The Power of Critique

I recently shared one of my black and white images online. It’s an image from an August 2009 workshop (day 1, day 2) that I took with Chris Honeysett in San Francisco. That workshop with Chris was my first photography workshop experience – and one which had a special impact on me. Especially, it taught me to slow down and see – in black and white. Chris is a master photographer and he sees the world slowly. He taught us to stop shooting and compose – a remarkable experience.

Back to the rest of this story about critique. One of the places we shot was in Embarcadero Center in San Francisco. Lots of great scenes in that venue – but one special one captured my imagination. It’s the image of a spiral staircase surrounding a large fern with the pattern brickwork of the Center in the background. Here’s my original shot:

Spiral Stairs and Fern

Earlier, I had happened across a technique (see Step 14) on Diane Varner’s excellent Daily Walks site involving the use of the Soft Light blend mode in Photoshop to lighten and darken (dodge and burn) portions of an image. I opened my spiral staircase image to experiment a bit with that particular technique – lightening the fern, darkening the stairs – and, after a few minutes, produced this image:

Stairway and Fern - Embarcadero Center - San Francisco

Like I usually do, I uploaded the image to Flickr (and to Google+) – partially to archive it and partially hoping for some critique. Almost immediately, I had that critique – from my online photographer friend Jill Clardy. She really liked the image – but suggested an additional crop to the top – removing the upper level. I liked her suggestion and, when I added that crop, I also added an additional crop on the left side of the image to remove some of the visual clutter there as well.

Below is the final result – a much better image that demonstrates the power of critique in action! This image has more drama, less clutter – the stairs pull you down into this version of the image.

Stairway and Fern - Embarcadero Center - San Francisco

Such a minor but critical change – with a big impact visually! Thanks Jill for sharing your eyes!

For more like this, take a look at this sequence of posts I did regarding different treatments of the Pierce Barn at Point Reyes in black and white – all based on critiques from good friends! Here’s Take 1, Take 2 and Take 3!

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