CritiqueMe #1: Nicolas Hermann

Eric’s Note: This is part of an on-going critique series called “CritiqueMe” by Ollie Gapper. Enjoy the feature below! 

Ollie Gapper: Well I’d like to first off say thank you to everyone who took the time to enter for the first installment of CritiqueMe, I’ve had the great pleasure of looking at some truly fantastic work. I’d also like to congratulate Nicolas Hermann for being selected! The reason I chose Nicolas for the first installment of CritiqueMe is that I wanted to be really challenged for finding points for improvement (not that some of the work you guys turned in wouldn’t do the same) as the ones I would find will inevitably help a lot more of you.

Here’s a foreword by Nicolas to help you guys become better acquainted to the photographer behind the work:

“Born in Nice and raised in Menton, Nicolas Hermann later moved to Paris at the age of 18. After receiving his baccalaureate, he began a course in language studies, which was interrupted when he pursued a different path, that of a real estate agent. He has now been running his own real estate agency, with a close friend and business partner, for five years. Two years ago Nicolas discovered his passion for photography which was instilled in him by his mother’s best friend and mentor, Richard Geneste. For the past two years Nicolas has pursued this passion on the streets of Paris and his travels including a recent six week long trip to India during which he used only one camera with a 35mm lens.

His aim is to keep on sharing his vision of photography with people and someday do an exhibition.”

Shall we get down to business? Lets.

This first image by Nicolas is in that he has nominated as one of his favorites, and with good reason. With lighting conditions like this I always find its useful to know the two ‘rules of thumb’ when it comes to exposure. With slide film and digital colour its best to expose for the highlights, and the rest will follow, with black and white I always expose for my mid shadow and then print (or tweek) for the highlights – a brighter image retains more information, and is therefore more versatile (unless highlights start being blown, of course). I think the exposure on this shot is great, though it may have been nicer to have had more smoke in the image, and perhaps a shift of focus onto the smoke to enhance the mystery and seduction of the image.

This second image is absolutely one of my favorites, it’s an image that just works brilliantly in terms of composition, light and content. The quirky mystery of the image is so clear and well presented that the image is both humorous and challenging simultaneously. I love the inclusion of a lot of sky and surrounding and the content is truly timeless.

This is the image that really caught my eye from the India series of photos, it’s a photo of such feeling and immersion that one can’t help but place themselves in the image. I would love to see some more images from this, perhaps some pulled back to show more of the environment and context. The choice of colour is an excellent one, with the juxtaposition of colours between the warm embrace of the fire and cold surroundings working perfectly to seduce any viewer. An image I would love to hang on my wall.

This image works well in terms of lighting and location, but I cant help but feel that it may have worked better with two changes: one, shot closer with a wider lens and two, presented (or shot) in black and white. The reason I suggest the lens change (perhaps to a 28mm) is that I want that floor and its shapes and decorations to stretch out of my screen and draw me up to the hard toned (B+W) figures at the top of the frame. I love the intended framing and use of light though.

If im honest I chose this image just to show it. I love it; it’s an image with such narrative and joyfulness that so effortlessly translates. Its an absolute joy to look at, and, whilst asking more questions than it answers, it still relaxes the audience into a sense of feeling “everything’s ok”. A masterfully created image that consistently makes me smile.


Now is when I talk about your work as a whole rather than as individual commodities. I find that your work ranges across different styles and its hard to pin a certain visual/technical style to your work, and that’s good- in some cases. Personally, I find it important for a photographer to have a period of experimentation (what I see you doing, as am i) and from that, refine your working style down to what you are most consistent with. This helps massively when it comes to creating a book or exhibition, as your work will flow and work better together. Take my interviewee from last week, Mike Peters, he has experimented with many different approaches to shooting in the street, from B+W to colour, from large format to compact digital, from rectangle to square, and through doing so has made conscious decisions as to how he wants to further his photography. Without this direction you may struggle to produce strong series of work, and therefore struggle with producing exhibitions or publications.

I mjst say, im finding it hard to critique someone who really doesn’t seem to need it. From what I can see though, whilst you have created some lovely work in black and white, your colour work really stands out and I would encourage you whole-heartedly to push your colour work. I would look into creating some cinematic style images, as your strongest work is already showing strong links to cinematography. I would also suggest perhaps turning your camera toward other things on the street (other than people). This can help create a greater sense of position and context to any series you may wish to create (keep people as your priority though, just experiment with more environmental images).

I would also be keen to see you make use of smaller apertures and greater DOF to really challenge your ability to force concentration and separate your subject through other, more tricky elements. Elements like compositional hierarchy, light and tone all help create images with a heavier impact and the greater field of focus will free you to use zone focusing and therefore work faster.

Have you tried conceiving an idea for a continued body of work? I find that having a few ideas in mind help me see more when I’m out and about (rather than less as some claim).

My last point would be from a complete guess, but form looking at your work, it seems to me that you are quite active in looking for an image, and that you tend to go to your subjects, rather than allowing them to come to you. Sometimes its nice to find somewhere you like and just sit and wait for life to come to and present itself to you. This usually results in stronger compositions and more interesting concepts, which you can usually shape around a theme or topic you may be interested in at the time.

As a thank you, I’d like to offer a professional print (made by myself and a well qualified photographic technician) of one of your photographs Nicolas, so just inform me as to which one you’d like (if any) and give me your adress by email and I’ll be happy to send it to you.


Now is when Id like to invite you, the great community we have here, to add your thoughts, opinions and critiques in the comments below. I’d like to say though (though I dont think I need to) that I would appreciate it if it were kept constructive, negativity is no use to anyone.

The entries are open again today, but I am going to limit the submission methods a bit

Your images must either be attached to an email or presented on one page (a flickr set, web page, 500px gallery, etc), emails with more than one or two links wont be considered (it just takes way too long)

Thanks again everyone for making this all possible, I look forward to reading your inputs!

How to apply

Links to your work will need to be emailed to me ( with the subject header “CritiqueMe”, along with you name, location and any information you feel is relevant to your work. The selectee for each post will be informed by email, so if you don’t hear anything don’t give up, just try again next time!

I want you to select your best work for your submissions though, for two reasons: firstly because your work will be showcased in front of a lot of people, so you’d want to be seen for your best work. Secondly because this will be an in-depth critique, intended to help you better the way you work, even when you are truly on form.

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  • patrick wilken

    Interesting photographs! I really like your work. I really dig the fact you are using a single camera 35mm lens combo. I do the same and I think it really helps develop your vision and should both make your images more consistent and also the camera less important to your personal style. You want to get to a point where the camera is essentially invisible to your process.

    I agree with Ollie that the biggest thing that jumps out is the difference in styles between the different images. It is not so much the subject matter as the style of post-processing (this has to be it doesn’t it, if you are using the same camera/lens?). Just as using one lens is helpful, I think it would also be good to make a decision to either do color or b&w for a while. This is not just to get a more consistent look. I find the way I think about composition is very different between color and black&white, both are very hard to get a good grip on, and it’s worth trying to get a grip on one for a while.

    My (arbitrary) ranking of your images would be: image 2 boy on rocks; image 5 boys on bikes; image 1 smokin’ woman; image 4 hands in fire; image 5 women in temple.

    Image 2: This is my favourite. I think the composition is great. Finding fault for the sake of it, perhaps the image would be a little better if you had taken a step back so that the boys lower foot was in frame. Perhaps not. I am not convinced that the tones in this are as good as can be achieved. I find the rocks a bit too hot, the sky perhaps a bit too dark. It might be worth redoing the PP with curves here.

    Image 5: Great image.The subject is a little too cute/sentimental (perhaps) but that’s a question of taste. Perhaps the foreground is a little too dark (I like the darkness, but perhaps it could be decreased just a touch). I am not totally sure about the color balance. On my monitor it looks a bit too green/yellow, but I am not sure about that.

    Image 1: I like the composition. Perhaps in a perfect world I would move slightly to the viewer’s right and zoom in a touch on the face. I find the her clothes a little too dark, and have trouble differentiating her clothes from the table to her right. Like Ollie I would like to see the smoke more clearly.

    Image 3: I like this one a lot. The DOF is great; the color scheme works well. I like the detail in it. When I think about it I would perhaps rank this the highest. Perhaps I didn’t do this originally because the subject matter is not as immediately striking as some of the other images. It would be great to see this image as part of a larger series, and I think this underlines where consistency of style and subject matter would really benefit; I think this would really pop as part of a larger story.

    Image 5: This is the only image I don’t really like. It’s seems to me that it’s one of those images that almost worked but didn’t. The dark shadow on the upper-right is quiet distracting; and to a lesser extent the lower-right. It would be great to get the various lines in the image to work more consistently. They draw the viewer towards the women, but the effect is ruined to some extent by the lack of lines on the right. I have the sense that this image would work either by wider-view (as Ollie suggested) or perhaps by moving closer (and lower?). It might also have worked better if you had moved slightly the the left to center the central line so the perspective was more balanced.

    Anyway these are just some random thoughts; the images look really good. I am looking forward to following you on Flickr.

    BTW: Just having a look at your Flickr profile I think you have much stronger images there, than the one’s above.

    • Ollie Gapper

      Wow, thanks for your critique, some really fantastic points there!

      • shay allen

        Thank for putting yourself out there and doing this! Really helps me to more understand Photography…

  • Lupin57

    I think your critique is not factual enough, but based on your subjective interpretation of a picture. As so, it has no more value than a comment posted on Flickr.

    You like it, but why ? Stating that the light or compo is good is an evidence, but why are they so ?

    As an example, in my opinion, the last picture has digital looking burnt highlights, too much vignette and dark on the right side. The good things are a good color palette, a great use of perspective with a street that leads our vision from front to back and a great contrast between the bike and wet street. The posture of the little boy is interesting too yet I don’t see it as especially joyful since the expression of the boy on the right is unclear. This is what makes the shot interesting in terms of content.

    Overall, I think you fell a bit too much in the “exotic” kids cliché admiration. A good picture to look at but definitely not masterful.

    • Erik

      You’re kinda putting yourself in a glass house here. What is too much vignette? What is a good colour palette and why is great contrast a good thing for this shot? Critiquing purely on an objective basis is not easy, and frankly not really interesting. Pictures touch us personally and that is what makes them interesting..

      I think both yours and Ollie’s critique are valid and meaningful critiques of the last picture btw, my point isn’t to say I could do it better myself.

      • Lupin57

        So Erik, why some pictures of the masters are almost universally deemed as excellent and some are not ? There are some objectives facts and explanations to why a picture works or not. Even if some of these are subjectives by nature (feel, mood, …)

        Vignette -> darkens futher already dark areas Black is too present in this picture.
        Color palette -> browns and blues, beige are colors that often are used together, be it in architecture or fashion.
        Contrast of the bike -> it makes the bike distinguishable

        This is factual.. Though evidently there is always a bit of subjectivity since we won’t all agree.

        I think this is what a Critique is about. Because sincerely I am not sure the personal (subjective) tastes of a given individual are very interesting per se. It is a bit like if a food critique wrote “I enjoyed Mr X restaurant because I like steak”.

        Trying to help and make following issues more interesting.

        • Erik

          I agree that it is not just about personal taste and you make good points, still I see how my initial post might be misunderstood. But I feel you were harsh with Ollies critique while at the same time presenting a critique very much along the same lines. Providing evidence, without explaining why it’s relevant. For instance, great contrast on its own doesn’t make a picture.. it needs to provide a function, for instance help tell the story by drawing attention to something or whatever… (contrast can be judged more on a purely technical level too of course)

          I think it’s an interesting topic because the line of what is a universally accepted “masterpiece” or just something we like isn’t always that clear either.

          And as I said, I think you both made good critiques, and kudos to both of you for that. I just felt you were judging Ollie by a standard you didn’t necessarily follow yourself. No hard feelings I hope, I didn’t mean it like that.

        • Andrew So

          Many of the masters’ works can be critiqued using purely geometric analysis. I know that Adam Marelli often performs such critiques on his blog. However, I enjoyed the emotional aspect to Ollie’s opinion. The only part I disliked was the review of image #5:

          To me, it’s clear why this image works. There are two entirely separate worlds shown, with the divide in the center. Of the left, there is the child standing in the light, the walls behind him an array of bright colors that feature mainly dominant vertical lines. The boy on the right mirrors the standing position but is on a lower level and in the dark. His side of the image mainly features repeating horizontal lines. All of these elements enhance the duality of the photograph. I don’t see it as “cutesy” as the other reviews; I see it like a ying-yang symbol.

          • Ollie Gapper

            I probably should have elaborated more and I apologise. I also thank you for adding your thoughts, Im sure Nicolas will benefit from all these points!

            Couldn’t agree more about why image 5 works, great breakdown!

    • Ollie Gapper

      Hey, this is all really useful to hear people, this is the first installation of CritiqueMe, im not going to master it first time. I really appreciate the pointers, and will keep them in mind on the next post.

      Thanks again, a critique of my critique wasn’t what I expected, but I am very, very happy to have one!


  • Giorgio Scalici

    i like those photos.
    really good.
    but not so related.
    i think that they should be all colorall b&W and more selected.
    but really nice work!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • James

    It’s tough to do these critiques, and I’m looking forward to reading more of them. I think you have a great eye for contrast, color (or lack of) and composition. The second portrait of the woman is my favorite – extremely moody and the light and tones are perfect. I also like the last shot a lot.

    I do have two compositional critiques that I think might have helped. I think there’s too much going on in the third photo with the man on the rocks. What interests me there is the form of the white rocks and the lying man in black. The background has so much random stuff going on that it distracts from the true stunning aspect of this photo, which is the man’s posture and black outfit playing off the shape and tones of the rocks in that area of the photo. I think that alone should have been the entire photo – horizontal, just white rocks and the man and perhaps taken a couple feet closer to him.

    Also, the composition for the second to last photo almost focuses more on the floor than the figures. Your eye is let through the photo to the figures at the top and then there’s nothing to stop them from leaving the photo. The floor is interesting of course, but it’s the colorful and diverse clothing with the fantastic light that interests me here. I would have loved to see what it would have looked like with the figures near the bottom of the frame with more of the wall in front of them taking up 2/3rds of the frame. The light doesn’t seem to be hitting that wall in front of them so it should have been pretty dark which would have added an additional graphic element that would have further helped the woman and clothing to pop out from the photo.

    But either way, fantastic photos!

  • patrick wilken

    One question I had looking at these images is how much they actually fit within the theme of Street Photography.

    I realize that these themes can be a bit arbitrary; although I take 95% of my photographs on the street I rarely call myself a street photographer as I think it leads to confusion (esp. in a city like London where street photography seems to have developed a particularly narrow meaning).

    However, I do wonder whether images 3 and 4 really fit. I like all photography pretty much, but I do wonder whether it would make more sense given the nature of the blog, rather than many other more classically street images besy the same photographer.

    I ask partly for the practical reason that I excluded certain images from my last submission specifically because I didn’t think they would fit within the street style for the blog.

  • patrick wilken

    As another thought, I think it would be really great to hear from the photographer of the critique what they thought of both their photographs and technique (what are they trying to achieve, what do they think about each image?) in the main section of the text.

    It would also be nice to get some interaction from them in the comment section. Even a simple acknowledgement about whether they liked or disliked the comments received would be interesting and I am sure appreciated by those who took the time to look and think about their images.

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