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Globe Critique: Phil Bond

Posted by Eric Bauer, Boston.com Staff  December 17, 2009 12:05 PM

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This week our amateur, Phil Bond of Tewksbury, and the professional critiquing him, Globe staffer Matthew J. Lee, have something in common: they both love photographing rock and roll.

"I really got into photography because many of my friends are in bands, and the photos they were using on websites were absolutely horrible [point and shoot] shots with flash, and no artistic quality at all," Bond wrote in an e-mail to RAW. While he’s confident in the quality of his concert shots, many of which he has published or sold, he’s not so sure about his other work.

Phil began shooting with a Minolta SRT 201 film camera. His first digital camera was a point-and-shoot, which he outgrew after a few years and replaced with a Canon Rebel Xti. Since then, he's upgraded to a Canon EOS 50D.

Matthew J. Lee has been a Globe staff photographer since 1999. While at the Oakland Tribune he shared the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for News Photography for coverage of the Loma Prieta Earthquake during the World Series. He has also worked as a staff photographer for the Charlotte Observer, Long Beach Press-Telegram, and the Miami Herald. He attended the last photo workshop taught in Yosemite National Park by Ansel Adams, and the first Eddie Adams Workshop for the 100 best young photographers in the country. Here's a gallery of his work.

By Matthew J. Lee
Globe Staff

You wrote us, Phil, that you think you're at your best when shooting concert photos. I agree. Those are your best shots. But the rest of your portfolio shows promise as well.

You've got a good eye, good photographic instincts, and good basic technique. A lot of the things I point below out have to do with details. Sometimes those details are compositional, but many of them are things you can fix in post-processing, as you get more confident and more adventuresome in Photoshop.

Let's look at your portfolio.

photo1_will_600.jpg

This is a great exposure, and a pretty good picture. I know from first-hand experience how tough a lighting situation this is. I got my start in photography shooting bands in California, and I still shoot a number of concerts each year for the Globe -- like Gwen Stefani and No Doubt a few months ago.

The problems I have with the picture are more about what it doesn't show than what it does. I wish I could see the guitar player's face. If he was jamming, which he appears to be, then he probably had a great facial expression. In your e-mail you identified him as Boston-based singer-songwriter Will Dailey, but to me, in this photo, he's "generic guitar guy".

From a technical standpoint, you did a nice job battling the tricky lighting. You shot it with the right exposure and a nice fast lens at ISO 1600, which was pushing the limits of your camera. I would have "burned in" (darkened) his feet a little in Photoshop. You really want the viewers' eyes to go to the guitarist's hands. Instead, because eyes are naturally drawn to the lightest part of the photo, mine went to his feet.


photo2_sds_600.jpg

This is a shot of the band Six Day Slide that reinforces my point about faces. Here you see the guitar player's face, and it makes the picture. You've captured a nice moment, again in circumstances of tricky lighting.

It would be much stronger, however, if you cropped out the guy on the right. His back doesn't add anything, and the extra width shifts the focal point of the image away from its strongest element. Click to see how I would have cropped it.

Sometimes when you're shooting your friends in a band it's almost like you're insulting them if you crop someone out. But the pictures are usually stronger if you pick a focal point, and get rid of the distracting elements. That sounds cold, but good photos require it.


photo3_waimeapier_600.jpg

This is an interesting photo of a fish pier taken at Waimea, Kauai, Hawaii. It makes me wish I was there. I like the way the pier draws my eyes up into the photo. That kind of engagement with the eye is a sign of a successful image. And it's great that you recognized the potential in those clouds and the dark blue sky. They add drama, and maybe a sense of foreboding.

I do think you went a touch overboard in pumping up the saturation -- that is, the intensity of the color -- in Photoshop. Having said that, though, some people like this kind of especially vivid image and I don't want to discourage you from experimenting.

My one suggestion (though perhaps my photojournalism bias is showing) is that you add a human layer -- say a fisherman or a guy with a surfboard walking right up the middle.


photo4_railroad_600.jpg

This shot reminds me of late 1970s or early 1980s photojournalism when we used to burn the sky black. A modern comparison might be an image shot in infrared.

I like the fact that you tried to get an unusual angle. You didn't take the picture from shoulder height. Instead your camera was down close to the rail. That made for a more visually interesting image.

I have two suggestions for improvement. First, remember the rule of thirds and avoid having your horizon line in the middle of the picture. Second, the overexposed leaves in the bottom left drew my eye away from where the composition itself seemed to want them to go. You can correct that by darkening them in Photoshop, much as you darkened the sky. Click here to see a quick and dirty fix. A lot of intermediate photographers know to darken "blown out" skies. The same rules apply to overexposed highlights other places in the image.

I'd also like to point out that your email said this rail line, near Burlington, Vt., is abandoned. No one should ever try to take this kind of picture on a working rail line. In fact, we wouldn't print this in the Globe for fear that someone without common sense would try to duplicate it.


photo5_frank_600.jpg

This picture doesn't do much for me. The background is just too busy. If you're going to shoot portraits like this, take control of the situation and put your subject in a place where there aren't trees growing out of his head and his ears don't have white wings.

If that's not possible, try blurring the background by controlling the depth of field. The wider the aperture the shallower the depth of field, and the more everything behind the subject will be blurred. (In other words, f/3.5 is better than f/11).

Here's a tip for taking good portraits without expensive and bulky studio lights. Have the subject stand in the doorway to a building, with the inside lights turned off. The sun will act like a giant softbox light, reducing glare and harsh shadows, and the dark interior will make for a clean, non-distracting background. You'll need to zoom in close enough that you don't get the door frame in the picture, or crop it out later.

I have one general suggestion that I think would help both your rock photography and your portraits: buy a telephoto lens. Something like a 70-200mm zoom can be had relatively cheaply and would help you isolate your subjects and clean up your backgrounds. I think you'll find it a useful complement to the two lenses you told us you currently own, a 24-70mm zoom and a nice, fast 50mm.

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


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