About a week ago, my inbox started filling up with new forum topic notifications. A day later, Nasim contacted me stating the exact same thing with a hint of fear in his voice – that, our dear readers, was how we experienced your reaction to the introduction of a new mini-project here on Photography Life. That slight shock me and my friend felt after seeing how enthusiastically the idea was received is of the good sort. All the work that’s been submitted is a compliment to us, and also an emphasis on just how much of a commitment Weekly Critique really is. What have we gotten ourselves into!
It was no easy task, choosing the images for this week’s article. As I said, though, these decisions were very subjective and in no way showcase what we believe to be “good” or “bad” work. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at photographs submitted by Rick Keller, Levi Obarr and Betty.
Standard Disclaimer: “everyone’s a critic”, right? And it is true – to criticize is much simpler than to accept critique, or to submit work for someone to critique. Now, to criticize constructively – that is far from being easy. As you read our thoughts, please keep the following in mind – we are not experts or masters at this. What we do is merely share our opinion and thoughts, perhaps a few suggestions, and everything said is said for your benefit. Weekly Critique is not there to discredit you or your work, and not to separate “good” photography from “bad”. Likewise, we are not here to throw compliments left and right. Instead, we hope to share something of value with you and help you grow even if just a little bit. So with every ounce of good intentions we can muster we hope you receive our words the way we intend them to be received.
Abstract. Rick Keller
Nasim: I love this image. When I first saw it, I thought it was a computer-generated graph of some sort – you know, the kind that you could fire up when music was playing in Winamp in its days of glory. It looks surreal and strange, something you surely don’t see every day, which makes this photograph very unique for me. Interesting lines and textures draw your eye in a chaotic manner, forcing you to seek something identifiable in the image. I think Rick did a great job with this abstraction. I also really enjoyed the story of photo and how Rick achieved the result shooting film – one can see that the photo was not just a snapshot, but a carefully planned and well-executed shot. Rick followed up with a few more images in the critique section, which were as inspiring to look at.
Romanas: Different photographs convey different things. Some are there to tell a story, or to help the viewer create one – remember Ted Kozak? Heard of Henri Cartier-Bresson? Others are there for peace of mind, pure beauty and calm – the ever-mentioned Ansel Adams’ landscapes seem to be such to me, or those taken by our very own Nasim Mansurov and John Sherman, as different as they are. But then, as I’ve always thought, art is not beauty. And so some work is there to convey fear, or disgust, or… nothing. You, as a viewer, don’t always have to think or analyze. Sometimes simply immersing, observing, losing yourself, feeling – or not feeling anything – is enough. This is such a photograph. It’s brilliant. If the word “motion” or “dynamic” within the dictionary contained an illustration of the meaning, this could very well be it.
As chaotic as the photograph appears – though the center draws the most attention, it’s hard to keep the gaze on one particular area, is it not? – I can’t help but admire the simplicity. The composition – and, yes, there is always such a thing – is well balanced. So much so, in fact, that I did not even think to think about it at first. If that makes any sense at all. There are no foregrounds or backgrounds, yet the direction of movement is very clear. It’s quite surreal and, after observing it for a longer period, I started to feel a little nervous. It takes effort to separate the otherwise unpleasant feeling from how you like or dislike the photograph, and realize the fact a mere photograph (if you one can put the two words together) caused it. If it’s strong enough to cause a state, a feeling, it is a strong photograph regardless of what the state and feeling is actually like.
This photograph by Rick Keller is the very definition of “chaos” and “motion”. It may not be unique in such a respect, and I would not dare call it the best of its “kind” I’ve seen, but it is certainly strong enough for me to say “wow” upon glancing at it for the first time, and then a few times after.
Wild Persimmon. Levi Obarr
Nasim: Being a tech junkie, let me first approach this image from the technical side. The photo appears to be a pretty heavy crop, which was potentially resized and improperly sharpened (edges show some halos). I certainly would love to see more details in the shot, particularly the bottom part. Focusing at close distances can be difficult, but such techniques as focus stacking could be used to achieve much better sharpness without losing too much of the blur in the background. I would also slightly retouch the photo and get rid of the white spots on the persimmon, so that they are not very distracting.
From the non-technical standpoint, I like the simplicity of the photo. The idea behind the photograph was to show a wild persimmon, which Levi was able to achieve. There is a good isolation of the subject, but I feel like the tree branches are distracting. The hot spots on the persimmon look slightly harsh, but the line that divides them make me wonder if Levi did that on purpose. Still, it is a bit too “hot” for my taste. Perhaps a slightly different angle that did not cross the main subject would have looked better…
Overall, the photo does not really connect with me. If it was shot after rain at a different angle, had some drops falling from it, then it would have been a bit more engaging, would have had a better story in my opinion.
Romanas: A year or two ago, I remember discussing this one photograph with Nasim. Our taste in photography is quite different, see. For Nasim, that scene was, in most aspects, rather outlandish – seemingly a simple photograph of… laundry ruffling in the wind. And my friend saw just that – laundry hanging outdoors. Nothing special, right? Right. I saw something quite different, however. That photograph, to me, was an image taken straight out of my childhood. Or dreams. Or subconsciousness. Perhaps memory – I don’t know. All I know is that it spoke to me instantly the moment I saw it and renewed feelings I’ve long since felt. There was a sort of melancholy to it all, I guess. Poetry. The graceful motion of the fabric, the gorgeous light and subtle tones – all of it resonates with me. Even the aspect ratio. A very personal, very subjective affection for the image, that. More than two years have passed since I first saw it, and the sentiments, the state it pulls me into, the feeling of absolute, indescribable calm is no less encompassing. It did not speak to my friend quite so strongly, but was a masterpiece in my eyes.
In case you are curious, this is the photograph I am talking about (it’s called “Winds” and was taken by Aiste Simonaityte). Why am I saying all this and what similarities have I found between that photograph and Levi’s “Wild Persimmon”? And again, this is a very personal, subjective observation that might never occur in someone else’s mind: both images start of with a seemingly simple object which, on its own, is not that interesting. Laundry and fruit. However, from here, Levi’s image takes a slight turn. Where there is the light, and the wind, and the environment in the image that spoke to me with such force, in the author’s photograph, all I see is the fruit. It’s yellow-ish, and it’s oval. Reminds me of tomatoes a little bit in its shape. It is also still growing on a tree. Other than that… It does not have any interesting patterns to draw attention, and there is hardly any “mood” created by the light. In other words, this is an illustration. A very informative one – it shows me exactly what a persimmon is. But it does not resonate with me, does not trigger anything. I don’t see a story here, I feel nothing, too, nor think about anything but the fruit I am looking at. Something must catch my gaze, and it does not. So what I am missing in an otherwise informative, well-captured image, is the author himself. The photographer’s input, his decisions, choices, creativity. I am missing context, memory and association triggers. Taking a few steps back might have solved the issue – I’d focus not on one particular fruit, but on a fragment of the whole tree, and the photo would seize to be an illustration. A more interesting, beautiful light would certainly add to that, too – wrap the whole photograph in a very distinctive mood.
But here is the thing. I can easily imagine this photograph or something similar having as powerful an effect on Nasim as “Winds” had on me. In other words, while it did not speak to me, that does not make it a bad photograph, much like the laundry image I mentioned is not a bad photograph because someone does not like it as much as I do. Also, not bringing up a strong reaction is in no way a bad thing. Sometimes basic information is all we need. Look at the photograph – is it not calm? Simple? Still, if I were to give one advice to the author, I’d say this – put yourself into your work, no matter what you do. Persimmons are beautiful, much like flowers and sunsets are. But it is our decisions that make the photographs beautiful, not the objects or scenes shown. That is what I am looking for in photography. Look past the object and see yourself there. If you do, that’s great and pay no attention to anyone stating otherwise. But you must see yourself in your work. Otherwise, it’s not really your work, rather – just work.
Red Lechwe Leaping. Betty
Nasim: Technically, this kind of a shot is really hard to achieve. You have a super fast animal that is extremely tough to focus on, yet alone capture in such detail. Without a doubt, Betty did a great job there. Makes me wonder why the red lechwe was running – perhaps there was a lion chasing it? Perhaps it got spooked and ran for the water where there is less threat? I love the fact that this photo shows the beauty of the animal and the elegance of the female lechwe – look at her neck. It is so stretched forward. She is clearly trying to push her head to safety, a defense mechanism that most animals employ in a threat situation.
I also love the isolation of the lechwe, there is nothing distracting in the background, so my eyes are only focused on her. But I feel like the crop is a bit too tight – there is little breathing space in this shot. I would love to see a little more above her head and a little more ahead of her. Not sure if the original shot is big enough to accommodate this change, but I feel like the photo traps the animal a little bit. Overall, it is a great and beautifully executed shot and the extra breathing space would have made the photo even better.
Romanas: Not being exactly skilled at close-up, fill-the-frame sort of composition – be it portraits or just about anything else – I always admire the work of people who just seem to get it right. Another good example is this photograph by Rick Keller. Upon looking at this photograph, at first I had the strong urge to extend the environment, add more space at the top of the frame (the antelope’s flight sort of dictates that) and perhaps a little on the right, too. But looking more closely, I came to the conclusion that the composition is spot on, so long as you don’t try to figure out the context of the image too much and focus on what Betty, willingly or not, is showing. I am struck by the beauty and grace of the animal. Such a tight, almost claustrophobic framing forces my eyes to follow the elegant shades and shapes of its fur, notice the tension in its muscles, but also apparent ease with which it leaps so high and far. And I keep admiring all of this without thinking much whether the lechwe was running from something, and what lay ahead of her. It just doesn’t matter. The beauty of the animal matters, and that is the only thing I want to focus on even if somewhere on the edge of my consciousness I would like to see a more “airy” approach to framing of that exact same moment. But it would be a different image altogether.
If I do have some criticism is the colour, I find it a little too vibrant for my taste. Almost dishonest, somehow. I also can’t help but wish to see this same photograph in black and white. Perhaps it would emphasize the grace of the animal even more?
How to Submit Your Work
Here are several steps for those of you who would like to receive some constructive criticism either from our readers, or our team:
- Export/upload your photograph at a size where the long edge is at least 960 px. Larger size will make viewing a bit more comfortable, so we recommend long edge to be at 1280 px, 1600 px or 2048 px. Quality setting of 75-80 is plentiful and will make loading images a quicker process. This is not a requirement as such, merely a suggestion, but it would make our part easier.
- Include EXIF information with the image as it may be necessary for the critique.
- If you feel comfortable with it, best not to add watermarks. Copyright information for each image will be included in the caption. If you would like to add a watermark, do it in a simple, small font somewhere along the edge of the photograph (take a look at Luc’s photograph above) – a nuance, but watermarks are a distraction and can often act as a weighty element of composition.
- Name image files properly – include your full name (necessary for copyright information) and the title, for example: Angelina Nga Nguyen_Sunrise at Dolly Sods.JPEG
- Create a topic and upload your work for critique providing some background information/story about the image and what you think of it in our forums. You will receive critique from fellow readers.
- If you’d rather our team did not discuss your work in a weekly article, simply mention it while submitting.
- Share your thoughts about the work of your fellow readers!
And now, discuss!