national magazine covers to demonstrate the importance of leaving texture on the human face.


Notice the small bumps on Taylor Swift’s face. Time magazine and other news publications tend to have less invasive editing than other publications that are dedicated to beauty or fashion.

good skin edit parade taylor swift


Notice the lines in Taylor’s forehead here. Much like Time magazine, Parade has more realistic photos on their covers. Here Taylor’s face has texture from forehead to cheeks to chin.

good skin edit kate moss


Kate Moss, seen here on the cover of W Magazine, maintains her freckles, age lines in her cheek and pores. Texture on the human face is beautiful and should remain as an important aesthetic quality.

good skin edit


On another W Magazine cover, Mary Kate’s entire face is featured on the cover. This gives us a close up look of the editing that was done. If you look at the area I circled, these are small hairs that often serve as a transition between your hair and forehead. They provide an authentic detail that helps sell us on the fact that Mary Kate’s skin is flawless. By leaving the small hairs in it makes it look like there has been no editing done to the image.


In viewing your edited image versus the original, you have addressed some of the issues in the image. In the original, the eyes are out of focus, the subject is very tight to the edge of the frame, and (to some) the colors in the background could be a bit distracting. Other than those aspects the original image would be a nice addition to a wedding book. I like the more natural aspects of the original image and the shallow depth of field.

When looking closely at your edited image I can see that the focus has been resolved, but it looks like a different image. The angle of the arm, body, and where the flowers are placed are different, so I’m not sure if you went with a different image or photoshopped her face into this image.

In the edit, I am drawn to the simplicity in the background and the space to the right of her face. But in comparison to the original image I happen to be drawn to more natural looking faces. In the edit you changed her eye color and there is darker makeup. I’m not sure if she applied more makeup or you added it in post, but the lower lashes are very harsh. Those types of adjustments I think are personal choice in your style work and of course what the client wants. The skin retouching still has a texture to it which gives it a more natural look, which I find to be helpful in giving a realistic and authentic feeling to her wedding day.





The photograph features a beautiful bride who shows a genuine smile. I’m sure she was happy with the photo. While the image has some nice formal qualities to it, there are a couple considerations to pay attention to.

Let’s discuss some of the small details. One thing that bothers me is the loose strands of hair on the far right edge of the shot. They would be so simple to clean up being that the image falls off into black pretty quickly. These loose strands are a distraction from the clarity of the rest of the image. Another item is her eye color. While the green is really striking when the image is viewed small, it begins to appear painted on when you come in close for the detail. The color appears flat and stripped making it not feel natural. A color gradient with a lower opacity can help to sell the color change.

There are two other aspects that make the overall image feel a bit awkward. The first issue is the angle. While it may have seemed natural during the capture, the final image feels a bit twisted. The proportions are exaggerated with the larger face and the smaller body that fills the rest of the frame. I’d suggest letting the knees extend out of the frame of the shot so that the viewer’s mind can extend the length of the subject. It’s also the angle of the legs. They cut right through the center of the shot and bring unnecessary attention to a awkward pose. Moving the flowers to the lower left thirds can help balance out the shot and allow the flow of the body to move the eye through the image and not across. This can make the image a bit more pleasing to the eye. In discussing the angle, the crop across the brow puts much weight on the edge of the frame. The content of the image is a bit pushed above to the top. Below the middle area of the image, there is not much information which creates an unbalance to the overall space.

The second issue that makes the image feel a bit awkward is the lighting. While it’s a nice soft light, the direction of the light comes from below. This direction tends to extend the shadows upward. You can see this extending the length of the shoulder, nose and eyebrows. Lighting from below tends to appear less natural and can give a spooky or unfamiliar look. It adds more drama to a facial expression that is portraying the opposite.

These are minor details, but something that can help to clean up the shot. It’s the photographer’s job to be very intentional with every decision. If you’re wanting to use the lighting or posture to create more drama, see that the expression matches the mood.



Shooting the Surf


My name is Nick Brugioni.  I was hoping to get some feedback on a few photos of mine. I am looking to become an outdoor photographer one day, telling the story of adventure through the lens of a camera.  I enjoy the documentary style of photography with a little twist.  Instead of my photos being taken to tell the story because of the access I have to the place, I enjoy adding a fine art perspective that captures details of the documentary I am telling. I would really appreciate the feedback to help me improve my photography skills for future shoots. 




Hi Nick, thank you for submitting your images for a photo critique! As you know, a photo critique is one of the best ways to get feedback on how to improve your image, or at least start to think about your visual communication and if your message you intended to convey has been received by your audience.

While documentary/sports photography is not my strength, I will approach this image with an attitude of analyzing fundamentals and how they add to your image. I’m actually more drawn to your unedited image than I am your final. The reason for this is that I can make out detail in the first and it’s been darkened so much that I lose that detail in the edit. I think adjusting the horizon line was a good start to the composition but I feel it is a little too dead center. A bullseye placement of subject or a dead center horizon line placement is probably the most boring of all compositional strategies.

The time of day looks a little harsh, as both the sky and the water are on the edge of washing out. And while that detail can mostly be recovered if shooting in RAW format, the quality of light can’t be fixed. It’s a harsh quality of light going on that can only be solved by shooting at a different time of day. While you do have access to the surfing, from the look of the image, you didn’t really take advantage of that. It looks like the image was shot from your height, standing on the beach – much like anybody else on the beach could have achieved. If you want something different, you’re going to have to move yourself and change your camera angle. Instead of shooting at your height, get lower or higher. And an amazing way of establishing depth is a technique called “shooting through” which means you’re shooting through one thing to establish a foreground. World famous surf photographer, Brian Bielmann uses this technique a ton. I understand that his waves are larger but look at his placement of subject – he uses the waves to frame the surfer. He also gets the dark surfer against a white part of the wave, creating even more depth. In the second image, he uses people as his device to establish a foreground and frames the surfer among their heads. To achieve this depth, avoid shooting directly parallel to the surfer, but instead, try getting down the beach or into the water a bit so that you can photograph him coming or going.

I’d also like to be more engaged with the surfers. I feel a little bit like I’m too far removed to develop a connection with the group. If at all possible, I suggest a longer lens that can get you right up with the group of surfers. Either that, or get into the water with them and get up close and personal with something wide. Either way, you’re giving the viewer more, and better information that they could get on their own. And providing this view is one of the hallmarks of a good photographer – helping people see things in a different way than they’re used to.

I think you’re off to a good start and this image has a lot of potential. Many of the things I suggested for improvement can be enhanced in post. Your shutter speed and timing are superb. With some small improvements and I think you’re on your way to some great looking surfing images.

Screen shot 2015-07-28 at 5.06.27 AM Screen shot 2015-07-28 at 5.06.53 AM



Looking at your unedited vs. edited image, I can see that you addressed the uneven horizon line, which is a necessary adjustment. It looks like you also overall darkened and added contrast to the image. In doing that global adjustment, much of the detail is lost in the surfer and the waves. In this situation I would suggest making several selections in post. For example I would select just the sky to bring the needed color and contrast, then perhaps select just the ocean to bring out the natural vibrancy. Leaving the details of the surfer in tact.

With the details of the edit aside, the other aspect of this image that is problematic for me is the focus. I am not referring to sharpness, but whether you are trying to show me the landscape, the surfing scene/culture or is it about the one surfer placed dead center in the image. Knowing which one you are trying to capture will help you frame and guide the viewer to seeing your vision.

If you are going for the landscape, the first thing I would suggest is to shoot at sunrise/early morning or sunset. The time of day you are shooting will heighten the image tremendously, making it more appealing overall.

If your goal is to show the surfing scene, you need to get in the water. Show the perspective of the surfing community and being out there in the waves. It is so vital to show the viewer a perspective that is unique, making it a stronger image. Even if the image is for surfers and perhaps its something they see and feel regularly, your goal may be to strike a cord with nostalgia. In any case, know what you are intending your viewer to see and experience.

I believe you may have been trying to focus on the one surfer. If that is the focus of this image, you need to bring me in closer. I can’t connect as much with the drop in when I feel like I’m standing on the beach watching him surf. Your job as the photographer is to bring the viewer to the action (if that is the intention of this image). I would have more response to this image if I can see the facial expression, or the beads of water on the surfer and board…the details of the moment.




There is a lot in this image of surfing that tells the story of what it’s like to be a surfer. The crashing waves, the three surfers in different stages of conquering the wave, the cyan color tone reflecting a refreshing environment. Even the flat perspective is reminiscent of scene fitting of an oil painting. All these things make the image pleasant to view.

By looking at the original photograph there were few edits that took place. These edits seemed typical, but I’d give thought to at least one of the changes.

A levels adjustment and a horizon alignment seem to be the corrections made. While the obvious horizon tilt improves the composition, the levels adjustment make the image loose its vibrancy. I enjoyed the high key image and the feeling of a bright day on the ocean. By darkening the shadows, I loose the detail in the surfers. They become blotches in the water and their detail is significant. There are many adjustments in the post production toolbox that can add color saturation without loosing shadow detail.

It’s all about the emotional feeling of the image and that’s what having a bright and euphoric look to the surfers riding out on an endless summer can provide. Darkening through levels adjustments changes the atmosphere of the scene.

There is a lack of direction the image gives for the viewer. As a storyteller, it’s important to use composition to guide a viewers eye through your story in the image. To see a surfer’s board curve from one side of the frame to the next as it cuts through the waves can give the eye the direction on where the surfer is headed. Many surfing shots use the barrel of the wave to focus the attention to the surfer inside. This image has a lot of empty space above and below it. While there may have been a gear limitation from the telephoto lens, there probably wasn’t a limitation in changing the photographer’s perspective. A lower vantage point could give separation to the foreground and background elements to bring focus through a clear depth of field of the surfers. That can make the viewpoint more dynamic.


Troubleshooting Color Cast


Hi guys,

Lisa here from Bliss Photography. Last weekend I shot an entire dance company’s rehearsal photos. We started early in the morning and shot until evening. I.ve recently moved into a new studio and haven’t quite gotten used to the lighting ( I usually prefer the natural light but here there isn’t any). Here I am using 2 studio lights, 1 being a large softbox and the other a fill. I am asking for a critique to this photo because I am noticing a purple-colored cast across my white backdrop. I have my lights set with my trigger and shot at 1/100 f18 ISO 200 and my white balance is on auto. I was thinking this was a white balance issue so on a few other photos I adjusted it but most made it worse so my best was auto. My thought was maybe the light blue color on the walls in the studio is what’s causing this. Please let me know your thoughts and opinions and more info on studio lighting!



Thank you for submitting this image for a photo critique Lisa, it’s always nice to be able to see a working photographer’s work and help with suggestions to make your, and other photographer’s, jobs easier.

I have done jobs like these and I don’t envy you. They are all-day, grueling jobs with parents gawking and fussing and children losing interest fast. Usually the attention span of a 5-year-old is about 30 seconds. That being said, I think the fact that all of the children are looking toward the camera is admirable. But let’s address some things that could have improved the image.

Three of the girls are looking at the camera and the little girl in the back right is looking somewhere off camera. This is incredibly nit picky, I know, but this is something that I would have noticed in my own work, so I feel compelled to bring it up in yours. In order to achieve a higher level of commercial polish, I would ensure that the background doesn’t compete with the subjects – this means taking all of the wrinkles out either before the shoot, or in post. They pose could be improved by moving away from a square and more toward a triangle. This will improve the balance and fill some of the open space in the center of the photograph.

There is one thing in the image that suggests you are working in a crowded space. This is the fact that you are shooting wide angle and the girls are really close to the background. Ideally, the subjects should be as far off the background as you can get them. In my studio days, I would routinely have a subject placed 10-20 ft. off the background. This is even more important when you’re shooting high key (light on light background) and everything will be seen. Pulling the subjects off the background will help lessen the sharpness of the background and it will also help provide a sense of separation, and therefore depth.

Now let’s talk color cast. There is a distinct color cast to the image. If your walls are blue, and the color of your strobes are slightly warm (yellow) then it’s understandable to get a purplish cast on your background. When I owned my studio I painted all of my walls Dove gray. It’s a paint I purchased from Home Depot and it was almost a perfect match to a gray card. When the walls were white, light bounced all around in my studio and it was impossible to control. When it was black (stupid decision) it was a pit from hell. After going to extremes I realized that gray was the perfect color for me. I also ended up shooting on the gray walls, as they looked a lot like Annie Liebovit’z gray canvas.

Just because you didn’t do a white balance (on a gray card or a white wall) before your shoot doesn’t mean you can’t fix it in post. Photoshop and Lightroom both offer white balance features that you can run in batches. If you shot in RAW (which I encourage everyone to do) then you can bring them into the RAW dialog box in Photoshop, use the white balance picker, select your background and achieve white. You can then synchronize all of your shots with this. Lightroom is far more efficient for batch adjustments and I’m sure David will cover this in his comments.


Just assessing the lighting I can see that you are running into a problem with your whites. You mentioned that your studio walls are blue, that is most likely the cause for this discoloration. Through Lightroom and Photoshop there are several approaches to correcting white balance. It is also easy to batch process your images in either of these programs if you don’t want to consider repainting your space.

On a separate note, the wrinkles in the back drop caught my attention. If you are trying to get rid of some of the wrinkles in the back drop, you can spray some water on the sheet ahead of time to avoid ironing. When the water dries, the sheet will be wrinkle free. That will save a lot of time in post if you’re trying to go for a smoother look in the backdrop.



First let’s talk about the image. I like the symmetry in the photo and I’m sure the client was pleased as well. Each of the subjects have a great smile on their face and the posing is very fitting to the scene. I know how difficult it can be to get children to do the right thing during photos, but they look like they cooperated very well. Their placement forms a visual square structure with each subject’s face being a corner of the square. While this form works well in the symmetrical space of the frame, it may have a tendency to leave a whole in the center of the image. There may have been opportunity to close the whole by having the two girls who are standing to turn their shoulders to one another and close the whole a bit. This could be a challenge with their dresses limiting how close they can get, but it’s important to think of the spatial relationship of the subjects in the frame.

Now in regards to the color, there is a blue tone that is coming in on the highlights. There are many factors that can affect color in a photograph. The color temperature, white balance setting, and reflective colors are just some of these factors. Computer calibration, post process, and display settings can all have an effect on what is seen. The recent viral “Blue or Black dress” conversation is a testament to that idea. With that said, it’s hard to pinpoint down specifically what may be the direct factor on a color cast issue. Based on the stated situation, it may be the light blue color of the walls of the studio that can have the subtle effect. When the studio strobes flash, that light can bounce off the walls of the studio and spill into the white of the background. Another factor can be the color temperature of the studio strobes. Not knowing the brand or settings of the strobes — they can give inconstancies in color. Obviously cheaper strobes will have the potential for more inconstancies than more expensive – calibrated systems. But I’d guess that the color of the studio walls plays more of a factor.

The reality is that it can be difficult to identify the specific factor that is causing the issue. What’s more important is what can be done to correct it. In regards to your studio walls, it’s best to think of a neutral paint color. This is why you’ll see many studio walls being painted black or dark grey. This helps to absorb any light spill and keep the neutral color of light from being reflected from influencing the scene. White, while neutral, will have some light bounce off the walls and can cause issues for your lighting control. However, something to consider is how you want your studio to feel. Your light blue may help the feeling that your clients have when entering the studio space. You may not want to get rid of that.

The other option is to understand what needs to be fixed in post production. Setting a white point is really all that’s needing. You know that in this photo the white point is the background. There are many tools to set that. You can also use Photoshop color adjustment to shift the highlights to more yellow to offset the blue cast in the image. The last consideration is to think about a color checker card. This card can help when determining accurate colors during a shoot. The first shot captures this card to determine accurate colors across each image of the photo shoot. This setting can be applied to the whole series of photos.

While it can be frustrating to deal with all the technicalities to a image, what’s most important is the image itself. The photograph’s emotional reaction is more important that the technical reaction. How a photo moves you will outweigh its more technical features.