Two Pictures: Steven St. John

(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 which is stronger. Send two photos at 544 pixels/72 dpi to me at tekamah at me dotcom And explain something about the photos and something about your quandary with the two.)

Albuquerque-based freelance photographer Steven St. John offers two pictures made on a recent trip to Taxco, Mexico, part of his ongoing essay about Mexico and Latin America.

Steven wonders if “the excitement of being there has swayed my opinion of the work. Is it even portfolio-worthy?”

Here are the two pictures:

Both © Steven St. John

For me, the clear winner is the second image. One way to determine which is stronger is by breaking down the elements that make the image. This you can do from a negative or positive perspective. In other words, look at the pictures until you see something so great that you have to keep it or so negative that it’s out.

One element being stronger in choosing between images is often a determining factor.

In this case the light is the one aspect that is significantly better in the second image, a positive, and the boy being centered in the first photo is a negative. The scene was all about energy and the dynamics of fire and people and setting and timelessness. By centering the boy, most of the dynamic dies. By capturing the exploding firework in the second image, there is energy, danger and the quality of light gives depth and contrast. 

Then you can look at the pure geometry of the images. Were it not for the centered boy in the first, it would be more dynamic because of the angles of the wall, the offsetting green shirts, the ping between light sources, the interaction of bodies on the left side the frame, the grid of the street and more.

This is another way of saying that the background, the non-action part of a picture, is as important as the action layer. If one is overly negative, they both fail.

And this is a pass or fail, in or out process.

Generally, don't make the film plane parallel to objects like walls or rows of people, unless the point is to create a one-plane photograph, to stop people's eyes. By creating angular compositions alone – putting walls and streets and rows of things at an angle to the camera – your photographs will become more dynamic geometrically.

To answer the second part of your question, Steven, yes the second photo could work in your portfolio. It’s as good an image as many on your site. Whether it would stay in an edit is hard to know. How any single image contributes to the group is as much a factor as the strength of the photograph in editing a portfolio.

There you have my two cents worth.

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