Photo Critique: An Evening in Riga :: Digital Photo Secrets

Photo Critique: An Evening in Riga

by David Peterson 7 comments

It’s always a good idea to critique photos and to have one’s own photos critiqued. You don’t need to be a professional photographer to develop an eye for great photography. You just need to sit back and think about what appeals to you in a photo. Oftentimes, this is some combination of color balance, composition, and subject matter. True photography magic happens when all three come together perfectly.

This is a photo of the city of Riga in Latvia by Aldis Putelis. It is evening, and everyone is heading home. Aldis said it was taken from the 15th floor out his office window. He must have used a tripod with a telephoto lens to get this shot. If you look closely at the van in the left lane of traffic, you will notice it is blurred. This is undoubtedly a result of holding the camera’s shutter open longer to collect more light for this evening shot.

Composition

The reason I picked this photo is its balanced composition. When I talk about composition, I’m referring to the different shapes and their locations within the picture. Shapes have a remarkable effect on our eyes and how we see photos. They can guide the eye through a photo to make it more visually interesting, drawing attention to important things like the main subject.

This picture has a very clear line of empty space moving through its center from the bottom right hand corner to the upper left corner. You might not be aware of it, but this line actually guides your eye right through the photo. The horizontal line in the photo occurs near the upper third, and it draws your eye around the curved building on the right. As said earlier, you don’t know that you are paying extra attention to the building, but the photo naturally guides you right there.

The rule of thirds

In photography, and many forms of visual art, there is something known as the rule of thirds. In its most basic form, the rule states that you are more likely than not to create a visually appealing image if you place your subject near one of the thirds markers. Nobody quite knows why it works, but it could be argued that the rule at the very least avoids the problem of “center composition.”

When you place your subject smack dab in the center of a picture, you get rid of any space for your eye to move. The eye tracks to the center of the picture and stops dead. Usually, images of this sort aren’t very interesting.

In this image, the curved building occurs where the top and right third meet. It is a classic example of the rule of thirds. If you look closely, there is another building where the bottom and left third meet. These two buildings on opposing sides of the photo actually balance themselves out, creating an even composition that appears to flow well.

Color balance

Now let’s talk color. This picture isn’t very bright, but what it lacks in brightness it more than makes up for in warmth. There is a very distinct contrast between the dull wintry white of the buildings and the orange glow of the sunset and lights reflected off of the rooftops, the lights inside of the buildings, and the lights on the cars.

The placement of these colors within the picture is even and balanced. I spoke earlier about how the line through the center of the image draws your eye through the photo. You will also notice that all of the colors in the photo balance around this line. There are near equal amounts of white and faint orange on both sides.

Right through the center, you will find the most intense colors in the picture. These are the bright lights coming from the cars. If they were anywhere else, they would seem out of place. The photographer made the right decision by having the road run through the middle of the shot. Also, have another look where the top and left thirds of the picture meet. Interestingly, this is the brightest part of the picture. That is no accident.

The subject matter

And lastly, a brief discussion on the choice of subject matter. Wintry pictures, especially in the evening, do a great a job of conveying warmth. There is a contrast between the dull white snow and the bright orange lights. It actually makes us feel like we’re sitting at home drinking hot cocoa on a cold day. So far as making its audience feel something is concerned, this picture is spot on.

Avoid distracting content

There is really only one place where this picture could be improved. The trees spread throughout the image tend to scatter the even lines of the buildings, creating chaos and confusion in the in the photo. In a word, they are kind of junky. Of course, the photographer can’t just show up and knock down a few trees, but what a photographer chooses to keep or reject in a picture does matter. Having clear cut lines and well defined subjects almost always makes for a better image.

Do you have a picture you would like critiqued? Send it to me at my special email address, and I will consider it. I give mostly positive feedback and only mention the few negatives that stand out like a sore thumb. In the end, we’ll all take better pictures if we pay more attention to these kinds of details.

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Comments

  1. Mike says:

    I would disagree with George. When writing about composition, you are usually writing for the beginner photographer. Having the rules is a mechanical application, but for beginners who don't know, it's a good place to start to understand what composition is rather than not knowing and based on feel only.

    In other words, for beginners, I would suggest best way to learn photography is to follow the rules to get that good photo, then try breaking the rules to get the better one. If you don't actually get a better shot, then at least you will have one good photo that is technically sound.

    Mike

  2. Tariq Zuberi says:

    Hi
    This picture to me appears to be a bit dull, it looks good from near, but you take it little far and you see nothing attractive in it,

    Tariq

  3. Ken Ellis says:

    Knowing something works is really good. Knowing why it works is better.
    Art seems the balance of this and the discipline to do so with passion. It is, I think, what we we try to do.

  4. Roy says:

    I think criticism is good - all criticism - as I believe you learn more from what is wrong, rather than what is right.

    In the end a picture is good if someone thinks it is good. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder etc. It may have lots of technical faults, but can still be successful in some way that the viewer likes it.

    My main profession is graphic design... and good composition (like design) should not be "seen" but must be "felt". If you notice the composition (or design), then it has failed.

  5. David Peterson says:

    Thanks George. I'll look at doing that for future critiques.

    David.

  6. George Silver says:

    I don't find reading about composition techniques to be very helpful. It seems to me that such writing is an invitation to the mechanical application of rules and ideas about "good composition" to scenes which may or may not be suitable to such application.

    Why not urge people to decide what attracted them to a particular scene and then encourage them to do what they can through camera placement, exposure, and decisions about when to push the shutter release, to bring out and emphasize what first caught their eye?

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Difficulty:
Beginner
Length:
7 minutes
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+.