Exhibition Checklist

 

Photographs © Russ Lewis

These are some things you need to check before you submit a picture for a challenge critique.

Exposure:

Are the highlights blown? Bright areas and highlights should show at least some detail unless they're specular. A specular highlight is a light source or a very bright reflection from a polished surface. On the other hand, in order to get a full range of mid-tones in your picture it's a good idea to have at least one tiny area somewhere showing as clipped white in your post-processing software.

 

Are the shadows blocked? In most cases it's important to have a good range of mid-tones in your picture. An exception would be something like a fog picture, where highlights and shadows never reach a point where they're blocked. In a normal picture you want to see at least one or two tiny places showing as clipped white or black in your post-processing software, but the blocked areas should be very small unless you're deliberately making a low key picture.

 

Is depth of field appropriate for the scene? If it's a landscape, normally everything would be in focus from foregreound to background. If it's a portrait, sharpness normally would begin at the point of the nose and end somewhere around the back of the ears. There are many exceptions to these rules -- so many that maybe it's overstating the case to call them rules. But if you deviate from them, have something specific in mind.

 

Does motion handling seem right for the picture? If you intended to stop motion in the picture, was your shutter speed high enough to do the job? On the other hand, if you were panning, is the thing in the picture you intended to keep stationary actually stationary? If the picture is of a static scene is the focus correct, or is the picture just a little bit out of focus, or is the focus on the wrong thing? Is there camera motion, making the whole picture a little fuzzy? Neither condition is acceptable in most cases, unless you deliberately threw things out of focus or introduced camera motion to create an unusual picture.

 

Does the framing seem appropriate? Is the geometry of the picture balanced, or if it's unbalanced is the unbalanced effect deliberate, to make a point?

 

Color:

Is there a color cast? If there's a piece of paper in the picture -- say, a napkin or an open newspaper -- is it white? If there are people in the picture wearing what should be white shirts, are the shirts white? Usually a color cast is easy to see, but sometimes, with mixed lighting, the cast can be subtle. Digital camera sensors seem to be particularlly sensitive to blue, and blue is often the color cast to look for. You can almost depend on a slight blue color cast outdoors under a blue sky. Your eyes correct for the blue reflected from the sky, but a camera sensor can't do that.

 

Is color saturation reasonable? When I go to an "art fair" I almost always see booths with photographs in which the color saturation has been increased until the result looks like a Marlboro ad. Have you pushed the saturation slider to the high side? Be sure you didn't push it too far.

 

Processing:

Is the picture appropriately sharp? Is it under-sharpened? Is it over-sharpened? Look for slightly darkened haloes around small elements such as fine tree branches. Look for choppy-appearing leaves on trees. If these things are there you've over-sharpened the picture. It's usually, but not always, better to under-sharpen than to over-sharpen. The symptoms of over-sharpening are going to be apparent to photographers with eyes to see.

 

Is the picture pixellated? If you take a digital capture made with a six megapixel sensor and crop it to half its size, then blow the picture up even to 8 x 10 you're going to see pixellation in the print. Pixellation is that sort of fuzzy look you get around edges and lines in the picture. If it's extreme you'll actually see tiny boxes delimiting the pixels in the picture. It's best to frame your picture on your camera and print it without cropping.

 

Printing:

Is the print banded? Look closely. Do you see tiny lines running through the picture? If you printed a horizontal 8 x 10 in a standard desktop printer the lines will run from the top to the bottom of the scene. If you printed a vertical the lines will run from side to side. Sometimes the lines aren't so tiny. The problem almost always is a blocked nozzle on your printer. Run a nozzle cleaning session and try again. Banded prints simply aren't acceptable as a final product.

 

Did you use an appropriate paper? For art prints a matte paper is usually all you need. On the other hand, if you're printing something that depends on sharp detail for its effect -- a Charles Sheeler (q.v.) type print -- you may want to print on glossy paper. The trouble with glossy is that it reflects light like mad and often makes it hard to view the print. But it does hold detail better than matte.

 

Are the black points as rich as possible? Unless you're printing a fog scene, to make a striking picture you must get as deep blacks as possible. You can't afford to settle for less deep blacks than your ink and paper will render. Less than serious blacks always results in a wishy-washy looking print.