PhotoZAP 42: Hello, Newlyweds!

Our critics praise and pan your pictures

"This is a good example of trying to make the photo 'say something', rather than letting it speak for itself."—Joe Gioia


© Al Taplin, Newington, CT. Gear: Canon Powershot SX10. Exposure: 1/8 sec at f/5.6, handheld, ISO 200. Photoshop used to remove beer can in foreground and “to simplify the background.” Black and White Conversion using Nik Silver Efex.

Photographer’s statement: “I was walking around my condo complex and came upon this couple sitting on there deck enjoying a beer. I was drawn by the apparent contrast of the two subjects and the obvious love and admiration she has for "her man". I submitted this image to PhotoZap after it was judged very poorly by my local camera club. The judge's comments were that her right arm was a distraction and that I should have cropped in more closely. After the meeting club members came up to me and informed me that "in house" judges were used that night and that I should have waited to be judge by non-club members. Needless to say these comments left me somewhat confused.”

Editor's note: With this PhotoZAP we welcome Joe Gioia, former senior editor of Modern Photography magazine, as a special guest critic.

Our critics say...


Mason: These two people have fascinating faces and wonderful expressions and the straightforward shooting style kind of reminds me of Diane Arbus. But then I get stuck on the picture’s considerable technical problems. 1. It’s blurred, most likely due to camera motion during the handheld 1/8 second exposure. Boosting the ISO to 800 would have fixed that. 2. The faces are too light, and we therefore lose important details. 3. The faked background looks…faked. There’s not much one can do after the fact about camera shake. And that’s a shame, because this shot’s technical problems interfere with my enjoyment of the moment the photographer tried to capture.

Monica: When I first viewed this photograph, the couple and the manner in which the photographer posed them against the grey background very much reminded me of the wonderful work by Michael Disfarmer in the rural American South in the 1930s and 1940s. I'm not bothered by the background--added or not--the idea of a 'studio' setting, or bringing a studio or backdrop with you (think Irving Penn's 'Worlds in a Small Room') is good idea, especially with this couple's strong gaze, a background could be a distraction. And while the photographer captured the couple's striking appearance that is so evocative of  another era, I have to agree with some of Mason's points. The slight blur of the image, the hot spot on her forehead, and their overall skin tones need improvement. I don't agree with the camera club judge’s opinion of a tighter crop--in this situation there's nothing to be gained, you can't crop out her arm, it's right by his head and they are not at the same 'height' in the frame. This portrait is powerful because in its simplicity, there is an intensity and directness.

Guest ZAPPER Joe Gioia: This is a good example of trying to make the photo 'say something', rather than letting it speak for itself. The photographer did most of the heavy lifting before tripping the shutter--finding the subjects and gaining their trust to make a very direct and honest portrait--but then second-guesses what the end result should be. For me, the strength of their faces makes greater information desirable (note that both Disfarmer and Penn excelled at full-length portraiture.) I want to see more of their world, even if it's just where they're sitting, her hand, and what kind of beer she drinks. The photo is flat and over-worked. The cropping, fake backdrop, and adjusted facial details give the impression that the people are floating on top of the picture space when they should be inhabiting it. From a technical perspective, seated, studio-style portraits generally require a heightened sense of focus, even with a shallow depth-of-field. If you are hand-holding a camera in low light for a picture like this, you will probably gain more than you lose by using a faster ISO, shorter focal length, and wider aperture.

What do you think? Leave a comment, below!

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