For this photo critique, I have chosen an image sent in by Paola Lema (from Uruguay—we’re officially global!) According to Paola, this photo “was taken in a small town called Las Flores in Maldonado, Uruguay. I go there a lot since it is a very beautiful and quiet place, just two hours from home. That day the sunset was amazing and these two boys were swimming in the ocean merged with all the immensity.”
Here’s Paola’s original photo as submitted:
There’s a lot I really like about this photo. For starters, the color of the sunset sky is amazing. I also like that Paola included the cloud with the interesting dagger shape. For me, including the cloud absolutely makes this image work: it has a great shape, and it adds an element of color and luminosity contrast to the photo.
Related article: The Importance of Photographing Clouds for Outdoor Photography
The two boys down below add a nice human element to the composition, providing a sense of scale and creating an obvious “visual anchor,” a logical reference point in the composition that immediately draws the viewer’s eye and starts their visual journey in the photograph.
Although this is very nice as is, I find that the two boys, because they are so small in the image frame, get somewhat lost. I think this problem could be solved one of two ways: (1) the photographer could have gotten closer to the boys, making them appear larger in the image frame, or (2) we can crop the image somewhat to make the boys more prominent in the composition.
Since we can’t go back in time and reposition, let’s try option #2. Here’s my cropping suggestion, being very careful not to cut off any of that wonderful cloud or the best part of the color in the sky:
I think this tighter crop helps focus the eye on the most important parts of the scene, and also makes the boys more prominent (I’d still like them to be a little bit bigger relative to the rest of the image, but we’re close enough now). Notice how I cut off some of the shoreline at the bottom of the photo, which I found a bit distracting. It is always a good idea to try and simplify your compositions to only include a few key elements (at least while you are still learning, that is: once you have mastered simplicity, you are ready to tackle complexity), and to be ruthless when it comes to excluding anything that might take away from your photo’s impact and emotional appeal.
This tighter crop not only keeps all the important stuff—the sunset, the cloud, and the boys—it also enhances their importance. The result is a much more powerful composition, one that more clearly conveys the artistic vision of the photographer.
Related eBook: Visual Flow: Mastering the Art of Composition
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