I took the shot above on a recent vacation. Clearly not in New Jersey in December. The shot was taken in color, but from the start I was planning it to be in black and white. No this will not be another of those lengthy rants about how much better, more artistic, true to the craft, etc. black and white is. Truth be told, there are advantages and benefits to most of the contemporary ways of presenting an image.
I liked the end result as shown here. I won’t get into all the details around that. Suffice it to say that to me, the primary focus is on the boy and his sand castle. From there, the eye is drawn to the three people walking in the surf which draws the eye farther down the beach. The people in the far distance simply add to the feel of a day at the beach.
Our local photo club is atypical from most in that our charter specifically eliminates competitions within the club. Our mission is to educate both the members and the greater community about photography. Due to that very nice piece of our make up, we can submit up to two images per meeting for analytical critique. These critiques are lead by one of our two mentor pros, are open to all members to add their comments and are an incredible learning vehicle. When the images come up for critique, there is usually nothing to indicate who the photographer is.
I submitted this shot at a recent meeting. The comments were generally favorable, pointing out what I had done well and what I might do better. Several of the members were quick to point out that the boy has a “wedgie”, something that I hadn’t noticed. The pros were focused more on the three people walking in the surf saying that they are a distraction. One of our mentors is really big on birds in shots like this to the point that it is a running joke during critiques. Needless to say, I did pass that test.
After the club meetings, I normally try to apply the critiques I’ve received to the images that I submitted. This was no exception. The following day, I opened a copy of the image and took out the three people. Here’s the result.
I know there are many photographers who think taking the people out is a betrayal to the art and craft as I am no longer showing what the camera caught. When dealing with serious photo journalism, I agree. When talking about photography as art, that’s a totally different realm.
Regardless of ones opinion on realism, I hope that we can all agree that the image looks very different. I find that the re-editted version is also an image that I am proud of. This second image, to me, has a very different look, feel and story. I sent copies of both pictures to a friend in the club who was at the meeting and asked for her reaction. I reiterated to her that I am open to honest critique whether negative or positive, but please don’t just say, “great shot” or “this is no good” without telling me why.
Her reaction was that they are two very different, but very good presentations. Whereas the first mage tends to capture a somewhat typical day at the beach with lots of people and activity, the second one is much more focused on the boy and the sand castle. The surf and the bird provide enough distraction so that the upper right part of the image doesn’t get boring, but there really isn’t much in the image to draw the eye away from the main focus which is the boy and sand castle.
So what did I really do? I changed perhaps five per cent of the image (I didn’t measure so please don’t start that debate). The part that I changed was not a big up front component to the image. Looking at the two side by side, there is a huge difference in the feel, impact, and reaction to the picture.
Small changes don’t have to be just about taking things out or adding them. When preparing for an exhibit, one of the pictures I was going to use had an element that was crowded next to a couple of others. Someone suggested that I move it over just enough to create some space between the elements. We won’t get into the work involved to do it, but the net effect was that when the move was complete, the resulting image was much more powerful. It was also very well received.
There can also be an amusing side to making small changes. Among my interests, is yoga. I’ve been practicing and teaching for a long time. I go to “yoga camp” most summers. At one of these camps I got a really good shot of one of my “fellow campers” in a handstand. We really liked the pose, but the background left much to be desired. At times like this, you have to love Photoshop. I cut her out of the original shot and added her into a much better scenic shot, an open field with flowers around and hills in the background. I was very happy with the result and sent her a jpeg. Just after I sent it I was looking a little closer and realized that I had committed one of the cardinal sins (think telephone pole growing out of the subject’s head). Since she was in a handstand, I wasn’t worried about her head. Her legs were in a T and I managed to place her such that it appeared that a bush was growing, yep there. Moving her over slightly corrected that and we had a good laugh over it. She has since used the shot in promoting her teaching.
Of course, there is a down side. I won’t start arguing what separates small changes from big ones. When making these changes, you do need to be careful not to over do it. I suspect that we’ve all seen HDR shots where the effects have been totally overdone such that the HDR becomes the focus of the picture, not the subject itself. The same goes for things like saturation. Going a little overboard on the right image can make a big positive change. Going that little bit farther and the shot is ruined for pretty much everyone other than those who are color blind.
The moral of all this, to me, is…don’t be afraid to make changes, try things a little different. Assuming you try them on a copy, you can always delete it if you don’t like it. Look at your changes critically, be open to what the change does to the image in terms of the message int conveys, the story it tells. Your final result may be very different from the original picture, and that can be terrific.