Like many amateur photographers, friends and relatives of Monique C. Fischer of Cambridge tell her that she takes terrific photos, and even encourage her to try exhibiting her work.
"As much as I respect their opinions, it would be important for someone to view my photographs with an objective eye," Monique wrote in her application for a critique by a Globe photographer. "As an amateur photographer, I have taken many snapshots over the years of a personal nature ... family, trips, and vacations. I am hoping this critique will provide me with a critical eye and assist me in becoming a better photographer."
Globe staff photographer Jonathan Wiggs is happy to help, Monique. He saw many good things in your photos, and had a few suggestions for improvements.
Jonathan joined the Globe in 1990, taking on assignments both locally as well as all over the world, including in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba -- assignments that earned him many awards. You can see a portfolio of his work in the Globe Photography section of Boston.com.
His critique of Monique's work:
This is a good photo that unfortunately is a little too cluttered in the foreground. My eye is wandering all over the place. If you're going to photograph nature, specifically birds or other wildlife, then make that your main focus. In this shot, the berries distract from the bird; if you were shooting the berries, then the bird distracts from the berries.
You could have improved this shot by using a longer lens and putting the bird against a light background. Since the bird is a neutral color, you could move around and try to get the bird against a white background to make it stand out. Your use of a wide-open aperture (f/3.3) helped throw the background completely out of focus, which is nice. I can see that you wanted to layer this photo with something in the foreground and something in the middle ground, but it would have benefited from you moving around and eliminating some of the berries from the scene.
Shooting wildlife is tricky; the birds sit still only briefly. That's why you need a much longer lens, up to 300mm telephoto, to accentuate the wildlife and focus more on the bird from a distance.
I really like the color in this photo. The telephoto lens you used (135mm) did help to eliminate the background, which worked in your favor by making the buds stand out more. A macro lens or attachment would make this photo even more successful by enabling you to get really close and reveal more detail of the buds.
Also, when photographing flowers or buds, be aware of surrounding objects such as branches and leaves. Even though those are out of focus in the background in this photo, they still are distracting. Again, with a macro lens you could have gotten closer and eliminated that distraction. And if you use a telephoto lens with a wide aperture, you'll eliminate foreground and background elements and be able to focus on the flower.
You had a good eye to recognize the interesting lines of this building, Monique. Another approach could have been to compose just the details of one of the interesting windows to the right. But if you were trying to give people a sense of place, then you could have improved this photo by eliminating the tree on the right side, moving in a bit, and shooting upward more. You may end up with a tradeoff; you wouldn't get the arched windows along the bottom, for example, but that's why you have to be aware of all of the elements in a scene. As the photographer, you build the photograph. It's your canvas, and you decide what elements to include or eliminate. Just be careful with the lens and angle so that you don't distort the buildings.
I have a soft spot for mountains and water, and this shot works so well as a travel photo that it makes me want to go there. It provides a nice sense of place. This is a very nicely composed photo with good exposure. I like the placement of the boat between the trees because despite everything else in the photo, your eye is drawn to the boat.
As a photojournalist who always is looking to get people in a shot, I think having a person in the foreground of this photo would have added interest. But even without that, it has foreground, middle ground, and background elements that really work.
I also like the use of light: As your eye moves through this photo, there is dark, light, something dark, and something light again. Always have in your thought process what's in your foreground, middle ground, and background, and how they work together. Think about layers of the photo both vertically and depth-wise. You can layer with light, as you did, with shapes, or with people.
So you have all that with light and layers, and then there is this wonderful little moment with the boat right between the trees. “Moment” is another important element that shutterbugs should keep in mind. Great job.
This is your best photo, Monique, and I like several things about it:
The lighting is interesting. You're clearly not afraid of difficult lighting, and you shouldn't be. You're taking chances, and that's a good thing.
You chose to get in close to this cat and take a very detailed photo rather than capturing the entire subject – yet everyone still knows instantly what it is. That's a good, clever approach. Some photographers tend to overlook the opportunity for detailed photographs. Sometimes we will shoot a scene with the straight-on, typical view. We all do it, including myself. It's very easy to see the world through what I'll call the 50mm view. And it's terrific when a photographer steps outside of this and goes to another place such as a detailed photo like this.
There are many things essential to a photo that we can say works collectively; lighting is one of those things, as is composition, moment, color – when all those things come together, that's what makes a successful photograph. You put those elements together in this photograph. You're taking chances; sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. You recognize something that draws your eye initially, and then other things come to you as you're building that photograph. It's nice to see the world from a different perspective.
Overall, Monique, I would encourage you to continue what you're doing, and continue your approach to seeing the world. There are more technical things you could try, such as using a macro lens. Keep in mind that there are three main elements to creating a successful photo: Storytelling (we call it journalism), the technical, and aesthetics.
Also, photography is very broad, and you may end up narrowing down your interests to particular subjects – that could be architecture, nature, sports, animals, whatever. Doing so could help hone your skills in that area. You have a good basic understanding of lighting and moment; experiment with changing your perspective. Another good piece of advice is to look at the work of great photographers -- such as Alex Webb, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus, Art Wolf -- and build a library of their work you can refer to. And don't be afraid to emulate some of that great work – it will help you learn.