I have learned through both college and work experience that one of the best ways to learn anything is through critiques of your work and other’s work. That is why, in the spirit of teaching through this blog, I am happy to critique the work of submissions from readers. If you would like a professional critique from me and learn how to better your artwork, be it photo, design, painting, et al, just read these submission guidelines and submit an image through my critique contact form. You can also email your submission to photocrit [at] chrislanephoto.com.
It’s been a little while since I’ve had a critique on the blog, so it’s about time I got back to it. This time I have a photo submissions from Elizabeth M.
I’ll be critiquing this photo of an orangutan in a zoo. First, the metadata. It was taken with a low cost Olympus digital camera shot with an ISO of 320 at 1/160 shutter speed and an aperture of f/3.5. Focal length is at 40.9mm with no flash.
I immediately like the composition in this photo. The orangutan is placed well, with his eyes in the top right third. His arm follows along that same path ending on the top left third, which is on top of a log that goes down with a bolt that ends at the bottom left third. Then moving to the right is a log and up from there is his body. This creates great movement in the photo and the eye isn’t bored looking at it. Taking photos of animals can be quite difficult, especially to get a good composition. So Elizabeth did a tremendous job on that aspect. Sure, an orangutan in a zoo is likely to be a little more cooperative, but you do have to catch them awake. The timing in this case was nice because of the way his eyes look off into the distance and his expression adds an air of mystery to the photo.
Most of the things I dislike in this photo are due to the low quality of the camera and no post processing. Because it is a point-and-shoot camera, the depth of field is rather long. I would have liked it better for the trees in the background to be much more out of focus, also called bokeh. This would give more emphasis to the subject. Also due to the camera is all the color noise, jpeg artifacting and posterization. Posterization is when the color depth is lacking and some of the gradients become flattened into one. You can see what I mean in a zoomed in detail image here.
The image as a whole is kind of low on contrast and saturation. It is just lacking that oomph that either nice film or digital can provide. Luckily, this can be fixed in post processing. I use Adobe Photoshop, but you can also use free programs like Paint.NET and GIMP to do the same sort of things. The first thing I did was a very quick selection of the background to blur it out. I did this very quickly with the quick selection tool (view my tutorial on this tool here) and did a Gaussian blur filter to imitate what it would look like with good bokeh. You will see this in the final image at the bottom of this critique. It is by no means great, since I didn’t put too much time into it, but even this much adds to the image and you can see how it can be done in post as well. After that, I put on a curves adjustment layer to add contrast. I brought up the blacks and down the whites slightly on each end, then added in a slight S-curve. This darkens the three-quarter tones and lightens the one-quarter tones but keeps the mid-tones about the same. After that, I added one more curves adjustment layer. On this I was intending to increase saturation and fix the blue color cast. In the image below you can see the two curves adjustments. The bottom one has the combined curves. I raised the midtones in the Red channel slightly, brought in the green channel darks (effectively adding magenta to shadows), brought in the blue channel darks and reducing the midtones (adding some yellow throughout).
Finally, I did a reduce noise filter and a slight smart sharpen to finish it off. Below you can see the before picture followed by the quick photo retouching that I did through the critique.
And remember, if you would like your work critiqued, just go to my critique submission page. Let me know what you thought of the critique in the comments below, and if you haven’t yet, I suggest subscribing so you don’t miss any future critiques and articles.
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