Note, this is part three of four of the 10 Steps to Critique Your Photos. Rolando now offers photo critiques, portfolio reviews, and phone consultation. For more information please see Photo Critiques, Portfolio Reviews, Professional Photography Consultation. It’s all about taking your photography to the next level!

10 Steps to Critique Your Photos—Part Three …continued from part two

6. Background, middle ground and foreground in photography can make a difference in the strength of a photo because photography is not physically three-dimensional; it’s two-dimensional. However, with various shooting techniques, we can create the illusion of the third-dimension, which is what the human eyes see and perceive.

Backgrounds, Photo Critiques

In this fashion shoot of Amber during our Moab photography workshop, we subtly used the foreground and the background to add to the photo.

One of those techniques is paying attention to the “grounds,” the background, middle ground, and the foreground in the creation of a photo. The background is probably the easiest, especially if you’re a landscape photographer. We can throw it out of focus, which is an aesthetic way of removing it through the minimization of the depth of field, by using a long lens and selecting a wide aperture, or we can increase the aperture and use a wider angled lens to insure its sharpness.

When the background is the main focus, like in a photo of a mountainous snow-capped background, we create the illusion of depth by placing something interesting in the foreground, perhaps a young couple, a horse, a lone tree, etc., and it’s this second element of interest, or juxtaposition, that helps create the illusion of depth of field and a third-dimensional effect.

For a more reinforced look of the third-dimensional quality, finding the perspective that displays the snow-capped mountains in the background, your horse or human in the foreground, and perhaps a lake, old barn, or even some interesting trees in the middle ground, makes an image more powerful than capturing just one of those elements. Something as simple as a field of flowers or wheat blowing in the wind in your middle ground will add more power to an image.

Model Photography

Great photos come with pre-visualization of concepts.

Keep in mind, the more elements you add to a photograph, artificially or naturally, the more busy your photo becomes, so normally it’s best to keep each additional element simple while trying to tell a story by some form of interconnection. As an example, a nice snow-capped mountain in the background, a small lake in the middle ground, and an individual carrying a fishing pole headed toward the lake. That’s a story as well as a photograph with a perceived third-dimensional quality.

Perspective, Photo Critique

Notice how the horizon line is placed in the upper -third of the frame to change perspective.

The grounds are also affected by the camera lens position. If you take a lower position approach with your camera, you can place more emphasis on the foreground and a higher position will put more emphasis on the background. One thing to keep in mind is the placement of the horizon as you make a low to high, or high to low camera adjustment.

From a perspective standpoint, placing the horizon line on the lower third of the frame will put more emphasis on the sky which is great if you have something in the sky like dramatic clouds. Placing the horizon line higher, at the upper third of the image frame, places more emphasis on the middle and foregrounds.

Photo Critiques, Photos

Notice how the truck, which is the main subject, is in the “middle ground.”

When you critique your photos, ask yourself, where is the importance in the photo? If that emphasis is the subject who is normally placed in the middle ground, then you have to ensure that the foreground and background do not take away from your subject and if either are emphasized in the image, they have to add some type of impact without taking away from your main subject.

7. Why is this good, why is this bad? What can make it better? These are three questions practically every photo editor will ask themselves when trying to decide on photos for publication. These are three questions every photographer should always ask themselves when you critique your photos. These are questions that as a photographer, if you can properly answer them, will improve your photography over time and teach you how to “see” when you’re at any location with your camera.

Critique Photos

Once again, the horizon line is placed slightly high, but this time the subjects are in the foreground of the image.

There is a systematic approach with these three questions, look for the obvious answers first, then once those answers are noted, look at the small things next. Make mental notes what is working, what isn’t working and how, if you could recreate the photo again, can you improve upon it, or if you can’t reshoot it again, how you can use what you’ve learned to improve future photos. Take the military approach, an AAR, or an After Action Review. Analyze, analyze, analyze, then take action, it works!

8. Contrast when critiquing a photo is looked at in two forms, tonal range and color contrast. Tonal range in a final photo is the direct result of the dynamic range of the digital camera sensors. The tone in an image is impacted by the light that strikes it when the scene is captured and basically it’s the total amounts of shades of color, or in black and white, the shades of gray, that can be captured, viewed, and printed.

The tonal range limits, i.e., the darkest shadows and the brightest highlights possible in your final photograph, is limited by the “EV,” or exposure value, of your camera’s sensors. Camera sensors with a high EV rating allow for a greater dynamic range. The dynamic range is the digital latitude expressed in the image’s histogram, while the tonal range is the analog print’s latitude expressed with monitors, printers, inks, and papers.

The higher the tonal range, the higher the contrast plus the more defined detail in an image, and it’s this contrast of the various shades in an image that can draw attention to your subject. While high contrast can make an image appear sharper, low contrast images can appear more of a solid color and with less defined detail. In general, higher the tonal range images are considered higher quality photos.

In color, a higher tonal range works well with color contrasts, or the use of two opposite colors to bring attention to the subject, specifically a warm color vs. a cool color. Think of a girl wearing a yellow bikini and the background is a beautiful blue ocean. Change the bikini to blue, green, or even cyan, and generally you have a low tonal range and boring image. Colors that “pop” also add the illusion of another dimension, which is important when it comes to working in a non-three-dimensional medium like photography.

Military Photo

In black and white photography, even tonal range is very important, especially for publication due to “ink gain” on the printing press.

Note, this is part three of four of the 10 Steps to Critique Your Photos. Rolando now offers photo critiques, portfolio reviews, and phone consultation. For more information please see Photo Critiques, Portfolio Reviews, Professional Photography Consultation. It’s all about taking your photography to the next level!

Click Here to Go to Part Four, or Click Here to Go to Part One

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