Critiquing the photos of others can be difficult, but critiquing your own work is downright near-impossible. It’s easy to point out the good points of a photo you’ve taken, but the bad points are another story — especially if it’s a photo you really like.

Mike Brown at “Macro Art In Nature” is asking us to do just that — pick your best photo (flora/foliage closeup) and self critique it. He’s turned this into a group project that he coined “The Self Critique Project”. If you’re interested in participating, head over there and read the rules.

At first, I thought it would be no problem picking out one photo and critiquing it. I’ve spent the last several days going back and forth between 2 or 3 photos, unable to pick what I consider the best. It’s a very hard thing to do. Nevertheless, I’ve managed to choose just one. On with the critique…

Golden Hyacinth

THE GOOD

There are several things I like about this photo, but the strongest point is the color. Originally, it was a purple flower and I accidentally turned it gold during post-processing (click here to see how). I don’t know why I like the color so much, it just has the look and feel of fire to me. Another thing I like about the photo is the shallow depth of field and the location of the focal plane. At a glance, the photo looks very abstract with most of it being out of focus and very soft — except for the very tip of the nearest petal, which is quite sharp. The last major strong point in the photo is the shapes formed by the highlights and shadows within the flower itself. Though most of the photo is quite out of focus, there are a handful of tonal trails and geometries living in the sea of golden color.

Of course I have a bunch of little things I like about the photo, but it’s hard to describe them without pointing at the photo. Even if I point, I have a hard time placing words to some of these things.

THE BAD

I had a hard enough time describing what I like about the photo — this is going to be rough. I guess there are a couple of things that just don’t sit well with me on this photo. One of them is the point of focus. I said I liked how it turned out, but I think I’d be happier with a little more sharpness on the tip of that petal. The right side of it is slightly out of focus, and I think it would be a stronger photo if the entire tip was sharp as it trailed off to blurriness in the background. The other thing that doesn’t sit well with me is the overall composition — but I can’t figure out what it is that’s bothering me. I thought it might look better if the entire flower was shifted upward in the frame, but I tried that in Photoshop and I didn’t like it. Maybe a shift to the left or right… I don’t know. Or maybe it’s missing something in the frame; like something to fill in some of the blackness — maybe some texture or something… again, I don’t know. These are the things that don’t quite sit well with me, but I can’t put my finger on the exact problem.

THE OPEN CRITIQUE

Part of Mike’s project involves deciding if you’re open to the critique of others. Typically I don’t invite the masses to critique my work, because I end up getting a lot of technical advice on an artistic piece from people who missed the point of the photo entirely. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind comments and critiques from other photographers with whom I have some sort of relationship — I just don’t care for the 30 second photo-bash from somebody who didn’t take the time to digest the photo.

That said, I’m going to break stride and declare this photo available for open critique — even if I have no idea who you are, and even if it’s a 30 second photo-bash. Now go on, tell me what you really think about it — no hard feelings, I swear.

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Not only critiquing your own pics is hard but that of others, too. At least if you want to put the subjective feeling of “I like” or “I don’t like” into more concrete terms.
That being said, I like your shot ;) But it’s not my favorite of your pics.
I like the color and the abstract effect of the picture but at the same time the abstract effect is what taking the big “wow” effect for me (not saying that this shot would have been better with deeper dof).
But the color definitely makes it something special, because it seems to glow from within and has a very rich color.

——-
I’m still deciding on which pic to enter.

May 28, 2007 10:52 am

Thanks for the comments Jenni — I’m very interested to see which one you’ll be entering.

May 28, 2007 11:03 am

Personally, I hate photographers who do too many distortions on the photo they took. For instance, changing the purple color into yellow is really something. Why didn’t you just leave the color as is? Another thing is that I think you must have wrongly used the HRD Imaging technique. I think the flower should have been focused as a whole and not just the petal; otherwise you could have just taken a part of it.

May 29, 2007 3:35 am

Well thank you for your opinions. To answer your question about the color — I changed it from purple to gold on accident by removing the blue channel. I liked it so much that I kept it that way. I think the gold stands out much better than the purple did.

For the second part of your comment — I’m not sure I follow what you’re getting at. Did you mean HDR?

May 29, 2007 7:28 am

I agree with you, I think that if the focus petal had been a bit crisper, it would have made a big difference. I would have liked to see the detail in the focus petal really pop. I would also have definately set the soft “out of focus” area to be softer. I’m not sure if the purple original flower would have had the same effect. The gold does make it look richer and “dignified”. I also don’t know if there was a center, a pollen area, that could be included in the stronger pop of the petal. I think that would definately give it that “real” look but also add the magical touch of the back petals. I think its a beautiful photograph and think you have a good eye.

May 30, 2007 7:16 am

Dear Brian,

That was a very interesting post! About the image – to be totally honest, I didn’t find the picture very appealing at first, but you know after looking at it for a while, I really like it! Those three (or is it four?) blurred petals in the background look brilliant, just like the soft, glowing flame of a candle! I think you did the right thing in turning the colour to gold (even if it was by accident),I can imagine how it would have been in purple and the gold version is definitely charming!

I don’t see anything wrong in changing the details of an image, after all it is the artist’s perspective that matters, the picture has to reflect the artist’s viewpoint and imagination.

May 30, 2007 7:34 am

Thanks for the comments Lynda. I like that term “dignified” — I think it suits the colors in the photo well. There is a center pollen area on these flowers, but it’s pretty deep inside and hard to catch unless you shoot straight down into it.

May 30, 2007 7:20 am

Thalia, I kind of felt the same way about this photo — it was okay at first, but it keeps growing on me more and more every time I look at it. You can’t tell by this photo, but there are actually 6 petals total on the flower (it’s a hyacinth). And I agree with you on manipulating photos — Photoshop is just another tool in the toolbox to help me get my ideas out of my head and into something other people can see.

May 30, 2007 8:15 am

Probably one of the best “self critiques” of a individual’s own image that I have seen in quite some time now!
My congrats to you!!

For my critique of the image, … I’ll wait until I put it up and link it for the project sometime on or after the 16th.
This will be a good one for that project!

Thanks again Brian,
Mike

June 2, 2007 11:51 am

Thanks Mike, I’m glad to hear that. I’m very interested in getting a good critique from the “Master of Macro” — but just be honest. You won’t hurt my feelings with some honest points of improvement!

June 4, 2007 4:18 pm

I like this photograph, Brian. I have no problem with your changing the colour at all, I’m only interested in the result.

I must say I like especially the blurred parts of the flower, the ghostly, paintlike quality of it. I also like the faint lines you can see running down the petals, suggesting some kind of geometry which counteracts the blurriness.

I’m not sure about the tip of the petal being in focus. I would like to see it with no focus at all. This particular tip doesn’t look the way I’d like a tip of a petal in such a flower painting to look. If you see what I mean.

At the same time this somehow undecided focus on this almost unsightly tip is something that nags at you … you keep wondering about it. So, the photograph doesn’t leave you in peace, and that’s something I like.

June 14, 2007 6:13 pm

Maybe you’re right about the focus of the tip — I DO still have this feeling that SOMETHING is off in this photo. That could very well be it. Unfortunately I didn’t take any shots completely out of focus. I might be able to jimmy it in Photoshop to give it some blur, but I find that there’s nothing quite like the real thing when it comes to lens blur. Thanks for the comment, I think you’ve given me some insight into my own feelings on this photo!

June 14, 2007 7:11 pm

I love your photograph! It truly makes the viewer stand back and study every single pixel. I was very inspired by your work so much so that i have released one of my photographs called An Orchid’s Heart. Let me know what you think about it.

Thanks
Jayson

July 25, 2007 10:55 pm

Wow! Thank you so much! I’ll leave some words over on your post.

July 25, 2007 11:23 pm

When you shoot a macro, focus is all important. Your plane of focus is very shallow – just a fraction of an inch. So you have to make another decision: Exactly what part of the flower do you want to be in sharp focus? The pistil? The stamen? A petal? (We’ve run out of high-school biology terminology, but you get the idea.) Unless you’re a botanist, you will probably make this decision “on the fly” – that is, as you look through the viewfinder. When you see the image that you want, snap it!

May 30, 2008 5:50 am

I’m just beginning as a photographer, so I could not offer any advice about the technical stuff, however one thing I realized as I looked at this photo is the point of focus. It seems you wanted the viewer to focus on the petal nearest the camera, the one in focus.
However, it seems that the point of focus is not really centered on this petal: the strong yellow just above the petal pulls the viewers eyes in one direction, while the soft brown of the bases of the petals pulls the eye in the opposite direction. It seems to have a conflicting focus, and tthe line connecting the intended and unintended points of focus lead the eye right of the page.
This feeling of jumping of the page might be causing your uneasiness about the composition, as well as explain why you want the petal in front in better focus: to provide a stronger point for the eyes to focus on, instead of slipping off the page.

January 14, 2009 11:06 pm

I agree with the lack of enough focus but I guess it’s all down to personal taste, as it is an artistic shot rather than a profile shot. They say art is subjective so it’s down to the viewer. I would have liked to see more focus, and nearer the center but that’s just my opinion. I think flower art has many sides.

June 19, 2009 2:53 am

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