Brooke Shaden's images look exactly how she wants them to look. Lou's work has been competent enough for Playboy...
I understand this. But I don't feel that recognition and artwork are tightly connected. And again — this is how I feel, not what people would say.
It seems there's a gap between two of us that makes understanding more complex. Let me exaggerate what I feel to make things clear:
I don't like this photo...
... because of:
- flat light;
- boring color harmony;
- lack of expression/emphasis;
- lack of veracity (I don't believe these people really do whatever they do, i.e. I see that they pose).
And the opposite to what we've just looked at is:
- good light;
- colors touch my feelings;
- readable emphasis;
- I 100% believe that girl; I don't even need to see her face, my imagination tells the story eyes can't see.
Another example. I don't like this photo...
... because of artificiality (lack of uniformity in lighting, shades, colors... you can even find duplicated sticks and see clouds from a sunny day) - my perception detects these things automatically without even noticing what exactly is wrong.
And the opposite is...
... because of consistency in what my eyes see.
My confidence is supported by my experience. The photos you have referenced to are similar to what I did one-two-three years before. And they suffered from the same issues mentioned above (and many-many others, by the way).
So the point is... photography
(for me) is a mix of who you are and what you have (equipment, skills, story, etc.), so every small thing counts. It's all about content and the way you reproduce it. That's why, with all the small things floating in my mind, I have asked about color and contrast, because it works in conjunction with my current "equipment, skills, story..." mix