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!
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.
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.