Still life Photography Photo Critique
by Douglas Pfister
Category: Still life Photography
Canon EOS 5D
Lens: Zoom: Variable focal
Exposure time: 1/100 ,
Description: strength in old
Subject of photo
Composition & Perspective
Use of camera, exposure & speed
Color & Lighting
Depth of field
This shot of an abandoned barn could almost have come under the category of portraiture! It has a real presence and I think your choice of Still Life as the category, although unusual as someone else might have chosen Architecture, was totally appropriate as it does indeed seem to have a life of its own. This feeling of a presence is enhanced beautifully by your HDR (High Dynamic Range) techniques... a nice choice of subject.
You've chosen to place the subject fully in the centre of the frame and tightly cropped it in the manner of a formal portrait which I think works well in conveying your feeling that this object has a character and force of its own. There is nothing extraneous within the picture frame, neither in the foreground nor in the background giving it a stark simplicity and directness. I like the way the sky is breaking through the hole in the roof and the straw which tumbles down the near side of the building almost like 'hair'. It's impossible not to be anthropomorphic with this shot! However, I might have been tempted to have the barn placed a bit further back in the shot so that we could see some of the surrounding landscape and making the barn look very along. The sense of stolid impassivity is good already but could have been enhanced by creating a sense of isolation.
Main subject is well focussed. Background may be a little defoccused but this is good as it is the building you want to stand out.
F8 is a good choice of aperture, the entire building is sharp. A shutter speed of 1/100th second is fine too but glad to see you used a tripod at this speed as hand-held shots with a long focal length can get a bit fuzzy sometimes due to internal vibration. A tripod gives you freedom of choice, especially when you are shooting in low-light levels as you were for this shot. I think there is much digital noise in the shot and this could have been avoided by using a very low ISO and a longer shutter speed (see my suggestions at the end).
The sky is very dark and although this adds drama and a sense of threat even, I feel that it is perhaps a little too dark. I have never seen a sky with black areas at sunset so it feels unnatural to me. I think HDR techniques need to be handled delicately. There is always a risk of getting carried away with effects and I think this shot could have benefited from toning down the sky. A more subtle sky, more natural looking, would have worked better for me. However, your skills in post processing have enhanced beautifully the texture of the weathered wood, an important aspect of the shot. There is also a feeling of the wood, the straw and surrounding grass being dry and crisp which is what you expect with an aged object. Again, well done!
The depth of field keeps the viewers attention on the main subject and contains it leaving the background slightly fuzzy - perfect.
Your title, Strength in Old, is a good one and there is a monumentality to this shot, a feeling that this old building has indeed endured a long history but still stands in spite of it all. I feel that, overall, you have succeeded well in conveying to the viewer the emotions you intended - well done!
How to improve your photo
Experiment with leaving more space around your main subject. Try different crops in post-processing. No one crop is the definitive one really, but you can say different things with different framing. Try creating environmental portraits where the objects or landscape surrounding the main subject tell us about its life and history. You are a story-teller Douglas, so tell your viewer as much of the story as you can.
Consider tweaking the sky less severely. I know this is a subjective area in HDR photography but I do feel that a lighter sky would work better. This is a subtle thing and a personal choice, not really a criticism, and overall I really like the shot.
As you are using a tripod, you can choose to use the smallest ISO possible so that digital noise is reduced to a minimum. Also, if you want to use long exposures make sure your camera has the Long Exposure Noise Reduction feature enabled. This is separate from the ISO Noise Reduction feature and can be left on all the time.
A very long exposure would have perhaps given some soft motion blur in the foreground which would have acted as a nice counterpoint to the stillness of the barn. Just an idea, and worth experimenting with perhaps.
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