Portrait Critique


Photo Week 2017 Portrait Critique


Lesson Info

Portrait Critique

My name is Michael Clark. I'm an adventure sports photographer based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico. I shoot all kinds of crazy adventure sports like rock climbing, base jumping, big wave surfing for a wide variety of clients, and I'm joined here by Alexis. Yep. Hi, guys, my name's Alexis Cuarezma. I'm based in the San Francisco Bay area, and I'm a portrait photographer, and I focus on athletes and fitness. Excellent. So, we're gonna look at some portraits here, and the first one up, boxing shot. That's pretty wild. It's kickboxing. Okay, yeah. You want to start off with this one? It's nice lighting, you know, from the side, looking here? The perspective's maybe a little strange, just because her leg and her foot is really huge in the image, but I guess there's no way around that, necessarily. I agree. The thing that bothers me in there is kind of, I think the composition. I'm not a big fan of how the knee is kind of, like, placed right there, and I just don't, I don't feel ...

like the background, the dirt, and kind of, like, I think, houses you can see in the upper right do add anything for the image. It's a little bit distracting, and the kind of vignette that it has to the image, it looks like it was added on post, 'cause you can kind of see a glow around her. I think that that would have been, if that's what the photographer was going for, to try to do it in-camera with the lighting and just underexposed ambient and to shoot it like that in-camera, but they could have had not powerful enough lights to do it in-camera, so maybe that's why they did it in post, but-- I think if you just cropped off, like, the bottom half of the image and really focused on the face and the gloves and the knee, it might be more interesting. Just jump in a little tighter, 'cause then things wouldn't stick out as much, but hard to say without-- Yeah, and another thing that has nothing to do with photography, I know this is kickboxing, so it might be a little bit different, whenever I photograph boxers and they have their boxing gloves on, I always make sure that they tape the gloves, 'cause I like to make it look like they're about to go in the fight, 'cause when they're not taped, it kind of just looks like they're doing, like, a practice shot, and you want it to look more like they're about to, like, more-- Would you do that with gloves like that? That's why I said I'm not sure, with kickboxing. I know with boxing, you would do it, but I'm not sure if you would do it with kickboxing. Still, the lighting's, you know, on in the face, it's nice back there. Dramatic, you know? Let's go onto the next one. We're doing, okay, let's see, on this one-- Nice color. That color's nice. I like how the background and the hair complement each other. Totally. On this one, let's see, oh, you can see it better on this screen a little bit, the blacks. Yeah, definitely. On the other screen, it kind of, like, disappears, but I, usually, you want to have a slight bend on the arms, on the one that's all the way down-- The one that's going straight down there? It's kind of at a strange angle. And the lighting, it's technically, it's good on it. I'm not a big fan on her expression, on the face when you first initially see it. I mean, it just depends what you're going for, but as a portrait, I'd want kind of, more of an interesting look for it. I mean, this could have been-- Flat lips. Were you going for a look? It kind of looks like, I don't know-- In-between moment, or something? I mean, the lighting is really nice, and the nice thing is that her face is really well kind of spotlighted, which is partially the background and partially that she's wearing black clothing, so you really look at her face really fast. I think, you know, the one thing is that maybe I would gradate the lighting so her hand that's reaching across is not as bright as her face, so that you lock in with the eyes and stay there. There's something here in this one, I think if you look at the contact sheet, there's probably a good image there that would get a good expression out of it. Yeah, technically, there's 50 images around this that, you know, just depending on what they wanted. I mean, technically, it's a really-- Solid image. Solid image, though. Oh, nice. Yeah, this one's nice. It's cool. It's just simple background. You know, that white background there. Really lock in with him. The lighting's nice. I mean, again, for me, maybe I would make the lighting a little less uniform throughout the whole image so we can really get to him, but he's got so many tattoos on him that if you did that, it might not work as well. Yeah, I like that. I think this is a solid image here. There's nothing I would-- Critique about it. Yeah, I mean, like, I agree with what you're saying, but that's personally taste. I love my fall-off, like you're saying. I personally love my fall-off, and I would do that to that image, but that's a personal choice, and if you don't like it, you don't like it. This is a good image. A solid image, yeah. There's a lot to look at, there. Wow, look at this. That is a cool image. I love this one. That is a great image. It has a lot going for it. I love the color on it, the complementary colors in the sky. I would let go, make it a little bit, the first thing that jumps out to me would be the composition. I wish it was cropped more. I don't know if you can see it right here, let me get up and show it right here, but I think this is great. A lot of the action's going, like, here, and this is not doing much for me. For me, personally. So, i think if it was cropped here and maybe had a little bit more here and put her in the left third, I think that would be great. And if you could bring the sky down a little bit more, that's just nitpicking there, that would make it awesome, but it's pretty good. Bring in a little more detail under there, or fully blow it out, whichever one that, you know, but that is a beautiful, man, just the way, I'm not even sure how they did that. It's like, shooting through water or clouds or a reflection or something. That's pretty wild. Yeah, they did it in-camera, or they did it in post, great job, 'cause it looks really, it looks organic, I guess. Yeah, it's very, you can definitely tell their creative intent. They were thinking creatively when they got this image. It wasn't just a straight portrait at all. And that dress, I mean, just, wow. I mean, the one thing for me is maybe that ball on the side, I'd kind of want to see, the one's that clipped right here, maybe have that fully enclosed, 'cause it's a little close to that edge, 'cause I see that ball, and my eye kind of sticks over there on that ball, just 'cause it's got a bright spot on it, but because the sky is pretty uniformly bright, it's not the end of the world. You know, I'm nitpicking for sure, because that's a cool image. Yeah, it is. Nice. You can see a little bit... Nice romantic lighting, I would say. You know, it looks like a light trap, so light coming in from both sides, there. You're showing off the muscles and the tattoo. The only thing I would maybe, I mean, the lighting is pretty solid. The only thing I would maybe change in this one, which is personally love doing, where you have an athlete like this and have that heroic pose. I photograph literally from the floor, really low. So, it's just a little bit more dramatic, and this one looks like it was shot at eye level or a little higher. Mm-hmm, like you're almost looking down on her. Yeah, and slightly wide, so it kind of looks like you're getting a little bit of maybe distortion on there? And that's the only thing I would change in your camera position choice. I think the lens is great. Just lower it, and-- A little longer lens, a little farther back. Little lower. Or, if you're gonna exaggerate it, stay wide and go low and just use the distortion to your advantage. Cool. Let's keep going. It's very simple. A natural light portrait here, it looks like. You know. Little bit of a busy background, I would say, with that line coming straight out of the top of his head. Yeah, I would say, well, I would say crop the right side a little bit, and that way you kind of focus more on him-- Instead of the traffic, or whatever that is. Parking lot behind him. It just doesn't add much to the image, but I mean, it's a pretty good image. It's a nice kind of almost lifestyle moment, or, like, you know, kind of, oh, you can see it here better, there's a nice catchlight in those eyes, so they came out beautiful. Yeah, and just, you know, for those of you that these are your image, realize, you know, especially, you know, that last image with the dress, I always, when I'm doing a photo critique, I judge images by how jealous I am. These images aren't in my portfolio, you know, sometimes, wow, look at this. Pretty wild red lighting here. Is it all red here, or, it looks like there's a slight little bit of green on this one, or, but it looks-- Hard to tell. I'm liking it, though. Really well stylized. The hair seems perfect in there. I mean, I don't really know what's going on in this image, but it grabs you. Yeah, it does. I would just want maybe a little bit more information in this image, to kind of have context to what's going on-- Yeah, exactly, like, is this an athlete? Who is this guy, you know? As a series of images, it could be great, 'cause you'll have more context in the image, which I'm sure there probably is, but, I mean, you can only submit one here. But this, it's technically solid. It's beautiful. He's well-lit, there's nice light right on his nose, on his lips. Totally. I haven't seen that. It's, like, soft. It's amazing how this is nice and defined, but then you get to this soft light in there, so that's pretty nice, the way they filled that in. Yeah, I mean, if you're going for that one red palette, this is awesome on there. I mean, the only other thing I would have done, just me personally, and this is just, like, nitpicking over there, just throw in another color, there. Little splash of color to, like, add an impact. Maybe one of the rim lights. Give it a complementary color or something different, or the background, if you made it blue. It might make it look a little, pop out a little more. I mean, like you were saying, I think, like, a triptych, you know, if you had him looking straight at camera, it gives us more information about who he really is or something, and it might be interesting as well, which the photographer may have that as well, but solid images. Nice. Ooh, night time image. Yeah, this is kind of a photo-J image, photojournalistic style. You know, I would, okay, well, here's, take this with a grain of salt, but, you know, it depends on who you're shooting for, if this is a truly photojournalistic style, then you wouldn't take things out of the image, but for me, personally, I would go over here and take these lights out, because they're massively distracting. This one, maybe, maybe not. I like all the lights in the background, but there's a few that are so far off-axis that it takes your eye to that left side of the image for me, and it's hard for me to get back to the person. I think, was this done with a tilt-shift lens? Because if you look to the left side of the photo, it looks like there's a tilt effect on it. It could have been, yeah. Either done post or in the camera, 'cause in the image, the right eye is in focus and the left one looks out of focus, 'cause it looks like it was in, like, a tilt. Or it might be one of those, what are those little lenses where you can-- Lens babies? Lens babies, something like that, maybe. Could have been that. I think, you know, this image, what you wanna do is move the light a little bit more, 'cause obviously, they used, like, a little LED light or something, and to get a little bit better of the diamond shape on the cheek-- And the nose isn't, yeah. Like that, and that's the only thing that bothers me. It's a pretty good image on there. Yeah, it's pretty solid. The background doesn't bother me 'cause I know it was done at night and shot wide open, but it's a... Yeah, I mean, the other, one of the things for me is I'm always trying to avoid this triangle of light. I know this is kind of a classic chiaroscuro, you know, type lighting from the Dutch painters way back in the day, but for me, I find it distracting when this nose shadow connects with the side, and this is just a personal thing, this isn't a critique of the image, just the way I, so, I try to either have the nose shadow kind of stop here, or that whole side of the face fully dark, but that, I don't know, what do you think about that? What I notice in this image that it does bother me a little bit is that I guess you can see the shadow here's really dark, and on this cheek, it's not as dark? I think if this was as dark as this, it would make it really dramatic and solid and nice. It makes it a little bit, it might just be our monitor, too. Well, I guess, maybe up there. Even on there, you can see that as well. But we're being really nitpicky, if this is your image. Cool beard. Nice. Popular work, to put their watermark on it, too. You can see it. There you go. What do you think? The first thing that jumps at me is what's in his pocket? I think it's a cell phone? Yeah, that's good to call out. And that, for me, since it goes there, it kind of distracts from the image, and I would just kind of be wary of that, on your subjects, what they have, like, tell them to take it out. If they didn't want to remove it, that's fine, but for me, my eye goes straight there. It's like an iPhone or whatever. Yeah, that's a little odd, if someone's getting their portrait taken, to leave their phone in their pocket, yeah. Yeah, that just bothers me. Which somehow, that suggest to me that this was a quick, like, stand up in front of the background, take your picture, and move on, next, type thing, so hard to say what's going on here. But other than that, it's a technically solid image, and it's well done. Nice red shirt to separate him from the background. Yeah, yeah. I mean, it would be maybe a little bit, a shallower depth of field could have helped us out and maybe given it a little bit more a mystery, in terms of, I mean, it seems like it was shot at f/11 or something, so even the background is fully sharp, and you're aware of the background, so if you had him step away from the background two or three more feet, drop your aperture to f/ or 2.8th, then maybe you'd have-- Yeah, I was gonna say, I'm not a huge fan of the background. It looks like a backdrop that they used. I was staring at the background more than I was at him. Small thing. So, if you look, those are two things that we mentioned that distract away from your subject. For me, it was the phone right away, and for you it was the background, so those are two, anything that you want, when you're doing portraiture, you know, you want to remove things that draw away attention from what's most important. Which in this case would be the eyes and the beard and the face. Yeah, 'cause he's got great elements that, it's a great technical photograph. Totally. Let's see what we got coming up here. Oh, this one looks great. You know, and here's an example where the background is adding to the story. And not distracting that much. And not as distracting, because it gives us, like, okay, what's going on in this image? This one's very well done. I like the lighting on her. It could be window light or it could be a strobe. Exactly, we don't even know. I'm not even thinking about the lighting. It's great. The background, it's busy, but it's underexposed enough where, like, it doesn't draw attention to it. I love everything about it. Her pose is great, on the side is great, it's a solid image. It's monochromatic, too, as well, which looks like the style that photographer was going for. I tip my hat off to you. This is well done. Yeah, I mean, I don't know that I could find a whole lot to critique in this. The only thing I would say is just watch your corners. There's a lot of stuff going off. If I really start looking at this stuff, it can draw me away from this subject, but I don't know that there's much you could do. Yeah, I mean, if you just tone that down a little bit more. Yeah, and it looks like they've done that, to some degree. So, maybe I'm just being a little nitpicky there, but it's cool. Man, the lighting's great. Nice. I love the graphic elements to this picture. I do, too. I was trying to figure out what that was. It almost looks like grapes in a big bucket over there, but, you know, on the right. I love the angle. I love the graphic elements on it. It's great, he's separated from the background. He's got an interesting expression. The only thing that you should be aware of is cutting off at joints, and this was almost cut off at the wrists and it's going straight out, so maybe have him bent there a little bit, and that's the main thing that bothers me on this image that I think would help improve it. If, instead of being like this, if maybe he had his hand down kind of like this and you could see it, it would bring it up a lot, 'cause right now, it kind of just, your eye, it's a line that kind of leads you-- Yeah, you see his face, and then you go right off to his arm, and it's hard to get back into the image. This photographer did so many pluses on the graphic side that are positive, like the background and everything, he's in there, and even the thing you were saying on the side, you were trying to figure out if there were grapes, they're all beautiful graphic and visual elements. They're great, but then, you get to the face, and then the arm leads you out of the picture, and that attracts your attention. Yeah, that's what I'm looking for, often when I'm looking at my own images, is I'm trying to figure out, okay, does my eye stay in this image indefinitely, or is there some giant log or arm or something going out the edge of the frame? You know, 'cause the beautiful thing is we go right to his face, 'cause that's the brightest part of the image, and then you follow that brightness down the arm, so that's even part of the lighting there, or maybe you go around this way, you know, and then you come out, but, you know, I don't know if the arm was in, if it would be better or not. It's hard to say. I think if the arm's here, I think if this arm was in, kind of like this, you'd kind of have a triangle-- And then you'd stay on him, and-- And then you'd stay on him and you have that, so that's my main, like, I hope you took more pictures in this set, in this composition, and you have different poses-- A few of that. Yeah. That's what would make this image really solid, I think. Cool. Studio shot, here. I think, like you said earlier, it's seems like kind of an in-between moment where it's hard to tell, you know, if she's just starting to sit up, or if she's just getting situated. It depends on the intent of the image. The first thing that I notice in the image was the light underneath the eye sockets, the eyes, it's kind of overhead lighting, and you can kind of see, there's still kind of bags under her eyes a little bit 'cause of the way it's maybe kind of lit. Maybe I would have retouched that out. It just depends what the intent was for this image, and usually, you want to make them, you know, look really good-- She's incredibly muscular. I mean, she's gotta be an athlete or a bodybuilder or something. And I would maybe, like, for this image, I think having her separated from the background and shooting that with a longer lens would help it out, 'cause it looks like it was done in a tight space so they would kind of have to be close to her and do that, but I think shooting it with a longer lens and having maybe a different background would have helped in the more light in the face. Just to bounce something up in there in fill that in, yeah. Jeep? Jeep, I see that right there. Solo Jeep? This is a tear sheet, or-- Oh, I think that's just their logo. Oh, got it. Nice. Well, there you go. That's marketing 101, right? Yeah, there you go. Put your logo on it. That's good on it for you. I love the black and white. It's great. Yeah, I know, black and white works for this one for sure, you know? And he's got his cigarette in his hands. You kind of get a sense that you're talking to this gentleman out in the street or something. Well, this is specifically for portraits, right? So, I would say this is more like a candid moment, and this is a great subject, so if you want to do portraits, interact with them, talk with them, and get a shot just like this looking directly at, eye contact with the camera, and it would brace that better and it would make it a solid portrait. We connect with him more, yeah. I would not call this, I'm not saying this as a negative, but I wouldn't call this a portrait. It would be more like a candid moment, 'cause, just, it looks like you're not interacting with the person, and then to me, what portraiture is is you're evoking an emotion and creating the moment, and the feeling I get for this is he was interacting with someone else. Exactly, and they just snapped this picture, yeah. So, that's more, I'm not saying that's a bad thing, 'cause some journalists do that, and it's an amazing job, but for, this is a portrait critique, and to do that, interact with a subject and pull an emotion out of them and get that. It's true. If he's looking at the camera, I mean, he's got great beard, great hair, he's got these nice wrinkles. You know, he looks like he's got a pretty amazing smile if he was looking straight in the camera. Yeah, absolutely. You can communicate that with us a little bit more directly. But I think the black and white really works well for him as well. Yeah, the light is great. Everything is right. Yeah, so, there you go. Looking straight at the camera, and now we connect with them a little bit more. And that's awesome lighting, you know? Again, maybe for me, I guess back there it looks like it's a little darker in the suit and stuff, but, you know, get me to the face faster in terms of how it's worked out. Maybe draw a graduated filter from the bottom just to, like, force me to look more at the face, but, I mean, that's being nitpicky. It's pretty solid. I would say the style of this, I want to nitpick on it, I would have the pocket square match the tie instead of white, 'cause it kind of goes better. I think if you did that, and kind of leave a little bit more room to see that in there, it would balance it out really nice. Either add more room or less room-- Or take it out completely so it was cropped out in-camera or add a little bit more room and change that from a white to match the teal in the tie or the blue in the tie, and that would just add to it. And what do you think about the white shirt? Is that distracting or is that-- Yeah, I would, you know, usually what they say on television, where they say don't wear absolute white or absolute black, which I'm wearing left and right, and usually, you want to avoid that, because usually it'll blow out really hard. I think you would be able to tone that down in post a little bit. Yeah. I typically tell, I work with athletes, obviously, so I'm not always in a studio, but tell them no pure white, no pure black, because, you know, white's gonna fully blow out, exactly, which is tough when you're using artificial lighting like this, but well done for sure. Wow, that looks like an ad for, you know, some fashion magazine or something. That's Victtor. You can see. Victtor. It's well done, Victtor. Nice lighting, good tattoo. What I like about it is it's like, a great moment, and it looks genuine, and you can tell that it was, it looks like it was done on purpose, like, done in a set-up environment, not, like, candidly, like the other black and white image. The only thing I would nitpick on this one is maybe have him turn a little bit more towards the light so you have a little bit less of the pockets of the shadow, like, on the left lips and near the nose and near the eyes, you kind of see, like-- Oh, yeah. And those kind of bother me on there. I think if they were all in shadow, if he was almost a little bit more profile, it would just add to the drama. It's just that side of the face. Yeah. And the thumb, for me, you know, it looks like you expect a thumb to be there 'cause of where his hand is, but you also can see that his thumb wouldn't be there depending on where his arm is. I would take the thumb out. Just crop it out. Crop it a little bit more-- Or just Photoshop it out, I mean, 'cause this looks like, kind of a photojournalistic image. And then on the lower right-hand corner, burn that arm a little bit in. Burn that in so it's a little bit darker. I think that would help out. And draw attention to the face. We're getting super nitpicky here, so Victtor, but, you know, it's just dialing it up to that next level a little bit. And just to nitpick here, too, like, what you want to do, or what I like doing with my portraits and light, and light when intended, is to create separation with your subject, so I think the background, if it was, since this right here, rim light on that side, if the background was darker, it'd have visual contrast with that-- It would make him pop a whole lot more off the background, yeah. 'Cause right now, it's white on, not white on white, but it's lit versus lit, and you're taking away from the drama. You have all this drama right here-- And then you're cutting it with that white background, yeah. Yeah, you have drama here that's, like, overexposed, this is under right here, and then this is white right here. If this was dark, I think, and get rid of this, that would add to the image and just make a good separation. I mean, the good news is you shot with a really shallow depth of field, so the background is not super distracting with those lines going across there, but-- Yeah, if you look at that black line, if the whole thing was black like the other one, I think it-- It would really pop, for sure. But still, cool image. Oh, nice hair. Nice, I love the color. That's pretty sweet, I got to say. I can't find a whole lot of faults. Maybe, I would just, you know, do a graduated filter from the bottom or somehow tone it down, you know, so we get to the face faster? I think it is toned down a little bit. If you look on this one, the face looks a little bit brighter. That's true. The only thing I would do is have her put her right hand down a little bit and just do it like that, just the head and shoulder shot. It's great, I love the hair movement and-- Expression on the face, and the lighting. The lighting is solid too, yeah. And the background is where it needs to be. It's a great image. I love the color, too, and there's just, like, complementary color there with the red and the background has a little bit of slight color to it. That's a great image. Solid image. I can't find much fault, there. So, you know, the lighting's decent. It seems she kind of, you know, I don't know, the background's a little bit distracting for me, there's just so much going on there. I think for me, I think this one seems a bit over-processed. I was gonna say that, too, but I think I felt bad. You felt bad? Less is more, and there, it looks like they spent-- A little too smoothed out for the skin. Well, it looks like they spent a lot of time taking the image and trying to enhance it in post, because if you look, it looks like she's cut out, and they tried to darken the background. 'Cause she's almost, like, glowing out. Do you see that? And the contrast on her and the color intensity is different than it is in the background, so they spent a lot of time, I think, on her, and not much on the background, and I think if you pull back on the post, you could get more on the image instead of focusing on the post-production, 'cause post-production for images, everyone has their taste. Usually, if you can't tell-- It's a wide spectrum, yeah. If you can't tell it's retouched, then it's usually good. And this one, it kind of looks retouched, and it doesn't add to the image, in my opinion. There are even, though, amazing that it's retouched, but there's still all these fly-aways, and it might have been windy out there, and some of these are good, but there's just a few big ones there that, you know, when you look in close, the detail-- I was just going to say it looks like all-natural light, but there's a nice catchlight in the eyes, so it was maybe a reflector or something. Yeah, hard to say. That was our last one. All right, well, cool. Thanks, Alexis. Thank you, guys. Thank you.

Class Description

Join us as we welcome award winning photographers Michael Clark and Alexis Cuarezma for a LIVE critique on portrait photography! In this free event, Michael and Alexis will review and discuss your lighting, directing, and composition techniques — be it people, couples or pets. You’ll get expert insights into improving your work and looking at new approaches to portrait photography.

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