Photo Critique: Stepping Over The Rainbow :: Digital Photo Secrets

Photo Critique: Stepping Over The Rainbow

by David Peterson 4 comments

Critiquing your own photos and those of others is a great way to improve as a photographer. You will really start to understand the important concepts of composition, color balance, and subject matter when you discover how other people use them. A truly great photo always has these three elements working in its favor. Let’s have a look at how the next photo brings it all together.

(Click on the photo to show a large version)

To begin with, there is a lot of mystery to this photo. It is a clash between its own powerful rainbow colors and the seemingly dank abandoned place where it is taken. The photographer is immersing us in the scene by placing the camera at ground level. Everything in this photo is up to interpretation. I get the feeling this photo was taken inside of an ice skating rink with no ice, but it could have been taken almost anywhere.


There are some very clear cut lines in this photo, and they all draw the eye to what could be called the photo’s subject. I say this with some caution, however, because the subject of the photo is blurred out. It is as if the photographer intended the subject to be a mystery. We know it is a boot, but we don’t know what kind it is or whether it belongs to a man or a woman.

One of these lines is the rainbow itself. It is nicely placed on the left third, and it directs the eye straight to the boot. Three horizontal lines occur near the top third, and they function in a similar way.

Sports photographers often place a good amount of space in front of their subjects. This helps to convey a sense of motion and direction. You will notice that a similar technique has been employed in this photograph. There is plenty of space in front of the boot, creating room for movement in our imaginations. Also, because the lines in front of the boot force our eyes to track to the left and right, we are even more compelled to feel like the boot will be stepping to the right.

It could be argued that the true subject of the photo is the rainbow itself. If this is so, the photographer has done a great job using the rule of thirds to establish it. Notice how the majority of the color can be found in the lower third. On top of that, the rainbow is not centered. It is slightly offset to the left, a technique that helps to draw attention to it.

Color Balance

At first glance, one might think this photo is very unbalanced. Some of the colors, like the bright white from what seems to be some windows, don’t have a counterpart. The rainbow kind of juts out and stands on its own as well. There is nothing else in the composition to compliment it.

But there are still a few places where the colors work with one another. The denim in the jeans matches the bluish pavement, and the brown boots balance out what appears to be the ceiling of the building. Both the rainbow and the whitish wall break up the photo and provide a space over which the different color elements can be balanced.

Subject Matter

This photo is controversial in its choice of subject matter. In many ways, it can be said that this photo doesn’t really have a subject. That’s because one isn’t really sure whether the subject is the boot or the rainbow. If the subject is the boot, then why is it blurred? And if it is the rainbow, then why is next to something that could be a great subject if it weren’t blurred?

There are so many possible interpretations of this photo that it could make your head spin. Because the rainbow is the only element truly in focus, the photo could be a message about optimism. The rainbow is the only part of the photo that is “certain” while the rest of the photo remains within the shadows of doubt. The boot represents each of us with our own uncertain futures. It’s almost as if the photo is trying to say the only thing we have is hope. Of course, this interpretation is just one way you could get your head spinning.

The final word

Whether it is for artistic purposes or not, I don’t like photos that don’t have a lot of detail or a very clear subject. This photo succeeds in composition, but it fails in terms of color balance and choice of subject matter. The brightness of the rainbow does make it stand out, but there is nothing else in the photo that balances with it. In the end, it makes the rainbow feel like an empty gesture. It’s off in it’s own world.

Changing the focal point of the photo to ensure the boot is in focus would have made a world of difference. As it is, there is very little of the photo in focus. It could have been easily remedied by changing the aperture of the camera before taking the shot.

There are some elements in this picture that simply make it seem kind of junky. For example, the support beam, or whatever it is near the ceiling, is very distracting. It cuts off the clear lines of the composition and isn’t totally necessary. There also appears to be a small bit of another person, who is mostly out of frame, on the right side. Some might argue that it adds to the organic feel of the photo. I think it’s sloppy. Both these could have been quickly rectified by repositioning the camera slightly before taking the shot. Remember - look specifically for unwanted elements before you take the shot.

I will be the first person to admit that this photo is difficult to critique. For one, the artistic ulterior motive is clear, meaning it simply cannot be judged by traditional standards. But if one were to give this photo a grade based on its potential for engaging your imagination, it would get an A.

Do you have a photo your would like to have critiqued? Just send it my way! Please make sure you give me permission to use your photo on my site and be aware that as I receive lots of email, I can't personally critique every photo.


Most people think this post is Interesting. What do you think?


  1. Ray Mogarte says:

    David, reading and analyzing professional photos critique is indeed one of the best and interesting ways of becoming a better photographer. Thanks for bringing back your tips.

  2. Joe Jamias says:

    I am learning alot about your critiques.
    Member of a photo club in San Diego California. Trying to convince members to separate composites from unaltered images in their judging.
    So far little luck. Making slow progress. Do you have any write up's on composites versus unaltered images ?

  3. Les Powrie says:

    It almost seems to me that the rainbow emanates from a drop of water on top of the boot, and having the boot in focus might actually detract from the effectiveness of the photo - but we do not know what was going through the photographer's mind when he/she clicked the shutter.

  4. len hotchkiss says:

    hi david i got all of your tips last time but my laptop crashed and i lost the lot so will have to take more care this time regards len

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.