PhotoZAP #78: Light of his Life

Our Panel of Perfectionists Pick Apart Your Pictures.

"B&W is usually a fallback for a badly captured image." -Brandon Partridge

©  Kurt Jensen, Lake County, California. Gear: Canon EOS REBEL T3 with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II taken at 55, 5.6, handheld. Shooting Mode Portrait: 1/320, 100 ISO.
Evaluative Metering used. Photo was cropped and converted to black & white with


Photographer’s statement:
"Got this great photo of our grandson with my new camera I had only gotten a few days before."

Our critics say...

Brandon Partridge: I think it’s hard to fault photographers for taking pictures of their children or grandchildren. But looking at this from objective perspective; the picture is cropped so the subject is smack dab in the middle—breaking the rule-of-thirds. The subject’s face is situated away from the light source causing a distracting shadow to emanate from his right ear. I understand if he were facing the sun directly with your camera’s limitations, the shot may still not be ideal. You can counter this with a reflector bouncing light from the sun onto the subject’s face. This would make the difference in contrast on his face less jarring. I would be interested to see what this photograph looks like in colour since B&W is usually a fallback for a badly captured image. Judging by the low contrast and high-key-nature I’m assuming the colours were washed out. If you shot in RAW you could do a lot with granular controls to recover that lost saturation without killing the photo with artifacts.


Mason Resnick: I agree with Brandon that the lighting was not well-controlled in this image; adding a reflector or a diffused flash source to the right of the camera would not only illuminate his face, it would bring needed detail into his eyes, which are pretty much black. I took the liberty of simulating this effect by doing a bit of simple post-processing in Photoshop; see below.

However, I must take exception to Brandon's statement "B&W is usually a fallback for a badly captured image," a glib, ill-informed one-liner that casually tosses 150-plus years of great black-and-white photography in the wastebasket. Black and White is just one of many tools available to photographers, and I encourage all photographers to experiment with it and to think in black-and-white. In fact, I see nothing about this image that could possibly be improved with color, but I do see plenty of potential in B&W!

Jena Ardell: I don't want this to turn into a black and white issue but, in today's digital world, I'm going to have to agree with Brandon on the fact that most photographers now disguise poor color exposures by converting them into black and white. I know a lot of concert photographers who admit to this very practice. However, I don't think that was the issue with your photograph. It seems like you were simply trying to create a timeless-looking image. Digital photographers often assume that every color image can converted into black and white, without any extra planning or adjustments in exposure when shooting, but that is not the case.

The issue here is certainly a matter of poor use of light. Also, you were shooting rather closely at 55mm. For more flattering portraits, I'd recommend a longer lens, like an 85mm, 100mm, or 105mm, to prevent any signs of wide-angle distortion, which surprisingly even occurs at 55mm. I wouldn't worry too much about the rule of thirds because, as the photographer, you make the rules, and shouldn't be afraid to place your subject in the middle of the frame in order to control the focal point in the scene. Overall, if this is one of the very first photos you shot with your brand new camera--and you are happy with it--that's what matters most. With more practice, I think you will be as proud of your images as you are of your grandson!

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