Several months ago I posted some rules (guidelines really) outlining some of the basic principles of photography. For this post, I thought I would dissect a photo and run through my thinking process when viewing an image. This should also give you an idea of what I am thinking of when composing a photo.
If you would like to make this into an exercise, take a look at the photo below and write down your “good v bad” list. You can then compare it to my critique immediately below the photo.
Looking at this image, I find that there are several major problems. The biggest of these is that there is no clear subject. Even when shooting a landscape there is usually something that stands out as being the focus point. The fact that this photo also has the horizon relatively central doesn’t help to alleviate this issue. If you are taking a shot exclusively to show a sky or a open field you would normally want to have 2/3 of the photo filled with said subject. In other words, if you recall the rule of thirds, you would want the horizon to be on the lower horizontal line if you are focusing on the sky or, alternatively, you would want the horizon on the top horizontal line if you are focusing on the land (or sea).
Given that the photo is named “Fire v Ice” I can see the intention was to contrast the sky versus the frozen river. However, without the title serving as a guide, the photograph on its own does not have enough focus to guide its viewer to that same conclusion. This is ultimately the goal when taking a landscape. As a photographer you want to convey a story or a feeling to your audience. Of course, you should always think of how you can take artistic liberties with your work, however, you must do so consciously as to not detract from the impact of your work.
Besides lacking a subject, this photo has also been processed in a way that removes from the details. I will be the last person to tell you to back down on the saturation. I love bright and vivid colors. However, if you smooth out your image to the point that you are loosing details you are not doing yourself a service. The overall contrast is not bad. I have a preference for having some strong blacks in my images, however, you don’t want to blow out your highlights. Of course, again, there are times you might want to do that as a desired effect. However, when it looks unintentional it makes your photography look sub-par.
The white balance has also been clearly altered to provide a blueish tint to the ice and snow. Perhaps this was done to create a stronger contrast between the fiery sky however, its also turning the trees purple. This looks almost like the treeline was shot with an IR filter or something. While I don’t think this is inherently bad, it must again serve a purpose for being in the photo.
Ultimately, rules can be broken or bent to your will. However, as I have said thus far, if you are going to do so its good practice to start thinking about how your audience would perceive your image. If the changes you have made have an obvious purpose and add to the effect or emotion you are trying to convey, your audience will generally be more receptive of your work because they will understand what you are trying to do even if they don’t necessary like your style or subject matter.
I hope this quick critique has given you some pointers in how to frame a shot. If not, or if you would like me to critique one of your photos, feel free to send me an email and I would be glad to do so.
As usual, thank you for reading!