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You're the photographer, take control!

Posted by Eric Bauer, Boston.com Staff  March 18, 2009 06:09 AM

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Maria Svigos fell in love with photography after taking one class, and has been trying to hone her skills ever since. She's the subject of this month's critique by a Boston Globe photographer.

Maria is a junior at Bridgewater State College and shoots with a Canon EOS Rebel K2.

Her work was evaluated by the Globe's Jonathan Wiggs, who has won numerous awards since becoming a member of the Globe staff in 1990. His assignments have taken him all over the world, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba. You can see a portfolio of his work in the section of Boston.com dedicated to Globe photography. Jonathan and his family live on the South Shore.

Here is his critique:

By Jonathan Wiggs
Globe Staff

One of the things I liked about Maria’s work right from the start is the variety of things she’s willing to try. Each picture showed me something new.

As you’ll see, Maria has a strong sense of composition, and she’s aware of a photographic moment. That’s key because those moments are fleeting. As the great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson said, "We cannot develop and print a memory."

As a photographer, you should think of your viewfinder as a canvas. You’re in control. You can add to it what you want, and get rid of what you don’t want. You have to be in control, and make those decisions.


maria_svigos1.jpg

A lot of photographers seem attracted to nature. You don’t have to travel far to find good subjects -- just step outside. Most of the portfolios submitted for critiquing have flower or insect photos, or both. The first thing I notice about this one is the lighting and the soft, out-of-focus background. They work together to really make the flower stand out. I know earlier critiques have made this point, but I’ll make it again: It’s important to learn the techniques for isolating a subject from a distracting background. Photographers at every level need to be aware of backgrounds and learn how to control them. Maria has done that well here.

My biggest concern about this picture is its graininess. A lot of things could cause that. It may have been scanned from a film negative or a print. Maria may have boosted the brightness or saturation a bit too much in her image-editing software. Or, the picture may have been taken at a high ISO.

I would recommend a lower ISO and a tripod. You don’t need a fancy macro lens to take a picture like this, but a tripod is essential. When you shoot at a high ISO -- say 800 or above on the most popular DSLRs -- you are compensating for a lack of light by increasing the sensitivity of your camera’s image sensor. But that also increases the graininess of the image. If you use a tripod you have another option. Instead of increasing the ISO, you can decrease your shutter speed. Every camera is different, so experiment with how far you can push the ISO before the grain becomes distracting.


maria_svigos2.jpg

What I first noticed in this portrait was the lighting. Her face is well exposed even though it sits at the intersection of two bands of shadow. That makes for an interesting and daring composition. This would be tricky for many photographers to meter correctly, but you nailed it.

The other thing I like is that you took the photo from a different point of view. Most amateur photographers would have snapped this picture standing up. They would have shot down on the subject, which would have completely changed the dynamic of the picture. It looks like you took it from a crouching position, which somehow makes it more intimate. There’s a nice connection between photographer and subject. I like her expression, too.


maria_svigos3.jpg

This is a wonderful composition. You have a good eye. I love lines like you have in this photo. They remind me of the works of Paul Strand, who was a master of lines and shadows.

This picture works in part because I suspect you used a medium focal-length lens. A wide angle would have distorted the red poles, and a long lens would have made it trickier to get this much depth of field. Good choice.

The little girl walking up the stairs adds a lot to what otherwise would be quite an abstract photo. You caught her at just the right time. It’s a nice “moment”, as photographers say.

I might have cropped this shot a little differently. I might have removed the knot of metal at the top, which I find distracting. The result would have been a cleaner composition.

One other thing. Those posts are really, really red. I suspect you pumped up the saturation, but be careful not to overdo it.


maria_svigos4.jpg

Here’s another case where you’ve tried something different -- and it’s not just that you made it a black and white. In your first portrait you got in close. This time you pulled back from the subject, which gives the viewer a lot more information. If you’d been in close we’d have seen a shot of a woman on the phone. Here we see she’s working at a pizza shop. By giving us the signs, the wood paneling, and the stacked pizza boxes, we not only get details about the woman, but also about her environment. There’s something about restaurants and diners that gives us a good feeling.

I don’t know what this picture looked like in color, but I can guess why it works better as a black and white: The fluorescent light above the woman’s head is not very appealing. In color it would have been harsh and distracting. Not so in black and white, which is one of the medium’s real advantages.

I have only one suggestion for making it better: I would have cropped down to the top of the menu sign. I find the reflections in the ceiling distracting.


maria_svigos5.jpg
We’ve all seen bench-in-the-park photos, and this is a nice one. I can tell, Maria, that you were thinking of angles. You took time to photograph an everyday object in an unusual way. That’s key to what photography is -- seeing the world differently and sharing that vision with others. Inanimate objects can be tough to photograph, and you did a nice job.

Overall, the composition here is good. Some people might be bothered by the tilted horizon. I’m not. It’s a technically solid photo, too. Parts of the bench are a little “blown out” -- the highlights are overexposed -- but it’s not too bad.

As I mentioned in the beginning, Maria, I like the variety of your work. It’s good that you’re not doing the same thing all the time. Keep developing your eye, and your photographic sense of timing. It’s something you can build upon.

And remember that photographs are your canvas. You’re the artist. You make the creative decisions. You’re in control. Take charge.

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