Tom Langford photo examples GALLERY 465 2.
(photo credit: Tom Langford)
Regular reader of this column will know that I make no secret of the fact that
taking good pictures is not easy. It takes time to develop visual understanding,
and lots of discipline and practice before it becomes instinctive.
Even after 20 years of professional shooting it’s still a challenge to take an
eye-catching shot, thank goodness, and I’m just as excited today as when I first
By definition an eye-catching shot requires a strong focal point
to attract the eye. Pictures that lack a focal point are just backgrounds. They
don’t tell a story – they’re unmemorable and we pass them by. It’s hardly rocket
Let’s have a look at two shots sent for constructive criticism that
fall into the background category and see if they could be improved.
This picture is by Ron Gordon, taken at a building site. It’s an
excellent Visual Awareness shot – a careful and interesting composition of
nothing! Most photographers wouldn’t even notice the way that the bent metal
rods seem to throw their arms wide in appreciation of the wonderful sky and Ron
gets top marks for awareness. In my classes we practice taking such shots - they
train your mind to think like a photographer and sharpen you visual and
Most Visual Awareness pictures, however, are not strong
enough in themselves to catch and hold our attention. What’s missing is a strong
primary focal point to contrast with the background an turn it into a complete
picture. You need to look around for something suitable, but often you will be
In my retouched version, below, the bird now catches our
attention, then our eye moves to the construction, then to the sky, and back to
the bird. When your eye wanders around a picture the photographer has done a
good job. They have attracted you into their world.
The next shot was taken by Teemu Liimatainen of Finland. I imagine that
this was a beautiful scene but the picture lacks a strong focal point and does
not hold my attention.
cameras give us the technological miracle of an instant preview. A simple
technique you can use to improve your shots is to take a careful look at the
picture you have just taken and be critically honest – is the picture on the
back of the camera as interesting as the subject is in front of the camera? If
it isn’t, then we need to find a way to “make it so” as Jean-Luk Picard would
In this case a simple solution would have been to move closer to
the rows of plants and use a stronger perspective to draw our eye into the
scene. The retouched version below indicates the effect I would have tried to
achieve. I have also adjusted the saturation and cropped the picture to suggest
the breadth of the vista.
improved shot is still too much of a background for my liking, so I would then
have looked around for something to act as a strong focal point. Most likely I
would have been disappointed and not be able to complete the shot. As you
develop photographic skills you will become more frustrated as you understand
what’s lacking in your shots.
In the version below I’ve included a strong
focal point in the foreground. It could just as easily been some attractive
flowers or birds, a characterful tree or a No Trespassing sign, etc.
picture now tells me a story - I can imagine being there, feeling the sun on my
face and the breeze in my hair.
more examples of visual awareness shots how to tell a story with your pictures
here: http://www.langford.co.il/courses/PhotoTips.html Send me your
If you are aspiring to develop your photography skills, send me a
picture and I will publish one at the end of my next article with some
constructive feedback. Send one picture only, at a reduced size to
Don’t know how to send a photo by email at a
reduced size? See my Brief Guide to Picasa here:
http://www.langford.co.il/courses/PicasaGuide.html Tom Langford is a commercial
photographer, website designer, and professional retoucher. He teaches
photography courses for beginners and advanced. Details of his courses and field
trips at: http://www.langford.co.il/courses/