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Globe Critique: Learning to 'work' the picture

Posted by Eric Bauer, Staff  November 17, 2009 06:00 AM

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Tom Henry only recently converted from film to digital photography, and says he has rediscovered his art through Photoshop and digital technology. But, he wonders, is his art any good?

We asked Globe photographer David L. Ryan to take a look at Tom's portfolio and give him -- and us -- an opinion.

David has been at the Globe longer than any other photographer. He began working at the paper as a copy boy in 1968, at the age of 14. As a staff photographer, he has crisscrossed the US and shot assignments around the world. He is known for shooting "from heights," as he puts it. Many of his best photos were taken from planes, helicopters, or high buildings. You can see a gallery of his work in the Boston Globe Photography section of

Tom is a resident of Brighton. In his film days he shot with a Canon A1. Now that he's switched to digital, he's using a Nikon D50.

Here is David's critique.

By David L. Ryan
Globe Staff

When I first glanced at your portfolio, Tom, I could tell you have an eye for composition and color. It's also clear you do well shooting nature. That's great because nature is a constantly changing source of subjects, and the hardest part of photography is finding good subjects.

In your e-mail you worried that your photos are too vibrant and saturated. I don't find that to be a problem. Keep in mind, though, that every photo needs a "grabber", something that pulls you in. Grabbers don't always have to be objects. Light, or color, or areas of sharp focus can work as grabbers, too. But there has to be something that catches your eye. When you followed that rule, Tom, your pictures were quite good; when you didn't, they were a little disappointing.

Tom Henry photo

Sorry, but this shot doesn't do much for me. I don't know what it's about. You identify the location as Boylston Street in Boston, but there's nothing in the composition that tells me why Boylston Street is a special place. This could be any street in any reasonably-sized city in the US.

I suspect you were trying to evoke a mood. Or maybe you just liked the way the streetlights line up. Whatever the case, the composition doesn't work for me. Every picture should have a visual focal point, and that's missing here. The focal point could have been a person crossing the street, or one of the streetlights, or perhaps one of the manhole covers at the lower left. As it is, there's nothing to make me sit up and take notice. I don't mean to sound harsh, but you do so much better in your other shots.

From a technical perspective all your pictures are quite good. Perhaps the highlights here are a bit “blown out” (overexposed), and I think I can detect a little camera shake, but neither is really an issue.

Tom Henry photo

This is an improvement. You've got a focal point, and a nicely layered composition. The cattail at the left catches your eye and draws you into the picture.

My only suggestion is that you make the sky bluer. A greater contrast between the blue of the sky and the yellow of the plants would increase the overall impact of the image, which would be less muted. That could be done through a filter on your lens (a polarizer might do the trick), or after the fact in image-editing software like Photoshop.

Tom Henry photo

This is the first of two similar photos you submitted of leaves in Chestnut Hill Park. I like them both. They show you're trying to think creatively about an oft-photographed subject, and they both succeed in being eye-catching, which I like.

The star of this image, in my opinion, is the brilliant orange leaf in the center. I might have cropped in on the left and down from the top to make that leaf more prominent. But that's just a suggestion. It's a nice image as is.

Tom Henry photo

I think this is the more successful of the two. For one thing, I like the much tighter crop. You've blown out the highlights, but that doesn't bother me. It's part of your artistic expression.

The fact that you got two good pictures at the same location brings up a point about "working" the photo. That's something professionals learn to do. We try to stay at a scene a little longer and take lots of different compositions. The more time and effort you can spend exploring different angles, the better chance you'll have of capturing that perfect shot.

Tom Henry photo

And speaking of perfect shots, this is pretty close. I love this picture. It's beautiful, and it does for the Public Garden exactly what your first picture didn't do for Boylston Street: It captures the soul of the place.

The curving border of the pond does a great job of drawing the viewer into the image. It captures your eye immediately, and the composition and colors really convey the Public Garden's air of quiet relaxation. If I look carefully I see that you even got people into the picture, which as a newspaper photographer I applaud (though it wouldn't have hurt for them to be more prominent).

Only one minor thing bothers me: the spot of bright light in the lower right corner, which I find distracting. I would have darkened that area in Photoshop.

All in all, this really well done. In fact, I wouldn't mind seeing more of this scene. There are so many great visual building blocks here -- the water, the trees, the leaves, etc. – that I bet you could have shot 10 great pictures. As I said before, learn to work the scene.


Interested in a Globe critique? Read past critiques here, then get your photos together and apply for one yourself.

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