One of the most enjoyable and valuable educational aspects of the Arizona Highways Photography Workshops (AHPW) – of which I’m honored to lead a number of each year – is the post-workshop critiques. Though we conduct image review sessions during the workshop, a post-workshop critique allows participants additional time to edit and process their photographs before submitting to their instructors for additional feedback after the class concludes.
Whether we complete these productive reviews during or after the workshop, we analyze the positive aspects of each student’s images and constructively outline ideas for how to potentially improve them from a technical and artistic perspective. Kind of like this:
All choking and joking aside, the point of the evaluation is to go beyond answering the simple question: “Do you like this picture?” The true value of the exercise comes in when we define in-depth we WHY like and don’t like an image, which generates new ideas to sharpen our skills and polish our individual styles from our different answers.
Earlier this week, I completed the post-workshop critique for the recent Women’s Photography Retreat at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Although I’ve shared image-specific comments for 45 images, I thought I’d share a summary of the three main take-away’s from this particular critique session:
- “Half and half” works well in coffee, but not always in landscape images. Unless you aim for symmetry among the various elements within your frame (e.g. a reflection of mountain in a lake), placing the horizon line in the middle of your frame will only serve to divide your viewers’ attention. Should they look at the land or the sky? Make it clear: If the sky is more interesting, tilt your camera up and place the horizon line at the bottom
third of the Rule of Thirds tic-tac-toe grid. If the land is what caught your eye, then tilt your camera down so the horizon is at least at the top third of the grid.
- Let there be light…oh, and a strong subject too! Is there anything better than sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon and recordings the rays of the setting sun break through the clouds, turning the landscape and sky into a fiery mix of orange, pink, and purple? (In more technical terms, we call this “super yummy light.”) YES! That same spectacular show by Mother Nature happening over a well-thought-out composition! Good light alone is often not enough to make a great image. Similarly, a strong center of interest without interesting light may lack shape, contrast, and mood. To capture the best subject in the best light, visualize strong compositions first in the field, then return to work the scene when the light is just right.
- As “all roads lead to Rome,” all lines should lead to somewhere important. Lines can direct your viewer to through your image, but the payoff at the end of the line shouldn’t be a one-way ticket out of your frame. To keep the viewer’s interest, ensure the visual path doesn’t extend beyond the edge of your frame and leverage diagonal, converging, S-curve and other style lines to pull your viewer not just into your frame, but also somewhere interesting.
If you’re a past student of AHPW – not just of this specific workshop, but any of them – you have the ability to view my image-specific comments by logging into the Arizona Highways Photo Workshops Smugmug site with the password you received during your workshops and selecting the “Women’s Photo Retreat” folder. You also have the ability to leave comments as well, so hop on the site and let’s here you’re thoughts!
If you aren’t a past student of AHPW, there’s no need for you to feel left out. If you’d like input on one or more of your images, stop by my page and submit your shots at GuruShots at www.gurushots.com/colleen-miniuk-sperry.
In closing, I’d like to thank the ladies who submitted their beautiful photographs for critique: Denise, Deanna, Christy, Amy, Julie, Tamara, Sue, Pearl, and Jeanne. As Abigail Adams once said, “Learning is not achieved by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” May we all embrace learning like these and all of the women who attended the Women’s Photo Retreat have.