Image Critique: High Dive Sign

High Dive Sign

Image Format

4:3 ratio, full frame from a micro 4/3 camera. Multiple images were shot moving the camera closer to the subject overhead, with minimal feedback from the camera LCD, given the high angle. This frame offered the most effective composition.


The main theme here is the neon bar sign, and its reflection in the transom window. Its central location, large size, high contrast, interesting details, and extended color range assure that it will be the center of attention.

The secondary theme is the exit sign above. It harmonizes, being another illuminated sign, in related colors, with similarly high contrast. It adds a note of humor, by being an element usually considered unattractive, and avoided in, or removed from photos, and here being a harmonious part of a larger whole.

The background adds a touch of elegance, and a reference to a better past, to this rather utilitarian scene, with its decorative tin ceiling and moulded trim.


Powerful images often have a very controlled palette. Here the color scheme is red, with just an accent of an orangey yellow. The fact that the image is bathed in a red light indicates that the main sign may actually be red, but burned to white here by its high brightness. This adds an interesting note to the image that most viewers will not pick up on conciously, but may still sense on some level.


This image is self illuminating, an effect that often leads to a strong and contained effect. The brilliance and saturation of the illuminated elements set the dominant tone of the image, while the gradients and reductions in brightness on the background elements are important for producing a photographic realism often missing in totally neon images.

The overall impact is one of Chiaroscuro, with the subject emerging out of darkness.

Eye Movement

The eye initially rests on the high contrast area in the center, attempting to decode the complex layering of the sign supports, the neon, and the reflection of it just beyond. Once this puzzle is solved, the eye tends to move down and to the right on the bright whites of the reflected sign, and then sweep back up on the brilliant yellow bar of the reflected sign border, wrapping around at the top to inspect the ceiling detail and exit sign, from where it may either return to the center, or finish its sweep around the perimeter of the illuminated area on the left and across the bottom to the right.


The story here starts with a puzzle and ends with a joke. The puzzle is the decoding of the familiar, but not quite right, central components, with the sign in reverse, and seen from behind where its elements are blocked to varying degrees. Additional hints to its identity are offered by its reflection. Once the puzzle is solved, the eye moves on, and encounters the exit sign, and the joke of its aesthetic relationship with the decorative sign hits the viewer as it is recognized.

The high contrast, high saturation, high impact nature of the image makes the story dramatic, while the content shows it to be common, and perhaps a bit sordid, with the self-caricaturing feel of a country music song, which one can imagine playing in the background. The image title reinforces the story, and the humorous nature of the image: High Dive usually referring to a diving event, and Dive Bar generally referring to a low type of bar; the height of the image, taken overhead, can also be read into the name, as well as the word “HIGH” being quite visible in the reflection. In this case the title has yet another meaning, as High Dive is also the name of the bar in which the photograph was taken.

Process Notes

Shot with an Olympus E-P2 Micro 4/3 camera. Shutter speed 1/60 sec, f/2.8, ISO 1250, Focal length 17mm, Lens Olympus M 17mm f/2.8.

Shot freehand, in low light, as an overhead shot.

Processed from the original RAW file in Adobe Lightroom 3, exported as a high bit AdobeRGB TIFF, to Photoshop CS5 for local editing. File info added in Photoshop, down sampled to sRGB web rez JPG in Photoshop. Dedicated to CG.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012.   Website:   Return to Blog’s Main Page


Image Critique: Times Square Pedicab

Times Square Pedicab

I have received a great many comments on the image “Times Square Pedicab” and decided it would be a good image to use for a review of a number of image attributes, and of image editing to the degree that it was used to address the image content.

Image Format

The main factor here is the crop of the file. There are those who believe everything should be uncropped, 35mm proportions. And those taking it a step further and demanding landscape orientation as well, on the basis that the eyes are side by side, and we see in a horizontal rectangle. Personally, I see in a big oval, but thats a bit tough as an image format, so I’ll simply claim the artistic license to crop to the strongest composition. For some images that means a very dynamic panorama scaled crop, and this is one of those image. The Vertical Pano format is even less frequent, but there are many images where it is the logical crop; or even the only crop. I don’t believe that the convenience of the framer should be a consideration in my image creation.

This image works as a vertical, in part due to the relation between the dynamics of a panorama crop, and the busy image content. If any city in the world can justify a vertical panorama, it is New York. And the oft photographed ends of the Square, with their towering signage are the ultimate justification. The tight crop also works to focus the viewer’s attention, in the very chaotic context, on the themes of the image.


An image is allowed to have more than one theme. Additional themes may weaken the focus of the primary theme, but they also add to the richness and poetry of the image. Here, the foreground element is dominant, and clearly the main theme. This is the pedicab, and its driver. Centered, in focus, with high enough contrast and color contrast to hold its own against the riotous background. One could even call this image an Environmental Portrait, as its main story is that of the Pedicab driver in his native environment.

The secondary theme is Times Square itself, represented by the dominant vertical element, the end-of-square signage. Again, high contrast, high color. Further repetition of this theme occurs with the secondary signage, which is lower contrast, lower color, and serves to move the eye out from the central core towards the edges of the image. Using a shallow depth of field could have provided a pleasant blur on the background, and a jumble of color without the detail this version contains. My decision, in the split second I had, kneeling in traffic to take the shot, was to go for depth of field, so the the subject, and the context, would both be detailed.

The tertiary theme is the storm brewing in the sky behind the buildings. This could be accentuated with various image editing tools, but a bit of dodging and flashing is all I chose to use, to avoid having this minor theme take too much attention away from the more important themes. This theme is in the background, low contrast, low saturation, and as such, provides a field for the events of the more dominant themes to play out on. This follows the rules for strong images: themes move from foreground to middle and then background, reducing in contrast and saturation as they recede from the viewer.

Eye Movement

The movement of the eye in this image is controlled by the dominantly vertical shape of this image crop, and the related shape of the image contents. From the foreground the eye is drawn to the driver, to his face, and then swept upwards to the signage above, where it slows and spreads to other elements in the composition, and returns for another lap, starting at the wheels of the Pedicab, then up to the subject and beyond.

Image Symmetry

The slightly off center nature of the subject and his pedicab is reflected in the slight off center nature of the main set of signs behind him. In each case secondary elements balance this to create a dynamic balance without an exactly central axis of symmetry.


The palette of this image is not heavily controlled, and yet it manages to support the themes. The foreground and middle grounds elements contain bright primary colors and contrasting darks. The background is much reduced in saturation and contrast, with the sky reduced further still, to a range of light grays. The skin tones of the driver are sufficiently smooth and saturated to bring the eye to him, given the innate human predilection for skin. One could make a case for a set of contrasts between the driver in lower saturation skin tones, and the cab and signage forming a non-human context in much more saturated colors. The modeling of the driver’s skin and clothes, against the flatter planes of his environment enhance this contrast.


The upward converging perspective caused by the upward camera angle enhances the tension of the image. The natural tendency of converging perspective to draw the eye is part of the upward direction of the eye movement in the image. And yet the convergence is weak enough to not cause difficulty in accepting the cab driver as the natural subject of the image, despite not being at the perspective convergence point (which would be well above the top of the image, given the minor convergence of the buildings). Adjusting the rotation of the image before cropping assured that the center of perspective, where verticals are actually vertical, is aligned with the central figure, and with the signage above him.

Central Figure

Highlight dodging and midtone burning on the Cabbie assured that the tonal range met our expectations of a portrait subject: even though the context of the image is far from portrait lighting, the eye expects certain density ranges for the human face, and is unsatisfied if it is too washed out, or too shaded, or lacks the necessary contrast range. Other adjustments were made with the central figure, its tonal range, saturation, and smoothness in mind. The end result is a figure that reads as part of the larger composition, but also as a person in his own right. The direct eye contact between the subject and the camera gives that sense of acknowledgement and permission that so often occurs in portraits.


Every picture tells a story. Some tell very abstract stories, but there’s some type of story in them, or we would not have any interest in the image. Here the story is quite concrete and engaging, with the cowboy attitude of the driver sitting with his elbow on his knee in the midst of Times Square traffic, in his very informal clothes. His personality shows clearly, even though his image in the photo is relatively small. The backstory about the traffic, the business of Times Square, and even about the storm brewing overhead, adds to the richness of the content. The enigma of the subject’s race somehow adds to the content; a skin tone that occurs around the globe, and features that could be attributed to various races on most continents. In that sense, the perfect representative of our new age, and of New York.

Process Notes

Shot with a Canon 5D. Shutter speed 1/80 sec, f/20, Focal length 28mm, Lens 24-105 f/4 is.

Shot freehand, kneeling in the street, with my “camera elbow” on my knee, a bit like the subject’s pose.

Processed from the original RAW file in Adobe Lightroom 3, exported as a high bit AdobeRGB TIFF, to Photoshop CS5 for local editing. File info added in Photoshop, down sampled to sRGB web rez JPG in Photoshop.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012.   Website:   Return to Blog’s Main Page