Critique Two: Portraits

I always wanted to be the artsy photographer that shoots solely in black and white, but I love color a bit too much. After all, everything around us is colored, in one way or another. 

For today, I want to look at three color portraits I made of some of the kindest and strongest women I know. Anna, and Carol, are shot using Kodak Portra 160 color negative Film, whereas Maggie is taken with a Fuji Velvia 50 positive film.

I always heard that Kodak Portra film is wonderful for shooting people because of the way it renders skin. After seeing the resulting pictures, I completely agree. No wonder Dan Winters uses it so frequently in his work. The film seems to balance the warmth of the skin with the cold light of the environment very well. 
  
Velvia, on the hand, seems to be dripping with colors. In the past, it was famously used by landscape photographers; the way the greens and the reds come out in the picture are simply brilliant. 

I used to think that digital cameras have a lot greater dynamic range than a scanned negative. I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much latitude in dynamic range these scanned negatives offered; for example, the original slide for Maggie's portrait was very dark an contrasty, yet I was able to recover an insane amount of detail from the shadows. 


 
 
Kodak Portra 160

Kodak Portra 160

Anna: I really like her expression in the photograph. She looks tired and thoroughly annoyed. Her eyes seem to be talking. The disheveled hair, the slight redness in the skin, the the pursed lips, all come together to create a very strong photograph. But the fact she is dressed rather fashionably, holding a rather hip beer can, kills the image I was trying to create.

On a more technical level, I like that the image is a little desaturated, highlighting only the greens and the skin colors. Compositionally, the hat on the bottom right of the frame is bothering me a lot. It needs to be removed. I also wish that Anna was just a bit more centered in the photograph. I also really like the granularity that one can see in the image when zoomed in, and also the dust that was captured during the scan. It adds the right kind of atmosphere. 

Carol: It's the complementary colors that make this photograph interesting. I also like how Carol is standing, hands on her hip, looking out at the Great Lake. Her hair, as always, looks great, and the shirt tied arrowed her waist completes the picture. Everything about the picture reminds me of summer.   

The boat next to Carol's right arm is driving me nuts. The highlights are also blown out in some of the clouds, and I dislike how the image is a little brigher on the right half. I also wish that the water was a more constant blue, especially near the bottom half of the frame. I also just realized that the image is flipped! The shirt reads backwards. I prefer it this way.

Maggie: I really love this picture, but then again, I must be biased because I love Maggie so much. I think her expression in the photograph is very honest; the pensiveness and intelligence is true to her personality. I think that the colors rendered beautifully; the blue of the sky bring out the warmth in the rest of the scene. I can almost feel the sunshine warming up Maggie's cheeks. I also love how the light is captured inside the tortoise-rim of the eye-glasses. 

That said, I don't really like the contrast. The major problems I can see in the picture are the blown highlights on her sweater, and the obvious lack of sharpness. This image also seems to have been exposed for the highlights; the original positive shows barely any detail in the shadow region.  I also feel like her skin (before it was edited) had a bit too much red to it. 

Maggie's image was shot with a Fuji Velvia 50, which is known to be a lot less forgiving when it comes to exposing the film. Although I really like how the Velvia rendered colors, they look a little too good to be true. I personally don't care about accuracy in images (unless I am shooting for product photography etc...), so I like the saturation that Velvia brings. That said, it might render colors a little *too* saturated for most photographs. 

 
 
 
 

In comparison, Portra seems a lot more subdued in how it renders color, and it also seems a bit sharper. Apparently, Kodak relaunched the Portra films with scanning in mind, so theoretically, It should scan better. Compared to the Velvia, it is a lot sharper when you zoom in. That said, the Velvia does look very sharp in the original slide. 

I have been trying to narrow in on why there is a certain softness to the images. At first, I thought it was the film; but  I inspected the slide with Maggie's portrait with a magnifying glass and and discovered that it was rather sharp. Unless the scanner is enlarging a level of detail that my two weak eyes peering through a magnifying glass can't see, I would say that the sharpness is being lost during the scan. I would love to try a drum scan of one of these images and compare them to my scans to see how much a difference scanning could make.