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Expert photographers - please (gently!) critique my beginners efforts

Expert photographers - please (gently!) critique my beginners efforts

Old Nov 16th, 2008, 07:19 AM
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Expert photographers - please (gently!) critique my beginners efforts

I've been fortunate enough to visit Kenya twice this year, speding most of my time in the Mara, and am getting more and more enthused by the photography part of the safari experience.

I'm spending alot of time reading/looking at professional photos to try and improve my technique and also enjoy looking at the portfolios that fodorites add to this forum, for further inspiration.

So I thought I'd be brave and add some of my better photos and ask some of you experts to offer any feedback/general advice on what I'm doing wrong/right.

All the photos were taken with a Canon 350d camera and a 70-300mm EF USM lens. Needless to say the 'throw aways' out number the half decent pics by about 10 to 1! I'd welcome any advice, but please be gentle!

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Old Nov 16th, 2008, 08:09 AM
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I am no expert, and I think you have some really nice images in this set. I especially like #4, 24, and 29. It looks like you had a great trip and these pictures will give you great memories of it for many years.

Also, keep in mind that critiquing photographs is highly subjective, and different people would probably give you different feedback based on their personal preferences.

That aside, here are some general comments:

-- You have a number of shots in which you cannot see the subject's eyes. When we view an animal picture, most people are drawn to the eyes, and the best wildlife pictures have "eye contact" in them, usually with a "catch light" in the eyes caused by the reflectin of the sun or a camera flash. Your picture #24 is a good example of this. But in several other pictures, we see the backs or rear ends of animals without any eye contact. Examples: 28, 44, 58.
-- In some instances you have clipped off part of an animal, and I generally try to avoid doing that unless I am doing a tight head shot or something like that. Examples: 32, 45. You may be able to improve these by cropping down to a specific part of the animal, like the head (see below).
-- A couple of the pictures are "busy" in that they lack a defined subject for the viewer to focus on or have distracting elements in the background. Examples: 1, 21. This can also sometimes be improved by cropping to remove some of those distacting elements, or you can photoshop them out on occasion, if you don't mind doing that.
-- You also have a couple of instances in which a flash would have really helped because your subject is backlit. #48 is the best example of this, but #51 and 52 would have been improved with some flash as well. If your subject is far away, you would need to use a high-end flash and a better beamer in situations like this, but using a flash setup makes those impossible shots possible. Here is a perfect example of what I am talking about:
http://www.pbase.com/cwillis/image/98352927/original. This is a shot that was lit almost directly from behind and I shot it at a distance of 50-60 feet. I have found that using a flash and better beamer has dramatically expanded the range of shots that I can attempt and get usable results from.
-- You can frequently improve the composition of a wildlife shot by cropping it, and there were several in this set I would have cropped for that purpose. For example, #29 I would have cropped tighter while still leaving the subject to the left as you did -- I just feel there is more background in that picture than you need. Or you could crop #32 to put the emphasis on the calf on the left and cut out most of the one on the right, then the image will emphasize the cuteness of one calf touching the back of the other one.
-- #43 shows a common mistake that I make all the time, shooting too close at too big of an aperture, so that part of the subject is out of the depth of field. This happens to me constantly, but the solution to it is close down the aperture some, use a shorter focal length, or get further away. For a shot like that, you really want the whole head in focus.

As I said before, I think this is a really nice set of shots, and they will be even better if you spend some time examining each one for cropping possibilities. I would encourage you to keep shooting and post examples of your work on a photography forum ( the nature and wildlife forum on www.fredmiranda.com is my personal favorite). By doing that, you will get very polite feedback and see examples of very skilled photographers, and critiques of other people's work. Ultimately photography is something that you develop through practice and experience, so keep at it and I think you will find the learning process very rewarding.

Thank you for sharing your shots and for asking for a critique. I hope I have helped in some way, and I am looking forward to the comments of some of the truly outstanding photographers on this forum.

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Old Nov 16th, 2008, 09:49 AM
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Here's my 2 cents worth. Many nice photos. Its obvious that you are seeing your subject and making it the clear objective of your photos. Comparing your photos to other photographers you really like is a good way to understand what you need to do to improve. Your general exposure, color, and sharpness looks very good. Probably the photos are jpgs directly out of the camera and it is doing a fine technical job for you.

My favorite is number 3, the two giraffes looking over the tree. Nice perspective on giraffes. And talking about giraffes, some subjects work best when taken as "vertical". Try turning the camera side wise often and see how you like the composition. All of your formats are horizontal 3x2 as usual for DSLR cameras. Some variety of format is interesting for the viewer. Which means some cropping required on occasion. I try to not frame any of my photos real "tight" but to crop them later on my PC. This is a hard habit to break if you've always shot 35mm slides or sent your negatives out to a lab for printing. And for more about composition, Ron Bigelow has a great tutorial here - http://ronbigelow.com/articles/adv_comp/adv_comp.htm
Although most of his examples are landscape, not much wildlife.

Other than that, I agree with everything Chris said above. Keep up your efforts, it is paying off in good photos for you. Thanks for sharing.

regards - tom

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Old Nov 16th, 2008, 04:16 PM
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Not even close to being an expert, but I enjoyed your pictures. I like to read critiques of photos as I think it helps me with mine!

Kenya looks wonderful, would love to get to Africa before I'm too OLD!

Keep up the good work.
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Old Nov 16th, 2008, 06:49 PM
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africa_fan, you have some really nice images. I really like #12 (her whole face is in the picture, catch light in her eyes and great depth of field), I like 23 (cape buff) because of his pose, the green surrounding him but you cut his legs off (or virtual legs). 27 (leopard) is a good image but could use a little bit of a crop. You cut him off in a weird place. It could also benefit from some photoshop (or post processing). 29 is good - you caught the golden eyes, you left room for the feet, she isn't centered in the picture. In 30 her eyes and face are beautiful. You cropped her in an awkward place so you should have cropped more or gotten her whole body in the image. The light is great in 38. 41 I love his hair blowing and his pose. A catchlight in his eyes would put this one way up there. 55 has beautiful light and interaction. It's just missing the eyes of either one of them. Love 56 and 57. And a 10-1 keeper rate is not bad at all.

Chris gave you some excellent advice. I will reiterate - don't cut off feet or body parts. And be sure to leave room in the photo for the legs or feet that you can't see - the virtual legs. You already have some fine images. The forums at naturescapes.net really helped me when I started. I didn't put mine up on that site for a critique for a long time. Seeing critiques of other people's photographs really helped me.

Kenya twice in one year - very fortunate! Keep up the good work!
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Old Nov 16th, 2008, 07:14 PM
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I'm not an expert, but I think you have some very nice images. I would be very happy with them. You might enjoy doing some post-processing with some. www.pbase.com/pattyroth to see what I mean.
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Old Nov 17th, 2008, 03:31 AM
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I agree with Sundowner that the main fault is framing the subject generally you have cropped too much.You are zooming in too close on many pictures, which is a common fault even amongst serious photographers. It is far better to crop in post processing than at the time of capture.If you want to get close then make the edges look like you did it deliberately i.e. crop more to eliminate those areas that add nothing to the image.
A good example is the young gazelle where you have chopped off the bottom of the legs, in this shot you also have the light coming from the right of the animal rather than the front. Unless you plan to take backlit images it is generally better to position the sun behind you, unless you can see that the position of the sun is going to produce an interesting image.
I know that all of the above can be very difficult on safari, that is why in the end there are many reasonable images but not many that are brilliant.
I would suggest that you do some research on the internet there are many sites where you can have your photos critiqued by top quality photographers, pick up good tips, and ask technical questions. From my experience I would try

Old Nov 17th, 2008, 06:02 AM
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Chris, your advice is very helpful to those of us like myself who aren't photographers, but want to end up with some good pictures anyway! Thanks for your specific hints.
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Old Nov 17th, 2008, 08:06 AM
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I wouldn't call myself an expert (the term's too open for debate!) but I do own a photography company. I'm inclined to argue with the posters who said "don't cut off body parts." That's too much of a blanket statement. In some cases I think it works really well -- like in the picture of the zebra peeking over his friends' rumps (#6). It's a cute image, and the three sets of stripes create a cool movement in the photo. I like the single color in #29. And I like how #12 reminds me of portraiture work -- as a general rule I prefer the photos where you work your depth of field to focus on the subject and leave the background a bit out of focus. But some great shots -- way better than the typical vacay photos!
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Old Nov 17th, 2008, 02:52 PM
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Hi Africa Fan,

Some nice photos there. I generally take more landscape than wildlife photos, but any how some advice on composition:

1. Use the rule of thirds, i.e., don't plop the subject square in the center of the image. You can Google Rule of Thirds to learn more about this. Although you can crop to achieve this, I think you get better photos when you have this in mind to start with. One of the reasons I like #4 is because of the composition. I also like diagonal compositions better than static ones.

2. Try to have something of interest in the foreground, especially if you're shooting a landscape photo.

3. Try to tell a story with the picture. Even though it's a bit blurry, I like the three hippos because of that.

4. Play around with point of view, i.e., crouch down instead of taking every photo from a standing position.

Another good website especially for getting critiques of wildlife photos is treknature.com

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Old Nov 18th, 2008, 04:19 PM
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I am not an expert and don't have high end equipment.

My favs were the lioness yawning, the 2 giraffes, and the front shot of the ele in nice light.

Only because you specifically asked, am I making this comment: Like Chris from Atlanta, it seems a few shots are cropped very close. For example the horns of the waterbuck are chopped off at the top.

You had a couple of great trips with excellent sightings and pics you can be proud of.
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Old Nov 20th, 2008, 10:42 AM
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I am not an expert either but do have a love for photography. You have some amazing photos and a setup similar to the SLR my wife and I got just before our honeymoon. IMO you have a great eye for good shots. My only negative criticisms are that I agree with some that they might be cropped(framed) a bit too close.

The two giraffes are amazing and the profile of the male lion is a classic shot. I really like the framing of that one - close crop be damned.

What I like most is the sharpness of focus you achieve. I myself am just learning to use a telephoto lense (Tamron 28-300mm) on our Canon 450d and do not have as many sharp photos from our honeymoon as you have on your trip.

One question. Were you using a tripod? I was not which might be the reason things are not as sharp as I would like...and of course I am still learning as well.

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Old Nov 20th, 2008, 11:50 AM
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Yes, with a long telephoto lens you really do need a tripod, especially if you can't use a short exposure time. The telephoto will magnify any movement.
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Old Nov 21st, 2008, 06:24 AM
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I'm far from anything close to being a decent photographer.

I am, however, looking at your photos more as an artist wanna be (I paint)and designer (I. architect) so my perspective may or may not be worth while.

First off, you've got some good shots but I agree that you need to bring the eyes out to make the subjects look more lifelike.

Also, I'm noticing lots of profiles rather than straight on shots - again perhaps if shot from different angles you'd see more eyes and expressions.

It's mostly luck or being patient enough and wait for your subject to give you a money shot.

We were able once and awhile to get this when it was just the 2 of us more so than when we were with others. Another subject entirely.

For some reason I notice lots of wildlife shots (I'm speaking about my shots and others and not picking on you) look more like catalog photos - a side profile showing markings etc. rather than the animal doing something or having a unique quality.
This could be any type of nuance of behavior or appearance. If Kavey/Bill H/Andy and a few others show up she can explain this better.

Another note is contrast. African light is harsh and there's lots of shadows and washed out areas - not easy.

Not a complete solution but do you have level adjustments on your program?
I'll let the experts delve into that.

Composition - by zooming in you may be losing some depth or something, if you will, to draw your eye in and keep it moving around.

I feel like you dealt nicely with your zebra compositions - love how you abstracted them.

Another thought - sometimes a photo is more about a memory rather than being an artistic translation. Treasure all your photos.

I appreciate you putting yourself out there as this is a help to all of us. You're braver than most of us.

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Old Nov 21st, 2008, 06:33 AM
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sorry edit didn't work - hope some of the above makes sense
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Old Nov 22nd, 2008, 06:30 AM
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I'd just like to thank you all for taking the trouble to look and comment. You've given me some good tips - now I just need to put them into practice!

Kugellager - I use a beanbag which I find an enormous help. Highly recommended and not expensive either
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