December 14, 2014

From Average Joe to Passable Pro

I have often read that the biggest difference between an average photographer and one that can go pro is the ability to critique one’s own work. Once you cross that barrier and can identify the flaws in a photo, you’re one step closer to eliminating them from your work. So in that spirit, I’ve been trying to take a more critical eye with my own photography. I find a few small details can really distinguish the Pros from the Average Joes.

The Eyes

The face, and especially the eyes, need to be visible and clear. If there’s one thing all pros can do it’s a perfectly in focus eye where you easily identify the eye color. This is partially because professionals tend to get in close with the subject, so the eye is bigger in the frame. The biggest factor, however, is proper lighting. Professionals tend to be masters of lighting. They can shoot in natural light, but also often have the right equipment: reflectors, external lighting, diffuses, etc.

pumpkin1
A very determined Nicki at the pumpkin patch
Verdict: Average Joe

The problem here is the direct, bright sunlight from above (it’s early afternoon). Direct sun tends to have harsh shadows. In this case you see a very harsh shadow under the chin, arm, pumpkin skin, and under the brow bridge. Either a flash or a catch light could have helped lesson the shadows and could have brought out the eyes.

Of course, that’s a lot of camera equipment for a simple trip to a pumpkin patch, and my primary philosophy is not let the camera interfere in the activity or Nicki’s fun, least she lose interest in the camera.

pumpkin2
Pensive Nicki with better eye focus.
Verdict: Passable Pro (at least for the eyes)

This one was taken in the shadow of the check out tent, out of the harsh direct sunlight. Nicki’s eyes are more open, which certainly helps. Since the light is more diffused you also don’t get those harsh brow ridge shadows hiding her eyes!

Hands and Feet

Artistic blur is awesome, but blur can also be a sign of improper settings. Many professional photographers like the effects of prime lenses, which often have shallow depth of fields. Background blur, like that caused by a shallow depth of field) is great for emphasizing the subject. Blur can also occur when the subject moves fast enough for the motion to be caught on frame. This is called motion blur.

Sure motion blur can be artistic. Just like with brightness there are times when the rules are meant to be broken. In these cases it’s often obvious that the professional intended to break the rule, by the effect the broken rule has on the photo.

babysmiles
Baby Smiles! What’s with that fist near the bottom of the frame – depth of field issue or motion blur?
Verdict: Average Joe
I have multiple frames thanks to continuous mode shooting, so I can confirm that Alexis is not moving and this is shallow depth of field, however, you cannot tell that from this photograph alone, so it gets a sub par rating for photographer skill.

When looking at photographs of kids I always go to the hands and the feet. Kids always seem to have their limbs in constant motion, even when sitting. If there’s blur in the extremities, I tend to lean towards Average Joe.

babytoes
Adorable baby foot
Verdict: Passable Pro
Sure much of the foot isn’t in focus, but not in a way that can be explained by motion blur. Thus this blur appears intentional.

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