Saturday, June 2, 2012

Portfolio Review: Heather Pelko Photography

I've had the idea rolling around in my head for awhile now. I wanted to start some type of  constructive criticism series. I've been an email subscriber to MomComm's weekly blog critique and I love it. I usually don't get around to reading it until Friday or so but I'm inspired to improve my blog and enjoy reading the comments as well - there are often some good questions and observations from her readers. I wanted to create something similar here.

button4Everybody needs an encouraging comment and those are wonderful but what I always love is a little challenge, an honest opinion from someone who both appreciates what I've accomplished but can also see where I can be better because a million comments telling me how pretty my photography is won't make me a better photographer, but one comment with a gentle honest opinion just might.

Starting this post has been harder than I thought it would be, even though I've spent all month with Heather discussing her photography and I've loved it,and even though when I mentioned wanting to do this Heather sounded really excited, I guess a blog post is harder than a video chat or email!

I want to be gentle, honest, helpful, not overly-critical but not so nice I'm unhelpful. Please feel free to critique my critique! But also know that I'm writing this from a place of helpfulness and a love for photography & the photographers like myself who are struggling to find their "voice" in their art & their place in an over-saturated, under-achieving local market. (I also finished it with a sleeping baby on my chest at three in the morning) So here we go.

Heather Pelko is a momtographer with two adorable kids just starting out as a professional photographer in Ohio. She's got a little bit of experience under her belt now and is starting to get a steady stream of sessions in a variety of niches. She struggles with getting the "wow factor" that she wants to give her clients. She wants her work to be brilliant but doesn't always see it come through in her work. Overall I think Heather is doing a wonderful job and if she continues improving at the rate she has been she will without a doubt have as much work as she wants within the next year or two.

I'm going to start with Heather's portfolio images, do a quick overview of her website and offer a couple social media notes. (Be sure to click on these images to see them bigger.)

Heather: The first thing that I noticed when I watched the opening slideshow on your website is that the images don't fit properly into the template. I'm glad that the images are all the same size so there is uniformity but I think your images should fill that area.

This is a beautiful image. Newborn photography is an art form all it's own and it is way harder to get a gorgeous shot than it looks. One of the hardest things about newborn photography is their skin, the tone can be weird, and it's almost always patchy. You have really nice skin tone in your black and white conversion. It's not overly softened or over-saturated. The focus is really nice and sharp on her eye.

There are three details in this image that I noticed - one is the brightness of your light tones, they look a little bit too bright to me and make the whole image look a little sharp, I think if you brought the those down a little you would still have a light image that might look a bit softer.

Second I noticed the angle that you shot - it is not bad but I think you could do better if you were either more dramatically shooting from above or shooting dead-on eye level. This looks to me to be shot slightly up and to the left, which is exaggerated by the crop. Rules are made to be broken but generally cropping to the rule of thirds is best, unless your subject is evenly weighted in the center.

Third this image could be improved by allowing for more negative space. Detail shots of baby's eyelashes and fingertips are breathtaking (if you're using a macro lens or filter) but so can an image with plenty of negative space. Don't feel like you have to fill the entire frame with your subject - in fact most of the time it's better if you don't!


Heather, you know how much I love this image! It's so adorable!! The focus is sharp on his eye -  and I love that. The tones are just gorgeous in this image. It's sharp, bright, crisp and clear. I love this image and I expect you to have this on the front page of your website for a very long time to come! I don't remember if this was originally a vertical or a horizontal. If it was originally a vertical you could possibly pair it with another image from this session (like this one!) or fill the frame with a solid color like Madeline Bea does with her verticals.

I can't think of anything negative to say about this image, except maybe that if you could have had both eyes showing more clearly that would have been better, but I really love what you have here!

I have to say I'm not a fan of this image. (I do like this one better) I remember when we'd talked about this session you'd mentioned how well the session had gone for you, especially contrasted against some of the less-than-pleasant experiences you'd had recently, I wonder though if you are letting how you feel about the success of that session affect your objectivity about the individual images you included in your portfolio. I know you have better photos than this one.

One thing I like about this image is the placement of the subject in the frame. It might not follow the rule of thirds exactly but it's closer than the other two so far and I really like that. I also like the bokeh (blurry soft background) in this image. It's not so blurry that you can't tell what it is but not so much in focus that it's a major distraction.

There are two things that I noticed about this image. One is her eyes. It is hard to get bright clear eyes and a big smile. Here her eyes are squished up and we can't really see them well - also the focus is not super-sharp on her eyes. 

The second thing I noticed is the uneven light on her face. You do a better job of even lighting in your other images. You don't always have to have perfectly evenly lit faces but I think if it's not evenly lit it should be that way on purpose and add to the creativity of the image.


 I like this image pretty well. I think it would have looked better not cropped to square. I like the depth of field, the cute and spunky expression on this little guy's face. I like the tones of your black and white conversion and love how sharp and perfectly exposed his eyes are, especially the right eye.

One thing I noticed about this image is that the light tones are a little bright so his face looks a little bit washed out/overexposed. If you lower those a little that should fix that.

This is a super-cute photo one! I love how their eyes pop! I don't like how severely cocked the boy's head is though and for that reason I like some of the other images from this set in your current Facebook header (which is SO cute BTW!).

I love this image! This whole set is really good for when you took it and this is my favorite image of the set. I would have it nearer your number one slot. I like the pose, nice and relaxed with a beautiful smile and great eyes. I love that the background is not overexposed and I really like the tones in this black and white. I honestly don't know what else to say but that I love it!

I noticed this pose a lot in your guy galleries. I guess that's one way to get a guy at eye level! I saw some of the other shots of this guy on your Facebook Page and I think that while this a good choice in your portfolio for style and for your processing I would be careful to not overdo this pose and go for something a little manlier instead. (I like the composition, though not the processing, of this shot on Pinterest - some of the other poses on that board are good too and I really like this pose for a guy his age). I would have liked to see the focus a little sharper on his eye but overall I really like this shot.

I really like the family portraits I've seen you do of the families walking away. I'd love to see if you can do the same thing with them walking towards the camera I think that type of shot would have a higher print-order conversion rate than backs. One thing to pay attention to, especially in black and whites, is the area of highest contrast - it should always be your subject. The trees in this background clash a bit with the family and distract from the focal point.

I noticed that you now have your portfolio exclusively in black and white. I know that black and white is something you're really good at and something you want to specialize in but I think you've also got some spectacular color pieces as well and I'd love to see those in your portfolio as well. I'd also like to see a little bit more of your family/group shots. I know you have more!

Here is some work from Heather's Facebook pages that I wanted to highlight because I think it should have been in her portfolio.






Aren't these good?! The expression in the first one is great. I love the second cause it's one she submitted in one of our first classes together and I think it's just lovely. Both of the girls are just adorable and the eyes in that last shot kill me - every. single. time.


Okay a couple notes about your website:

  • The "Portfolio" link at the top of your website does not lead to the "Portfolio" gallery. Earlier today it was broken, just now it linked to something else. 
  • I'd suggest organizing your galleries so that all of your public galleries are at the top of the page. Ideally the password protected galleries should be on a different "clients" page.
  • I'd also suggest editing the "Nich" gallery since you've improved so much since then and just leave a few of your favorites - there are some good ones there! You just don't need to show as much.
  • I would want to see your home interiors gallery at the top of your list of galleries and think about if you want to have separate portrait and home interior portfolios or if you want to combine them. As your portfolio continues to grow you may want to re-arrange your galleries into portfolios by topic - families, children, newborns, seniors & home interiors each in their separate gallery. This is a pretty common practice and would be a great way to easily show off your work to prospective clients.  
  • The "About Me" page does not have a photo of yourself. I understand how hard it is to find a good photo of yourself - I am really picky about what I've used on my photography websites in the past but it is really important to have the face of the photographer on your site, even if it's just a snapshot. 
  • Your location is not mentioned anywhere on your site. I don't know if you did that intentionally - I see this often and it always bothers me. I think it's an important piece of information for your perspective clients and one way to get yourself into the search results for local photographers. I'd put it in your footer and in your "about me" page. 
  • You do not have any social media links on your site - you are more likely to get return visitors if they like you on Facebook. 

A couple notes about social networking:

  • I suggest you add social media links to your website. Facebook at least. Pinterest, Instagram, & Twitter would all be good to add as well.They are really fun to keep updated if you do it a little at a time and will increase traffic and other SEO wonderfulness (which I only barely understand) which will increase site rankings which will increase traffic - see how this works?! Your goal should be to become the #1 photographer when someone Googles "photographers in [my area]" don't obsess about it though - most of your business will come by word of mouth referrals. 
  • I notice you've posted a lot of client photos on your personal Facebook page. I suggest moving those to your business page, which is a little sparse. Try to post your best one or two photos from every session to your Facebook page - it'll become like a micro blog. 
  • Don't be shy loading the occasional high quality personal image to your business Facebook page - it will make you more relocatable and friendlier. 
  • If you can find the time to start a blog - it will help your website. You can blog photos of your kids, what to wear to a photo shoot during this season, I noticed a question on your Facebook page about "what is the best age to have a newborn's photo taken?" that would be a great thing to blog about. You don't have to update your blog every day one or two posts a week is enough - especially if one of those posts is one that you link-up (like my What I Wore Wednesday posts) but that's is just one of literally thousands of weekly link-ups. A  couple other photography challenges I like (run by gals I heart) are the Wordless Wednesday, Project 366scavenger hunt sunday,  Edit Me Challenge, You Capture, & Simple Things. It takes work - mostly taking the time to comment on other people's blogs - but blogging is a great way to get plugged into the photography community and improve your site's traffic. 


Thanks so much Heather for being willing to be my first at this- you've been awesome, you've inspired me and encouraged me so much this month! Now go Like her on Facebook!


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