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Globe Critique: Jenn Silva of Reading

Posted by Eric Bauer, Staff  February 10, 2010 12:05 PM

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What Jenn Silva of Reading lacks in experience as a photographer she more than makes up for in willingness to learn, which makes her the perfect candidate for our Critique by a Globe Photographer feature. "I have never had any formal training, which is why your critique could really help me," she told us in an email.

Three of the five pictures she submitted are of animals, so it was no surprise to learn that she's the volunteer photographer for her local animal shelter. It was those photos that caught the eye of this month's reviewer, Globe staff photographer Suzanne Kreiter, an animal lover herself.

Suzanne joined the Globe in 1985, and has covered events ranging from the Nicaraguan civil war to pollution behind the Iron Curtain to the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. In 2007, she was awarded the American Society of Newspaper Editors Community Service Journalism Award for her photo column, The CitySeen, that chronicles Boston's less visible characters. She has twice been awarded New England Press Photographer of the Year, in 1988 and 2006. Here's a gallery of her work.

Jenn uses a PowerShot S3 IS, Canon's popular ultra-zoom point-and-shoot camera.

Here's what Suzanne had to say:

By Suzanne Kreiter
Globe Staff

Your work in your local animal shelter gives you access to some great subjects, Jenn, and I'm glad to see you're taking advantage of it. A couple of your pictures really show your empathy and your ability to capture the soul of your subjects. I like that, and it's not something that's easily taught.

You told us in your email that you like to shoot creative angles. That comes across as well, as we'll see.

Most of my suggestions for improvements have to do with subtleties like getting the composition exactly right or making a subject "pop" more from the background by fixing its exposure in Photoshop.

This picture perfectly captures the feral aspect of cats. You've really brought out the cat's personality. It's not a happy photo, but it works. Was it one of your animal shelter friends?

I think the framing and composition are perfect. I like that the picture is cut off just above the eyes. There's nothing to distract you from the expressive part of the cat's face -- the eyes, nose, and mouth. The shallow depth of field works here. The small aperture allows the edge of the head to fall gracefully out of focus, again emphasizing the expressive center of the face and making the cat look all the more wild. Great job.

There are two small fixes I would make in the printing, and they're both fairly subtle.

First, I would use my photo editing software to lighten up the cat's eyes. That would really give the picture more impact. It's a simple fix in Photoshop to increase the saturation of the greens and yellows in the cat's eyes and pull them out of the shadows.

Second, I would burn in -- in other words, darken -- the bit of white in the lower right corner. It's distracting, and you don't want your eye going there.

I can see why you were drawn to this scene. It's got great color. But if you're shooting people in a landscape, even if they're a small part of the scene, you need to be careful where they appear. It's best if they have a clean silhouette around them. In this picture, their silhouettes have been disrupted by the surf. It would have been better to capture them about four steps earlier, when they were completely framed by the sand.

There's one other thing I'd fix: The horizon line between the water and the sky has been distorted by the lens. There's an unnatural curve to it. To fix that, I would crop the sky entirely, down to the waterline. The sky here has the most boring color in the picture. No one will miss it. On the other hand, the sand has the most interesting and unusual color. I might have recomposed this to include more of the sand and the footprints.

I like this photo a lot. It sets a mood, and the sadness of unwanted pets really comes out. This is your most photojournalistic image -- it tells a story.

To clean up the composition, I would crop in from the left to get rid of what looks like a window. The crooked framing doesn't bother me per se. More often than not it's distracting, but here I think it adds to the atmosphere.

Much of what I would do to improve this image is aimed at making the important areas stand out more. For example, I would lighten the highlights of the white fur so the dog pops more from the background. I would also consider darkening the shadows a little so the image has a greater range of tonal values. Finally, I think you'd further bring out the soul of the animal by lightening his eyes.

This picture doesn't really work on a couple of levels. The dog just looks like a blob of light at the bottom of the frame. It's not readily apparent that it's a dog. Also, there's a lot of emphasis on the text, but I can't figure out what it's telling me. There isn't enough context in the picture for me to understand the story it's trying to tell. One thing I do like, however, is the fact that you made it black and white.

So what would I have done differently? I might have flipped the camera horizontally, dropped down a foot or so, and focused on the patterns of those bars. It wouldn't bother me if the dog went out of focus. That would be fine.

My basic point is this: Try different things. Play with the image more. Even professional photographers might have to shoot 100 shots before they get the right composition. Sometimes half the battle is sitting quietly at a desk and editing all the shots you've collected.

This picture gets an A+ for creative framing. I really, really like it. I wouldn't change a thing.

Overall, Jennifer, I hope I made the point that a few simple fixes will make all your images better. It's OK to be a little reliant on Photoshop or other editing software to clean up less-than-perfect lighting situations. It's not cheating! Spending a few hours learning Photoshop -- or learning to use it better -- is a great use of a photographer's time.

It's clear you love animals, and there's a lot you can do photographically with that. How about a photo story on pet adoptions? Or a portrait gallery of shelter animals? The three animal pictures you included here are a good start on either one.

I'd also like to see you try portraits of people. People have a way of disguising their souls better than animals. That makes them more of a challenge, but it's one you're up to.


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

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