Pete (on twitter here) recently sent me a photo for critique in a project style that he has never done before. Here is the photo:
Issues in the metadata
Here is the metadata from the image: 255Kb (in the original that he posted on his website), shot on a Canon 400D/XTi with an EF28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 USM lens. It was shot at ISO 200, f/11 and 1/80th of a second. The focal length was 28mm.
In the metadata I can see a couple things generally wrong with this. First, the size of his file. This is minor, but I know for an image that is only 900px wide, he should be able to compress that file down a lot more without any issues. If he is using Photoshop, he should be using the Save for Web function instead of the Save As function. The file sizes will be dramatically smaller. This isn’t an issue with the photo itself of course, but in the scheme of things it is important. If he wants his website found, Google does use page load speed as one of it’s parameters for search results.
Second thing from the metadata, the wide angle of the lens. He is shooting at the widest setting of his lens. There are a couple problems with this. First, taking into account the crop factor of his camera of 1.6 x 28mm, the shot is at 44.8mm. This isn’t too bad for portraits, but I would recommend going a little higher. Unless I am going for a particular odd look I try to stay at minimum of 50mm. Since he was using a standard zoom lens, he should have dialed his lens up to just over 31mm. This isn’t terribly easy on a lens that isn’t exactly marked, but if he had backed off just a little it would help. I recommend most portraits to be shot around 85mm for the best, most flattering look to the subject. So, on this lens he would have had it around 53mm.
Second problem with having his lens at its widest setting is that most lenses, particularly cheaper lenses, function at their sharpest in the middle ranges of the zoom. This isn’t always the case, but most of the time it is. He did use a nice high aperture, so that should help.
Composition & cropping
On to the actual image. The overall composition is pretty nice. Pete is playing to the rule of thirds quite closely. The nice thing with this image being on a black background, he could play around with this a little more. Just as an experiment, I add some extra to the image to see how it would look with some more space behind the fairy and placing the prominent subjects more precisely on the thirds intersections. You can see the original and the modified versions below.
This isn’t necessarily better, but it does give more room to the fairy. This isn’t quite the same dimension ratio anymore though either, so it could run into some problems with printing. For the rest of the critique, I will be working with his original crop, however. This was just kind of an experiment to show different results using the same rules.
I guess in the images above, you can see one of the other things I changed to the image was I completely removed the white glow over the whole thing. I think it was unnecessary. I understand he was trying to go with a glow from the fairy, but the glow from such a small source wouldn’t be so extreme. In my quick fix, it left a little bit of glow around the stardust and the fairy and even some around the little girl which I think is sufficient for effect. The entire thing was just far too extreme.
The image has some pretty nice movement through it, though it’s not perfect. In the image above, you can see with the aid of the frickin laser beams how the eye will travel. The viewer’s eye will most likely originate at the eyes of the subject. As humans, that is the first place we connect and naturally the most interesting part of the image. So, the little girl’s eye is traveling nicely up to the fairy, along with the hand. When I first looked at the image, I didn’t think it went straight there, though. This may be due to the angle of her head. The eye is small and almost entirely profile (from the side) so it is hard to see clearly where it is traveling, but her head almost looks like it is bent more up with her eyes slightly down. Maybe that is just me seeing that. Anyway, after the eye travels from the girl to the fairy, the strongest direction you would go next is along the stardust trail. One foot of the fairy helps the eye go this direction, but the other goes up in the wrong direction. It is small enough it really isn’t a big deal, but it does detract from the movement of the image. The problem at this point is the stardust trail just goes off the image without bringing the eye back around. The posture of the girl on the other hand, could be catching the eye if the crop was slightly lower, catching more of his lower left arm. The horizontal line at the bottom of the image is almost there, but not quite. The left arm does bring the eye up from the bottom, up to her hair, and the cut of her hair brings the eye back to her eye. So the only way I see to improve on the movement here (disregarding the fairy foot point up) is to add some more stardust toward the bottom as I demonstrate below very quickly.
I like and don’t like the fairy at the same time. The position is good, the outline is good. I just wish it was more than a flat splotch of light. I like that it is supposed to be emanating light. But I just wish there was a little more to it. Pete told me it was a custom photoshop brush that he used to make it. In my altered version below you can see I added in a very small amount of quickly drawn in detail and color. This was just a quick solution. I likely would have used another image to compose in instead, but I couldn’t find one that I really liked quickly enough. I didn’t do a great job of it, but I think the detail does help a little.
The lighting in the photo is great. It definitely hits the subject of the portrait in the right way. Or at least close. The light source doesn’t quite look to be the fairy based on the way the light hits more of the underside of the palm of the girl. The face looks good though. I’d like to see the original unedited version of this shot from Pete to see exactly where the light is in comparison to the fairy.
Other than those changes outlined below, I just did a little burning of the image under her chin and by her hair to make the value change more significant. I removed the sparkles that were around her hand, they seemed distracting. I removed a small patch of hair that was coming in front of her mouth as well. Finally, i desaturated the flower on her shirt to some degree. It was far too bright and colorful and it took attention away from the subject desired. I made it a little closer to the color brightness of her face.
Overall, it was a great idea and a good image that could be better. I made some quick changes and made it a little closer to how I think it would look better. Below you can see the original again and my altered version. I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below, which looks better? are my changes way off base?
I encourage you to visit Pete’s website here and get in contact with him on twitter, he is great to chat with. And if you would like a critique of a work of your own, send me a message with my critique submission form.
My quick alteration
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