It is less than a month I started photography and find that every day life kind of shooting is one of my interests. So for example here is a shot I took this morning:

enter image description here

So I would like to know given this scene, how a more experienced photographer would have taken it? or maybe it wasn't even a scene worth of shooting?

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    \$\begingroup\$ What is the subject of the photo, i.e. what is it that you thought was interesting and worth photographing, and that you'd like to draw the viewer's eye to? The man? The window pane? The music stand? The assorted stuff for sale in the background? The surrounding space? Or some combination of these? This matters, because it does no good to tell you to step back and turn a little left to move the man closer to the 1:3 vertical, if what you really wanted to focus on was the play of light on the dirty old window pane. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 16:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Btw, while I think you did a great job of finding a way to make this fit the Q/A format, if you want to hop in chat, that is a lot better for more interactive critique which might be more valuable in the long run. The direction to go with a critique depends a lot on intent and while we can expand on what we might do with it, knowing how we'd approach your specific goals more directly would probably be more beneficial to you overall. \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Henderson
    Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 17:32

6 Answers 6


I agree with the answer about storytelling, but this answer is more about the technical part.

First, I wouldn't take the shot all that differently. It looks like the bright areas are exposed close too full but not blown. The raw data is there. The issue is how to post-process it.

Here is your original for reference:

The main point seems to be the man, but the color balance and exposure are set for the sunlit concrete. I'd start by fixing the color balance of the part in the shadow, since that's the main subject. I don't know this scene, so I used the top left corner of the No Trespassing sign as the gray reference. That made the colors around the man look much better.

The next problem is that the main subject is in shadow, and therefore dark. Bringing up the shadow areas by applying some non-linear brightening helped a lot. Here is the result so far:

Much more could and should be done. I probably overdid the shadow brightning a bit, but I don't want to keep playing with this picture. If you were willing to spend some time, you could do some masking to prevent further brightening of the sunlit areas.

This picture also cries out for some cropping. Personally, I think the window frame, especially being so bright, is a serious distraction on the right side of the picture. The subject is looking to the right, so it's fine that he's on the left, but the full picture goes too far. You can definitely lose a good chunk of the right side of the picture and a little of the bottom.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While post-processing indeed does quite a bit for this photo, I think you could get even better separation of subject and background (light-wise) by using some sort of light—either strobe with a soft modifier or a reflector—to light the subject (ideally from camera right if possible without disturbing the shadow pattern on the floor). \$\endgroup\$
    – You
    Commented Dec 30, 2014 at 0:43

Storytelling is really the most important thing but "tell a story" is hard advice to follow so I'm going to go for a simpler approach, you can think of a picture as having 3 parts:

  1. The subject

    You should decide what the subject is and make sure it is the most prominent item in the image, you can make it prominent by making it brighter, more colorful or bigger (there are other methods, but those are the easy ones)

    For example in your photo the most prominent item is the window frame because that's the only item that's (partially) correctly exposed, everything else is dark.

    If you want the man to be the subject you need to make him properly exposed, asking him to move into the light for a minute is a good option, lighting him with a flash is another, both option would have made him bright and colorful on a dark and dull background.

  2. Supporting objects

    If you have other objects in the background you have to make sure that 1) they are visible, 2) they don't take attention away from the subject and 3) they help you tell the story

    For example, a man with a typewriter suggests he his a writer, a man in a market (where it's recognizable as a market) suggest he is selling something - on the other hand, a man surrounded by random junk doesn't really tell us much, is he a some kind of a random junk collector? was there a freak accident that dropped lots of unrelated stuff on him?

  3. Background

    Everything else is background, it's very important to take a good look at the background and make sure there's nothing there we don't want in the image.

    The only role of the background is to be invisible, you need to make sure there's absolutely nothing in the background that calls for attention and that the subject and supporting items are distinct from the background.

    A good background can improve the picture - but leave this for later - after you learn to make a background that doesn't hurt you can start working on making the background actually support the story.

And watch the light, always look at how the light looks before taking the picture, the light is an extremely important part of the photo - this is so important I just repeated it 3 times and I would repeat it even more if I had the time.


Since someone covered the story aspect, a few thoughts on the technical parts of the image.

The subject is the man, but he's in shadow and badly underexposed. The shot in general is really dark, making it hard to actually see what's going on. It looks like your camera is in auto mode or some exposure mode where the couple of bright blocks of light have confused the camera and caused it to underexpose the important parts of the image to avoid over-exposing those minor aspects. One aspect of a professional photographer is to know how to tell the camera what you want it to do and not let the camera give you what it feels like handing you. This image is clearly the latter.

Learning to master and control the camera instead of letting it master you involves practice and practice and more practice, learning the camera controls and what they do, and learning how to adjust the camera to take the image you want. Take lots of pictures, and lots of them will be bad (all of us do that, few of us admit it) as you learn, but taking them is how you learn. Get the camera out of automatic and start learning how to adjust it and guide it to the good shot. Luck will get you some good shots, professionals get lots of good shots because they don't depend on luck (as much) but on skill and experience. You get both taking and evaluating lots of pictures.

Another way a pro might have improved this shot is with a flash. Good people to study about how flash impacts photography are Joe McNally (http://portfolio.joemcnally.com) and David Hobby (aka Strobist http://www.strobist.blogspot.com ). Hobby has a Lighting 101 that's a great help to get started understanding light and how it impacts photography and how to bend it to your will.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I had put it in Aperture mode, thanks for info. I will work on them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Brandon
    Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 2:53

It is too hard to say what a pro would have done without seeing what else was in the scene outside of that frame, and also, every pro is a bit different. Pro is also a relative term.

Something I always recommend is to find photos you like, and then assess what specifically is it that you like about that shot. Is it the lighting, the composition etc. That gets you thinking about all the elements of the photo and really analysing them. Then, when you're out shooting, look at the scene with that same mindset. What is the lighting like, are there things which lend themselves to a particular composition, are there interesting shapes or lines that will help your composition etc.

The biggest thing with documentary photography is to tell a story. That photo is not bad, but it doesn't tell me any form of story, I just see a guy sitting down, and some old stuff, so I assume that he owns a second hand store or something like that, but i don't actually know what that scene is.

  • \$\begingroup\$ it was a city market, people had put these tables, selling their old stuff...so to tell a story maybe what I cloud do is to go further back to have more of those people and tables in the picture to show they are selling stuff, but keep this guy in focus and the rest of the scene out of focus...do you think that would help with the story? \$\endgroup\$
    – Brandon
    Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 1:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Story telling is the hardest part of documentary photography. You ideally want to convey whatever emotion you feel in that place. A guy sitting at a table trying to make a few bucks is not really much of a story, so in that particular case maybe look at it from a more artistic point of view, see if you can do something interesting with the light etc, or talk to him and get him to tell his story then try capture an image that conveys that story. It is hard to put into words how you best tell a story with a photo, but keep practicing and showing your work to other people and see how they respond \$\endgroup\$
    – floodpants
    Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 2:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ A "pro" is someone for whom photography is their primary source of income... \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 14:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ well, yes @MattGrum that is the strict definition. Just because someone is a 'pro' doesn't mean they are an expert was the point I was making. \$\endgroup\$
    – floodpants
    Commented Mar 15, 2015 at 11:26

I would have probably taken the image slightly lower and to the right, with slightly more space on the upper left side of the image and slightly less on the lower right.

I would have used a flash to help compensate for exposure in the dark portions of the image and possibly put up some diffusion on the windows to prevent the harsh direct light that really detracts from to image (in my opinion anyway).

As far as story telling goes, I would have tried to arrange the shot such that it is more clear what is being done. Right now, it is a relatively interesting visual image, but it is kind of abstract since the music stand, the window and the guy with the tackle box don't have any obvious relationship.

This isn't a problem if you are just going for an abstract and interesting visual image (which I think this has potential to be), but it also doesn't tell a whole lot of story.

An alternate approach is to tighten in on the guy with the tackle box. Perhaps arrange it so that there is a pile of supplies on one side for making lures on one side and a pile of finished lures on the other with him working on crafting a lure in hand. It would take some experimenting to figure out how to arrange this to get a visually interesting shot that also captures his attention to the craft, but it could form a very interesting image that tells a much more clear story of a man's age old practice of hand crafting his fishing lures.

Again lighting becomes really important there to so that the lures show clearly but that you still get some facial shadowing to show the focus and intensity that you can get from wrinkle lines which could actually work in the favor of a shoot like this I think, just as long as the eyes still are exposed clearly.

  • \$\begingroup\$ dang! I hadn't even noticed even those were fishing lures! good eye! \$\endgroup\$
    – Brandon
    Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 22:50

I would have focused on the man's face and hands, which seem to be telling the best story. This might require approaching the subject and asking their permission, which can be very difficult.


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