Elucidate Elucidate 192 posts

I took this photo at around four in the afternoon. The model is a friend of mine, who I decided to do a photo shoot with. This was not a ‘put-on’ pose: I simply had her relax , and took the photo when she leaned back. I have not had an opportunity to edit this photo with specialist software. All I have done is slightly darkened the background (a barn door) and removed part of a wheelbarrow that appeared in the image, using Microsoft Paint (comes with every Windows operating system). I like the lighting and contrast, and the naturally relaxed expression on her face. I’m looking for a full critique on this photograph, if possible. The reason why some technical details (such as ISO speed and focal length) are not known, is because I am unable to access the original image data, as I live in a boarding school. I will have this information by Friday.

Camera: Canon Powershot S2 IS
Metering Modes: Evaluative metering
Exposure Compensation: 0
ISO Speed: Auto (unknown at present)
Image Quality: Large (superfine)
Flash: Off
White Balance: Auto
Focal length: unknown (at present)

Mark German Mark German 5228 posts

Would you care to post the original so we can compare please?
Maybe host it somewhere like Photobucket?

Elucidate Elucidate 192 posts

At present, I do not have access to the original. I should b able to get hold of it this weekend, although I suspect it may have been lost over the last weekend (I did not have it in my safekeeping, and suspect it is gone for good). Most vexing. Could you still do a review? Thanks.

BYRON BYRON 10913 posts

Good deep, rich blacks. Whites are a bit burnt-out.

TECHNICAL QUALITY (out of 10 points)
Camera: Canon Powershot S2 IS

Aperture: unknown
Shutter: unknown
ISO: unknown
Focal length: unknown

Exposure: Generally good.
Blacks are nice and deep.
Grey tones are good, but gradation of the grey tones is a bit rough.
Whites, especially in the shirt are a bit over-exposed. With a resultant loss of detail.

Lighting: Seems to be primarily from above. The lighting is quite harsh and could have been a lot softer, which would have prevented the burnouts in the white areas, and created softer grey tone gradations.

Colour Saturations:n/a

Focus / Depth of Field: Everything appears to be in focus. DOF does not seem to have been used.

Sharpness: No blurred edges. Focus is very sharp.

Score: 5

INTEREST (out of 10 points)
Aesthetics / General appearance: This is quite attractive because of the rich blacks and white-whites.

The pose is interesting, but not overly so, and I think this may look better if it was flipped right to left.

Framing is a bit poor (more on that later in “Framing / Cropping”)

Focus and DOF could have been used more creatively to blur part of your subject which would enhance any feeling of relaxation you were trying to convey.

The burnt-out white in the shirt is very distracting and draws attention away from your subject’s face. Faces are the most interesting feature of any image. We are naturally drawn to faces, and especially eyes. It doesn’t matter if your subject is a person, a dog, or an insect. We are drawn to faces and eyes.

When assessing your images, squint your eyes almost closed. The parts of you image that you can see at that time will be the brightest part, and of course this is the part that will be most noticeable to your viewer. I don’t expect that you intended the shirt to be the main point of interest in this image.

Emotional Content: Even though you say this is not a posed shot. I am not completely getting a sense of the subject feeling relaxed. It feels a bit contrived and a bit tense. This is may be due to the dark background, high contrast and lack of smooth grey tones which would have enhanced the feeling of relaxation.

Storytelling ability / Creative communication of a concept or idea: Problems with lighting, contrast, composition and framing are hindering effective communication of your concept.

Originality: There are plenty of shots like this. So not terribly original in composition, or subject.

Score: 6

Look at this photograph by REKHA

REKHA has an excellent grasp of lighting, as well as line, shape and composition.

See how the soft lighting has created beautiful, soft, smooth grey tones which really create a very peaceful feel to this image. Notice too how the first thing you encounter is the subject’s face and eyes.

REKHA"S choice of a white background really enhances the soft feminine feel of this image.

Also, see how REKHA has created a pleasing diagonal line from the top left to the bottom right which naturally draws the viewer’s eye from the subject’s face down her neck then her back.

COMPOSITION (out of 10 points)
I am going to assume that you have not cropped this image.

Framing / Cropping:

Cutting off your subject’s head (in-camera) is a big mistake. Sure, cutting heads off is an artsy thing to do, but it is also hard to do it well. You should frame your shot much wider, which will allow you to crop later in post-production if it suits the image.

If you are going to cut off your subject’s head, it generally works better if you are in much much closer so that the image is a study of their face.

Your image feels a bit top heavy due to the large black area above the subject. Proportionally it feels a bit awkward, but not overly so.

Due to the cropping being done “in-camera” you are not able to balance your subject by having an equally sized black area behind her.

Simplicity of Design: A good study of line and shape, light and shadow.

Points of Interest: I find the scarf very distracting. For two reasons:

1- It is obscuring her chest. Yes that sounds misogynistic, but it is a portrait of a woman, and a study of line and shape, and you have covered up the most interesting part of that study. However, not horrendously so.

2- Due to the position of your subject within the frame the first thing we encounter is that scarf. I dont think that was your intention. (More on that below in “Lines & Diagonals”)

Rule of Thirds: ROT (or R3) has not been used here. If the crop had been wider you could have placed your subject’s face on the 1/3rd line from the top and the right sides of the frame, this would have naturally drawn us to her face and it would have helped create and maintain long term interest.

Lines & Diagonals: When we view an image, we naturally start at the top left corner and our eyes then move diagonally to the bottom right corner.

Anything in the image that follows this line, unconsciously feels nice. Any diagonal in the image that crosses that natural flow of our eyes will (unconsciously) create feelings of tension.

Because of the position of your subject within the frame, you are working against the feelings of relaxation that you are trying to convey.

As stated earlier, the first thing our eyes encounter is the scarf. If you flipped the image right to left, the first thing we would encounter is the subject’s face. This would create immediate interest.

Balance / Use of Negative Space: The subject is diagonally balanced reasonably well against the large dark area.

Score: 6


This is by no means a bad photograph. You have done quite a good job in post-production with limited software. Your choice of subject and pose is good, and the Blacks and whites are reasonably well exposed considering the harsh lighting.

Compositional elements while not bad, are not really helping to communicate feelings of relaxation.

The dark background feels more foreboding than relaxing. As a general rule female portraits just feel better with a white or light coloured background. Male portraits are better suited to a dark background.

Also, softer lighting and creative use of Depth of Field would assist in communicating your intentions better. I am not familiar with your camera, but I expect it would have aperture control, so choose a wide-open aperture (f3.5, f4) and if you can manually focus, then do so.

If you are using your own computer, download a free copy of PICASA3 This is an excellent program that you use to manage all your image files. It also has some superb easy-to-use basic post-production capabilities, including:

- Colour balance.
- Saturation.
- B&W Conversion.
- Brightness/Contrast control.
- Crop.
- Blur. (Which is functionally better and easier than Photoshop or GIMP)
- Image Rotation/Flip/Straightening.

For excellent examples of portrait photography checkout the following artists:




Total Score : 17 / 30

Elucidate Elucidate 192 posts

Thank you for your exceptionally useful and detailed critique. Many, if not all, of the points you have raised, are entirely valid, and I know I will benefit from your advice. Thank you also for your technical tips on lighting, contrast, exposure and composition.

Unfortunately, the lighting was not ideal, being quite harsh (hence the burnt-out whites). I wish that I hade shot this in warm evening light: it would have given a softer result, and would have added to the general mood of the photo.

I do have Picasa 3, but as I live in boarding school, I am unable to access it, except for the occasional weekend when I am home. I find the software exceedingly useful for simple image editing.

Many thanks for your critique. I will seek to improve my photos through the advice you have given.

John Robb John Robb 2668 posts

Re: the lighting (I’ll run a little counter point here)

Perhaps a more neutral colour of top (if you had the ability to change this) could help since her skin has a reasonably good exposure – regardless of the light the white top is difficult to expose without blowing out.

Remember strong lighting also has it’s use in providing highlight of bones and muscle structure to people in images (in this case the jaw line dominates her face because of this) . In this case that may not be the best choice of light but it is a still a valid one for some subjects.

It would be interesting to see how a simple reflector to the left of frame would have gone.

Mary Campbell Mary Campbell 970 posts

I like this, the white is a bit bright but you could tone that down a bit if you had access to photoshop or GIMP (free download), without affecting the tone of the face which is quite good. It’s a good composition, I like the black background. Considering you took this with a 5 megpixel point and shoot camera I think you did an excellent job.

Elucidate Elucidate 192 posts

As soon as I have access to some imaging software (I haven’t been home in a month) I will be able to adjust the tone of the white, as well as a few other general fixes. Thanks for your kind words, Mary.