I think I have a pretty good grasp of what people think of me. You can always tell from their engagement level. If someone is really getting into your work, they’ll offer a dozen reasons why they like what you’re showing them. If they’re not really into it, and believe me this has happened more times than I’m happy to mention, they’ll usually follow along and feign interest. You’ll hear the classic muted expressions, the half-hearted attempts to placate your ego. Here is what they wish they could have said, if only they weren’t so nice.
Your photo lacks a cohesive theme
In other words, there is too much going on at once. Snapshots tend to resemble this. They are usually taken with little regard to the framing and everything else in the scene. The subject, if you can tell who or what it is, is such a small part of the scene that it’s hard to determine whether it is the subject at all. If you take a picture of your friend in the middle of a crowded bar, the viewer’s eye drifts all over the scene to other the people, the decorations, and everything else that robs attention from your friend.
(Photo on the right by Flickr user Andy Pixel)
The easiest way to give a photo a theme is to simply get closer. Walk right up to your friend and only capture your friend’s face. Next, try getting a shot from the shoulders up. By excluding other elements in the scene, you are drawing more attention to what is important. Suddenly, just by getting a little closer, your images are that much better. Now they have a theme.
Your photo isn’t colorful enough
Vivid colors really give an image the extra “WOW” factor, but a lot of photographers don’t realize how much of that WOW is done with post-production, white balance, and a few other simple things. The light also plays a huge role. Things appear more colorful in the indirect light of a sunset than they do at midday. If you overexpose or underexpose your photo, it can also have an effect on color.
The easiest way to make your photos more colorful is to learn Adobe Photoshop Elements. A simple color correction adjustment will add contrast and make your photos appear way more colorful than they do out of the camera. Don’t feel like you’re cheating, either. This is the exact same technique professionals use every day. If you're just getting started with Elements, you can become an elements guru in less than 4 hours by following along with my video.
Your photo lacks originality
“Originality” is a somewhat relative term. I think there are degrees of originality in anything we do. If you borrow from one idea but add in elements of your own, I’d say you’ve still come up with something rather original. If the entire image is an exact copy, by way of intent, it’s not very original. Landmark photos tend to fit into this category. For an example, see the colorful twist added to an Eiffel Tower shot on the right. A photo like this is sure to get a WOW response.
Simply getting an unusual angle or perspective can really help out. You should always make your viewers think. Get them to step outside of their comfort zones by presenting something familiar in a new light. Everyone has seen the Eiffel Tower, so of course it’s unremarkable. But how many have seen it during a blizzard? How many have seen it with the moon just overhead? I know it’s hard to setup those kinds of shots, but that’s the bar you’re at when you’re photographing landmarks.
There are too many shadows in the wrong places
Faces should be virtually shadow free. Portraits with shadows in the eyes just don’t convey as much emotion as those without them. It is important to make sure your light is always shining directly on your subject, whether it’s the light from the sun or otherwise. Your viewers want to see your subject in crisp detail, and shadows can prevent that from happening.
Note that I said “can.” It’s not always true. There are plenty of exceptions to this rule. Food and landscapes are two of them. In each, you want shadows because they communicate information about texture. Whipped cream looks weird without the shadows showing its fluffiness. Similarly, mountains can look flat when photographed in the middle of the day. It’s better to shoot them in the evening when the light from the sides reveals the shadows.
You shouldn’t have used direct flash to capture this
They won’t tell you, but I will. Direct flash can ruin a good photo. The light is simply too bright to give off the right skin tones and colors you need in a portrait. Flash basically forces your camera to overexpose the shot, leaving you with pale looking subjects who look more like deer in headlights.
If you absolutely have no other choice but to use flash, I would suggest turning up all of the other lights in the room and using something to reflect the flash away from your camera. Point it at the wall, and position your subject next to that wall so you can use the reflected light. You’ll notice a huge difference in the colors you get back. They appear much more natural.
I hope everyone realizes that I mean no harm in posting pieces like this. It’s not as if your friends are secretly talking about your photography skills behind your back. In fact, most people don’t really notice these kinds of details. If someone doesn’t like your photography, they usually can’t come up with a reason why. They just don’t like it. These five things are what they would say if they new more about photography. Now you know what to do, fixing them will get you that “WOW” response we all want.
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