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Globe Critique: Susan Levy Schale of Beverly

Posted by Eric Bauer, Staff  May 12, 2010 12:34 PM

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Our critique subject this week, Susan Levy Schale of Beverly, is the daughter of a professional photographer and wonders if she inherited even "a drop" of her late father's talent.

"I would have loved him to critique my photographs, but now will rely on others," she wrote us, adding that she has only recently taken up digital photography and purchased her first DSLR only six months ago. Although she is planning to take some photography courses this spring, for now, she says, she is learning by trial and error.

Her photographs immediately caught the eye of Globe photographer Suzanne Kreiter, a critique veteran.

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.

Susan shot her pictures with a number of cameras, including a Kodak P850, an Olympus Camedia E-20N and a Canon 5d Mark II.

Here's what Suzanne had to say:

By Suzanne Kreiter
Globe Staff

It looks to me like you’ve inherited your father’s eye for composition, Susan. That’s a solid foundation you can build on as you take courses and learn more photographic techniques, more about your camera, and more about image-editing software.

Let’s look at your portfolio:

Susan Levy Schale photo

I immediately liked this picture because the swirl and curve of the horse’s tail contrasts so well with the straight lines of the barn. It’s a quirky, almost funny, composition, but it works.

The only thing that needs a little work is the tones. I would burn down (darken) the band of shingles on the left edge so it doesn’t compete with the horse’s rump. I’d do the same with the top of the railing. Remember that light areas draw the viewer’s eye, so make sure your light areas work for you, not against you.

Susan Levy Schale photo

You told us in an e-mail how you created this image. You rubbed some baby oil on a small piece of glass and held it in front of the camera. The background is made up of an unopened, multi-colored umbrella and the corner of a pink Mandevilla plant. I admire your creativity, and it works for this subject matter, which is a jar of small plastic toys. It’s a fun subject, and you created a fun photo. I like it. It looks like an impressionist painting.

Again, my only criticism is with the toning. I wish this image had a little more contrast. Deeper black tones would really make it pop out.

One more thing I should say: I usually don’t like square images, but this one seems to work.

Susan Levy Schale photo

This landscape taken on Cape Cod is so close to working. The one problem I see is that the left tip of the boat is touching land, which creates a small amount of visual dissonance. Separating the boat from the land would make the composition just a little bit cleaner.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easily fixed. All you needed to do was get a little higher. You could have stood on your tiptoes, or done what I call a "Hail Mary" -- hold the camera over your head. I do that every day because I’m only 5’3”.

Everything else about the picture, including the tones and colors, is perfect the way it is. I like how the background fades out in the mist, making the boat stand out even more. I also like the light. I would say it was shot in the early morning or the late afternoon. That’s not necessarily the most convenient time for the photographer, but the softer light can make the best pictures.

Susan Levy Schale photo

I’m not sure what this is, but I like it anyway. It’s a good thing to photograph an object up close so it gives a hint of what it is, but leaves a little mystery. This picture is like a geometry poem. There are the seven triangles on top, and the combination of symmetrical and asymmetrical shapes in the railings and posts makes for a pattern festival.

My only quibble is that I would have cropped in a little bit on the left, maybe like this.

Susan Levy Schale photo

This is your least successful shot, Susan. To me it’s really just a snapshot. It’s missing the compositional artistry of your other photos. For starters, it’s all in focus, which makes it visually flat. The eye doesn’t know where to go first. To fix that, try experimenting with focal lengths and playing with depth of field. Or pick out a detail, as you did so successfully in the last photo.

It might help to shoot shutter priority rather than aperture priority, if your camera allows it. Most do. That is, use the exposure setting that lets you select the shutter speed while the camera automatically selects the best aperture. Doing that will give you a greater variation in depth of field in your shots.

I also found the subject matter boring. Sure it’s a pretty scene, but you, the photographer, didn’t find an interesting way to present it to me. There’s no indication of your skill or artistry as a photographer. A good photographer can make boringness itself interesting.

Remember that it’s OK sometimes to say "there’s just no picture here." In this case, however, given your talent, I know you’d find one if you could do it over again.

Overall, Susan, you are well on your way. You have a quirky eye, and a natural ability to see patterns and shapes and arrange them in an interesting way.

You’ve got landscapes down for the most part, but I have a couple of suggestions for new challenges. First, I’d like to see what you can do photographing people. Second, try going into an urban area. That will challenge your eye in a different way. Finally, try combining the two. Try taking humans and landscapes and playing with that interaction. Good luck!


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

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