Monday, April 19, 2010

Be Your Own Harshest Critic

What's the difference between the shot of Paria Canyon above and the one below? Both were taken on the same evening. I took the one with the flare (below) just as the sun was setting, and the one at the top just moments later - facing in the other direction. The skies were fantastic and the light was lovely... but in my mind, the top one works a lot better than the other. In this case, the foreground and mid-ground are key. The rocky outcropping in the shot below lacks a sense of order. There's no clear point of interest in the foreground, and the empty area at the left is pretty uninteresting. The shot at the top provides a clear point of focus in the foreground, and a leading line that takes your eye along the canyon and up to the sky. As a result, the image seems to posses great depth and continuity.

And how about this next shot? Beautiful autumn colors, the soft flow of the water... what's not to like? Lots of our rejected images contain pleasing elements, but as you can see in this shot, they don't always come together very well. Notice the tree trunks in the top third of the photo - they are neatly centered, which makes them more distracting than they should be. And the water seems to cut the image in half, rather than creating a pleasing leading line. The leaves in the foreground are scattered all over - so your eye wanders without a clear point of interest. Where does your eye come to rest in an image like this one?

That's a common compositional problem. In this shot from Death Valley, Jay has captured some beautiful patterns in the sand, and the curving line that leads the viewer into a beautiful sunrise. Unfortunately, what draws the eye is the brighter, less interesting area on the left. The most interesting area of the image is in shadow - not always a bad thing, but here it just gets lost.

It's important to critique your work honestly. If it's not good enough, let it go! But sometimes that's easier said than done. Take a look at this last shot. I stood on a little ledge for quite a while, waiting for the water to splash though holes in the rocky wall. I ended up with two images that could be combined to show two big splashes instead of one. The processing took a while, too. But the fact is, the composition is far too busy. Those dynamic splashes seem pretty insignificant because they're lost in a mess of rocky outcropping. There's nowhere to rest your eye in this image, and it seems heavy on the right. And although the effect of combining two images is interesting, it feels more like fakery than reality to me. It's tough to toss out an image after you've put a lot of work into it - but sometimes, you just have to let it go.

Except for the very first image you see here, you won't find any of these images in our portfolios. We wanted to share some of our least favorite images, because we think it's important to be your own harshest critic. Don't be afraid to throw away a lot of images. A small portfolio full of fantastic shots is much better than a large one with too much mediocrity. Quality is far more important than quantity.

With that said - I think I need to go clean out my showcase gallery!

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Anonymous D King said...

I usually find that I evaluate my shots in a more objective manner when I come back to them after a few days or even a few weeks. This can be a bit frustrating and I'm wondering if you've experienced this.

April 20, 2010 at 10:11 AM  
Blogger Varina Patel said...

D King - yes. Most definitely. I often find that I am happy with an image until I take a break from it... and suddenly, it just doesn't appeal to me anymore. Of course, sometimes it works the other way too... and image that I didn't like grows on me over time.

I try to look at my own work as objectively as possible - and reevaluate regularly! :)

April 20, 2010 at 10:44 AM  
Blogger Nazbuster said...

Thanks for a great lesson and the examples to make it clear. I've put off for years the process of purging the library. It's time!

April 21, 2010 at 12:59 PM  
Blogger Varina Patel said...

Thanks Nazbuster! :) Good luck with your purging process. Don't be afraid to let the bad ones go!

April 21, 2010 at 2:17 PM  
Anonymous Jay Goodrich said...

Yet another great post Varina. The hardest job about being a photographer is letting go of even the smallest of issues in an image. I still argue with myself to this day.

April 22, 2010 at 3:02 PM  
Blogger Varina Patel said...

Me too, Jay! I argue with myself about photography all the time. It's tough to critique your own work - but it's an essential skill. :)

April 22, 2010 at 3:12 PM  

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