Android from an iOS user’s perspective : “The Interface & Usability”

As a photographer, the iPhone 4 has been a useful compact camera on days I didn’t feel like bringing my DSLR out. Sharing photos on Instagram has been second nature to me, anywhere from food to street photography. I will never leave home without my trusty iPhone. More than a handy compact, I rely on the gadget for my news & social networking… more than a mere phone or communications device. This little thing has been with me around Asia & Europe in the last 2 years & I’ve grown rather attached to it. I can leave home without a DSLR, but I could never leave home without my iPhone!

Recently there has been a strew of new devices in the market namely android phones from Samsung & the new Windows 8 mobile phones from Nokia & HTC. I have used android Honeycomb before in the form of the Samsung Tab 10.1 however I found it to be a rather half-baked device with a buggy operating system. Next to my 3rd generation iPad with retina display, the Tab was clunky in terms of operation & the screen was crappy in comparison. There was literally no comparison between the two. Then again they were tablets. To be fair, when ICS was available on the Tab, I installed it & now the Tab performs way better than when it was on Honeycomb.

Back to the mobiles… I was looking at the Samsung Galaxy S3 however after trying the phone I found the interface laggy. Then the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 came along! This thing has a 5.5″ display, a slightly faster quad-core processor & 2GB of RAM. Testing the unit, I found the interface smooth & quite lag free. I’m not entirely clear if this was Jelly Bean at work or the new processor coupled with the 2GB of RAM. Once I can compare this to an S3 with Jelly Bean, I’ll update!

Interface & usability

While I found Jelly Bean to be quite straight forward to use, I have to remind myself that not many users are as tech savvy as I am. Many iOS users would swear that the android OS is “complicated” or “confusing”. While I didn’t find it to be either, I have to admit that you can sometimes get lost in the interface especially when you want to tweak a setting or make changes in the way an app or OS behaves. The thing is, iOS lacks the ability for the user to make some of the change that an android phone will otherwise allow you to. Pro or con? It all depends on the user really. The thing is, if I wanted the learn how to do something fancy on the Note 2, I had to Google it sometimes… something I never really had to do on the iPhone!

The size & the display

Folks… this is a big phone! It’s so big, it’s almost impossible to text with one hand if you don’t have an appropriate keyboard setup for that! Even if you hold the phone with your left hand & text using your right, it’s noticeably slower compared to when I did that on my iPhone. The letters are farther apart so your finger needs to travel further to get stuff typed out. You can actually text with both hands on the phone with your thumbs in portrait mode! On landscape mode, it’s actually strenuous when you have reach for the letters T, Y, G or V!

For it’s size, viewing photos & videos is very nice! YouTube videos are particularly very good… At the beginning, it feels too big but after a while you kind of “grow into it”. Despite the pixel density not being anywhere near an iPhone retina display, it will be difficult to go back to a small 3.5″ display after this. It is however apt for me to mention that because of the many android devices with different resolutions, apps do not fully maximise the screens size & sharpness because of potential scaling of resolution that the app may need to perform. For instance, photos on the Facebook app looks mushy especially when you view in the orientation which matches the photo. A landscape photo looks bad in landscape!… however on the retina display of the iPhone, the photos on the same app is tact sharp & truly spectacular because there aren’t many different screen size resolution that you have to adapt to when one programs apps for iOS. I can see similar limitations on other android apps including my favorite app, Instagram!

The buttons

I was happy there was no mute switch like on the iPhone. I would have been happier if all the buttons on the phone were virtual. After experiencing the home button issue before on the iPhone, I don’t really trust physical buttons to be honest. However the buttons on the Note were quite alright, they don’t move a whole lot when you press them so I reckon there should be little to no worries that they might fail. The one thing I didn’t like was the odd position of the power button. Holding the phone on either hand & pressing the power button, you can’t help but sometimes accidentally press the volume buttons on the other side. To press the power button using your left hand index finger while holding the device with your left hand (how typical right-hander’s would hold a phone), you can’t help but sometimes place your thumb on the volume switch. I still think placing the power button on the top to be more logical.

I do however welcome the menu & back virtual buttons next to the Home key. Having those extra buttons helps with the overall UI of the device & frees up space on the screen for settings or an on-screen back button. App developers are free to use the extra space on the screen for showing other more useful data or having extra functions & features not available if there was only a single home button on the device.

TouchWiz… the Samsung front end touch interface & the overall Jelly Bean experience

To me, switching between the tiled apps interface & any form of front end launcher is not very intuitive. No doubt you are given the ability to customize your “launcher”, in this case, Samsung’s TouchWiz interface… but even after using the device for a while now, I still run into issues when I want to add an app shortcut or widget to TouchWiz or move an app around the apps menu. Typically I always touch & hold an app when I want to move something… that’s a pretty standard gesture. But on the Galaxy Note 2, it switches to the TouchWiz launcher! This bugs the hell out of me!! To move apps around, I have to tap the menu button & select Edit. Not very intuitive I think.

Perhaps it is better to just do away with the underlying app menu & use TouchWiz entirely for the device without limiting it to only the 7 screens that it has now!

Another thing that I find irritating is that the volume & vibrate controls in the OS settings is not universal! I can set the Note 2 to ring but not vibrate, however an app that has the vibrate function turned on will still vibrate. If I switch the phone to mute with vibrate alert on, my game app still plays sounds when I launch it. What is the use of the operating system audio settings if it is not universal! Very disappointing this!

On the flip side, there are things that I really liked about whole UI experience. For starters the notification menu is superb! Being able to control screen brightness, volume, various settings like WI-FI, GPS & mobile data in one pull down menu is excellent! You can even hold the power button & select airplane mode from there!

The forward facing camera also detects if you are still looking at the device, keeping the screen turned on for the user. Want to lie on the bed & view your phone in portrait mode without having it switch to landscape, the phone is smart enough to know that by looking at the orientation of your eyes. Very cool! There is also an entire menu in the settings dedicated to gestures or what you would call, “motions” on the Note 2. Looking at an SMS or a contact? Well bring the phone to your face & it calls the person you were looking at! Nice!

Overall usability

Depending on your point of view, you can pretty much say that an android phone is more customizable than an iPhone however it can be quite daunting to learn all the features & settings. This is where the simplicity of the iPhone excels in. For people who do not wish for complications & do not like to dive into menus & multi-layer levels of settings, get an iPhone. However to say that an android phone like the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is NOT usable is not entirely accurate. It certainly takes a while to get use to it but once you do, you have a pretty powerful piece of computing technology in your pocket… if it fits!!

My Photography

Photography has always been a passion of mine even during the days of film. I remember the days as a kid I used to play with my dad’s old Pentax SLR while there was no film in it, just messing around with the dials & levers not really understanding what they actually do. When I was young, I always thought that an SLR was something only experts knew how to operate. I would wonder how year after year, that my father knew exactly what to do to create those wonderful looking family portraits of us in color! Back then I could never really understand how the mechanics of a camera worked, just that they were marvelous contraptions capable of producing magical images on paper, something we humans cherished for generations & looked at in photo albums time after time. It was that moment captured in time which resonated with us, sometimes funny, at times eerie especially when we reminisce with our past. It was as if the subjects inner thoughts were projected through their eyes looking at you in the most peculiar way, as if showing you their happiness or sadness all at once at that moment in their lives. To me these feelings still resonate with me till this day.

Over the years I learned to play with point & shoot film cameras. In my high school years, I will often bring along a point & shoot for road trips often being behind the lens rather than in front of it. I found pleasure in capturing group outings then showing them to my friends who often place orders for copies of these photos. It was quite amazing that at the snap of a shutter, you capture what your eye sees but at the same time what your mind perceives. I’ve learned over the years that what the eye sees is but a moment, but what the mind perceives of the image is of a lifetime! A photo is but an image if without context or a story behind it. Even inanimate objects have a story to tell if you don’t just point your camera at it & click. If you took a little bit of time to look at something from a different angle or perspective, you will find very interesting ways of admiring just about anything!

During the turn of the century, digital cameras came to be. For once photography wasn’t just for the elite. The invention of digital photo cells to capture light was what I thought the pinnacle in photography. Much changed during that period. Film to digital was what black & white was to color film back in the 60’s. This opened photography to the masses & for me was the period in my life that I truly began to explore different photography styles & genres which I would never have tried with film. I still remember my first digital camera was a Fuji-film point & shoot zoom camera which I began using for outings, zoos, bird parks & family events.

I got my first DSLR in 2005 & I have been shooting as a hobby ever since. My current gear consists of a Canon 5D Mark III & a few lenses. I shoot predominantly on a 50mm. A 50mm lens is the closest representation of how the human eye sees. I find that this focal range is most comfortable for my style of street photography. The photos that you see in this set were captured with either a Canon 7D or a Canon 5D Mark III using either a 50mm or an 85mm lens.

Up until recently I photographed mainly in color. Much of my work were urban landscape, stills & minimalism photography. My images were usually void of people or any direct interaction with people in general. Earlier this year things started to change.

I started pointing my lens at people. Not just friends & family but complete strangers in the streets of Penang. It takes a bit of nerve at first but it gets easier. With digital you can even fire your shots at the hip then pick your shots later. It gets a bit if getting used to but with some practice, it gets pretty easy later on.  I also find that it is less intimidating to the subject if you use the live view on the camera. Armed with a little bit of nerve & these skills through practice, street photography isn’t really that difficult even with a big DSLR like the 5D Mark III.

Even more recent, I started experimenting with shooting in black & white straight out from the camera. One way of black & white photography is to shoot in color then convert to monotone post production. While a lot of black & white photographers recommend this, I find that it prevents previsualization. When you shoot out of the camera in monotone, you force yourself to view the world in black & white. Removing oneself from the colored world & only focusing on shades & textures. Gone is contrast by color. Everything is black or white. It is also timeless compared to color. For some reason, black & white photos speak volumes for the subjects. The boundaries of time & space seem to collide between a black & white photo captured in this century compared to those taken at the turn of the last century.

Photography for me has been a journey of discovery. Undoubtedly it has opened my eyes to new possibilities in art & the art of photography. Capturing timeless images not only preserves the space of time but it also preserves the human soul.

Street photography with a big camera

At face value, it doesn’t seem like the Canon 5D Mark III is a suitable camera for street photography. I am always a believer that any camera with you is the best camera you have however looking at the bulk & size of the Mark3 it’s bound to turn a few heads & feel intimidating to people you are trying to capture on a photograph. Even so, the challenge of getting the shot using a big camera is enticing so perhaps we can talk a little bit about how to use a big camera when street shooting.

Use a small & short focal length lens

The shorter the better. Try not to use anything longer than an 85mm on a full frame sensor camera. That’s about 50mm on an APC sensor body. I’ve shot using a 17-40mm ultra-wide angle lens on the Mark2 & the Mark3 before in the streets so it’s doable. Avoid big lenses like the 70-200mm. You already have a big DSLR. Don’t make it worse by putting a cannon on the thing! If you are a beginner like me, choose something comfortable like a 50mm where you can get close to the subject but not so right in the face if get what I mean!

Use the silent mode

If your camera has a built-in silent mode, use it! Usually this is only available on the higher end pro series DSLRs however I anticipate that Canon & Nikon may introduce this to later entry models. Besides street photography, I can see this feature being useful when shooting weddings & events if you are looking for candid moments. Extremely useful feature if you ask me so turn it on & leave it on for the duration of your shoot.

Live view

Somehow lifting the camera away from you while shooting something is less intimidating than lifting the camera’s view finder to your eye. This is perhaps a psychological thing but try it, you’ll find it easier to get a candid shot doing this & your subjects will mind less when you do this. Also for those who do not have silent mode on their cameras, shooting with the live view on is usually more silent.

Shoot blind!

Another technique which requires some practice, sometimes shooting blind helps. Without lifting your camera, just point it at your subject & snap. If you have silent mode, this helps. It requires a bit of practice to get successful shots so it’s best to fire some shots in quick succession so you increase your chances of getting the shot. Don’t do this all the time though. It’s always best to allow the subject to know you are actually photographing them to create that connection between subject & photographer. This is important even in street photography.

Develop thick skin!

Street photography really is about battling it out with yourself. Pointing a camera at a complete stranger without their consent can be viewed as a violation of social norms which can make the subject feel uncomfortable. Being the photographer taking the photo can make you feel like a complete creep. I constantly battle with this every time I bring my camera out for street photography. Here are a couple of tips that I use when I go out street shooting with a big camera…

1. Make eye contact with your subject. Don’t look away. Smile & nod your head. Lift the camera to your eye, compose & take your shot. Smile again & nod once more. You’d be surprise how this works most of the time.

2. You’re not going to die if someone puts up their hand & says NO. Just stop what you’re doing & say sorry or nod then be on your merry way.

3. Like what I mentioned above, use a wide-angle lens. The wider the better. Shooting with a long lens doesn’t make you more confident, it turns you into a creep! 200mm lenses aren’t meant for street photography, they are meant for stalkers & peeping toms.

The Canon EOS 5Dmk3 and Canon 50mm f/1.2 L combo

I will be honest… When I was using the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM Lens on my Canon EOS 7D, I was suffering! Focusing was a problem & especially at narrow apertures between f/1.2 & f/2.0, it was quite problematic. Basically the lens will back focus when the subject is near & at times front focuses at infinity. This can drive a sane photographer nuts especially when missing those crucial shots!

For this reason I can never shoot a photo at f/1.2 without reviewing or chimping after the shot. Over time I learned to work around the problem & be patient with shooting wide open especially on a lens which has such a large opening that it felt like shooting with a black hole attached to your camera! I soon learned after scores of similar issues by other users this is something I may have to live with if I wanted to shoot with this lens. Despite the difficulties I hung on to this lens because of the scores of great photos I achieved with it over the past year or so. You can view my 50mm album on FLICKR if you like.

When I first attached the 1.2L on the Mark 3, I wasn’t expecting much difference in the way of my photography workflow. I was expecting to chimp as usual for each shot I took & nothing made me thought otherwise. How wrong I was!

For some reason the 1.2L on the Mark 3 was awesome! Perhaps it is the lateral color fringing correction or perhaps Canon did something to the Mark 3’s focusing system but it seems that all my focusing problems were solved! I mentioned before that 61 AF points didn’t really appeal to me. Give me 9 points I can trust & I will be satisfied. This time however we get 41 AF cross-type points on the Mark 3. Still a tad too many for my liking but I’ll take it. The Mark 3 & 1.2L combo is so good now even at f/1.2, I nail my focuses every time! The only way you can miss is if your subject is moving faster than your shutter speed can handle or it’s basically your fault!

I was out with a bunch of mates doing some group street photography last Saturday & I was able to shoot candid photos of people moving tact sharp even at f/1.2… Something I would never have been able to do on the 7D or my old 5Dmk2. I set the AF to the area focusing & placed it right in the middle & the camera was fast enough to shoot from the hip or at eye level, whichever. I was even cocky enough to challenge my friends to a no chimping street walk! Boy did I get a bunch of very usable shots!

If focusing speed & accuracy is something you look for in a Canon DSLR, this is the camera for you. If you shoot L primes, this is the camera for you. Heck if you shoot Canon…. well…. I won’t continue!

I leave you with some photos taken during my group street photography event. You can view the entire album HERE.

The Canon EOS 5D Mark 3… Is it worth the hype?

Canon’s long-awaited 5D series successor to the 5Dmk2 has finally arrived. Aptly named the 5Dmk3, this full frame DSLR sports a 22 mega pixel sensor with an insane ISO capability of between 100-25,600 & full HD video capabilities. The Mark 3 now comes with 61 point AF system with 41 cross sensor type AF. A vast array of improvements include a headphone jack for video, customizable AF system & a reworked menu system, not to mention built-in HDR & multi exposure capabilities.

But before I continue, I’d like to mention that this is not a camera review. I am not going to touch on all aspects of the camera. Just the ones which I think matter to some people who may be looking to upgrade from their 5Dmk2 or 7D DSLRs. I prefer to focus on things that improve the cameras usability rather than image quality or ISO performance. All this is good, but I feel a camera is an extension of oneself which allows us to create photographs. I will try to talk more about such aspects when compiling my thoughts on this latest version of the Canon 5D series.

Noteworthy improvements

1. Auto focus accuracy & customizability

I don’t care for 61 AF points to be honest. What I do care for is the AF speed & accuracy. I shoot mainly with a Canon 50mm f/1.2 L so the slightest misfocus will render an image unusable. I’ve suffered intensely when using this lens at anything wider than f/2.0 on any DSLR. On the Mark 3, even at f/1.2, the focus is accurate & the images at this aperture is tact sharp. The Mark 3 will certainly make many prime lens shooters very happy!

2. Improved ISO range

On my 7D & my old 5Dmk2, I dare say I shoot up until ISO 3200. I’ve only really shot 1 photo at ISO 6400 using the Mark 2 while I was at a Chinese opera performance last year. On the Mark 3, the ISO range has improved a further 2 f-stops to a usable ISO 12,800.  The noise levels for ISO 25,600 is much like the old ISO 6400 on the Mark 2, which to me is rather poor. That said, the camera can still churn out pretty darn usable shots at ISO 12,800. Kudos to the Canon engineers who made this happen!

3. Automatic correction of lateral color fringes

Purple fringing was a huge problem when shooting using the Canon 17-40mm f/4 L on the 5Dmk2. The problem becomes very apparent when shooting against strong back lighting, like for instance, the bright sky behind some branches & leaves. Post processing was a nightmare & even after removing the purple tint, the images looked as if layered incorrectly on top of each other at the corners. This is a big improvement especially for those shooting with the Canon 17-40mm f/4 L & the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L II.

4. Silent mode

This is by far my favourite feature on the Mark 3. Turning off the focus beep & enabling the silent mode… I can shoot without disturbing others & is extremely useful when doing street or candid photography. I personally do quite a bit of street & candid photography so this function is god given! Of course in this mode, the continuous shooting speed is reduced. However in single shot mode, you will hardly notice a difference in the speed of execution.

5. Flash sync. speed in Av mode

You can now flash sync. your Av mode to between 1/60 sec – 1/200 sec variable, or hard set it to 1/200 sec. Aperture priority shooters like myself will love the ability to control this!

6. Other improvements

Other improvements include the ability to set your exposure bracketing to 7 exposures, improved ergonomics especially the thumb grip, headphone jack & touch sensitive rear dial while shooting video.

What still needs work!

1. The playback review after each shot

The playback review after each shot is very limited & prevents you from flipping between shots. In fact the only thing you can do is to switch from the different previews (eg. exposure information & histogram) & zoom in/out. If you wanted to compare sharpness between 2 shots by zooming in & then turn the dial to the next photo… you can’t! You need to press the PLAY button which will temporarily bring the playback mode out & in again!? To me this crippling effect is dumb & is an oversight by the Canon menu designers.

2. The auto focus can sometimes slow you down

I don’t mean the auto focus speed, I mean the time it takes you to move your focus point from one place to another takes quite a while. You cannot hold the little joystick down to move the cursor. You actually have to click it each time to move 1 square… Great! Now with 61 AF points, you should get what I mean by SLOW! By the time you move your AF point, you would have missed the decisive moment. Nice work Canon!

Also the focus point do not light up when you are trying to focus on a subject. The red light does illuminate the viewfinder for a brief moment when focus locks, however before that the focus point is but a black square. When you try to focus in low light, you will have problems finding where the hell the bloody focus point is! This is inexcusable & folks are going to waste a lot of time figuring out where they positioned the focus point especially in low light or while focusing on dark surfaces!

3. No focus illuminator & no pop-up flash

There is still no focus illuminator on this version of the 5D series. Missing also is a pop-up flash for those nice to have moments when you need some fill-light.

4. Stupid RATE button!

I am dumbfounded! This must be the most useless button on a DSLR ever! Wait! You can customize it!… but only to protect files from being deleted. You cannot program it to do anything else other than protect & add stars to your photos. Face palm!

5. Not all lens correction information is loaded

Information on a popular lens like the 50mm f/1.4, is missing from the factory preload of lens data on the 5Dmk3??? Good thing is that you can install it manually. It just seems very odd that a popular lens like this is not factory loaded by Canon when they shipped the Mark 3.

My thoughts

Although the Mark 3 is still lacking in some areas, it remains a formidable upgrade for 5Dmk2 & 7D users. The AF accuracy & ISO performance is good enough as any to justify getting the 5Dmk3. And for photographers who like being stealthy, the silent mode is a welcomed addition to the list of features available on this camera.

My verdict? Highly recommended!

Photography : Giving a useful photo critique

I’ve talked about how to take & get criticism in photography in my last two articles so it’s inevitable that in the third part of this topic I will talk about giving a photo critique. Criticizing & giving feedback on anything is really quite easy; giving useful feedback on the other hand is quite a different thing. Giving good & useful feedback on something as subjective as a photograph is, well… something even more difficult.

I have seen my fair share of people who try to give feedback & most often we often fall into one of two categories. Those who bash in the most inappropriate or impolite way & those who are just too nice & aren’t very honest about their opinions. With the addition of the LIKE button on social websites like Facebook, it’s easier to just click LIKE & move on. Being overly nice & on the flip side, brash isn’t going to help anyone.

Remember that there is no wrong or right in photography. Extreme technical errors can be deemed as “wrong” but sometimes it all depends on the artist. If a photographer wanted the image to be ‘darker than normal’, he would then dial his exposure down to achieve this effect. The question is that did the photographer do it on purpose, or he made a mistake & didn’t know what he was doing. This is why I take some time to either name the photo appropriately or talk about the image & why I created it that way. Read my article titled,Composition… how I view things… It’s true sometimes you will never know. But a photographer who really wants to learn, will be honest about his work.

Make sure the photographer truly wants a critique. Be sure that the photographer really wants a critique & really wants to improve in photography. Even if they are asking for comments on their photos, they may not necessarily want negative comments. It helps to ask first before you plunge into talking about the photo. Sometimes a simple, “Would you like some comments on your photo?” would help pave the way to ensure that the photographer is open to idea of having his work being critiqued. If the answer is NO, then don’t.

Try to interpret the photo. When you view the photo, take a moment to look at the entire frame. What is the meaning of the image. What did the artist want you to see more of & what less of? Did the photographer include a title or short commentary of the image? What did it say? In your first few sentences, talk about the photo & how you felt when looking at it. That sometimes in a way is a critique in itself. If the photographer intended you to see something but you saw a complete opposite, that in itself is feedback to the artist that something went wrong!

Start off with what’s good then followed by what can be improved. No brainer here. It’s easier to get someone to listen when you begin a conversation on a good note. Once you have built the rapport & respect, you can move on to what are the things that need work. To make a photo critique concise, I normally find two aspects of the photo which I like & perhaps one quality of the image which I think can be improved upon. More experienced photographers can probably find a strew of things wrong with a photograph but this is not a competition. There is no prize for pointing out mistakes here. The 2:1 ratio isn’t a rule, but I say taking one step back after walking 2 steps forward is still progress in the correct direction… Don’t you think?

Be specific. This is something I almost always see photo critics fail at. Even when you give a positive feedback, you need to be specific. If so happen a good photo is a fluke, the photographer will not know how to replicate the conditions if he didn’t know what he did right in the first place.

Here are examples of comments I have seen which add no value to a critique…

“Great photo! Nice colors!”…

“Fantastic portrait, I like your model’s expression!”…

“Wow! What a moment!”…

All great compliments but nothing the photographer can use to better his or her photography. If not it helps to boost a bit of moral by ego stroking, nothing more.

Now imagine if the above 3 critiques were worded as such…

“Great photo! I like the saturation of photograph especially the contrast between the horizon & the sky. Great work in making the photo pop with the usage of colors!”…

“Fantastic portrait. I liked the way you managed to obtain that kind of expression from your model. You’ve managed to put her at ease throughout the session & your efforts have paid off. Nice work!”…

“Wow! You must have been very patient with your camera. You have ceased the moment well & you have captured a once in a lifetime photo!”…

These are just examples.

Be specific about the negatives as well. As with positive comments, you should be as specific if not more detailed about what you think can be improved. Don’t just say, it’s bad… Explain why you think it doesn’t add to the photo & how you can make it better.

This is when you need to be honest! This is quite hard for a lot of us. This is where majority of use fall into the LIKE a photo category. It’s easier to hit the like button & just move on. If you intend to tear someone’s work apart, say so. If you want to help someone improve, you should be honest about it too.

Let’s give a shot at giving a photo critique…

What do I see? When I look at this photo, I see a painting of a portrait of a man on the side of a building next to a partially opened window. The image of this person is perhaps someone of importance & he looks somewhat solemn as if sad.

How is this photo technically? This photo was probably taken on a bright sunny day. The image is somewhat overexposed because the colors seem washed out.

What I think? I like the idea which the photographer was trying to deliver. The composition was not bad with how he put the man’s face to one side & the window on the other. The crop was as tight as it can be under the circumstances. There isn’t much in the rest of the photo to make it really stand out. I think the bottom part of the middle section, probably windows to the ground floor of the building is rather annoying. The “landing pigeon” on the top left corner with its wings clipped off by the edge of the frame doesn’t help. Neither does the few leaves creeping into the left side of the frame

This next part is where you give the real critique…

What would I do? I can certainly try to shoot using a different zoom range or crop the image to exclude the things I didn’t care for. I would also increase the contrast, perhaps lower the exposure & increase saturation. I believe there are more details on the walls than this photo is really showing. Bringing out the details would enhance this photo & make the image pop more.

This is the proposed re-imagination of the photo. I’ve removed the distracting elements in the photo, brought down the exposure which increased the overall contrast & color. Pushing up the colors even more made the details appear clearer but at the end of it, it was the sharpening at the end of my workflow which brought out more of the details.

If you want to view a high resolution version of this photo click on my FLICKR link HERE.

There you go. Want to give photo critique a go? It’s your turn!

Photography : How to get criticism

In my previous article, I talked about how to handle criticism when you post or share your photos. While it’s true that some photo critics may not be tactful in providing feedback, it is always good to provide some context into what areas that you’re trying to improve upon. Simply showing a photo & ask for comments or criticism sometimes just doesn’t cut it. As photographers who are trying to improve oneself, we are the best people to know our own weaknesses & perhaps aspire to shoot images of a certain quality which we are not able to as yet due to lack of experience.

Get real, what are your true intentions?

You should really ask yourself that question. If you are part of a photographic community where you are absolutely the top guy when it comes to the landscape genre for instance, posting a top-notch landscape photo on your forum & asking for “criticism” is rather a vain gesture. Similarly a photographer who specializes in street photography, captures a once in a lifetime moment which obviously took experience, hard work & a keen understanding of the surroundings where he shoots…. posts a photo over Facebook & says, “It’s just a snapshot!” or one of the more annoying comments like “Simply shoot..”. Seriously, what are you trying to prove besides soliciting for LIKEs & admiration for your work? I honestly have very little respect for such people.

If you know you are good at something, share it with the rest in the form of a note explaining how you got the shot & what it took to get it. Share your experience with others. Do not portray your skill as something you are born with & little to no effort to reproduce. You will not be respected for that. We were once all beginners & noobs. It is the act of sharing & helping others that makes you a better person, someone people can look up to for guidance. If you are asking for input from someone or some group of photographers, please let it be because you know that there are areas to improve & you genuinely want to improve. Otherwise don’t bother!

Ask the right people

No-brainer, right? You don’t ask a plumber to fix your electrical outlets when they fail, so you shouldn’t ask people who know nuts about photography how to improve on your skills!

Don’t just ask anyone. It makes perfect sense to look for friends or people in your photographic group who has a sense of style in which you really like. Just because someone is a professional wedding photographer doesn’t mean he or she may take photos that you find to your liking. Professional does not equate to good, just that they are paid for what they do. Sometimes, amateurs shoot better because they shoot for the passion of photography, not the money!

Photographers in general are usually very poor at expressing themselves outside from the way of making a photograph. This is why we hide behind the viewfinder because we are basically introverts who prefer to capture the moment rather than being the moment itself. A good photographer with a keen sense of vision who can provide you constructive input, able to share his thoughts freely & willingly are hard to come by. These are the type of mentors you need to look for when you want your work evaluated to enable you to acquire the most out of their experience. They may be short on supply, but if you look hard enough, you will find a friend or a colleague who fits this description.

Ask for the right thing

When you ask for your work to be evaluated, provide context. When you ask someone to comment on your work, a simple “Can you give me some advice on how to improve?” just may not work. Likewise posting a photo on a group forum & asking a general, “Comments & criticism welcomed”, the infamous C&C! You will not get much useful input with that. More often than not you will attract stray comments which does little to help you.

Structure your ask on one or at the most two areas of improvement. Be specific. If you were having problems composing the image, tell your audience. If lighting was your concern & you need to learn new ways of solving the problem, ask about lighting. Give as much information about how you took the shot & what you used to get it. Be prepared for questions that your critic may ask you to learn more about your understanding of photography.

If you broke some of the basic photography rules, tell your audience! I sometimes frame my images with smack in the middle compositions. I wasn’t thinking of rules of 3rds because I intentionally wanted the photo to be different. I’d make sure that my audience knew that if I were to ask for comments. If you purposely ‘underexposed’ an image to obtain a certain effect, make sure you indicate it. This will avoid some annoying critics who will point out the obvious & ruin your day! Unless of course you don’t know what you’re doing then it’s ok.

At the end of the day, you will only benefit from this exercise if you listen. Learn to filter out what is bad & learn from what is good. Learn how to HANDLE CRITICISM! Done correctly, asking for comments on your work will help you be a better photographer!