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The Art of Critique by Alfred and Fabiola Forns

Written By onci on Monday, December 12, 2011 | 9:09 AM

Some of the beginners have a hard time offering critique or
evaluating an image.

Let’s do a general guideline on the aspects of a photograph
that we look at when we are viewing as critics:

1- Exposure
2- Composition
3- Sharpness and detail
4- Subject

Now, elaborating on each of them:

1- Exposure-
Formal definition: exposure is the total amount of light allowed to fall
on the photographic medium(film or image sensor) during the
process of taking a photograph.

What do we look for? Highlights and shadows in check, meaning
you will see detail in both light and dark areas.
Whites should not look solid white (referred to as burned or clipped)
and blacks should not look solid black (we called them blocked)

Whites should not look muddy (underexposed), darks should not
look washed out (overexposed).

If the whole image looks too light or too dark, it may
not be correctly exposed.

2- Composition-
Formal definition: composition is the placement or arrangement of visual
elements or ingredients in a work of art.
This may be more complicated than exposure and very elusive to some.

Do not frame too tight (subject bigger than 75% of the total frame),
especially for printing. Web presentation can be tighter.
Rule of thirds: Divide your frame into thirds, both vertically and
horizontally, and try to place your main subject on or close to the
intersections. Horizons or frame divisions work well in thirds. Centered
placing worksbetter in symmetrical compositions and in vertical format.

Leave room in front of subject rather than behind. If the body
is facing one way and the head the other way, try and leave room in
front of the face. Avoid distracting elements, especially big blobs
of white or black, they take attention away from your subject.

Consider perspective when choosing your angle of view. Eye
level is more intimate and appealing. Branches or lines shooting
out of the corners emphasize the rectangular or square shape of the
frame and are to be avoided.

Some strong compositional elements are diagonals, patterns and textures.

3- Sharpness and detail-

Formal definition of sharpness: Having clear form and detail.
It is just as easy to over sharpen when you are preparing an image
for the web, as it is to go the opposite way, referred to as soft. Soft
images do not appear crisp. Over sharpened images have lines that
are too crisp and look frozen.

4- Subject-
Formal definition: The dominant element of a composition.
It is important to have a clear subject. In avian, wildlife or macro,
this is easier that it may be in landscapes. We need a main element
that holds the viewer attention. If you have two subjects, it is
best if they interact. Subject placement and space was discussed in

Subject cropping should be done carefully, and it is
preferable to cut half a wing or leg, rather that just clip. You cut as
composition. You clip as mistake. In the case of live subjects, a nice
specimen will always be better than a less fortunate one, unless you are
trying to illustrate a point.

Ex: Butterfly with broken wings, flower with decaying petals.
Eye contact and catch light are positive elements. Eye contact
meaning looking at you or if two subjects, looking
at each other. A catch light implies life and vibrancy.

Head angle is important for two reasons: It looks more intimate
when the subject is looking at you, rather than away from you. And,
when the subject (bird or mammal) is giving you a profile, the
eye and tip of bill or nose are on a different plane in regard to the
sensor, depending on the size of the subject, this may mean
not enough depth of field to get both eye and tip in focus.
A slight turn towards you will improve the situation.

Using the sun behind you in the most common and easiest light,
followed by the sun in front, side light being the most difficult
to handle. Try for clean, un-obtrusive backgrounds. Shooting
wide open or close to it, is a good way to get this. You may
have to walk around the subject, stand on your tip-toes or
get on your knees looking for that all green or all blue
background, but when you do it, you will be
more pleased with the results.

Eye level whenever possible. This would give a feeling of more
intimacy to your picture and it may take you flat on the ground for
some animals, provided the terrain permits it.

It is much better when the animal is looking into the picture
instead of out of it. In other words, there should be more distance
from the tip of the bill to the edge of the frame, than from the tail
to the opposite edge. The subject should not be too
tight, no more that 75% of the image.

For flights, the bird landing towards you with the sun to your back is
ideal, when he’s flapping parallel you may get unwanted shadows in
the wings, which get to be real harsh when the sun is strong.
The upward and downward strokes are more attractive than
the gliding “pancake” look and the wing position
can improve or kill a picture.

Bird small in frame should go close to the corners, unless the
composition calls for it, stay away from totally centered positions, and
the bird should be coming at you, not going away from you.

These are all general guidelines, you can stir away sometimes
and it may work or not work. Experimenting is a great tool
for improvement, and practice makes great, if not perfect!

Alfred and Fabiola Forns
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