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Globe critique: Some humanity, some stark beauty

Posted by Eric Bauer, Boston.com Staff  November 20, 2008 05:53 PM

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This month, The Boston Globe's Bill Greene chose the work of Lesley Mattuchio of Melrose to critique. Lesley wrote us that she "wants to photograph it all, portraits, scenics, wildlife/nature, street candids, actions, etc." and said she worries "that I am biting off more than I can shoot!" Bill noticed that -- however, it's one of the things he liked best about her work.

Bill Greene has been a staff photographer with the Globe since 1985. His awards include being honored twice as Photographer of the Year in the annual Pictures of the Year competition. He is an 11-time winner of the Photographer of the Year award from the Boston Press Photographers Association. Other honors include the Robert F. Kennedy International Photojournalism Award for his story on the Lost Boys of Sudan, as well as a first place in the World Press competition for his coverage of the Mississippi River flooding in 1993. You can check out a gallery of his work on his portfolio page as well as elsewhere on the Globe Photography site.

Lesley shoots with a Canon EOS-1D Mark II.

By Bill Greene
Globe Staff

What I like about your work, Lesley, is the variety of things you've chosen to shoot. Each picture you submitted for this critique was from a different genre. There was an action shot, a landscape, a close-up, and two portraits -- one in color and one in black and white. I can tell you like to push boundaries as a photographer, and I encourage you to keep doing that. It's easy to work on something you're comfortable with; harder to try and master different styles.

Let's look at your photos:

Dog

This is a great peak-action shot. From the standpoint of technique you've done all the right things. You caught the dog's jump at just the right moment, and used a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the action completely. A long focal length lens (300mm) and a large aperture (f/4.0) allowed you to blur what could have been a distracting background. The shot was well thought out and well executed.

There's not much to criticize. I might have cropped a little tighter on the left, and particularly on the bottom where there is a small strip of dead space.

Insects

Let me say right up front that I'm not generally a fan of closeups of insects and flowers. We've all seen so many of those photos that they blur together unless there's something really compelling about the composition, the light, or the colors. Having said that, this is an interesting shot. Again, it's well done technically. It's sharp and well lit, and the triangles formed both by the insect's wings and the strands of the web pull you in and help guide your eyes across the frame. That's important. How viewers' eyes will move around the image is something you should take into consideration as you compose any photo.

Somehow, though, this picture leaves me wanting. I don't find the colors very appealing and I think the composition looks a bit gimmicky. If you had "worked" the photo a little more you might have gotten more out of it. What do I mean? Try shooting from as wide a variety of angles as you can. Here, for example, I can't help but wonder if you'd have gotten better results shooting up from the lower right.

Two kids

This is a well-done portrait of some very cute kids. It's a photo any family would treasure. What strikes me immediately is your good use of fill light, which in this case I suspect came from a flash. It's always tricky to balance the combination of fill light in the foreground and harsher ambient light in the background. When you do it right you get a photo that's well lit overall, but still allows you to use light to draw attention to your subject. Here, the girls' faces really stand out. The medium focal length lens you used (85mm) is flattering to your subjects and lets you blur the background just enough to keep it from being distracting. The tight crop works really well here and, as with all your shots, your focus is spot on.

One other point to make about this: It's obviously posed. That's more an observation than a criticism. This picture is fine as a starting point. Pose them as you did here, but don't stop with this shot. Let something happen. Let them be themselves. Maybe they'll start talking and stop looking directly at the camera. Maybe one will tickle the other, or reach out and touch her nose. Something spontaneous. Shoot that as well. You might find you get a more endearing picture.

Musician

I love this photo. It's the best work you submitted. The spontaneity here is exactly what I wanted to see in the picture of the two kids. You get a real sense of life from this photo.

This is one of those shots where simplicity pays off. You did a great job composing it. The long lens (200mm) and wide aperture (f/4.0) blurs the background beautifully, enabling you to zero in on this guy's character. It's all about his face, and his face just pops. Well done! The picture looks like it might have been dodged (lightened) just a bit in post-processing. If so, you got that right, too.

I might have cropped it even more than you did -- perhaps up to the ring on his finger. You wouldn't lose the details that let you know he's a musician, but it would make his face even more the focus of the photo.

All in all, though, pretty damn perfect.

Lighthouse

Once again you've produced a gorgeous photo. I love this, and pictures without people often leave me cold. We've all seen a million sunset photos, and there's a sameness to them. Not here. This is a sunset picture that's not a cliche.

What makes it so nice? The light for one thing. The tones and colors are gorgeous, though that's true of a lot of sunset pictures. What really works here is that you didn't shoot the obvious. Most people would have photographed the sunset itself, or tried to shoot the lighthouse and the sunset. You didn't do that. You shot the effect of the sunset on other objects -- the lighthouse, the keeper's house, and the shoreline. You stayed away from the cliche. Bravo.

The extreme horizontal of this shot adds to its visual interest. The unusual shape is appealing to me, and it let you crop out any distracting components that might have been in the foreground.

There's not a lot I would change here. Perhaps more open space on the left, which would bring the image more in line with the rule of thirds. But that's about it. Another nice job.

As I said in the beginning, I really like the variety of your work. There's humanity in it, but also stark beauty. Many amateur photographers shoot all their pictures in the same genre -- all landscapes, all macros, all sports shots. You're pushing the envelope by experimenting with totally different kinds of photos. I hope you keep that up.

There was, however, one common thread I noticed in your pictures: They were all taken with a long lens. You made good use of the relatively shallow depth of field provided by long lenses to isolate your subjects from their backgrounds. It's a good technique to master, and it looks like you have, but it makes your work somewhat visually flat. The subject is the subject, and there's nothing in the foreground or background that adds to the photo. In keeping with your spirit of experimentation, how about shooting with a wide-angle lens? The extra depth of field lets you create images with more than one layer of visual complexity and interest.

Above all, Lesley, keep shooting!


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