PhotoZAP 46: Street Portrait

Our critics praise and pan your pictures

"The photographer is asking for something that the subject doesn't really want to give up."—Joe Gioia


© Douglas Smith, Laveen, AZ. Gear: Canon XTi, Canon 18-55mm lens. Exposure: f/10 at 1/200 sec, ISO 400, handheld with on-camera flash on. Edited in Corel PaintShop Pro X2—adjusted lighting and contrast, applied sharpening.

Photographer’s statement: "This was very shortly after I had gotten my first DSLR.  I was living in Austin TX at the time and went down to South Congress Street (SOCO) just to see what might be happening.  Street musicians are quite common in this part of Austin.  My goal was to capture a candid shot of the musician and to photograph him being himself. I thought his face and demeanor were fascinating. While I did ask his permission, he fortuneately did not change expression or anything and just kept playing while I took a couple of photographs.  Probably the biggest thing that bothers me about the photo is the reflection off of the store window."


Our critics say...

Joe Gioia (special guest zapper): Technically, a tough shot--a subject in sun and open shade with a bright background--which the photographer worked very well. As a character study, it's fine; but I think several factors work against it being a completely successful portrait photograph. The background is way too busy, drawing attention away from the subject; the reflected fill flash is intrusive, while the man's expression is aloof and standoffish--his eyes barely visible behind dark glasses, glancing away. I'd venture to say that this musician gets his picture taken a lot; one senses here an unwillingness to address the photographer, and so the viewer, directly. I think he is "being himself" in a picturesque way, performing in public, presumably for donations, and has learned to keep his audience at a distance, even when agreeing to have his picture taken. Combined with the awkward setting, the result is a portrait that's only half-there; the photographer is asking for something that the subject doesn't really want to give up.

Mason Resnick: The background does make it a tough shot, as Joe says. The light background fights with the face in an epic figure-ground relationship battle and unfortunately the face, which is exposed perfectly and is so interesting, loses since the eye is automatically drawn to the brightest part of the picture. While the violin adds information about the guy, I want to just see him. I’d have cropped in tight or slapped on a longer zoom and cropped out everything but his face, and sacrificed the violin for the sake of strongest impact.

Jack Howard: The exposure on the face is right on, and yes, there is good detail there, but I'm thinking there's a lot of different ways to work this scene and make different compositions exploring exposure levels and depth of field. For example, if the photographer were to swing position to be head on to the fiddle and stop down the exposure a bit so that the hotter side of the fiddle were nearer to midtones, there'd be a great semi-silhouette proile of the subject, and this angle would also wrangle in the reflections on both the eyeglasses and the window panes. Experimenting with different apertures and focal distances would give very different feels to the composition. When you've got the time and the go-ahead to shoot, shoot away and get creative.

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