Mentorship/Image Critique

ajramirez

Hall of Famer
Jul 9, 2010
124
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):


En la Plaza del Mercado
by ramirezaponte, on Flickr


En la Plaza del Mercado
by ramirezaponte, on Flickr


En la Plaza del Mercado
by ramirezaponte, on Flickr


En la Plaza del Mercado
by ramirezaponte, on Flickr


En la Plaza del Mercado
by ramirezaponte, on Flickr


En la Plaza del Mercado
by ramirezaponte, on Flickr


En la Plaza del Mercado
by ramirezaponte, on Flickr


En la Plaza del Mercado
by ramirezaponte, on Flickr


En la Plaza del Mercado
by ramirezaponte, on Flickr


En la Plaza del Mercado
by ramirezaponte, on Flickr


En la Plaza del Mercado
by ramirezaponte, on Flickr


En la Plaza del Mercado
by ramirezaponte, on Flickr


En la Plaza del Mercado
by ramirezaponte, on Flickr


En la Plaza del Mercado
by ramirezaponte, on Flickr

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


En la Plaza del Mercado
by ramirezaponte, on Flickr


En la Plaza del Mercado
by ramirezaponte, on Flickr


En la Plaza del Mercado
by ramirezaponte, on Flickr


En la Plaza del Mercado
by ramirezaponte, on Flickr


En la Plaza del Mercado
by ramirezaponte, on Flickr


En la Plaza del Mercado
by ramirezaponte, on Flickr


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
 

Luke

Super Moderator
Nov 11, 2011
214
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.
 

ReD

Hall of Famer
Mar 27, 2013
123
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
 

pdh

Legend
Jan 2, 2011
123
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)
 

ajramirez

Hall of Famer
Jul 9, 2010
124
Caguas, Puerto Rico
Antonio
I like these especially the close ups - (although they then miss out context which contradicts docu)
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
 

ReD

Hall of Famer
Mar 27, 2013
123
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
 
Jan 31, 2011
164
Newcastle, Australia
Sue
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
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.
 
Jan 31, 2011
164
Newcastle, Australia
Sue
It's interesting that you say this, because I actually argued that the context would be lost if I got closer.
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?
 

john m flores

All-Pro
Aug 13, 2012
124
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.
 
Jan 31, 2011
164
Newcastle, Australia
Sue
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.
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.
 

Luckypenguin

Hall of Famer
Dec 24, 2010
123
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.
 

ajramirez

Hall of Famer
Jul 9, 2010
124
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
 

Woody112704

Veteran
Nov 7, 2013
103
Iowa
Jared
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.
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.
 

john m flores

All-Pro
Aug 13, 2012
124
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:

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.
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.
 

jloden

All-Pro
Jun 30, 2012
88
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:
 

ajramirez

Hall of Famer
Jul 9, 2010
124
Caguas, Puerto Rico
Antonio
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.
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... :)

Cheers,

Antonio
 

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