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Skill Level Intermediate
- [Steve] Hey everybody. Steve Simon here. The passionate photographer and welcome to a new edition of photo critique of the week. This week we're going to look at some images from Cuba by the photographer Denise Hartung, and I've got a couple of images from different scenarios, and I thought I would show you how Denise sort of approached her subject, and ended up with a stronger photograph, because I think there's a lesson that can be learned from this kind of approach, and that is generally speaking when you see something that's got some visual potential and not quite there, you got to keep working it to get a stronger image.
Now this is kind of an environment of what's happening in this barbershop, and this was an earlier image from Denise. This ultimately was the strongest image from the take, and you kind of work up to it. You know sometimes it's a matter of exclusion, and moving in closer and moving in closer, but beyond that I think an image like this there's more to it in terms of what makes it successful. Obviously the focus is right here on the blade, but so too what's important here is this exact moment, and just what's happening with the hands, and what that's being communicated, and you can see when you've got a blade, those hands are very skilled and you can see that.
You can see he's kind of looking ahead because he knows the barber has a blade on him, and there's potential for disaster. There's a lot really being communicated there, and I think ultimately this picture is very descriptive, but this picture has a lot more power in it, and I think in situations where you come to, and you get there and you sort of photograph, I think this picture here because of the area in the center here where your eye tends to go, not just because it's a light area and your eye goes to the lighter areas, but also compositionally it's kind of an empty space, and it's toward the center and that's where you go.
So but she was able to capture the band, but the next shot here is a stronger image, and sometimes people have to make sacrifices, and in this case, not all the band members are in this picture but there's no question this picture is a stronger picture. It captures the musician in a very sort of concentrated way. There is some synchronicity between the sax players. It's just a much stronger picture, and you know I thank Denise for letting me show these because these are the pictures, the first ones, that we don't like to show because we're only going to show our best.
This next image you know there's a lot going on in this scene. You can see it's probably Christmas time with the Christmas tree there in Havana, but the image here is this couple, but it's a little bit timid. It's a little bit voyeuristic. It's a little bit ultimately too far. This image here I think is actually pretty good. There's a lot going on here. You can see that people are coming in for their rations of I think it might be chicken I want to say, but I'm not entirely sure and it's kind of storytelling from that perspective, but I think Denise is always scanning, and she found just behind this scene this scene, and I think ultimately I would say that this is a stronger image.
Not just because it's a closer view, and it's a little less complicated in terms of the distraction, but it also sort of tells a story between this little girl. She's got the pen in her hand. You can see the old cash register. You don't really know exactly the place, but I think it's ultimately a stronger picture. Although again, I do like this picture, too. You know sometimes you're going through a neighborhood, and you're a street photographer, and you're kind of looking for people, and she captured this guy, you know, sitting on his stoop, but then she also got this picture, and you know the idea is that as a photographer, even though you know people may be your forte, the picture on the left is really a beautiful image.
I think that it's got a lot going for it in terms of color. Compositionally, the fact that she composed it in this way, I think works really strongly. These eggs in terms of the placement within the frame just above the central area works really well, and you know this picture on the left is a strong picture. The picture on the right, it's not as strong. You know the moment isn't quite right. The angle might be a little off, and I think the takeaway for me here is that look, I have certain ideas and previsualizations of what I'm going after but as a photographer in the end, all the images are going to be kind of two dimensional representations of life, and sometimes you can tell a story without people in it.
Sometimes that story is even stronger. This image of this gentleman smoking a big cigar was kind of the portrait she was looking to take, but ultimately it wasn't quite as strong as this image, and although I would criticize this image a little bit in the sense that I think I would rather see the cigar at the top here sharper as supposed to where the focus is maybe a little bit back focused on the smoke. It still kind of tells a story that I think ultimately is stronger than this one in terms of this guy.
I think perhaps with a tighter crop it would work, but I think photographically, you know again, it's not a still life but it's a real crop of this cigar and the beautiful smoke and you get a sense, even with the out of focus shirt behind. You can see the guy's got a wedding ring there. I think it's a stronger image. You know one of the things, you know, when you spot something worth photographing is when you can and when you have time you work it, and you sort of find a different angle, and I think in this case for me there's no question that this side lit angle is much more interesting than this one here.
Nothing wrong with this one, but this one is much stronger image. You get the intensity of him kind of looking. You get the beautiful light. You get the background is more interesting. Overall, it's just a much stronger image, and again, it's the fact that you know you shoot it, and then you move and then you sort of determine exactly what's going to work, and that angle idea is still showing in this image here. I think that in these two images of this young man, again, there is no question in my mind that not only is it the expression, but it's also the angle.
There's a depth because he's a little bit, she's a little closer at a wider angle. So you get the depth in terms of place in the separation of him from the background. It makes it a lot more three dimensional than this one. This moment is more interesting and so his expression I think, and it's just really nicely composed. You know the cropping of the fingers here can be a little bit distracting. So again, it's working it. No one sees this one except us, and this is the one that you sort of put out into the world.
I think light obviously and you've heard me say many times, of course this is photography, it's all about the light to a certain degree, and I really love what's going on here in this image, and I think another of Denise's image here is also about the light. You can see the lights hitting this guy's face. It's probably night time although it's fairly bright. The night light is pretty bright. Beautifully composed. Your eye goes right here ultimately, and what I wanted to say about this image is for me, I really like this picture but what I find a little bit distracting is his expression.
To me this expression says self-consciousness. It says that he's being photographed and for me, that kind of takes me out of the movie so to speak, and I think that it's really important, and again I've said this before on different shows, it's really important to recognize sort of a self-conscious subject, and work toward getting a more real authentic expression, not that this isn't authentic. It's just a little distracting from the scene because his expression is more about being photographed than anything else, whereas here he's in the moment.
You've captured this guy out in the real world, and I think it works really well. The other thing I wanted to say is even though these pictures are very different, sometimes and I'm guilty of this myself. I tend to maybe, I'm a little bit shy in terms of finding the right angle, and finding that best possible composition. I think in this particular case with her centrally located and looking this way, I think that a more head on approach to this particular picture would be stronger, and I think that when you do get out of your comfort zone, and you're kind of head on right there, you force the viewer also to be in that position, and it's a very impactful place to be, especially when you're physically close to your subject.
The connection with Denise and this woman is being communicated and transmitted magically through the power of photography which is amazing, and why it's so magical and amazing. And this image here I think is very similar to this in that they're both a little bit voyeuristic. You can see that the foreground door is out of focus, and the focus is here. They're both focused in on what's happening inside, but I think this image again feels to me a little bit like this one in that the expression for me is a little bit too contrived.
I feel that this woman is reacting to being photographed. She knows she's being photographed. Obviously when you poke your camera through someone's door you owe them to give them you know to get permission unless you see something candid, and you're able to sneak it by, but ultimately you're going to make contact and she was okay. I happened to be there at the time, and I remember she was okay with being photographed, but again I think her reaction is to being photographed, and I feel that in both these images, whereas in this last image here, it's a real beautiful kind of authentic moment between this woman and this young guy probably helping with homework.
He's really concentrating and she's kind of happy because he's concentrating and he's probably getting it, and all that is being communicated here in this really kind of intimate moment. So ultimately, they're both intimate moments, but this one is the most successful. So there you go. I think it was great to see Denise's process if you will, and some of the end results, which were really really beautiful. So that's it for this week. I hope that you'll join me on the next edition of photo critique of the week.
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