Photo Review - Molly by Paul Willyams

A portrait of a young Irish woman. When I met her I was immediately drawn to her eyes and I wanted to capture that look. To be fair on you for your critique, this image was the Gold Medal best colour print in the Maitland International Salon.

Halswell Quarry, Christchurch, NZ

F4, 1/50s, ISO500, 100mm focal length. I used a tripod and had continuous LED lighting camera right.

Initial Thoughts from the Reviewer:

Firstly, I want to say this is a lovely photo. I will point out a few things that make me say this:


  • The photo looks like it was taken under two lightning set-up – A key light from the right and a fill light (or possibly a silver reflector) from the left; both at 45 degree angles and 90 degree level to the subject which allows for perfect illumination

  • The Quality of the light is relatively soft which helps put a perfect balance between shadows and highlights.

Catch Light

  • Catch light in portrait photography is probably one of the most important elements to always consider. And it is the case in this photo. The catch light makes the photo really interesting to look upon.

Void of Distraction

  • The photo is void of major distractions with certainly makes it easy to focus on the subject. This is really good!

Notwithstanding the above plus points, there are some things that could have made this photo even better in my opinion:


While I support that there are no rules to works of art, I also concur that there are basic rules that help us to set some things straight. One of them is rule of third which suggest that we divide our shot and place our main subject on the lines or where the lines meet. In this case, the lady is the main focus and she didn't fall perfectly on the lines. (See below)

Somehow I believe the present dimension of the photo is a cropped version of the original dimension (i.e from the camera). A better way to crop the photo would be as below:

Digital Noise

If there is one major thing a photographer must avoid when taking a photo, it is Digital Noise – tiny coloured pixels on the surface of a photograph cause by using a High ISO value or by exposing a photograph beyond its original exposure in post production. Digital Noise can deter the quality and end use of a photograph especially in prints. Unfortunately, this photo is presently “noisy”. The best way to avoid digital noise is to use the minimum ISO value as possible.

Having said that, I somehow acknowledged that this photo was taken late in the evening with a zoom lens (with low aperture capacity f4 – 5.6 probably) and the exposure was probably low. So the photographer had to up the ISO value to complement the exposure or rather increase exposure in post production. If this was the case, then my recommendation for a future endeavour would be to shoot earlier (i.e. between 4 and 6pm) depending on the weather condition as natural light would help in a great way. Another way to avoid this is during post production. If the photo was shot in RAW, then you can simply reduce the noise in the Camera Raw application. And if the photo was shot in JPG, you might need to install a noise reduction plug-in to do this or simply use the default noise reduction that comes with Photoshop which is not quite strong. However, you should note that noise reduction will always cause reduction in the details of the photograph (See pictorial references)

Noiseware plug-in (Note the loss in skin texture)

Default Photoshop Noise Reduction Plug-in:

Conclusion and Recommendations

  • As often as possible, use rule of thirds to compose your images. Most new DSLR cameras have the rule of thirds feature built in via a grid display shown on the LCD screen. You just need to turn the feature on once and leave it running, at least till you master your composition.

  • Use the minimum ISO value as often as possible. Digital noise is not easy to deal with and the best way to avoid is to shoot using the lowest ISO as often as possible. You can complement your exposure by using a wide aperture and a slower shutter speed (depending on what you are to shoot).

  • Shoot early. It’s much easier to control exposure when there is still daylight.

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