Globe photographer Yoon Byun liked Arman Bilge's photos when he first saw them. But he was amazed when he learned that Bilge had just turned 14.
Bilge says photography plays a big role in his life, and is "so much a part of who I am". The Lexington resident's favorite subjects, as we shall see, are birds and flowers, along with insects, and he is already on his second DSLR. You can see more of his work on his web site.
Yoon joined the Globe in September 2007. He is fascinated by subcultures and idiosyncrasies, and is an advocate of visual literacy and non-literal thinking. His assignments for the Globe have included the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and the Democratic National Convention that nominated President Barack Obama. You can view a portfolio of his work in the Boston.com section devoted to Globe photography.
By Yoon S. Byun
Your pictures really stood out when we were going through the reviewing process, Arman, and I was impressed when I discovered you are only 14. Your work shows maturity well beyond your years.
Before we look at your individual photos, let me summarize what I saw in your work. You are already good at three difficult things: composition, lighting, and isolating subjects from their backgrounds. You also have a good sense of color.
My only general criticism is to be mindful of the details of composition. You often get the big things right, but some of your pictures could be improved by paying attention to details such as what gets cut off at the edges.
Letís look at your portfolio.
This is a strong picture. The portfolios people send in for critiquing tend to have a lot of close-up pictures of flowers, but this one stands out for several reasons.
First of all, the focal length of the lens, the depth of field, and the distance between flower and camera were all chosen quite effectively. The picture has a shallow plane of focus (the area thatís sharp). Anything an inch closer or further away begins to blur. Viewersí eyes are draw to things that are sharply focused, so thatís a good technique for getting them to look where you want them to look. Here, the flower itself really stands out because of the shallow depth of field and beautifully blurred background.
The shutter speed you chose was quite effective as well. It was fast enough to keep the flower still, but slow enough to allow the rain to appear as streaks. The water really adds to this image.
My only concern is about the composition. Itís a little cut off on the bottom and on the right. It might have been more pleasing to see the full shape. Or, you could have tried a composition that focuses on a single part of the anatomy of this flower, like the delicate stamens in the middle, but that would have been a different picture.
This is another winning shot. Itís absolutely beautiful. I could see it as part of a calendar, or as the image on a Christmas card.
This picture took skill, timing, and a little bit of luck to execute. You managed to catch the bird just as heís eating a berry. Either you were lucky, or you have a lot of patience. You were also lucky that you were able to get such a clear shot, with no branch in the way, without scaring the bird away.
Itís color palette and depth of field and that makes this photo so good. The flat, muted colors, along with the fog, give it a sense of mystery and make the red of the berries really pop. And once again youíve used the right lens and the right combination of aperture and shutter speed to control the depth of field. The birdís head is in sharp focus, as it should be, but most of the elements of a rather distracting background are pleasingly blurred. Nice job.
This is another solid picture. My immediate reaction is how nice it is and how well lit it is. Plus, once again youíve done a great job isolating the flower from the background.
Iím guessing this was not shot in nature, but rather in your studio. (Editorís note: Arman confirms this.) The light is soft and even, and there are no harsh shadows. The flower really stands out. Thereís a nice, clean, professional feel to this picture.
Composition is the only think I think could be improved. Thereís nothing particularly wrong with it, itís just that since you controlled the environment you could have been be a little more experimental. Try different positions. Try moving the flower around. Youíve got the perfect studio setup -- use it!
Ok, now the bad news. This picture doesnít fit with the quality of the other shots. Itís like it was taken by a different photographer. Itís more like a snapshot -- youíve merely recorded the fact that there were three ducks on a pond.
So whatís not working? One thing is the light. Your earlier pictures benefitted from soft light. The light here is pretty harsh. I suggest shooting either earlier or later in the day, nearer to sunrise or sunset. Better light would also warm up the colors, which are pretty stark.
I also think the composition doesnít work all that well. Your other shots had a visual point of focus. This really doesnít. My eye doesnít know where to settle. What could you have done? You could have picked a different lens -- one that was either more telephoto or more wide angle. That would give you quite a different picture. You could have focused on a detail, like their feathers, or the curve of one duckís neck. Or you could have moved so the ducks were lined up in a way that allowed you to use your good sense of depth of field to isolate one from the others. Unlike all your other images, this one is flat.
Give yourself a pat on the back for even catching this bird. Theyíre pretty small and fast, and you managed to get him when he was just sitting there.
Itís a nice image, but itís not as strong as your first bird picture. Both the background and the foreground here are a bit messy. The out-of-focus white and green spots are a little distracting. Also, hereís an example of where sharp focus works against you. The light-colored and sharply focused area at the bottom center draws the eye where you donít really want it to go.
Itís obvious from this and your other pictures that you have an interest in nature, Arman. Fortunately, you have the eye for composition that will allow to take advantage of the lifetime of photographic opportunities that nature provides. Keep pursuing it. Eventually youíll get longer and faster lenses, and those will expand the range of wildlife you can capture, as well an increase your creative opportunities.
What would I suggest you do next? Give yourself a challenge. For example, you could try photographing birds in motion. Thatís really hard to do, but I think you and your equipment are up to it. Just for fun, Iíd also like to see what you can do with a wide-angle lens. You are good at looking at the world with a micro view. Now try looking with a macro view. Youíll get very different pictures, even if you stick with photographing nature.
Interested in a Globe critique? Read past critiques here, then get your photos together and apply for one yourself.
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