What Makes A Photo Work?

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How Tightly Do You Crop?

A portrait from the Central African Republic. 

Our Anonymous Photographer says he works in some challenging environments and that it's not always possibly to take photographs when he's walking down the street. However, these gentlemen were photographed at his workplace where we're told his safety was assured.

What works well with this portrait is the plain background, so the subjects stand out. The colours are strong and striking and the disarray of the head gear of the gentleman on the left contrasts well with his friend. The expressions are also intriguing - why is one so stern and the other happy-go-lucky? A good portrait will often ask as many questions as it answers.

So what would I change? My main issue is with the cropping and posing. In terms of the crop, there may be very good reasons for excluding the surroundings, but to me the framing doesn't feel balanced with so little room around the heads at the top, compared with the generous use of space below their heads down the bottom. Look at the quick edit I have done below:

I have cropped the image at the bottom a little, plus I have added in some background. You can see my poor post-production on the shirts (left and right), but I trust you can see how a little more space gives the photograph a better balance and, perhaps, more authority. It's no longer a snapshot taken from a slightly lower angle, rather a considered portrait?

One other suggestion which can really only be done at the time of capture. When I look at the existing portrait, there's a lot of space between the two heads. Is this necessary or desirable? What happens when you get your subjects to stand a little closer together, or you move your camera angle obliquely so they appear closer together. What do you think of this:

Ignoring the rough post-production work, I think the photograph now talks about two men, rather than the space between two men. The only thing I would do now is add a little more space either side - but as you can see, I'm never happy!

So, what do you think? Don't take my suggestions as being 'correct' - they are simply opinions and suggestions. The idea behind these blogs is to encourage you to agree or disagree. You don't have to write me a treatise, just having a chat with yourself is fine!

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