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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. 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.





Landscape Photography Critique


“Mountain Landscape”

by Melanie Jones


I enjoy landscape pictures and constantly trying to figure out how to improve my own. If I had captured this image, there are a couple of things that I would have noticed once I sat down for an evaluation. Landscape photography critiques are not my forte, but I do have some small suggestions.

The first thing I see is that the horizon line appears to dip to the left in the background near the mountains. This can be adjusted in post with the “transform” tool. Under this heading, “warp” is a tool that can be used to selectively adjust portions of a photograph while leaving other elements untouched.

Ansel Adams was a landscape photographer who changed the way the world saw landscape photography. He pioneered a system for achieving dynamic range, called the “zone system”. This system advocated a wide tonal range of grays ranging from pure black to pure white. Besides this tonal range that he encouraged, he had a personal artistic vision of how Yosemite looked to him. This wasn’t always how Yosemite actually looked in reality. Here is an image that shows the original capture of “Moonrise” next to the final image after it was manipulated in the darkroom. Notice that the original capture looks quite normal and nothing we would recognize as a work by Adams. The final image has more contrast with punchier blacks and brighter whites. It also appears to have more depth. The final image is what Adams saw in his head and he used the darkroom to realize his vision.


Ansel Adams with his image “Moonrise.”

I would encourage you to push the boundaries of the file a little more. Try and see if you can get more tonal range in the shadows on the right side. Your edit looks far superior to the more dull, original capture but I think you can go further in your interpretation of the scene. Because landscape images are considered fine art, there is no limit to your artistic limits and vision.

The way you accentuated the different hues in the mountains on the left was an excellent choice. You did this as well in the green foliage on the right and it really worked to bring out texture. In fact, it worked on the stones as well. This is an excellent choice and looks like it’s heading toward an artistic vision that you can surely call your own.

Some of the things I tell my students about landscape photography are: watch your horizon line (don’t be boring with your placement of it by placing it dead center). I tell them sometimes it’s nice to direct the viewer to the most important element of the scene – either the foreground or the sky by including more of one or the other. I think you did a great job with that! Another tip I tell my students has to do with time of day. You chose to photograph during a time of day that allowed you to capture detail in the sky and in the land. This is essential when trying to replicate what the eye saw.

Your composition is extremely strong. This is another hallmark of great landscape photography. You have a great diagonal line coming out of the bottom left of the image. I also enjoy how the image is divided into an area of blue hues on the left and an area of green hues on the right. This division of color also adds a sense of depth, which I think is extremely important in landscape photography. You have a beautiful image here and I think with just a few tweaks it could be something spectacular.


We live in a beautiful world, and there are many photographs documenting its majesty. As a photographer of these landscapes it is your job to show the viewer which aspects to focus their attention on. In this image I get lost as to what is most important. By visual weight I see the land, the trees and brush as the focus. The heavy side of the image is duller in color and busy. On the other side of the image I see the water and sky, with a very monochromatic palate and it seems more intriguing and interesting yet it feels cut off and hidden by the other half. It is so crucial to have a decision of what you want to capture before you even add the camera into the equation. Once you know, then play and adjust your framing.

The other tension in this image for me is the horizon line. It appears to be unintentionally leaning downward to the left, which is problematic for me, as this looks to be a straightforward landscape. Very rarely are landscapes going to have a tilt in the horizon line. Make sure if you are going to have it tilting in a specific direction it is intentional and serves a purpose to evoking an emotion or telling a story.

The edit of the image is an improvement, but not significant enough. The post work should be bringing this landscape back to what time human eye saw (which I imagine was more vivid than what is pictured here) on the moment of capture, or an edit that sets a mood or tone. It still has a snap shot feeling for me. Making several selections across areas of this image will elevate the look and feel of this landscape.




The first thing that catches my eye is the titled horizon. You generally want a straight horizon when it is visible in the frame, unless it’s your intention to create a sense of uneasiness about the scene. The titled horizon makes it feel as if the water is shifting off the frame. Your mind is wanting to correct it and I cannot see a good reason as for the horizon to be awry.

But it was that shift that kept pulling my eye back to the distant mountains and I really liked the layering effect that they had. Each mountain edge was fainter than the next showing it’s distance from each other. There was something interesting in just that section and I would have really liked that given more focus. The repetition is appealing and the subtle color changes are calming. Even if there wasn’t a zoom lens available, a tighter crop on that area would have strengthened the composition (see example). Leaving the right tree structure would still provide some scalable elements, foreground features, and contextual vegetation of the environment.

It would have also been nice to have a subject in the landscape. An animal or person could provide that subject, even a closer view of an interesting rock or tree trunk. Something that was intending the viewer to see could add new concepts to the location. Otherwise it’s a conventional landscape.

I do like the feeling of isolation in the scene. Not only to the location, but the trees in the from being stripped of their foliage. There is something unique about the way they look. I’m just not sure they were photographed in the best way to explore that concept.

There are a lot of interesting elements in the photograph and as I stared longer I began to like it even more. It’s quite a beautiful location and such an banal, yet curious perspective of the scene. I would have loved to have seen this location photographed with film on a large format camera. The detail in the scene would have been one to get lost in.

“Dissonance” | Fine Art Photography

by Jonny Trimboli



When I see images like this, and pretty much anything with a fine art aesthetic, it makes me incredibly grateful that Professional Photo Critique has a panel that has differing strengths. My strengths have always been geared toward critiquing the more technical aspects of an image. While technical acumen is important, in today’s day and age where many people can create fine images and everyone with a cell phone is a content provider, ideas will always trumps technical execution. Many can copy what’s already been done, but few have original ideas coming out of their heads and onto our screens. Of the many images I see on a daily basis, Jonny delivers a provocative, tense image that makes you stop and think. If you took a couple of seconds to ponder this image, then he accomplished his goal.

The arms are taught and mimic the tension in the rope and the bag on the face makes me feel as if I can’t catch my breath. The fact that the bag is tight makes me feel like the person is gasping underneath. The lighting helps reinforce a dreamlike aesthetic. I find the watch distracting. These are small details that speak volumes, especially in such a stark image with few hints about the identity of the subject. The shirt is also distracting. Generally, the human eye is drawn to two things in an image, the brightest point and patterns and words. Like a fish seeing a lure, our eyes are attracted to the bright spots in an image. And interesting patterns give our eyes somewhere to go. I think dressing the subject in a dark shirt, much like the color of the pants would have been a stronger decision.

The tension in this composite really works. This concept can be applied to so many of the themes of humanity: we are our own worst enemy, the idea of free agency (being the master’s of our fate), the blessings and consequences of our actions and the happiness and depression we sometimes feel. The lighting was soft and subtle and doesn’t detract from the subject and its message. A very good image that inspired a lot of thought.


The image “Dissonance” speaks directly to the title; a inconsistency between one’s actions and one’s beliefs. You have illustrated that in this piece with two different actions in oneself. Overall the mood and treatment of the image works well together, the muted palate, and the film-like imperfections. The integration of the two sets of arms is well done.

I like the location, being out in remote, desolate area, but protected by trees. When I see the trees in this landscape, it draws a parallel to some of Frida Kahlo’s work. Kahlo often painted greens and other aspects of nature into her background as a symbol of life and to convey the idea of being rooted, even though she contemplated death. Whether these parallels are intentional or not, every aspect of a image should be contemplated for a deeper meaning for yourself and the viewer.

Having masked your subject made me read the image as a non specific person. If that is your intended direction, I would consider simplifying the wardrobe. When seeing the watch, and a distinct styled shirt, I felt conflicted about wanting to know more about the subject, because it felt like those were deliberate details included in the photo.




The visual impact of this image is apparent in the direct haunting themes associated with its concepts. It’s meant to disturb the viewer with the centrally focused subject matter. The composition has the subject centered, but offers a symmetry to the frame. The title of the image, “Dissonance”, suggests the tension in the duality of the hands’ gestures, symbolizing the asphyxiation and attempt to free one’s self from strangle of the rope.

The choice to hide the face provides for better symbolism instead of actual death. The subject becomes an everyman and evokes thoughts of the struggle, rather than the individual. With the symbolism being a significant abstract of the image, I would have rather seen the watch removed and a less fashionable shirt. This two items distract from the symbolism that the action is suggesting. The other thing I was wanting was the gesture in the head. I was hoping there’d be more struggle between the two opposing forces. The arms, while grasping the rope, fail to sell the tension.

I couldn’t help but see the outstretched arms and think of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing of the Vitruvian Man. The Vitruvian Man symbolized the ideal human proportions. To me, this image offers a twisted view of this ideal human, to possibly represent the imperfections of the human psyche. I’m not saying this was the photographer’s intent, but this was the themes that I was imagining. There may be a bigger theme to explore within that context.


Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man

Photo Critique #5: “Fall Wedding” | Wedding Photo Critique

by Kate Holtzen



I admire anyone who can photograph weddings and do so in an aesthetic way. Events, especially weddings, are difficult for a variety of reasons. You are asked to be creative without any time to be able to think and process. Your subjects often run late. You don’t get to choose much about your location or time you shoot. And you don’t get to choose your models! Basically, everything that a commercial/lifestyle photographer would have meticulous control over – a wedding photographer has next to none.

For those reasons, critiquing wedding imagery is a difficult task simply because I’ve been there. And it’ so easy to armchair quarterback a wedding shoot! Here are some suggestions for improvement with this image and most of them are very subtle but are also entirely within the photographer’s control.

The direction of your light is coming from the right, as evidenced by the highlight on the bride’s hair and the shadows on the ground. The hair looks great illuminated like this, but I always try to remember to put the darkest object close to the light and the lightest object away from the light. This position helps even your exposure and helps avoid overexposing the white dress. Black suits can take the sun hitting them directly; light dresses have a harder time not losing the detail in the highlights.

The rest of my suggestions deal with how your clients have been posed. There are a couple of things that just might help out the mood of this romantic image. The groom’s hand is in a fist and isn’t holding the beautiful woman in front of him. I tell all my grooms that it looks odd to have such a divine creature in front of you and you aren’t holding her like you care about her. I would also recommend having her bend her arm that’s closest to camera. This eliminates the fatty spot between a woman’s breast and armpit and it also follows the famous photographer, Patrick Demarchelier’s advice, “Anything on a woman that can bend, should bend.” ( The bride’s hand on the back of the groom’s head is a great idea, but have her flatten her hand and her thumb. Her thumb sticking up in the air is a little distracting. I think the tree would also made a nice framing device if you’d included more in it. It looks like that branch hanging down would have done the trick.

The way you chose to warm the image up was a great call. I love the warm tones. I also really like the way you softened the background a little to help the subjects claim the center of interest and not have to compete with a busy background. This can also be achieved by using an extremely shallow depth of field. You composition is strong and I appreciate how you placed the couple along the path line. Your ability to handle the exposure of the sky and the dress and still retain detail in your shadows is also impressive. Great image Kate, I’m sure your clients were pleased!



The post work on this image has made an ordinary wedding day look slightly surreal in its warmth and glow. I really appreciate your stylistic touch to this image. This image has a bit of a cinematic feeling to it, with that said, I personally would love to see some of the foreground cropped out to take it that much further. The leaves in the top of the frame I would take out of the image if you are sticking with this crop. There are a few other tiny aspects I might edit out if this, such as the leaf in the foreground of the shot which is right on the edge. I would also address the highlights and shadows in the tree. As the image was warmed, the focus changed and the bright spots start to catch my attention.

The couples gaze is lovely along with the light that catches their faces. With an embrace like that I am really wanted the guys hand to be open and holding her, instead of his finger tucked into what looks like a fist. As for her hand positioning, I would like to have her hand embracing him a bit closer, so her hand doesn’t look like it is giving a thumbs up. These are just a few of the aspects I would consider during the shoot and in post.




This wedding image has some really beautiful light. Seeing the original file, the enhancements were good adjustments. The skin tones could have been a bit muddy and cold, but it was adjusted well to bring back the warmth in the image. The photoshopped softer focus helped bring the attention back to the wedding couple, which could have had a more distracting background if left at the original depth of field. The adjustments really improve the image to make it pop.

One consideration is the placement of the couple. While they rest on the rule of thirds, they seem to sit mid frame. The horizon cuts the center of the image and I’m left wanting more sky. It’s a battle of attention to the bouquet and the bride’s face. Giving just a tighter crop loosing a bit of the grass could help the couple from floating so high in the frame and give more attention to the interaction between the couple. To me, while the background is an amazing location, there is a bit too much grass on the bottom.

This image has a lot going for it. The couple should really love it. The right moment, the right light, the right place. The adjustments are small, but that attention to detail is what makes this photo shine.

Photo Critique #4: “Gold Country Blacksmith” | Portrait Critique

by Greg Waddell


Greg, what a great submission this week. I’ve looked at this portrait and the first thing I thought was, “Man, there isn’t anything that I would improve here! What am I suppose to tell Greg??” I feared something like this would come up eventually and it’s my job as a critic to offer you suggestions on how to improve the image or give you ideas on approaches that you might not have considered. Photography is grounded in techniques that foster visual communication, the more of these techniques you execute, the stronger the image. With all that being said, this image communicates wonderfully. But I wouldn’t be a very good sounding board if I couldn’t come up with idea for you to consider.

I noticed that you photographed the image at 800 ISO. This is a pretty high ISO for the lighting conditions. Then I saw that you were holding a 70-200mm and you were all the way out at 200mm. I’m thinking you might have done this so that you could keep the shutter speed high so that you wouldn’t get any lens shake. Now, in the original, I see such a small amount of noise that I think it enhances the texture of the man’s face. But in your edit, I feel like the noise competes with the texture of the man’s face. I also really enjoyed the rich color in the original image. The only color I didn’t really find appealing was all the yellow in the man’s face. You might have been feeling this too and it’s possible that is why you chose to desaturate the image in post.

The lighting appears to come from the bottom left. In general, lighting coming from the bottom of a face gives a ghastly or creepy feel to an image. Because we are terrestrial beings and are top lit all day, catch lights coming from the top of our eyes are the most natural. Ten o’clock and two o’clock are good positions for these. The only problem I see with lighting him like this would have been a shadow that would have been created by the brim of the hat. So I think getting light into his face from the direction you chose worked.

I’ve had times when I’ve captured an image and it was so clean, I couldn’t wait to get it home and enhance it. The problem was, I was trying to enhance something that needed no enhancement. In fact, I only ended up making it a less aesthetic version of the original. I’m not saying this is what happened here, but I do prefer the original image out of camera. Sometimes you just nail it in camera!

I appreciate the relationship you built with your subject. The man is looking right at you with an intense gaze. Whatever you said to him, he trusts you to meet your lens’s gaze. There is a definite talent to helping subjects feel comfortable and directing them to get the image you have in your head. I think you were very successful with that here. I also like the fact that your camera is even with his eyes. You aren’t shooting down on him or up at him. This establishes a very even relationship between the viewer and the subject.

Your composition is solid. You’ve utilized the rule of thirds to place his eyes on that upper compositional line and it works. We are held by his gaze. This is so important for a portrait. A powerful portrait is one where the viewer has nowhere to go but the subject’s eyes. The depth of field is really successful and I’m so happy you didn’t just stick him against the wooden background you’d found. So many times, photographers find an interesting textured background and place their subject directly in front of it. This destroys any sense of depth you were hoping to create. They way you left a hint of the textured wall in the photo to establish the scene but used the open space to suggest depth was brilliant. This gives us somewhere for our eye to go, it gives us a sense that there is something beyond the subject. Great portrait.


What a strong and simple portrait of this man. His eyes gaze right at the viewer and have a nice catch of light, this engages me right away. His expression and texture in his face lead to the viewer to understand more about the character in this portrait. The tight crop and shallow depth of field is a skillful way to bring the viewers attention to his face. The color palate is very cohesive as well.

One thing I noticed from a technical perspective on the image is the amount of noise. I am guessing that since the original image was much darker, that your work in post created the all of the noise. Be aware of your exposure when shooting, its valuable to “shoot to the right” on your histogram without over exposing your highlights. Slightly overexposing a RAW image will give you more to work with in post.




I was drawn in to the eyes of the subject, which speaks about the photograph’s strength to connect with the viewer. This image has a lot of grit to it. There is a lot of texture in the face, clothing and background that all work toward telling the story of this person and the raw intensity that he holds. It’s really great.

I really enjoyed this photograph, until I saw the change from the original image. I do appreciate burning down the lower left of the frame, because it does work to keep my attention at the face. However, I kept feeling that there may have been an over adjustment to the brightening of the shadows. I really enjoyed the light in the unedited shot and how it had a more defined transition from highlight to shadow. There was more depth in the image that was taken away when the shadows were brightened. Brightening the overall light intensity also gave the feeling of the subject being additionally lit in the shade, whereas the original can clearly be seen as the subject in the ambient shade light. This effect makes the eyes appear more squinty than pensive. I also like the low key light in the original because there was more color in the face. The brighter image seems to have washed out the face.

The photo is a striking portrait, so I’d advise from overworking it in post. Less is more and enjoy getting some things right in camera. The light is great and keeping those shadows in play will keep the noise level down. It’s a tough balance to get it right. Either way, the composition, lighting, and content of this image is great.

Guest Evaluator – Seshu Badrinath

I am happy that you chose to include the .dng file with the final version of the portrait in .jpg form. It gives me an easier way to see where you started the process and where you chose to end it.

From looking at the portrait, I can tell that you were easily a stop or a stop and half under-exposed. Was this intentional? It’s always easier to work with a raw file that is well exposed than one that is either under or over exposed. Just imagine if you had shot JPGs! That would have been challenging for sure.

Compositionally, I feel you could have moved to your left a bit more to avoid that glaring hot spot in the lower left. That detracts from the image. Almost always, a pure white space or object in an image will be the first thing a human eye will be attracted to. We are wired that way. So, try and avoid these patches of white (or light tones), especially if they don’t contribute to the photograph.

All that said, I love how directly you have chosen to engage with this man. His eyes are looking right back at you (and there by at us), so it makes not seeing him nearly impossible. It’s an engaging portrait.

Looking at the final jpg, however, I feel very strongly about perhaps making this a black & white portrait instead of color. The textures and grain that you have added, would truly pop a lot more if it were monochrome. I see that you took care of that hot spot in the lower left. The burn looks natural and satisfactory. The finished jpg also reveals more of this man’s left ear; something I would have left dark to give this portrait even more character and drama. The finished JPG looks like you introduced a reflector from camera left. The punchy light works for me, but as I said, my thoughts are this would look stunning as a black and white print instead.