Travel Photography Critique


Photo Week 2017 Travel Photography Critique


Lesson Info

Travel Photography Critique

Hey everybody! Welcome to our photo critique. My name is Mike Hagin and this is Clay. What's up guys. And we are here to look at travel photography, travel images today and this is through SLR Lounge so if you want to check that out head over to for these images. Real quick about me, my name is Mike Hagin and I am a professional photographer. I've been doing this for a while since the late 1990s and I love travel photography. I do a lot of travel photography work on my own, run to Africa and Iceland and the Galapagos and Cuba and I just love being in the outdoors. And I love interfacing with people around the world. So hopefully today some of that experience comes through with my critique. Clay tell them about you. I'm an editorial and portrait photographer based in Louisville, Kentucky. And I also love traveling all over the place just like Mike here. I've been fortunate to work with a lot of NGO's on the grounds in various countries such as Iraq and Tanza...

nia, Africa, Ethiopia, Cuba, just like Mike, a lot of awesome places all over the world and it's really rewarding so I can't wait to see what you guys have come up with today. Cool, right on man. Well let's get right to it, we won't waste your time. Let's look at the first photo, so this is travel photography, and Clay, I'm gonna have you break the ice, tell everybody what do you think about the shot? I love it, it's like, I especially love how the background, there's so much depth in it. It doesn't feel too much like it's so shallow, like it's not a shallow depth of field but the background is deep enough so that it gives that effect so it's really almost really reminiscent almost of the human eye, how the human eye sees. I love the mood, the lighting is really well done, I'd love to know where this is actually. It kind of looks Middle East. Yeah, Middle East, yeah I would definitely say that because of the burkas and stuff. Yeah, it's great what do you think? Yeah cool, I like the muted colors. Every time I do a photo critique I always talk about what I think is great and I always talk about what I think can be improved. So I agree with everything you said about what is great, I think that's all good. I like the depth of field control. So two things I think can be improved. One is the crop, I think it would make a lot of sense to crop out the right side of the picture, just to the right of that orange bucket there. I think that would make the photo a little bit more prominent, a little bit more powerful. And then another thing I'm always looking for is intersections. And I'm looking for separating branches from other branches and poles from other things. So that pole on the left side I might try and get a little bit different perspective. You can push the poll up a little higher in the sky or to reduce it down so that it's obvious what that thing is. Sometimes those little intersections can clog up the scene. Yeah I definitely look for good lines, good structure when shooting on location, and of course in exotic locations and traveling. And another thing is the important thing is visual storytelling. I think that's the one big thing that's a little lacking. Obviously you can tell that she's doing clothing but I think if there was something behind her to give a little bit more context of where she is that would help. Agree. Let's go to the next. Oh wow, that's gorgeous. I'll take the lead on this one. Yeah, do it. Love it, I love Africa, I love elephants, and it's hard for me to tell if these are African elephants or Asians, it's hard to tell, maybe they're Asian. It doesn't matter, I still like it. I love the black and white, really great on the crop, really tight. The famous saying, if your photos aren't good enough, you aren't close enough. So that's not an issue in this image. One of the things I'd love to see is a little bit more of that eyeball, so be a little more patient, wait for that eyeball to come up so I can have a visual connection with the animal. I completely agree, I think the black and white was a great decision on this. It feels emotional, it's relatable a little bit, it kind of puts you into the scene but I do agree with Mike. I think that if just got a little lower maybe, just got a little bit more of that eye it would give a lot better perspective. But also understand that, when you're on the run trying to spray and pray I guess on these sort of scenarios. They're wild animals, they're gonna do what they're gonna do. That's true. And you're gonna take your shoot. Yeah but it's great, it's a great, I love the texture, I love everything about this image. Right on, good job. Yeah, you take the lead on that one. So this looks like obviously a street somewhere, not sure where. I think it's Cuba? Yeah, feels Cuba to me, especially the wrought iron gate there. So I like this, I feel like my eye goes directly to the subject on the left hand side of the image, and then the subject on the ride is distracting to me. So I would probably try to come closer in on her and try to give, tell a little bit more story through her 'cause I'm not sure what the banana cart is doing or what kind of context that plays or if it's just there, but it might, she might be doing something to that or I'm not too sure. But I think that coming back to that quote, if you're not close enough, or you know. I think that if this shot was just closer and we gave a little more impact on her that would feel better to me. But from a technical standpoint the colors and the light and everything is really rich. Yeah, I think that whoever processed this did a decent job with that composition in terms of burning and dodging. The right hand side of that photo fades away into darkness and that's an appropriate use of exposure control 'cause it doesn't really add to the photo like you were describing. So how to make it better? Yeah, crop it, given this one composition, you're gonna crop out the people on the right. You don't need to see all that. Out in the field? Yeah, get a little closer like Clay said, and maybe get rid of that cart, or have her come over to the cart and interact with it in some way. Yeah build a relationship instead of being a fly on the wall, and a lot of this photojournalism work I think it's important to try to explain what you're doing and try to build that relationship and you're gonna get a way greater picture because of it. Yeah, right on. Go for it. So this is, I like this mood, I like the visual storytelling of this, I like the emotion behind this. The one thing that throws me off immediately is just the color of it, it looks like it was, it looks like a tungsten light or something. Incandescent. Yeah, I think it could be a little bit more balanced but if that's what you're stylistically going for, then go for it. I know like a lot of my work in Iraq for example I toned everything very warm, so I think that it's a stylistic maybe approach. That's from a processing standpoint but I do like the emotion, I do like the mood in it, and of course the feeling of it. Cool, yeah in groups of three that's important, having odd numbers of elements in your scene so that's a plus on this image. So the cropping of the photo's a little tight, you chopped off that kid's hands, that's gotta hurt man, that's gotta hurt. So either totally get rid of the hands or frame it in such a way that you get the fingertips and the ends of the hands there 'cause he's praying obviously, I wanna see the whole hand. But I agree with everything you said about the color, something's off a little bit and it could just be our monitors, who knows. But it's a great emotional photograph. Oh cool, I'll start on this one. Canyoneering, slot canyon somewhere, who knows where it is. I like the contrast, I think that's pretty cool. This is a really hard photo to display properly, to print especially because she is in the deep dark shadows and those walls are really solid black. And then you've got sunny day out at the end of that. So this really could benefit from maybe an HDR type of exposure series where you're maintaining detail and the highlights but also being able to pull out details in the shadows. That's an aesthetic choice, you can decide that. Looks like the person is a friend or someone that you know so you can pose them there and say stand still for the next five frames and maybe we can do an HDR. I like the composition, in this case center works, just smack dab in the middle and sometimes that just works well. I like how it's vertical, it's an aspect ratio that's vertical because it goes with those strong leading lines and vertical lines give a lot of power and impact to an image and a lot of strength to an image. From a critique standpoint, I probably would have properly exposed the outside, the daylight, and just had her as a silhouette unless there was some sort of styling or aesthetic thing. Clothing. You needed to show. For example if you're shooting a campaign or something like that, but if it's just your friend I probably would have gone for properly exposing that. But other than that, great leading lines and a great photograph. Ooh, fun. Too fuzz, and that's lake, that's off of California, lake, come on brain, work with me there. It's on the east side of the Sierra's, I lost it. Anyways, cool I love the colors the colors of the blue and the water in the sky, fantastic. He hit it at the right time of day to get that beautiful reflection off the water. The wind hasn't come up yet so that's fantastic. The composition is great, this type of photo though to me calls out for panorama. I mean, that foreground is not really speaking to me. We need to get rid of that foreground with those white clouds down there. There isn't really anything there that's visually attractive or leading my eye into the scene, rather I think it's a bright distraction. So crop that thing into a one to three ratio panorama or a one to two ratio panorama and keep the clouds in the sky but get rid of those white clouds in the foreground. Oh I agree, I love the color like you said Mike, but I also agree with more of a panoramic. I would have definitely cropped out the clouds but I think with landscape photography the number one thing is patience, patience is crucial and I probably would have waited til that water was a little bit more still or it was later, earlier in the day so I could have that reflection a little bit more prominent. But I think the biggest thing is that it's striking from a color standpoint, so yeah. I would have either gone panoramic with it I would have cropped in a little closer to those rocks. Good point, agree with that. Alright, take it away. I like this, I think the biggest thing that I see with this from a critique standpoint is that I don't really have a visual context of where he is. I guess you're going for more the emotion side and the teasing of the snake, which is great. I think those are the highlights of this image, is the emotion on his face and I guess he's toying with the snake. So it's a great example of visual storytelling, I just wish that I had a little bit more context of the location of where he is, and I think that the colors are nice, processing is good, and it's a good image, I like it. Ditto, I mean he said it well. The composition is perfect, the framing is excellent, it's hard to improve on the framing at all on this photo. I'm just gonna copy everything that you said. Ooh cool. Right on, so we've got a street scene here. Looks like he's getting his hair cut, I'm guessing and it's on the street somewhere in a developing nation maybe or maybe Italy? I don't know. I like the black and white, I'm a sucker for black and whites, I love printing black and whites, creating black and whites, so what works well? Well the people obviously, the interaction of the people, there's something going on there and even behind them, maybe they're playing checkers or they're just friends talking. So I want to see more of what the people are doing. So my suggestion in this is to move in, I think you've got to be a lot closer. You need to move in by 15, 20 feet. And so now you can see what those people in the background are doing, maybe you can see what's on that table. Are they playing checkers or are they playing dominoes? Who knows? I want to see more of their faces and the interaction between them. It's funny because I took a very similar photograph to this in Bangladesh where there was a barber in the side street or something and they were like shaving a guy's head with a straight razor and actually inspired me to go get a straight razor. Oh really? Yeah, unsuccessfully, it didn't work out. Ouch. Yeah, but anyway I like the black and white. I think that's definitely a great decision on that because of the white clothing and then you have the darker contrast of the texture on the wall but I completely agree that I would have definitely moved in as much as possible within reason and I think a lot of divide with photojournalism is building small little relationships and explaining what you do. I get questions a lot, it was the fear of exploitation with these people. And I think if you just tell them, give them context to what you're doing, it helps a lot with the image. Yeah, that's one of the things with travel photography, we're all human. Photographers are human and your subjects are human. And how do you create a relationship of trust? Well it's just being human, it's being yourself. It's being open and going up to the person, being interested in what they're doing. Like maybe the straight razor example. Oh cool, I wanted to try a straight razor, and you show that to me? How do you do it? And now you've created a connection. You're excited for him, he knows that you like him not just 'cause you want a picture but because you like what he's doing. That relationship begins the process of getting a great photo. Yeah, even if you don't speak the language, a lot of times body language can go so far and a lot of times in the scenarios I'm in we have a fixer, a translator or somebody that can help you out. That'll go great lengths. Hey this looks like the canyoneering shot we saw earlier right? But now we're in a city and so we got a mom and a kid, they're hand in hand walking through some old old buildings. I love the texture, that red, that subtle red is really neat. Actually I think this photo probably works better in color than it would in black and white because of that subtle red. Good job on keeping the uprights vertical, there's no keystoning going on here or funky composition, I'm all about that. And then I like their small size, I like the leading lines leading to them. I'm just gonna leave it at that, I'd in general call it all good. Yeah, I definitely agree with all that, the color is nice, I like them all walking away. It tells a story, the lines are good, the only thing that, really the only critique that I have is because I'm very much a center person and I'm kind of OCD with lines a little bit, is I would have probably taken about two to three steps to the right so that that walkway would be perfectly centered in the image but that's like so style choice. I agree with you. Subjective. It is, but it's important and maybe that's a good point for people. If you want symmetry, then do symmetry and do it well. I agree 100%, I'm OCD like you. Like no, there's a line there and it needs to be lined up perfectly. Perfectly, yeah. Good call. You want to start on that one? Yeah, let's do it. I love this, this awesome, this is definitely close, it feels engaging. I like that the guy on the right is just smoking and he's just glancing over. I like the fact that it's black and white. The only thing I would like to see is if this is maybe Cuba, then I'm sure that car is colored some sort of bright, vibrant color. Yeah blue. Something crazy vibrant, but if not, there's obviously a reason that it's put in black and white I guess. But yeah, I think it's great. I mean the only thing maybe from a critique standpoint is it's like, let's make it feel not so distant with a long lens, try to come in closer with a shorter lens, and that would have changed the depth of field a little bit and the compression of it. But that's just a subjective I think. But great great, good shot. Yeah, I would say two things that make this image work really well. Number one is the photographer got low, got down to eye level, and that perspective shift is critical, in general if you can shoot at the eye level or the height of the thing you're photographing. You'll almost always get a better shot. And the second thing is when you take portraiture of two people or more, one of the neat tools we use to engage the viewer is you have one subject looking at the camera and the other subject maybe looking away, or looking at that subject or doing something, it just creates this really neat visual tension between the two. And so know that you didn't plan it, it was a street scene, but good job on having that guy stare right at the camera. That makes the photo. And it's a glance, his chin isn't all the way around, he's just kind of glancing, it's very curious. What's going on over there? Which I like even better. Alrighty, I'll start on this one. So we've got a group dinner, a group lunch, this is in Asia somewhere. I love noodle soup, I love Asian soups, oh my gosh, so my mouth is watering, the colors are great. I would say don't be afraid to punch up the colors even a little bit more. This can take it, those reds need to be red. In my mind, what goes through my mind right now is Kodachrome. I'm thinking this is an old film type of shot, it's probably still a digital but it has a little bit more of a muted feel. I'm feeling more like Velvia on this one. Give it some punch and some oomph, move that vibrant slider up just a bit, not so much though that their faces turn orange, that would be bad. But make those reds be red. Good composition, overall I like that. Yeah I like how the community, all these women are centered around that bowl which is right in the center. And so it's sort of a visual foundation for what's going on because it also tells a story. It's a community, it feels very rich. But no, I agree as far as the processing, you could definitely punch the colors a little bit, or go with a little bit more of a stylistic grade on the image itself but I feel like I'm there and that's the coolest thing about it. It feels very first person and very personal. Yeah, like next thing that's gonna happen is the photographers gonna get out their chopsticks and start eating. Yep, with the hand out, that would be cool. Alright, go for it. Alright, so bird photography I actually have a friend that does this, he's crazy with it. 'Cause in Kentucky we have a lot of cool species of birds I guess. You're obviously not a birder, huh? No, no not at all. But I like that you shot this, you have to shoot that stuff with like long lenses, the big lenses and the big glass. I like the color in this and I know that's extremely hard to nail, a bird such as this with that particular face that way, it's about timing I know. So great job, the only critique I'd have is that the top of his head is a little blown, you've got some highlights there that are a little bit at issue but I like the contrast to the background that provides a nice tone from the blue to the green, everything works in that world. And then another thing is I'd probably crop in to center it a little bit more, there's a lot of negative space that I don't really feel is necessary. So good job. Yeah I do a ton of bird photography, it's one of the things that in the last maybe five to 10 years I've done, it's become one of the staples of my photography and so this is great, really good job on background control. One of the things that photographers struggle with is keeping the backgrounds clean and getting good birds, macro, all that stuff, requires deft use of your angle and perspective. One of the things I'm always looking for is solid green in the background. And if you look, that green in the upper right hand corner is gorgeous, fantastic, and then you look right behind the bird and it's a little washed out, it's gray. So what I'm gonna do is I'm actually gonna move my camera down a little bit to the left so that I get that nice wash of green behind the bird, this is a great bird photo by the way, but that will take the photo to the next level. Awesome. Alright I think we probably have two more images to look at. I'll run with this, I love this. This is like dancing, okay. Yeah look at it on this monitor, you can see the detail. Yeah you can see the detail a little bit more. This is great lighting, I don't know if it's lit or if it's using ambient light. I would hope that it's the ambient light which would be even better. I love the mood, I love the emotion, on this monitor you can give a little bit context to where they are and it's a great image, I really don't have much critique on this other than I might have wanted to see a little bit more of the guys face and not so much top of the head heavy. Maybe his chin around or a little bit more emotion there, but that's just me sort of nitpicking. Yeah I don't have much to say, I think it's great. Yeah it's gorgeous, the energy, the strength, the dynamic between the two, fantastic. I agree with everything you said, watch that foot, cropped off the end of the foot. And then I agree with the face. And even with this composition now you can do a little bit of work in Photoshop or Lightroom to bring it out a bit. This'll probably be our last shot. So we're in the desert, looks like California somewhere, you've got a car coming through. Great, I understand the concept you're trying to do, you're on the road, maybe it's a road trip and that's what you're trying to illustrate, so that's cool. Some critique on this image, there's a lot of haze in the sky so in Lightroom maybe use your de-haze slider to give us some more contrast on those mountains in the background. For the truck in the foreground, I get the concept, I understand what you're trying to do, but I need to see more of that truck. I need to understand more what is that? Is that a government truck? Is there a logo on the side? Is it an adventure truck? I think that would help the photo and the fact that it is so big and prominent yet kind of unrecognizable I think detracts from the image. No I agree, I think for me as well I probably would have centered myself to where there's not that diagonal line of the road so the truck doesn't look like it's going that way in the frame but rather like straight across because you've got these nice horizontal lines which gives a lot of this mood of calm I guess and so you have this weird diagonal composition. I've actually done a shot similarly to this and I pulled out and I made sure the frame was really wide and I had two cars that were in the foreground just like shifting by and I think it gives a lot more context for what's going on so I think yeah, I definitely would have pulled back and shown a bit more of what was going on with the car. Cool. So that wraps up our critique and just a reminder everybody this is with SLR Lounge, thank you for participating in the critique, it's been a lot of fun. I know a lot of the photographer's have been up here doing what we're doing. We enjoy looking at other people's photos and telling you how to get better because we don't have to be on that side of the process. So it was a lot of fun, thank you for participating, thank you to SLR Lounge for sponsoring this, and if you want more of their information, head over to

Class Description

Join us as we welcome renowned photographers Clay Cook and Mike Hagen for a LIVE critique on travel photography! In this free event, Clay and Mike will review and discuss your composition, lighting and storytelling techniques — be it people, places or details. You’ll get expert insights into improving your work and looking at new approaches to travel photography.

Photo Week Critique Schedule: