This month, Globe staff photographer Michele McDonald critiqued the work of Bernadette Markey of Hopkinton. Bernadette told us she takes pictures for fun, but also "to completely torture myself when they just come out wrong, whether it be because they are out of focus or the lighting stinks, or I God forbid chop off a foot/feet, arm or leg."
Michele thinks Bernadette is being a little hard on herself. When she looks at Bernadette's work, she sees someone with a photographer's eye and an interest in creating pictures that are more than ordinary.
Michele McDonald began working as a staff photographer for the Globe in 1989. She was a Nieman fellow at Harvard University in 1988, and a fellow at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, N.H., in 1995.
In 1995, McDonald left the Globe for seven years, returning in 2002. In 1997, she was a Pulitzer finalist for her photo essay on a young woman preparing for her death from breast cancer in hospice care at home. She has covered stories ranging from the high black infant mortality rate in Boston to the effects of the war in Yugoslavia on the ordinary people of Bosnia, Serbia, and Kosovo.
Bernadette Markey, whose work Michele reviewed, shoots with a Nikon D40.
By Michele McDonald
First, Bernadette, thanks for volunteering for this critique. You may be an amateur, but you have talent, and most importantly, you have an ďeyeĒ for photographs. Your photos show that you look for moments, for mood, and for beautiful light. Thatís not something easily taught. You either have it naturally, or you develop it over time by looking at good work. You have it.
On to your photos.
The first thing I like about this picture is the way you took advantage of beautiful sidelight. Itís something you do well; I saw it in most of your work. Professional photographers know that bright overhead sunlight is often the worst light for photos, especially of people. It's harsh and contrasty, not flattering, and if used without reflectors or a fill light, eye sockets go black.
Itís well composed, but what I really like is that itís candid. Itís not a ďlook at me and smileĒ photo. Itís authentic, not cheesy. Itís a picture with mood -- youíve captured a quiet, real moment in this girlís childhood.
I have one suggestion for improvement: Crop in on the right side so the white bedclothes donít show. White naturally attracts your eye. Sometimes thatís helpful, but here it just distracts viewers from the main subject. Cropping would make the picture more vertical and youíd lose a corner of the book, but thatís OK. It wonít hurt the imageís overall visual impact, and it will ensure the girl is the focal point.
Thatís a minor criticism, though. Youíve captured a beautiful, candid moment.
I appreciate that you were trying to something different here, Bernadette, but this picture doesnít do much for me.
Thereís not enough visual interest to make a shot from behind work. When you take a photo of peopleís backs, you must have a reason. Often the reason is compositional, but the composition here is not strong enough to keep me from wanting to see her face.
I suspect you were trying to highlight the patterns in this photo Ė the grass, the hat, the stripes in the shirt Ė but it doesnít work.
What could you have done? Maybe you could have pulled back so the girl was in the bottom third of the frame. That might have worked as a nice summer shot.
There are positives about this picture, too. I love black and white, and I think it works here. Color would have made the image much more generic. Black and white gives it more of a pattern.
All in all, this was good attempt that failed. Thatís OK. Not every shot succeeds, but itís good youíre taking risks.
I like this composition. As a portrait of a kid, this is really well done. The boy is on the left side, not centered. Immediately that makes the picture more interesting.
The out-of-focus figures were a good idea compositionally, but I wish they were doing something more than just looking at the camera. If they were engaged in something like hugging or jumping it would have added another layer and made the photo more visually interesting. You want the background to be a thoughtful part of the composition, and not just ďthereĒ. Thatís what would take this picture to the next level.
This is another example of how you use light to good advantage. Itís overcast and bright. Thatís beautiful light Ė easier to work with than strong sunlight, and very flattering for portraits.
Also, thereís a lot of detail in the sky, which helps overall because so much of the photo is sky.
This photo is by far my favorite for content and composition. Itís a picture that makes me care. It sets a beautiful mood and has real feeling in it. Thatís so hard to get. You can always improve your technique with study and practice, but if you canít "see" this kind of moment and recognize it as something special, youíre never going to be a great photographer.
Having said that, technically this picture is just too dark. Itís too underexposed. I tried lightening it in Photoshop, but the upper left background became too distracting. If that painting on the wall wasnít there, this photo would be a real winner. As it is, the heavy lines growing out of the babyís face are a distraction.
Iíd also say the color isnít helping here. I like the monotone, but wonder if black and white wouldnít have been more effective.
This photo is a nice snapshot, but I think youíre better than this. Donít get me wrong; itís a nice family photo. Itís well exposed, the kids are cute, and the background is clean. Itís great to have as a keepsake. But photographically, it doesnít go beyond that. It doesnít push boundaries like some of your other photos. You have the talent to do more.
Overall, Bernadette, you have a good eye. You look for a moment -- for pictures with feeling -- and you have the technical skills to capture them. Youíre already past the point of having kids look at the camera and smile. You know how to use natural light, and you know how to fill your frame.
Now itís time to do more experimenting. Youíre at the point where you should be shooting a lot. Donít be afraid of making mistakes. Thatís how you learn.
What should you try? How about experimenting with reflectors, to bring your subjects out of the shadows? You could start with a single, simple reflector Ė cardboard with tin foil on one side, for example. Or a white newspaper held under your subjectís face. Play around with fill flash, too.
I realize Iíve seen only a small sample of your work, but every picture you submitted has a child in it. Children are great subjects. Theyíre not self-conscious. But if you want to challenge yourself, try taking shots of teens and adults. Adults are harder to work with, especially if theyíre strangers, but I think youíre up to the challenge.
Finally, if youíre shooting people, try thinking more broadly than a simple portrait. Try using the person as an element in a more complex composition.
Don't be afraid to take risks and make mistakes. Look at lots of photographs and then look at more. Keep shooting, every day -- and send us more photos next year!
Interested in having your photographs critiqued by one of the Globe's award-winning photographers? Just e-mail us 5 photos and a paragraph about why you'd like a critique. Here's more information.
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