Two Pictures: Devin Wagner

(This is another post that comes from my invitation to all of you to send me two of your pictures to get my thoughts on them. Send two photos at 544 pixels/72 dpi to me at: tekamah at me dot com Explain something about yourself, the photos and your quandary with the two.)

This comes from Devin Wagner, a staff photographer at the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Argus Leader. What is an Argus, you might wonder? Me too. So I looked it up: It’s either a monster with 100 eyes form Greek mythology, a long-tailed pheasant, a small butterfly or a silvery fish. My bet is on pheasant, given that the area has some of the best pheasant hunting in the country.

I once rode the diminutive elevator up to the third floor of the West Wing with George H.W. Bush and Karl Rove. They were talking about pheasant hunting in South Dakota. So the hunting must be good. (I wasn’t actually with them, just sharing the ride.)

But I digress.

Devin writes: “The two images I attached have gotten mixed reviews from friends, colleagues and photographers critiquing my portfolio. The first is an older image shot while I was still a student and it is a calm moment that I had to wait for and its not your typical fishing photograph, yet some people say its too static, while others say its a great moment, especially with the way the brothers are facing. The second is the second year I had to cover the Miss Tennessee Pageant and I had gotten bored with the typical shots of the ladies performing and what-not, so I opted for a photograph with a different look at the event, but again, some people like it, others hate it. What advice can you give me on both images?”

Here are the pictures:

Brothers fishing and teen beauty pageant photos made by Devin Wagner

Both are fine pictures, I’d say. There’s nothing wrong with either and there are good qualities in each. Use the five-aspect approach to evaluate a picture and you see that the color and light are nice in each. Composition is pretty good though is tending toward just working on one plane, especially in the second photo; there are good triangles in the first, though they only happen in the boat layer. Distance from the subject is neutral, about what it has to be to get the subjects in the frame.

The telling quality – for its shortcoming – and what keeps the photos from being better is moment. If you can say of your pictures that this moment, this coming together of elements in my picture happened only once, and everything else about the photo works, then the photo jumps in quality. 

You can’t say that either of these circumstances happened only once. Maybe the guy in the boat looked in that direction for a second and you got it, but that’s hardly a unique occurrence. If there were a fish jumping in the background or foam coming from his Olympia Beer even, that would elevate the photo. My guess is that the lack of moment is why people are lukewarm about these photos.

The other under utilized aspect in these photos is distance. Sometimes looking into the scene more carefully by being closer can elevate the uniqueness, the moment quality of a photo. There’s opportunity for this in the photo of the teen contestants. Notice that the hem lines are only slightly different and their postures are equally similar, except the girl on the left is holding her right foot differently. You could have made a statement about the mannequin-like quality of such events by focusing on the nuance of hem line, pattern and texture and how they’re holding their feet to make a more complete, more unique image in that setting.

I’m working with another photographer who is going through a series of exercises. One of them is working on making distance from the subject an equal aspect of his photographs. I challenged him to make distant, medium distance and very close photographs of what he photographs. And to use the other four aspects appropriately at each of those distances to convey a quality that is specific to the distance.

Try that.

The underlying point here is that the more specific and dimensional we are in what we set out to convey with our photographs and the better we are at using the medium, the more our photographs will affect people who look at them.

Oh, and look up the history of Olympia Beer. It's sort of sad.

Which suggests another idea. In the realm of always working on ongoing essays, how about one about beer?


Two Pictures: Matt Burkhartt

Two Great Tastes