Two Paths for a Photograph: Arresting Vs. Welcoming. [Discussion on A vs. B]


Whoa. Again, love how opinionated we all are. Over 1000 opinions in 18 hours. Love love it. If you happened to miss yesterday’s post, we asked for your help in choosing between two images during an edit. And, just as in previous A vs. B posts, I promised to follow up with MY preference of images and a discussion about the comparison. So here are my thoughts….(hit ‘continue reading’)

1. Resoundingly, the majority of you preferred image B. Far and away. Key components you cited were composition and mood.
2. Those that preferred A, generally preferrerd the lighting, the color and the arresting nature of the “hot” model.
3. My preference was also for image B.
4. But I lost a $1 gentlemen’s bet to Erik here in the studio because I thought you’d prefer A since it used a flash.
5. I’m glad I was wrong about #4.

Let’s review. If I was to attempt to categorize all the feedback into some very basic, digestible bites (a tall order, but stay with me here…), it would be this: there are generally two paths for likable photographs…images that arrest us and images that welcome us, that are approachable. Sure there are subtleties to each image above–and every image–butthis A vs. B is a classic matchup of these two principles. In fact, it’s one of the reasons we chose these two images for our internal comparo–and to subsequently pitched it to you to help us figure it out.

Now let’s take another glance at the images and see what’s going on here…

This is image A, below:

In this image (A, above). She’s strobed. Intentionally harsh. Arresting. The background is underexposed a stop or two. There’s drama with light, heavy color treatment, drama with the pose…confrontation. There’s tension in the composition. She’s not where we want her in the frame…she’s overlapping with the background people, she’s off the left as opposed to balanced on the right, she’s cropped. Most of this tension is on purpose in-camera and we generally exaggerated this tension with the evocative color palette and heavy contrast. She’s locked in a gaze with you, the viewer. This is an image that is meant to arrest you. Stop you. Make you look more.

In truth, why I bet Erik a buck that this would be your favorite, was because of the light. This is a broad generalization, but I’ve become a bit jaded that the internet likes strobes because they’re gadgets (and the internet likes gadgets), but NOT because the light is of a good quality. I was happy to be wrong here.

For those that chose A as the preferred – it was usually for, what i would consider, all the “right” reasons – color and tension. So kudos for not getting sucked into the internet–lighting for the sake of lighting–fray. I was happy to be wrong.

This is image B, below:

For the above image, B, everything is naturally lit. Ambient light, 5 o’clock. Over-exposed for softness and then contrast added to bring the subject back from faded. Compositionally speaking, this is nice. Balanced. The van and people in the background on the left and the talent, Lindsey, is on gently tucked slight to the right. Classic rule of thirds here. (cut the picture in thirds, top to bottom and left to right…you’ll find most of the “stuff” stacked right on those lines…). Her expression? For one, it’s casual. Approachable. She’s human. Still beautiful. Interesting I think. It’s got more of a snapshot feel, a slice of real life. She’s walking. The tones are warm. Even the blue van has a bunch of yellow in it to warm it up. The natural back light sets her off the background a little. Warms you. Generally speaking, and certainly compared to the other image A, this is welcoming and approachable. While I enjoy artificial light, I’m generally put off by lighting for lighting’s sake. This photograph is not concerned with that. This is a photograph that I like taking at this point in my career. One that feels like a slice of life.

So there you have it. I lose a buck, but am happy to do so. We have a bunch of great discussion–internally and out here on the internet–and hopefully we all took something away. Even if it’s as simple as reminding ourselves that there’s a million ways to shoot a photo, and at least that many opinions about image preferences, but that in the end, we’re usually either trying to make a picture that arrests the viewer or one that invites them in. In either case, if the image is successful, you’ll take a closer look.

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Tim says:

The composition and treatment of A is poor. So B all the way, regardless of treatment.

Dirk says:

When you spoke about, “images that arrest us and images that welcome us, that are approachable.”

You are darn near saying what Roland Barthes said in his book ‘Camera Lucida’ in 1981. He found two Latin words to descibe a similar feeling, Studium and Punctum.

Studium which basically is near our definition of study. “a kind of general, enthusiastic commitment, of course, but without special acuity.” Of course this relating to how a photo strikes us upon first glance.

and Punctum: “a sting, speck, cut, little hole. The photographer’s punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me.)”

Iztok says:

I’ll vote for B, too…

Anonymous says:

I really like image B. the over exposure is nicely executed.

Bill Rogers says:

One of the tests I’ve used for judging photos is “would I like to be in the photo?” And photo B passes this test: I’d love to meet the woman and go for a ride with the guys in the van.

In photo A, she looks like she’d like to kick my ass. Now, I’ll agree that I need a good ass kicking from time to time …

Nermal says:

I dislike two things about photo A. First, the model has no pose. It’s like you told her where to stand but didn’t give her anything to do. This bothers me about a lot of modern fashion photography too. “Pretend you’re a mannequin!”

Second, the lighting lacks motivation. Where’s this bright flash coming from? Oh, right, it’s coming from a bright flash. The lighting fails to fit the story.

JJ says:

The cropping in B leaves something to be desired, her missing hands leaves me wanting to scroll the image down. The area around the subject (the girl) is so bright and dominating that it’s making hard on the eyes to focus on your subject in the foreground. Photo A, although cliche’ish with the hard light and shadow, does a better job of grabbing me and locks my eyes on the subject instead of making me want to look away.

TimR says:

Dang, too late to vote. But I’ll vote for B, too, anyway. Hands dangling limply by side is rarely a good pose. She’s just standing there. B, on the other hand, has some movement, some attitude, some interest. Without these, no one even gets to the lighting part.

Deb Cull says:

I completely forgot to vote yesterday, but I certainly liked B better as well. So fun to see what people think!

Dwayne says:

Love love love B. I also have a strong preference for natural lighting as Leon mentioned. It works so well.

Leon says:

Glad B won, I have a strong preference for natural lighting and am less interested in flash. Partly because these days it seems like everyone is trying to achieve the same “look” with flash and folks are looking at before actually learning how to actually take a photograph.

Richard Ella says:

B for me because of high key and composition.

Travis says:

got to say i share the opinions about B, it has story and soul.

the only way I make A work is to cut to a panoramic (about to her bellybutton) losing the awkward hands and strange shadows on the lower half. then the use of flash really pops her out from the background.

Joyce says:

“4. But I lost a gentlemen’s bet… because I thought you’d prefer A over B since it used a flash,.” Oh, ye of little faith! I chose B, apparently for the right reasons; however an arresting photo and welcoming photo need not be mutually exclusive.

You (to the best of my knowledge) did not tell us which Brent Amaker and the Rodeo photo you liked best–any possibility of you doing so? Photo A won the CD cover, but apparently they liked B well enough to use it on their website.

Aqilah says:

Love image B most :) it look natural and the focus of the image is clear :)

Jim says:

I greatly appreciate your comment “there’s a million ways to shoot a photo”. I can’t tell you how many forums or articles I read where somebody is trying to tell me the “right” way to shoot a photo. Moreover, if I’m not doing it their way it’s not a matter of me having a different style, idea or opinion, but rather that I’m simply wrong. Comments on a lot of forums or blogs are often venomous and rude. It’s a “shoot our way with our camera of choice (Nikon vs. Canon anyone?) or you’re a talentless hack and moron.”

Funny how so many of these “artists”—the people who supposedly have the broadest horizons and most open minds —often live in the smallest boxes.

Ryan Chow says:

B, tells a story that engages the viewer.

Who are the people in the van?
Why is she walking away from them?

A, asks the viewer to confront the model.

If this was for fashion. A sells the clothes. B sells me the lifestyle that goes with the clothes.

Vote B.

Brian Carey says:

B for the juxtaposition, the excellent compositional placement of the people! Also the dof!

I’d also add, that sharper shapes like strong silhouettes hook the eye much better and read faster as does limited pools of color and contrast.

Choice B does this and the pleasing composition certainly helps as well.

I’m not surprised A didn’t get as much love. B is too easy to like.


Janis says:

Nice, then maybe there is a hope for internet society. Not that “regular” anymore. Hope this tendency will grow!

puckles says:

no love for team c… alas… hahahahaha

DanielKphoto says:

Very well discussed :) Beautiful shots, both, though B is indeed a bit better :)

keaten says:

Photo b is just what you said, “a slice of life”. This photo tells a story. It truly is a beautiful image. Well done Chase.

Mike Stog says:

I really like the clarity that the 2 terms “arresting” and/or “inviting” bring to describing a photo.

Its one of those things that you know when it happens- but at least in my case, never thought to intentionally seek it out.

I like parts of A better than B. The hand on image B looks strange to me – you can’t see the whole hand so it appears like an orange shape. Woman’s expression is better in B.
Guess I’m just a Photoshop girl!

I think, even if I still use it a lot, that the “strobist” trend is going to end soon. As I gear my little studio more and more, I tend to use my lights in a more subtle way now. The cool factor of “in your face strobes” use is quickly fading since every newbie is using it these days. It’s a good thing since it forces us to come back to stories and emotions to stand out among the horde of geeky strobist photographers. Expressions over light perfection will always win.

Great comparison/discussion! I am also happy the outcome was in favor for the B image. Time and time again, I see photographers use strobes in outdoor settings without even attempting using the natural lighting. Not even once! It is as if photographers go directly to “Plan B” (artificial light) before even considering “Plan A” (natural light).

I am definitely with you, Chase. I’d think the majority of people would choose the A image because of the infatuation with strobes; but regardless of lighting technique, one should never underestimate the all mighty “rule of thirds”.

I thought both images had their specific qualities, the ‘arresting’ photo perhaps being less versatile when it comes to using it. But I can see it being used for eg. certain fashion ads, where this particular style is frequently used.

Still, I like photo B best. Strobes can be helpful and nice but why use them when you the available light has such a good quality? Nice discussion BTW, it’s always interesting to read what others think of things like this.

Mark Legge says:

Chase!! Oh ye of little faith!! ;) You know, it can seem like the internet is all about gadgets and artificial lighting, and yes, even in a world where you ‘must’ detail your strobe set-up when posting to a strobist group on Flickr, then that jaded impression you’ve had is understandable…

But photography isn’t about that and I think most who do it know that…. with all the top end gear in the world, the cameras and lenses and lights and triggers and $20 billion parabolic reflectors (might as well be that price for all the hope I have of getting one soon, hah!) we can zap things to hell and we’ll still know if our image is a big pile of squishy smelly stuff… because we know, all of us, when an image has emotion and story and all the things we really appreciate in an image… and when it doesn’t!

I do believe that…. and I’m glad this exercise has restored some of your faith :)

But if you do start to feel a little jaded again, hit me up and I’ll bet you $10k – hah! ;)

marco sweden says:

I think that is a very simple way to invite a lot of people to look at your works. Very interesting. :-)

David Johnson says:

Wow, call me surprised.
I said everyone would like A for the same reasons you suggest,
I also said you would prefer B,
as do I.
I was right about your preference,
but everyone preferring B … I didn’t expect

Perhaps the arresting style of photography is running out of breath and no ones buying it anymore.

Tim McGuire says:

I think it’s the “real looking” (B) vs “not real” or “contrived” (A) qualities of these photos that makes the difference. The “A” photo would be liked by many if not compared to the other but I think the real / more natural looking photo will often win out in a side by side comparison.

Rav Holly says:

Totally enjoyed the comparison test, and I really, really, like image *B*

Both photos are awesome! In the first picture (A) I like the light and beautiful contrasts. However, I vote for photo (B)! The layout is much better. The van gets less in the background and gives a brilliant mood! Great work – as always. greetings Frederic Schlosser

Jim Denham says:

Good stuff Chase! I still have so much to learn and going through these type of exercises helps immensely! Thanks!

Phil says:

Thank you for the follow up post, I selected ‘B’ earlier and appreciate these shared thoughts.

Chris says:

I’m just getting into the strobist stuff, BUT, because I want to add to what I can do, not to replace what the natural light gives me…

I was with B, another thing that puts me off with A, is her shadow. I can see the sun behind her, and the shadow being cast almost directly toward the sun… Doesn’t seem right.

Tom says:

I’d be interested to read/see the reaction of your fans if the photos were compositionally similar, the lighting being the key differentiator.

For me, I like the organic, van-just-broke-down-off-to-huff-it-to-the-gas-station feel of B. But I really like the lighting of A. Reminds me of walking at night through pools of light cast off by streetlamps.

Really like the A vs B posts!

nigel says:

I like B the best. A is too gimmicky and reminds me there is a photographer.

shreedhar says:

i would have preferred image A with the model slightly more on the left.
details on the garments are lost in image B

Cool. Thanks for breaking up the arresting and welcoming concepts. Had never heard of that actually. And the harsh light was a big turn off for me in image A. A slice of life. Much nicer. :c) Thanks for all your teaching Chase! :c)

gabe says:

I like both equally. I agree with you Chase in that the strobist stuff is what the internet loves. I love natural light as much as possible. I like the second one because it looks like something I could actually take.

I do think however that a combination of the two would be excellent, the posing from the second picture with the colors of the first (sans flash) I like the windmills in the background. Forgive me, but where I live you dont see them much

Very nice analysis. You nailed it perfectly. And I totally agree with you on the ‘lighting for the sake of lighting’ issue…kudos.

This is great Chase.

Thanks for doing these comparisons.

JSturr says:

Great follow through.

Nice…Image B is definitely a WINNER

Ryan says:

Great post

Love your stuff

Erik Hecht says:

I’m going to share my dollar with all of the fine folks on Team B!

Nick Rainey says:


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