Monthly Archives: April 2015

Photo Critique #3: “Climbing the Ladder” | Self-Portrait Critique

by Cathie Benjamin

Portrait Photo Critique_CathieBenjamin


In an age that is all about selfies, it’s nice to see a thoughtful self-portrait. As image creators, we all are emotionally connected to our work. It makes it difficult to receive a critique because of this strong, protective connection. Self portraits are the most intimate of all photography because the photographer appears in the work. And by critiquing the work, you are also directly speaking about them. Thank you for sharing yourself with us and our viewers!

The light in this image is a little harsh for my taste. When I see the use of harsh light, it has to support the mood of the image and this image doesn’t seem that harsh. The blown spot on the back of your hand shows this harsh quality. To help this, diffusion of the light source (placing a white sheet, fabric, etc. over the light) would create a softer environment. The direction of the light, judging by the shadow created by your glasses, is from the top and to the right of you. The position of the light helps you get light on your background as well as illuminate you, but I think you could accomplish this in another way that helps to achieve a greater sense of depth in the image. Pull yourself and your ladder away from the background so that the green cloth isn’t so sharp. (You need some distance between the subject and the background.) Then you could put a small, soft light source on the background and you could light yourself with another soft light that wasn’t spilling onto the background, but was positioned directly overhead so that you had the sense that you were climbing into the light.

The color palette is interesting and I’m trying to determine the abundant use of green: green barrettes, green earrings, green shirt and green background. The greens are also all very different shades. Playing with some other colors could add some variation to the image. I really appreciate the use of the magenta glasses to complement the greens you’ve used. It’s not precise, but the complementary color feeling is definitely coming through here. (See color wheel below. Complementary colors are those that are found opposite each other on the color wheel.)


Your concept is extremely well executed. I need to continually remind myself that you’re probably user a self-timer or a remote. In either case, you’re hurrying to get to a spot and into character before the shutter clicks! The expression on your face and your wide eyes portray a sense of amazement and wonder. I appreciate your use of the jewels and how you “bedazzled” the old ladder. I would suspect that you’re climbing toward the jewels or to a more glamorous place. I think your hair has the same sense of movement as the star and I really enjoy how this similarity in shape adds a sense of humor. Another strength in the image is that you’ve utilized active framing. This is when part of the contents of the image extends beyond the frame. This gives viewers a sense that there is more to the shot and adds a sense of lateral depth. I also like the sense of space you’ve created by keeping the ladder and yourself in the bottom part of the frame. This gives a feeling that the journey is ahead of you. You also used three items in this image. This is called the rule of odds. This little-known compositional rule states that an odd number of items are more interesting to the eye than an even number. This is precisely why triangles are an important element in photography – they are essentially a shape made of three points. Thank you again for this submission Cathie!


This self-portrait has a whimsical quality to it. The expression, the color palette and the arrangement of the props bring a story together about the subject. The first thing that jumps out at me from a technical perspective on this image is the lighting. The light is harsh. My concern about the harsh light, is where is it the brightest. The back side of the subjects hand is bright and distracting, which I know is not the focus of this image. I want my attention to be drawn back to the expression of the face, and to be guided  through the image visually. I have my idea of what the story is about the subject, but I feel like there could be more added to help make it clearer to the viewer what the photographer is wanting to say – without spelling it out. There is a delicate balance when attempting to convey a narrative in a single image; it is very undesirable when too much information is given, but if there isn’t enough, you may loose the interest of the viewer. I like the attention to color in this portrait, the greens with a pop of magenta is a nice element to bring my focus to the subject, as well as the use of space.




This image looks like it was very fun to capture. I loved the hair flip paired with the flip of the star trail. There’s a lot to explore in the image and I am curiously engaged with all the detail along the ladder. There is a noticeable burning applied to the highlight on the hand. Being this is obviously a staged environment a bit of diffusion to the light source could have helped with the over exposure.

Everything is placed very close to the edges and this creates a bit of tension in the frame. While I do like the tension that is created, it also leaves the center a bit empty and it may have been nice to provide the star a bit more emphasis in the image. The star is lost in the shadows. I’m also not sure if the person is completely aware of the star because her line of sight is not matched to the star’s position. There is a detachment from the subject and the star. I feel connecting the eyes to the star would allow a viewer to match the gaze and then shift appropriately through the image.

Conceptually, there are also a couple components that add to this idea of reaching for the stars. The ladder adds to the idea of escalation which can help with moving higher. Also, the detail of the ladder and clothing of the woman makes me think she could be involved with crafts looking in the closet for her next inspiration. There’s a lot of fun aspects in the photograph and I’d like to see a bit more intentionality in the organization of the image.

Photo Critique #2: “Tree of New Life” | Wedding Photo Critique

by Lisa Piffero



Thank you for submitting this beautiful wedding image for our review Lisa! We don’t discuss images prior to publishing them in order to provide you a more objective critique.

There are a couple of things that stand out to me when I first view this image. I think that, as humans, we tend to see lights and darks (and where they meet in an image) when we first view an image. Speaking solely in this sense, the groom (dark) is placed against a dark tree and gets lost because of this placement. I would suggest flipping the bride and groom. Place the white bride on a dark background (the tree) and place the dark groom on the white background of the forest. This would help gain some separation for both subjects.

One way to slim someone down in portraiture is to have the camera view less of them. By placing the bride in front of the groom, you effectively give him less visual weight. I usually use this technique for the bride. I try to err on the side of making the bride look slimmer. This could be accomplished by moving the groom slightly in front of her (much as you did with her in front of the groom).
The light where you are photographing looks flat. The way I determine this is if I don’t see any light or shadow on the forest floor. I use light and shadow to achieve depth. Without this relationship of light, it’s tough to establish a sense of depth and it’s also hard to make this seem an illuminating, glorious moment. Your light helps set the mood for the overall image. If you have dull, uninteresting light, it’s an uphill battle. I totally understand that sometimes we are given bad light and we have to make the best of it!

The couple is also standing right on the top of a muddy area where there isn’t any much vegetation. Just to the left of the couple is an expanse of clover where you could have placed the subjects. I think this would have added to the narrative that they are just beginning life. The muddy slope suggests a different message. In moving the couple to the left, the small hook-looking branch coming off of the tree would have been a natural framing device as well. It would have also avoided the tangent of the tree coming out of the back of the groom’s head.

Your composition is great. You utilize the rule of thirds and the couple is placed on the bottom right third in the image. This allows the eye to come in from the left of the frame, following the line of the ground right to the couple. Once the eye finds the couple it travels up and out of the image view the path the tree gives us. I think this journey is nice. It lets the eye travel through most of the image and provides a nice connection between the tree and the couple.

The fact that you were able to get the bride and groom to that location is a testament to their trust in your photographic skill! Many of my brides have balked when I made such a suggestion. I also like your camera angle. The fact that you are shooting slightly up at the couple forces the viewer to look up at them as well. Visually, we are forced to admire and revere the couple because of this camera angle. I also appreciate the fact that you recovered some of your sky that you blew out in the original capture. There are many photographic skills you must execute in order to achieve a powerful image and the more of these you nail, the stronger your image becomes – this one is definitely on its way! This is a image you captured of this couple and I’m sure they were thrilled with your efforts.


What a beautiful location!

In this image you have drawn attention to the landscape and the large tree. The tree is the largest and darkest aspect of the image which is why my eye is drawn to it. The branches help circulate my gaze around the image. The focus of the image should be the married couple, yet I am drawn into the surroundings. They are small in scale, and blend into the background quite a bit. It is important if they are the subject to showcase that visually. In viewing this image I really want to be closer to the subject or see them separated from the background. In this situation, I also find the ground distracting. The dirt and rocks crumbling below their feet gives me a feeling that it is a comment on their marriage. Although I think that showing the ground is unnecessary to this image, I do like the line created by the ground, it breaks up the space nicely.

In terms of color, I feel that the image is a bit over saturated and the darks are too dark. The trees texture is getting lost, and so is the groom in this image. If the goal of this image is to focus on the shape and form of the tree next to the couple, maybe consider black and white versus color.




Photographs of people nicely clothed in formal attire juxtaposed in boundless solitude of nature always intrigues me. Elements of the subjects are generally formal; defined and clean. Yet nature is informal; organic and dynamic. To me, it seems to put the two at odds, putting the couple out of place. It begs the question, what are these people doing here? Shouldn’t they have jeans and boots? While I’m sure the beauty of a wedding and beauty of nature is the conceptual bond, it’s good to consider the “why” of the particular location setting.

This photograph has a big emphasis on the surrounding environment rather than the wedding couple. The couple’s size and position in the scene can make it hard to really see what’s going on. Due to the dark tuxedo, the groom becomes “lost” in the similar dark tone of the tree. Giving some consideration to the contrast of black and white, putting the bride in her white wedding gown in front of the tree would give more contrast to make her easier to see. Switching the groom to the other side would give him more contrast to the sky. This would help to bring more emphasis to them in the image.

This layering effect and contrast could also play well with making the image more formal with black and white. The color feels dull. But increasing the saturation or vibrance wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem. There is a strong color cast of yellow and that dirt and root structure at the bottom of the frame wouldn’t be easy to solve unless there was some serious photoshop work.

A consideration for this setting would be to get a bit closer to the couple and simplify the shot. Focus the foreground subject as the wedding couple, and have the intricate branches of the trees be your background.

I think the biggest interest is the tree. The more I look at the image, there’s just so much detail to see in the branches. It’s trying to find a way to put the two elements of the couple and nature together.

Guest Evaluator – Emily Teague

When I first see this photo my eye goes straight to the tree, then jumps around a bit before I see the couple. The trees are beautiful, especially with the moss I see when I zoom into the photo, but they’re far too distracting to be able to focus on the couple. One idea might be to crop the photo so the couple takes up more of the frame. As it is currently, both the upper corners have branches and leafs that my eye goes to. With a different type of tree and the couple farther to the right of the tree, I think this type of photo would work very nicely. Having the groom right in front of the trunk makes him blend into the tree and the bride in white blends in with the white sky behind her. It’s always good to get contrast between the subject and background so the subject stands out and a sense of depth is created in the photo. This isn’t something that my mind immediately goes to, but the tree directly behind them appears to be growing out of their heads.

A common mistake made is forgetting to focus on background detail, which results in trees apparently growing out of people. I like that the groom’s arm is wrapped around the bride, I just wish their other hands were doing more than just hanging at their sides. Something helpful for me at least is to go on Pinterest or look through wedding magazines and check out the poses, then save the ones you like so you can reference them before you go into a photoshoot.
Changing the focus of this critique to the post process work done, the vibrance and blue sky added makes the image look much better. I didn’t notice it at first, but when I zoom in it appears there’s an oragnish-pink tint on the left side of the image in the middle and to the right of the bride. It looks like this may have been caused from some brush work that wasn’t finished. The clouds look great; the only thing in the edit that looks slightly off to me is the top right hand corner where the blue looks too oversaturated.

The enhanced green along the tree is beautiful and the enhanced ground draws my eye, which then brings me to look at the couple.

Photo Critique #1: “Camden” | Portrait Critique

by Jolee Henely



What a great first photo to begin our blog! Thank you so much for submitting this Jolee! Let’s jump right in to the evaluation of your photograph. The first thing I gravitate to in most images I view is the light. Your light here on the subject is flattering and soft. It looks like you positioned the boy underneath an overhang which would cut down the bright light coming from directly overhead and force the available light to fill the boy’s face. Great use of directional light! This creates a beautiful shine in his eyes.

For portraits, the face should be the most interesting element in a scene. And this child’s face is very captivating. Every tool you possess should be utilized to hold the viewer’s gaze on the face of the subject. Anything that distracts from the face, or gives the eye anything more interesting to look at, is competing with our subject for attention. In this photo, two things compete with the boy’s face for our attention. Our eyes tend to find linear elements interesting – this is why leading lines are so effective in composition. It might seem that the little boy is wearing a shirt with leading lines on them, giving the eye somewhere to go other than the subject. Maybe think to have him wear a solid shirt as opposed to stripes. Another element that could be addressed is the bright background by the boy’s head. The human eye is drawn to the brightest part of the scene. One suggestion to ensure the boy’s face is the brightest part of the scene is to frame his face so that a dark element is behind him. This would give a sense of separation. This is also known as “chiaroscuro,” using light and dark elements to establish a sense of depth. You’ve achieved some sense of depth already with your shallow depth of field – and the outcome is quite beautiful.

In portraiture, it’s advised to photograph the “open side” of the subject’s face. This means the side of the face with the most distance between the corner of the eye and the corner of the mouth. It looks like that’s what you did here. You’ve also composed the shot using the rule of thirds. The little boy is precisely on a vertical third and his eyes and face are on a horizontal third. Speaking of framing, the only area where I would suggest improvement is where you cropped off the tips of the subject’s left hand. Ordinarily, it’s not very aesthetic to crop so tight to things like fingers, ears, toes, etc. Ensure that you crop so that it looks deliberate and not accidental. My last suggestion would be to photograph the little boy doing something natural. Leaning back up against a wall just doesn’t look like something a little boy would do. I’d like to see a shot of him playing in the dirt, running, holding a frog, etc.

Great image Jolee! The passion you have for photography is evident and I hope that my comments are received as I intended them – to help you gain a different perspective.


What draws me into this portrait is the shallow depth of field and the catch of light in the young boys eyes. I think that black and white was a good choice to simplify the image keeping the focus on the subject and not the background elements. The focus and gaze of the the little boy is sweet and intriguing.

Things to consider: The boys facial expression. There is a bit more grit to the image because of the choice of black&white and the facial expression. Because the child is up against a wall, with that expression, it makes me think he could be in “time out” or in some sort of trouble. My guess is that this is a straight forward portrait, so to consider these aspects that a viewer with no context could read.

I am a tiny bit distracted by where you cropped his hand. I want to see less or more. Revealing the rest of the hand comfortably in the frame would eliminate that minor issue. But also I would consider a slightly tighter crop. Depending on where and how this image is being shared/displayed would guide me better in how to crop the image successfully.

Since the image is in Black&White, it emphasizes shapes and forms in the image. With that said. The dark spot in the top left feels a bit to strong to me. I would remove or lighten that area to keep the focus and weight of the image on the face. There is another similar situation with a light patch in the bottom left as the images as wells.


I’ll admit I’m sort of flying blind on this one. With no before to look at it’s difficult to see what was manipulated in post and where one can make improvements. I’ll say that as a general rule I do very little in the way of manipulation when it comes to photos of children. I view a photograph of a child as a brief sliver of time, a chronicling of who they were as they spring up like weeds. Black and whites also pose their own interesting set of challenges when critiquing because so much information has been stripped away.

For most, a black and white conversion is nothing more than clicking a button or two, but the colors present in the original shot allow us a great deal of latitude where it comes to creating visual appeal when converted to black and white. For example, a shift of the green slider can take what would be drab gray and push it into rich dark tones or eye catching highlights if adjusted the opposite direction. It’s a benefit of black and white conversions that is often overlooked.

With this shot in particular I’m very happy with the amount of sharpening and contrast around the mouth and eyes. It’s just enough to help draw the viewer in without going to the extremes of what I like to call ‘alien eye.’ The play between dark and light in the hair is also nicely done and provides for a wonderful bit of texture. It’s also nice to see that the eyes and teeth are close to being the whitest parts of the photograph, again, drawing the viewer in.

As to what could be improved upon, for myself I’d like to see even greater contrast. To me, a black and white should have a healthy helping of black with bright whites drawing us into the subject. It’s one of the rare occasions where pushing that histogram is acceptable. As a general rule, in a black and white portrait I try to have my subject be the lightest part of the portrait when dealing with Caucasians. Here our skin tone is more of a muddied gray and I think this shot would benefit if that range of color were pushed brighter. Overall, I’d say that while there is room for improvement, this is a good B&W conversion well on its way to being a very good one.


This photograph portrays a candid moment of a young boy’s life. My eyes immediately go to the young boy’s eyes, which have good contrast and are a key factor that draws you into the photograph. The decision the photographer made to have this photo in black and white helps simplify the image. This aesthetic choice removes any potential color distractions and isolates the subject, to help bring focus on the child.

The expression of the face isn’t a full smile and appears strained and forced. This portrait evokes a fleeting moment that gives a sense of the subject’s demeanor. The image left me wanting a stronger gesture from the face or the body posture. There is little additional information is provided below the shoulders. With so much space given around of the subject, it gives a lot of weight and importance to an empty area that doesn’t provide supportive information to the photograph. A tighter crop on the face can really connect emotionally by making the space more intimate for the viewer. This would also eliminate the darker shadow areas and provide direction back to the subject’s face.

Overall this photograph is a good portrait of a young boy, but lacks any greater signifiers, iconography or themes to represent a larger concept.

Guest Evaluator – Emily Teague

The first thing in this image that stands out to me is the child’s eyes- great work done with the contrast and clarity in them. While the boy’s expression does make me want to look at the photo longer, it also distracts me from the overall cute feeling. I love the shallow depth of field that makes my eyes go straight to the subject, but for me the black line coming down into the white in the top left hand corner is distracting. I wish the frame were just a bit larger so that I could see the boy’s entire hand. Currently with the crop it feels a bit tense. It’s a good rule of thumb to try and never crop off appendages. The boy’s pose and the texture within his shirt and hair really adds to the contrast between the soft background and clear subject.

Who Should Critique Your Work?

Into the Frying Pan

          As a photographic community we contribute 350 million photos to Facebook every single day. Our photos generally receive all kinds of crazy praise on social media with hundreds of likes and encouraging words. Sure this stokes your confidence and surely inspires you to produce more work. But if you’re looking to become a better photographer, this praise can be damning. I hate to break this to you, but most people that will view your work (especially your mother) have absolutely no clue what makes a good photograph. I do.
          If you’re looking for sound, photographic advice, you have to find someone objective. This means that they don’t know you. It might feel awkward to ask a stranger what they think of your photography, but trust me, it’s the best approach. They will not consider your feelings when evaluating your work and their feelings for you won’t compromise their critique.
          You’ll also want to ensure that those who critique your work have an academic background. Before I attended the Academy of Art University in San Francisco for my Masters, I was critical of academics because I felt they were out of touch with the private sector and thus, were out of touch with current photographic trends. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. What an academic study of photography gives you is context. The study of and familiarity with past and present photographers is important so that your work can be put into context of photography. If photographers evaluating your fashion work don’t know the names of Richard, Annie, Mario, Bruce or Terry then they probably shouldn’t be evaluating that style.
          There is also a certain methodology and process involved in a critique that you learn in an academic environment. You are taught to be respectful, to be just as aware of strengths as you are weaknesses, to use proper vocabulary and most importantly, to be able to offer suggestions on how to improve the image with technical clarity.
          But having an academic background isn’t nearly enough. You should seek out those that have successfully worked in the photography field. This is indicative that they were able to translate what they learned in school (or from other sources) and they were able to apply it. The ability to apply technique helps when an evaluator needs to offer suggestions on how to improve the image. Because what’s more important than pointing out errors is giving practical advice on how to fix them. Professional photographers, if they are working, are a study in resourcefulness and troubleshooting.
          Once you’ve found someone to give you some unbiased feedback on your imagery, now find three or four more. One person isn’t enough because the perspective is too narrow – more input means a more accurate critique. The more people that review your work, the more reliable your review will be. And if you’ve found truly capable reviewers, you won’t even have to ask them what to address in your image – they’ll already know.

Why professional photo critique?


The idea to start this blog began shortly after I graduated from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco with my Masters degree in photography. While the instruction at the university was adequate, it was the sounding board every week that really made the academic experience special. We were a group of creatives that all had differing opinions yet had the love of photography in common. It was difficult to hear that others didn’t receive my work as I had intended, but the process of showing my work week by week and allowing myself to be vulnerable was necessary for my growth as an artist and as a person.

The purpose of a critique is to have a conversation about your work. This is a conversation that you cannot have with yourself, nor can you generally have it on social media. But it is a conversation that you can have here. The critics are hand chosen for their professional history and academic experience. Being able to create an amazing photograph isn’t always the best attribute of a good critic. A good critic needs to scrutinize a photograph with a discerning eye and sensitive heart. Aside from being able to find areas of strength and weakness, the critic needs to be able to articulate it. The critics that will be evaluating your work have the traits I have listed above. They possess the perfect combination of professional experience, academic training and eloquent articulation that will instill confidence in their words.

The Professional Photo Critique is a place for professionals, students, amateurs and shutterbugs of all shapes and sizes. It is a community for learning and growth. Disagreement is expected, and in fact, necessary for a good conversation about photography. But when leaving comments, please be courteous of the feelings of others.