1. Reminder: Please use our affiliate links for holiday shopping!

Mentorship/Image Critique

Discussion in 'Philosophy of Photography' started by ajramirez, Apr 27, 2014.

  1. ajramirez

    ajramirez SC All-Pro

    Jul 9, 2010
    Caguas, Puerto Rico
    Antonio
    I was wondering how many of you have had the experience of being mentored or having your work critiqued by an established photographer. I am in the middle of such an experience, and it's not for the faint of heart...

    I recently reconnected with Puerto Rican photographer Eric Borcherding, with whom I had taken a photography course back in 2009. Mr. Borcherding is fairly well known (locally) photographer, specializing in fine art and studio photography. He does a fair bit of reportage as well. We met a few weeks ago, and I showed him some of my recent work. He told me he would think of a project I could work on and that he could review. Based on the work I had shown him, he suggested a photo essay/documentary project on the Santurce Farmers' Market (Plaza del Mercado de Santurce).

    The Santurce Farmers' Market is an interesting place, because it changes depending on the time-of-day and the day of the week. In the mornings, it's a true farmers' market, with vendors selling mostly fresh fruits and vegetables to locals and restauranteurs, and locals (mostly retirees) hanging around. At night, the market closes, but the restaurants and pubs surrounding it open, turning the area into a hopping meeting place for students and young professionals.

    I shot my first set of photos on a Saturday morning about two weeks ago. Last Monday, I sat with Mr. Borcherding to get his feedback. To my surprise, he discussed each photo individually and extensively. In general, his observations were as follows: (1) not getting close enough to my subjects; (2) excessive negative space (related to no. 1); (3) failing to explore the subject and capitalize on interesting details on some of the shots. I argued that I had tried to approach the subjects as a "street" photographer would, interfering with the scene as little as possible. He explained that in documentary photography there is no reason for the photographer not to interfere with the scene sometimes, and that more interaction with my subjects would result in improved photographs. He also explained that the details are what turns an ok shot into a "magical" one.

    Keeping his advice in mind, I went out again yesterday morning. This time, I interacted a bit more with my subjects, some of which I had photographed the previous time and were perfectly willing to be photographed again. I am meeting with Borcherding tomorrow night, so I'll know soon enough what he has to say about the new shots.

    This was the original set I presented to him (cross posted from the Leica M Image Thread):

    13802973054_9d5ba259fc_b.
    En la Plaza del Mercado
    by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

    13802974074_efb6e9ce33_b.
    En la Plaza del Mercado
    by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

    13802626235_a65e165dcc_b.
    En la Plaza del Mercado
    by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

    13802643633_a6081087c7_b.
    En la Plaza del Mercado
    by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

    13802975634_16e649c929_b.
    En la Plaza del Mercado
    by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

    13958850266_b0bc618e12_b.
    En la Plaza del Mercado
    by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

    13802976344_9ed9022127_b.
    En la Plaza del Mercado
    by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

    13802647763_bfc037d1c6_b.
    En la Plaza del Mercado
    by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

    13802647583_acbc613b43_b.
    En la Plaza del Mercado
    by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

    13802651683_f7f380909d_b.
    En la Plaza del Mercado
    by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

    13802652083_e317130148_b.
    En la Plaza del Mercado
    by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

    13802628795_6909f2d564_b.
    En la Plaza del Mercado
    by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

    13802982164_f9b95eacaf_b.
    En la Plaza del Mercado
    by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

    13802981364_1f0822f271_b.
    En la Plaza del Mercado
    by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

    And, these are the ones from yesterday morning that I will bring in tomorrow night:

    14021454221_3eaf0b3a2f_b.
    En la Plaza del Mercado
    by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

    14001521346_9bd04f3dae_b.
    En la Plaza del Mercado
    by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

    14044645433_c0a51e0d2c_b.
    En la Plaza del Mercado
    by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

    14001520066_a9c0054a60_b.
    En la Plaza del Mercado
    by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

    14024641535_423ece9c37_b.
    En la Plaza del Mercado
    by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

    14021436952_28cb7899f6_b.
    En la Plaza del Mercado
    by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

    14024641895_e24dc46fee_b.
    En la Plaza del Mercado
    by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

    I think I definitely got closer to my subjects, but I may have fallen short on the "subject exploration" part of it. We'll see what he has to say tomorrow.

    I would love to hear from any of you who have had similar experiences.

    Cheers,

    Antonio
     
    • Like Like x 9
  2. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    Luke
    At first when I was scrolling through your shots, I thought they were all great. But taking a second scroll I still like all of them (perhaps I'm a simpleton), but the second batch does have more intimacy (or maybe immediacy would be a better word). It's hard to put into words, but I feel like in your new set I am seeing through your eyes instead of just looking at your photos. Does that make sense?

    I'd be happy to shoot half as good as you, Antonio. And good on you to seek out ways to improve. I'm looking forward to hearing what he says.
     
    • Like Like x 5
  3. ReD

    ReD SC Hall of Famer

    Mar 27, 2013
    I like these especially the close ups - (although they then miss out context which contradicts docu)

    Never had this experience myself

    I was talking to a photo student at a party Saturday -his course work is photo doc - he had fixed ideas & I'm not sure if thats a good thing almost like he was brainwashed / blinkered / channelled
    They are not allowed to post on Flickr as this is not deemed professional

    Me I love to see as much as possible & couldn't give a toss who took a photo I liked

    On the photos above there are some lovely wall textures - I'd have been sidetracked on those
     
    • Like Like x 2
  4. pdh

    pdh SC Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    I haven't, and I can't imagine having the "bottle" to do so.
    My way of excusing myself from the potential ordeal is to believe I have no illusions about my own abilities as a photographer, which are good enough to please myself and a few others here and on Flickr and so on, but wouldn't bear the scrutiny of a professional artist.

    However, I've always admired your photographs, Antonio, and I do hope you will benefit from opening yourself up in this way (which I also admire)
     
    • Like Like x 1
  5. Jock Elliott

    Jock Elliott SC All-Pro

    Jan 3, 2012
    Troy, NY
    Ditto what Luke said.

    Nice pix! I do think the close-ups are better.

    I am looking forward to the next installment.

    Cheers, Jock
     
    • Like Like x 1
  6. ajramirez

    ajramirez SC All-Pro

    Jul 9, 2010
    Caguas, Puerto Rico
    Antonio
    It's interesting that you say this, because I actually argued that the context would be lost if I got closer. I said that when we were discussing the last photo in the first set (the one in color of the gentleman with the cigar). He said that while he thought it was a good photo, there was a lot going on that I could have capitalized on that was lost, for example, the man's face. In that particular case, he suggested I had to work the subject, by which he meant taking a series of photos. Of course, that requires much more interaction that simply taking the photo and saying "thank you" which is what I had done.

    I think what Borcherding is trying to do at this stage is push me out of my comfort zone. His whole suggestion of the Farmers' Market as a project, and pushing me to interact more with the people there is his means to that end.

    Cheers,

    Antonio
     
    • Like Like x 2
  7. ReD

    ReD SC Hall of Famer

    Mar 27, 2013
    The guy with cigar & shoes deserves a series of his own - lots of story there plus aristic with the colour backgrounds

    if you write a story you normally need a central character plus sub plots - beginning middle & end
     
    • Like Like x 1
  8. xdayv

    xdayv SC Veteran

    256
    Mar 22, 2013
    Tacloban City, Philippines
    Dave
    Antonio, strong set. Still my fav is the guys with a different shoe on his left foot. I don't know what strikes me with that, but for me it's powerful.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  9. kyteflyer

    kyteflyer ~@¿@~

    Jan 31, 2011
    Newcastle, Australia
    Sue
    I haven't done what you're doing and I think you're very brave to have done it. Here's what I think... I love your first set, *and* the second. IN the second, its more like you're doing portraits. Is that what you set out to achieve. I don't see anything wrong with having a bit of distance between you and the subject... its all eye of the beholder stuff. Thats why I rarely submit my photographs for critique by anyone at all. After my first experience at being "judged" on prints in club competition, I decided that aspect of things was not for me. I've subsequently submitted electronic images and never fail to get merit, honours or judges choice, sometimes all three. It just depends on who's looking, and what they are looking for. I guess the photographer who is critiquing your photographs is on the money *from his point of view*. Remember the kind of photography he does... its not the same as yours.

    Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with the first set at all. But thats me. eye of the beholder and all that.
     
    • Like Like x 3
  10. kyteflyer

    kyteflyer ~@¿@~

    Jan 31, 2011
    Newcastle, Australia
    Sue
    I would have to agree with that. He works in a studio... you don't. Its a different kind of photography. Sounds to me like he's pushing you to become like him, and shoot as he does. Getting out of your comfort zone is fine, if thats what you want to do, but quite honestly... why?
     
    • Like Like x 1
  11. john m flores

    john m flores SC All-Pro

    Aug 13, 2012
    I meet 5-6 times a year with fellow photographers, some of them pros, some serious amateurs, nearly all of them, oddly enough, motorcycle riders. The years of collected wisdom of our little group is quite impressive and it's quite intimidating to put work before them. So much so that I've avoided doing so for a while. But I've got a project in mind and a group show in the fall, so I better get cracking.

    I highly recommend in-person constructive criticism.
     
    • Like Like x 4
  12. kyteflyer

    kyteflyer ~@¿@~

    Jan 31, 2011
    Newcastle, Australia
    Sue
    Doing that with a group I think would be a lot more productive (albeit intimidating) than just one on one. With a group, you're getting a variety of input, not just one person's opinion.
     
    • Like Like x 1
  13. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin SC Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Nic
    First off I'll start by saying they're all great, be it the first or second set.

    As to the suggested change in style, I think that it comes down to what you want to achieve. Taking the approach of a studio photographer and applying that to street photography would give a different feel to the resulting images but the tighter compositions do remove the feeling of them being unforced environmental portraits. I see a lot of crossover between the two sets and I think that you already do some of the things that he suggested, but you also have the vision to pull back when appropriate which gives you a wonderful variety of images.
     
    • Like Like x 3
  14. ajramirez

    ajramirez SC All-Pro

    Jul 9, 2010
    Caguas, Puerto Rico
    Antonio
    I appreciate everyone's response. I think there is a lot I can learn that I can apply to my photography, without necessarily giving up what works now. I think I'll have a better idea after tomorrow's meeting as to where this will go. At the very least, it's another motivator to go out and shoot. We'll see where this gets to soon enough.

    P.S. I appreciate all the kind comments on the photos. Thank you all very much.

    Cheers,

    Antonio
     
    • Like Like x 1
  15. Woody112704

    Woody112704 SC Top Veteran

    579
    Nov 7, 2013
    Iowa
    Jared
    That would be awesome to find a group like that. I'm always trying to get better and I feel that constructive criticism is needed in order to get better. And OT great set, I like them both. They have different feels to them and like the others have said it comes down to what you are trying to set out to do.
     
  16. john m flores

    john m flores SC All-Pro

    Aug 13, 2012
    Hey Antonio, you've taken some nice photos, but I do not think that a stranger can look at them and determine that they are of a farmers market. Whether or not you consider them successful photos depends on the story you are trying to tell. And as I look at your work I can't help but come back to what you wrote:

    If this is the story of the market that you are trying to tell photographically, I'd think about capturing that context, of capturing the interesting characters and faces in the market in the midst of their work, in the midst of their socializing, in the midst of their lives. Think about capturing that day to night transformation photographically, try capturing the moments that make up a day at the market.

    Looking forward to seeing how this project progresses and good on you for being brave enough to hear the opinion of others.
     
    • Like Like x 6
  17. jloden

    jloden SC Veteran

    266
    Jun 30, 2012
    Jay
    I too applaud your willingness to step outside your comfort zone both in your work and just in seeking out constructive criticism to begin with. Neither of those is an easy thing for most photographers/artists.

    My $0.02, for whatever its worth: I like the original set a little better, of the two. What i like is the contextual pieces - the mismatched shoes, the truck thats being unloaded, the great colors and textures. In the second set I find myself missing context and feeling more of a sense of "stranger portraits". Very different feel and it's not necessarily more or less valid either way; it'd depend on your personal goal for the work. There I'd agree with John on judging your work's success by whether it says what you set out to say.

    After reviewing the set I can understand the comment about working the scene/angles. They're good people photos IMO, but it would be interesting to see what you might get if you explored more. Perhaps a close-up of the man's hand with the cigar, shooting from higher or lower, shooting wider and closer or a slightly longer lens isolating relevant details. I imagine that this would entail some pretty big changes to *how* you shoot, if you're used to doing quick street portraits or candids and moving on. It also means you may end up more "involved" with your subjects in the frame, which may be uncomfortable, or even take away from the candid element for some instances.

    Best of luck in your journey Antonio... I enjoy your photos a lot, and I look forward to following along with you as you try out some new things and grow your personal vision :thumbup:
     
    • Like Like x 3
  18. Landshark

    Landshark PhotoDog

    Jul 15, 2010
    SoCal
    Bob
    I like the more intimate ones, they just tell more of a story in their faces. That said I don 't really feel the need for more context, and while the story of the Farmer's market is nice, the expressions tell more.

    I mentor myself everyday:rofl:
     
    • Like Like x 4
  19. kyteflyer

    kyteflyer ~@¿@~

    Jan 31, 2011
    Newcastle, Australia
    Sue
    LOL! Funny man :)
     
  20. ajramirez

    ajramirez SC All-Pro

    Jul 9, 2010
    Caguas, Puerto Rico
    Antonio
    Yes, I am still very much missing the context. In my view, the final project would have to also include shots of the actual market, both the exterior structure and more interior shots. I am also missing shots of people doing actual shopping at the market. I took some, but they did not work.

    I also need to find a way to go sometime other than on Saturday mornings. As I said, the character of the market changes depending on the day and the time of day. For a more complete set, I'm going to have to get there before dawn, to catch some more of the deliveries, and at night to catch some of the night action. I would also like to include some of the surrounding area, as I feel it's part of the story.

    All of this could take a while... :smile:

    Cheers,

    Antonio