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Globe critique: Talent at Waltham High School

Posted by Eric Bauer, Staff  February 5, 2009 02:02 AM

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At the urging of their teacher, Chloe Hill, eight students from a digital photography class at Waltham High School were among those who submitted portfolios for RAW's Critique by a Globe Photographer feature.

This month's Globe photographer, Pulitzer Prize winner Essdras Suarez, picked the portfolio of one of the students, Anna O'Brien, for a full critique. But he also agreed to comment on what he thought was the best work from each of the other students. So consider this a Critique by a Globe Photographer bonus feature.

By Essdras M. Suarez
Globe Staff

There was a lot to like in the work of this group from Waltham High School. It’s nice to see students who aren’t afraid to experiment in their photography. Not every shot was a winner, of course. These are teenagers with point-and-shoot cameras. But most of them are already beyond the “snapshot” stage. They’re already thinking in terms of composition and technique, and it shows.

I want to thank their teacher, Chloe Hill, for inspiring them and insisting (gently, I’m sure) that they submit their work for something as potentially scary as a critique by me.

I’ve commented on one picture from each of their portfolios. In most cases it was the one I liked best, but one or two were picked simply because they illustrated a point I wanted to make to the group as a whole.

Amie Patel photo

This shot by Amie Patel is the most evocative of the several photos we got of what I take to be the flagpole outside Waltham High. It’s a good example of a photograph where the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

I love its abstract quality. The composition is almost an optical illusion. It takes a little time to figure out what’s going on, and that makes it visually interesting. The muted palette of color and the soft focus also work well to convey a dark mood.

Angela Ortiz photo

Angela Ortiz took this shot of a flower, and first of all I want to congratulate her for experimenting with black and white. Her picture has a Georgia O’Keeffe quality to it. It evokes images of the southwest. The little bud on the left and the piece of one on the right add a lot to the image. We’re looking at the stages of life in a contained box.

I love the shallow depth of field, which isolates the important parts of the image from an otherwise distracting background, but you need to pump the contrast. I suspect this image was originally shot in color and you converted it to black and white using software like Photoshop. That’s OK, but the resulting image often looks “flat”, as this one does. The solution is to increase the contrast – to find a “pure black”. Fortunately, that’s pretty easy to do in most image software.

Andrea Lewis photo

Here’s another flagpole shot, this one by Andrea Lewis. It’s a good shot that could be improved by cropping both at the top and the bottom. Then you’d have parallelism in its composition – you’d have the triangle of the flag and flagpole balanced by the triangular shape of the foliage. The negative and positive space would be balanced.

El Jan Daulo photo

This leaf image is from El Jan Daulo. The first thing you notice is that it’s overexposed by 2 to 3 stops – something El Jan will learn to correct. As a composition, however, it’s not bad. It has layers of complexity – a point of entry (blades of grass) that lead to a focal point (the leaf). Then he gives you a bonus, the horizon. There’s a certain ephemeral quality to it. Crop the horizon out, however, and the picture loses its impact.

Esther Park photo

I think this silhouette from Esther Park would be better as a vertical. The merit of the photo lies in the fact that the man’s shadow is so nicely contained within the shaft of sunlight. You’d lose nothing of importance if you cropped in a couple of inches on both sides, and the heart of the image would be much less distractingly framed. The old cliché, “when in doubt, take it out”, works as well in photography as it does elsewhere.

Jenn V. photo

Jenn V. must have a pretty good “eye” to have picked out such an interesting subject. Where most people would see wires and light bulbs, she saw textures and patterns and colors worth photographing. As a result, she turned something mundane into something that transcends its content. Good job.

Shannon Kelly photo

Shannon Kelly, who took this picture, tells us she is thinking about majoring in photography in college. Good for her. It’s clear she’s got talent. This is a beautiful composition with a timeless quality to it. It could have been taken on a Paris street corner in the 1930s. Not only did she use the space within the picture well, but there is texture and real character in the woman’s face.

My criticisms are technical. Be careful of your exposures. I can tell the lighting here was tricky, but you overexposed the highlights and lost detail in her hand and shoulder. Dealing with difficult lighting is something you can learn, and something you’ll get better at with experience. Your “eye” for composition, though, is something you were born with.

Good luck to all of you. I hope you and your classmates keep shooting. Photography is a wonderful and rewarding hobby, and if you’re really lucky, a wonderful and rewarding job.


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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