photo critique » You Can Sleep When You're Dead: Blog by Colleen Miniuk

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Mar 202020

Hi everyone!

I recently had a series of speaking engagements cancelled. Understandable, considering the crazy state of the world right now. (Here’s hoping you and yours are well…and you have plenty of toilet paper…wash your hands!)

But life and learning doesn’t have to come to a complete stop because of self-quarantines and shelter-in-place orders. We just need to approach things differently right now. As is said, “If you can’t change the rules, change the game…”

So in lieu of presenting in person at the local camera clubs, I offered a FREE educational webinar on Thursday, March 19 on a presentation topic I was set to deliver to one club, “Critiquing Your Own Work.”

During this educational talk, I shared:

  • A framework and series of questions to ask more objectively evaluate your photographs
  • Examples of successful and less-than-successful photographs to help attendees evaluate composition, lighting, depth of field, focus, story/visual message, color, motion, and more.
  • The most common pitfalls photographers make (mergers, tilted horizons, etc.) and how to resolve them.

I also hosted a brief Q&A session at the end.

To watch, visit (the video should appear below in the original blog post):

Because this webinar was so much fun for me (and hopefully for the attendees too!), I plan to expand my online offerings in the coming weeks to include:

  • One-hour webinars on new topics with Q&A
  • Small group interactive critique sessions
  • Photography Basics Bootcamp (a multi-week series with presentations and interactive critiques)

If you’d like to receive notifications about future webinars and other online offerings with me, please join my Newsletter mailing list at if you aren’t on it already.

Enjoy! And stay tuned!

Be well, be wild, and be safe!

Jun 032016

Congratulations to the 48 NAU intermediate photographing students who participated as Guest Bloggers on this blog starting in early-May (their photographs appearing in alphabetical order here):
First row (left to right): Miguel Alvarez, Erika Berry, Matthew Carlin, David Carballido-Jeans, Erica Colegrove, Cassandra Coyle, Mariah Doka, Faouzi Eletel
Second row (left to right):Kyle Erwin, Emily Frankel, Emily Gaudet, Darian Gibbs, Riah Grams, Nikki Hand, Jake Herbig, Kendra Horsfield
Third row (left to right): Erika I’Anson, Kaylee Johnson, Laura Jones, Francesca Kent, Danny Kimball, Cole King, Amelia Krieg, Jeff Kunkel
Fourth row (left to right): Nick Laessig, Hannah Laurie, Kelly Lienhard, Maxim Mascolo, Wendel Navenma, Andrew Ormonde, Michelle Raigoza, Ramon Ramirez
Fifth row (left to right): Jacquelyn Reimer, Ariana Ruiz, Katie Sawyer, Carissa Schattke, Ashlee Shifflet, Taylor Slevin, Kiely Sutton, Alyssa Tavison
Sixth row (left to right): Jessie Tofaute, Sydney Troxell, Jessica Vazquez, Megan Vey, Tyler Walker, Siobhan Webb, Jarrick Wenslow, Dakota Wolfe

And that’s a wrap!

Over the last four weeks, you’ve had the opportunity to view photographs and the behind-the-scenes stories from 48 Northern Arizona University (NAU) intermediate photography students.  Let’s give the participating students a big round of applause for sharing their images and thoughts with us in this year’s “Behind the Image:  Guest Blogger” project.

I was impressed to see how incorporating each of your individual backgrounds and unique approaches yielded a personally meaningful photograph and in many cases, personal discovery and growth.  No matter where photography or life takes you, always remember that creativity lives within you if you tap into your individual backgrounds and passions – whether it be travel, beloved pets, people who inspire, moving natural scenes, or intimate details of the world around them – to present your visual messages. Follow your curiosities, learn new things, and be confident in your own voice.  Keep up the great work, NAU photographers!  I wish you the very best in your journey ahead!

I am also so grateful for NAU Photography Instructor, Amy Horn, who helped coordinate this real-world assignment with her class flawlessly once again.  I’m honored and excited to work with someone so dedicated to her students and to facilitating the learning process in photography.  Thank you, Amy, for not only your help, but also for what you do to influence lives and the future of photography.

To those of you who left comments on the photographs and stories, many thanks to you as well!  If you haven’t had the chance to review all of them (and would like to), find the 48 “Behind the Image” write-ups by clicking on the “Guest Blogger” or the “Making the Images” Categories box on the right-most column on your screen.  Then, feel free to add your thoughts in the Comments section below anytime that’s convenient for you.

Finally, what did you think of this year’s project?  Leave us a comment about your thoughts!

To the 48 photographers: What did you think of your blogging experience here?   Was it as scary or exciting as you thought?  Would you do it again?  Would you do anything differently in hindsight now that you’ve completed your assignment? What new ideas did you get for your future photography work?

To the readers:  What did you like about the photography as a whole?  What new ideas did you get to influence your photography?  What new things might you try now?  I look forward to hearing from you!

Thanks again, everyone!  Until next year’s project!


Jun 022016

Photo copyright Nikki Hand

When my friends and I decided to go camping near Winslow, AZ I remembered a photo I had been wanting to take for awhile. I wanted to capture all of my good friends sitting around a campfire under the stars. I have tried long exposures before, but this was my first real attempt at it. I wanted the photo to capture the essence of what camping is with all the people you care about. At first I was asking everyone to try their best to stay still. I started to think it looked too posed, so I stopped directing them and let them do their own thing. I really like this image because it captured everyone in their realist form and showed some movement. I thought about using flash but I loved the orange glow from the camp fire. As my friends were enjoying the campfire, I was standing a few feet away shivering while trying to capture this photo. Every now and then one of my friends would come by and ask what I was doing. I would show them and they thought it was the coolest thing ever! That motivated me even more to get this shot.

I was using my Canon 5D MK III and my Canon 16-35mm and tripod. My focal length was 16mm with my ISO at 1000. I left my shutter open for 5 seconds with my f stop at 2.8. I wanted to get some stars without blowing out the campfire. I took this same photo so many different times. Each time the photo looked completely different because people would be walking or moving around. I moved around a bunch worried that the stars would be out of focus if I kept moving. It was really hard to tell on my tiny screen of the stars were sharp or not, so I zoomed up really close to see. I kept at it and eventually got this shot. I cropped a bit and edited to make the stars more viable in post processing. I really love how the image came out and it captured exactly what I wanted. I was proud of my first real attempt at long exposure photography. I like the fact that people are moving around and you can’t make out any faces. It makes me think about a great night camping we all had playing games, sharing stories, laughs and s’mores of course.

About the Photographer:

Nikki Hand is a landscape and outdoor lifestyle photographer from Southern California. She is currently a photography student at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. With a deep passion for the outside world, she is always in search of remote destinations to capture. She is inspired by rich landscapes and loves to experience new places, people, and cultures. Her photographs capture blissful moments of soothing landscapes. As she explores, she has the ability to execute creative compositions. With the great outdoors as her muse, she continues to search for places to photograph that remain wild.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your thoughts and constructive comments in the Comment section below – Nikki would love to hear from you!

Jun 022016

Photo copyright Francesca Kent

After viewing some incredible water drop photos in my photography class, I decided that when I got home that day I would research different types of water movement photos. I saw some really interesting ones but there was one that really caught my eye – an object dropping into a wine glass. So I went to the photography studio on campus and decided to try this out for myself.

The first problem I encountered was that I would need help from another person: having them drop the object into the water as I took the photo. So I asked one of my photography classmates to assist me on this photo, it ended up working out really well!

First, I set up my station; a plain black table pushed up against the wall in the photography studio, a clear wine glass filled ¾ of the way with water, two flashes, two different coloured gels, a flat coloured glass rock for bottom of the glass (to prevent the glass from breaking when the object was dropped), and a screw.

After many trial and errors, I settled on two different gels – pink and blue – with the flash brightness in-between the lowest and middle brightness. I then made sure to have all the lights off so that the only source of light would be coming from my two flashes. I then set up my camera (Canon Rebel T3) with the 18-55mm lens with ISO 100, f/8, and shutter speed 1/250. ISO 100 because my flash power was strong enough that I didn’t need a high ISO to be able to see the photo and the shutter speed at its fastest in order to capture both the screw being dropped and the water movement occurring.

Once all these settings were set, taking the photo was more or less easy, I had a shutter clicker attached to my camera so I wouldn’t have to be right behind my camera to take the photo, my partner and I would then count to three, once we reached three, he would drop the screw and I would snap the shot.

Overall, this shoot was extremely fun! I loved being able to see something online and be able to recapture it myself but by adding my own touch to the photo. I think that I may continue to do more shoots like this because I really enjoyed it; although it was very time consuming, the ending result was worth it!

About the Photographer:

My name is Francesca Kent and I am a Marketing major at Northern Arizona University with a minor in Photography. I have always been in love with photography since I was 15 and have always just taken photos for fun, whether it be getting a group of friends together or just taking photos of my family. It wasn’t until I met my best friend Victoria where I started getting more serious with photography, we both started off with taking senior photos, which then moved to couple/engagement photos. I love being able to capture memories for people to keep forever and being able to create something new with photography. I want to make every photo different with the use of a creative eye and constantly looking at the world through the eyes of a photographer. I hope to pursue a career in advertising and be able to use my photography skills and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for my future!

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your thoughts and constructive comments in the Comment section below – Francesca would love to hear from you!

Jun 012016

Photo copyright Jessie Tofaute

I am in awe of the natural beauty around me. Capturing the unique elements within a single image is what inspires my daily life as a photographer.  My subject for this picture is a Night Blooming Cereus, which I believe is one of the most interesting desert plants in Phoenix, Arizona.  What is so intriguing about this plant is, like its name, the flower only blooms in the darkness of night, and after it blooms, it only survives a day before it begins to wither and die.  A life so precious, yet so fleeting is worth capturing on a camera.  So, when I just happened to be home from NAU on March 25, my mom told me to grab my camera because the neighbor’s Night Blooming Cereus was in full bloom.  I am happy I was home that weekend for the opportunity to take a picture of such a spectacular flower that tells such a unique story about life and death.  The Night Blooming Cereus’ elegance accurately illustrates how life is so full and animated, and yet so short and sweet all at the same time.

In any nature shot that I take, I always aim for simple, pure, and colorful image.  I believe this to be my style.  For this photo in particular, I chose a shallow depth of field (f/2) because of where the flower blossomed and the angle I needed to take the picture.  I attempted to minimize distractions from the rocks and background the best I could given the photographic circumstances.  To get this angle, I laid on the ground as my 8-year-old brother assisted me (and complained the whole time as 8-year-olds do) in holding an off-camera flash to my left to fill in a minimal amount of the shadows the plant casted on the petals of the flower and the rocks below.  I like the look and sense of depth that the remaining shadows add to the image so I chose to leave those in the shot.  I captured this image with an ISO of 100, 1/4000 sec and f/2 close to noon on a cloudless day in sunny Gilbert, Arizona.  Captured on a Nikon D3100 with a Nikon 35 mm f/1.8 lens. Simple post processing edits consist of small adjustments to the brightness, contrast, and hue/saturation of the image.  I applied a blue filter to the image to cool down the overall tone slightly.  The original orange and red colors in the rocks took away attention from the flower before I made this adjustment in Photoshop.  Overall, this image closely resembles the original shot in its natural form before post processing occurred.

About the Photographer:

My name is Jessie Tofaute, and I’m a photography major at NAU.  I have been perusing my love for photography since my freshmen year of high school when I took my first introduction to photography class.  It has been my favorite pastime ever since and is something I see myself doing all my life as a career and a hobby.  I enjoy capturing memories for myself and others while learning all I can about the art.  I love documenting my travels through photographs.  I equally enjoy taking portraits of special occasions for clients as seen on my business website:

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your thoughts and constructive comments in the Comment section below – Jessie would love to hear from you!

Jun 012016

Photo copyright Miguel Alvarez

The image portrayed is mainly told through its candid imagery. A girl sits by her window looking outside with a towel wrapped around her head after she sips her warm coffee. I didn’t want to stage her emotion, I wanted it to feel natural as if the image was a mere freeze frame of her motion through her hands and face. It had been a cold day outside, thus the desaturated overall illustration of inside the apartment complimented the weather outside. Also the heightened highlights juxtapose the sunlight that’s trying to pierce through the clouds on the outside. With all of this in mind, I wanted the scenery to be a calm one by not overcomplicating what was in the frame and just be a simple shot of the girl and the window as the main subjects.

I love human interaction and their emotions to their surroundings. This image represents a piece of life, and with the natural lighting it develops a raw scene that surrounds the girl, the window, and her thoughts. Simple human interactions are easily relatable. And with this image, what isn’t so relatable about having a sip of coffee while in a deep state of mind? When I’m trying to come up with a story for one of my film projects, I limit distractions and only spend time with my imagination. Having that deep state of mind, she could be thinking about anything, about a positive or negative thought. She’s neither smiling nor directly frowning, which opens the wide range of emotions. She opens her mind by looking out the window to expose her mindset in broad way because of how the open world incites different feelings and thoughts.

I shot this image on a Canon 70D, 1/200 shutter speed, 3.5 aperture, 18 mm lens, and an ISO of 800. I’m also big on filmmaking and I typically use the same lens and camera, and the only difference from past images and this one was that I usually increase the saturation for photos and with film I color grade by desaturating the image. In effect, I desaturated this image as if to resemble a freeze frame of a film locked in a drama genre. I would also include a letterbox (the black bars on the top and bottom of the frame) but that would be too close in mended as a part of a film. This image should stand on its own with the possibility of being part of a film but still framed up as a standalone.

About the Photographer:

Raised in the suburbs of San Bernardino, California, I completed many AP and Honors courses and graduated at the top ten-percent of my class. As a result of this, I’ve been too deep into my classwork to prove my worth. I always enjoyed drawing and storytelling through comics that got me into becoming passionate with filmmaking half way into my middle school career. During my second year of college, I took my first photography class. With filmmaking, there’s an expanded way of storytelling, whereas photography you must capture an entire world and its backstory within one image. The fact that I love storytelling allowed me explore the subjects that I want to tell stories from. I’ve grown to know that human experiences/interactions is what intrigues me the most. That’s what inspires me: to tell others’ stories, including my own. What separates me from others is that I enjoy both bright and dark themes. I’ve come to know that both contrasting emotions sparks one another and they can’t simply live or portray without the other being present.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your thoughts and constructive comments in the Comment section below – Miguel would love to hear from you!

May 312016

Photo copyright Erika Berry

This photo is of a sunrise at the Grand Canyon.  I’m not a person who would normally wake up at 3 AM on a freezing February morning to go to the Grand Canyon, so I wanted to capture this moment in this photo.  I was waiting around for about an hour in the cold and dark, so when those rays peaked over the snow covered canyon, illuminating the sky, I was more than ready.

Getting to the Grand Canyon started off quite comical. My roommate’s car door was frozen shut, so when I yanked it open it wouldn’t close again. I held the door shut as we drove to our very early breakfast at IHOP. Thankfully, after eating, the door decided to cooperate and I wasn’t left holding it closed all the way to the Grand Canyon.

When we got there it was pitch black and we still had time before sunrise. We waited in the car until suddenly we noticed the sky beginning to lighten. We were panicking that we’d miss what we came for, so we wrapped ourselves in blankets and ran all the way to the outlook. The horizon was still dark. We waited, and waited, and waited.

More people started to gather around, as it got closer to the sunrise. We all waited in anticipation. The sky slowly lightened more and more. I started taking pictures but they were still too dark to see much detail. I’d have to wait even longer for the perfect shot.

I stood directly in front of where the sunrays were going to peak over. I finally got to shoot when the sun was high enough. Many of the pictures had sun flares though. So I chose this image as my favorite because of the centered subject, detail in the snow covered canyon, and minimal lens flares. This photo captured a moment that I probably won’t wake up at 3 am again to create.

I shot this photo with my Canon EOS Digital Rebel and a 18mm-55mm lens at 22mm. My ISO was at 400 and my shutter speed was 1/60. My aperture was set at f/22 to allow me to capture the sunburst. As far as post processing goes, I resized, lightened up some shadows, and healed some dust spots in Lightroom.

About the Photographer:

My name is Erika Berry and I’m a junior and photo minor at Northern Arizona University. I’ve always liked photography and taking pictures as a hobby even though I may not be the best at it. I prefer taking photos at leisure rather than having a specific assignment. My favorite subjects to photograph are candid pictures of people. I like working in natural light a million times better than indoor light. I’m hoping that the tips and techniques I’ve learned through photo classes at NAU will help enhance my photography.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your thoughts and constructive comments in the Comment section below – Erika would love to hear from you!

May 312016

Photo copyright Andrew Ormonde

When it comes to Supercross and fast paced, action packed racing such as this, there are restrictions as to how close you can go to the track when shooting on track. Inspirations and plans are made to capture certain photos during training in the week before a race. Since I do not have these credentials yet, I shot this photo from the stands with the goal of capturing the “big moment” in one rider’s racing career.  My inspiration and thought process was to capture 3 main elements in one precisely timed photo: the finish (checkered flag), the pyrotechnics (flames on top of the finish line) and lastly the celebration (fist pump in the air).

In photography, having connections and maintaining these relationships is vital for a new photographer such as myself.  With that said, I did not use my own lens for this particular day, rather, I was using a friends lens that was far out of my reach when it comes to price point.  I was using the new Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 with my Canon Rebel T3i.  Might I add, this was the fastest lens I have ever used in my 14 years of photography, so I was very ecstatic that my friend gave me the opportunity to use this lens.  When it comes to metadata of the image, and details of the camera used, I shot this at 1600 ISO, zoomed in at 140mm (in order to get all 3 main elements I wanted), aperture of f/2.8 and my shutter speed at 1/800 sec.  I did not use filters since I purposely shot the photo in RAW which allowed me color fixes in post processing with Adobe Lightroom.

When it comes to post processing, I choose Adobe Lightroom over Photoshop when I don’t need to stack photos or edit people or objects out of the photo.  Temperature and tint are always the first thing I adjust.  Next I adjust highlights and saturation and I simply go down the list on the side of Lightroom of what I think can better the image.

About the Photographer:

My name is Andrew Ormonde and my passion and career is photography.  Ever since I was 6 years old, I started to take photos of everything, then later in life realizing my passion for action sports photography. Though action sports are my forté, I also take portraits, nature and long exposure, as well as anything that may peak my interest, though I prefer Supercross and Motocross because of my experience with racing and off-roading.  I edit with Lightroom when I don’t need to stack photos or edit people or objects out of the photo. I currently attend Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ. My major is photography, and with it, I plan on making photography my life time career.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your thoughts and constructive comments in the Comment section below – Andrew would love to hear from you!

May 302016

Photo copyright Jacquelyn Reimer

This photo of a mural is on the side of my house in Flagstaff, AZ. I am currently in a photography class at Northern Arizona University and I took this photo for our “Twilight” assignment. I have always wanted to capture this mural because I am graduating and leaving Flagstaff in one month and this house holds so many memories of mine. I have lived in this house for the last two years of my college career and made so many memories with so many friends that I would love to be able to fondly look back on.

My cousin lived in this house when he attended Northern Arizona University and I moved in when he graduated and moved back home. My cousin and his friends created the mural on the side of the house with permission from the landlord during the first year they lived there. I miss my cousin very much and this mural reminds me of him every time that I see it. It impacted part of my life, I want to preserve it and I thought photography would be a great way to do just that.

I did not want to make this a standard picture of the side of my house though. I wanted it to be interesting and unique. Noticing all of the color in the mural and the assignment having to do with an unusual color setting, twilight, I thought this may be a good opportunity to make this image. The mural, in my opinion, is funky, fun and bright with a personality of its own. So, I chose to tilt the camera on my tripod and attempt to make the picture itself different and unique as well.

As for the technical side of this image, I shot it with a Canon EOS 60D camera at a focal length of 18mm, ISO 100, aperture f/16 with a shutter speed of 2.5 seconds. An off-camera flash was used with wireless triggers. I originally placed the camera on a tripod but that image seemed too boring for me. I decided to spice it up a tad by putting all of the legs of the tripod together and tilting it. I kept it on the tripod to steady it a little bit because of the long shutter speed.

 About the Photographer:

Now, just a little bit about me. I am currently a student at Northern Arizona University studying Communications Studies with a minor in Public Relations. I am graduating this coming May 2016 and will be moving back to my hometown of Seattle, WA. I originally dipped my toe in photography to fill college credits but ended up really enjoying the art and am now taking my third photography class in the past three semesters here at NAU. I had no idea all of the components that go into creating a single image and I feel privileged to have been able to just begin to scratch the surface into the world of photography.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your thoughts and constructive comments in the Comment section below – Jacquelyn would love to hear from you!

May 302016

Photo copyright Danny Kimball

I was inspired to take this image after watching my teacher Amy Horn take high-speed liquid shots at one of her seminars during the photography club at Northern Arizona University. Her images are amazing, especially the collision of two water droplets, so when it came up in class as an assignment, I was given the chance to create an image I had been interested in and as a class assignment. In this image I chose a background that had two very contrasting colors, first so I could see the difference since I am color blind and secondly because I wanted to simulate a drop of rain in the cool blue water at sunrise. I thought it amazing to think that during a rain shower this is happening every time a drop strikes the surface of a pond, lake, or stream, not thought of as something miraculous that is happening right in front of us.

I set this image up by cutting an “X” in a plastic sandwich bag, putting a rock climbing carabineer through the “X”, and hanging it from a tripod. Once I filled the bag with water I poked a hole in the bag with a thumbtack, giving me a drop about once every 10 seconds. I placed a black mug underneath and changed the background to get different moods.

For this image I shot with a Nikon d7100 using a 85mm macro lens. My ISO was at 100, which I realized after I could have varied while I was shooting to see the effect. My aperture was at f/3.8 and my shutter was at 1/200. The flash I used was a Yongnuo speedlite YN560 IV. Since I am not versed in post processing, yet, I only turned down the highlights. I thought that increasing or decreasing other settings took away too much from what the image originally was.

About the Photographer:

Let me introduce myself. My name is Daniel Kimball; I’m an Environmental Studies major, with a minor in biology, and certificate in wildlife management and ecology. I got into photography after seeing my brother’s work and being a competitive older brother decided I should try it out for myself, only later realizing that I have this creative side somewhere inside. I haven’t done too much when it comes to photography, but I have big plans for this summer. Not having to study for exams every week, will allow me to think solely on my images and planning them out. My first goal in photography is to capture an image that someone is willing to purchase, but my overall goal in nature photography is to inspire someone to go to a location where I have shot to witness the beauty for him or herself.

I typically enjoy taking shots of nature or of a subject within nature, but lately I’ve been enjoying each of our class assignments, whether its high-speed liquid, portraits, sunbursts, etc. I relish shooting nature most because beauty to me, rests most in nature. I enjoy this water droplet image since it is an element that occurs naturally, taken into an artificial setting, to then resemble a natural event. Some people that inspire me are Marc Adamus, Shane Knight, and pretty much anyone who can take beautiful astrophotography shots.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your thoughts and constructive comments in the Comment section below – Danny would love to hear from you!