C. David Tobie Image Critique: Times Square Pedicab
Jan 2013 24

This is the first in a series of image critiques. Each article describes a selected image based on a similar series of criteria. The goal is for the reader to become familiar with the critical concepts involved, in order to apply them to other images, developing a set of critical terms that can be used to analyze images, and make decisions about how best to process images, to provide the strongest result.

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 that’s 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 that 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 burning 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 mid-tone 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.

C. DAVID TOBIE has been involved in color management and digital imaging from their early development. David has worked to see affordable solutions put in place for graphic design, prepress, photography and digital imaging, and then taught users how best to utilize them. He has consulted internationally for a wide range of color-related companies, and is best known by photographers for his writing and technical editing of texts and periodicals for the photo industry such as Mastering Digital Printing, and Professional Photographer magazine, and his seminars on color and imaging at photographic workshop around the globe. David is currently Global Product Technology Manager at Datacolor, where he develops new products and features for their Spyder line of calibration tools. His work has received a long line of digital imaging product awards including the coveted TIPA award, and a nomination for the Spyder line of calibration tools. Much of David’s recent writing can be found at his photography blog: cdtobie.wordpress.com, and his samples of his photography can be seen at: cdtobie.com.