Tom Langford is a commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website designer.
“The decisive moment" is a famous phrase, coined by one of my favorite photographers, Henri Cartier Bresson.
me, however, good pictures not only capture a moment, they capture our
imagination and make us feel involved. As our eyes scan the picture our
minds fill in the details - the still image expands into a story.
can tell a story in a unique way that no other art form can match. I
advise my students to stop taking pictures and to start telling stories.
Once you understand the importance of this, your photography will
progress by leaps and bounds.
Telling the story
This picture is from Rob Haars of Zeist, Netherlands. He asks: “does my ‘artistic’ rendering tell the story?”
is a shot of a young girl standing in front of what looks like a circus
tent. She is dressed up and stands self-consciously, inviting our
attention. There is a sense of mystery and the picture has an
Rob has used an effects filter to mimic a
toned black-and-white photographic print made on hand-coated paper. My
answer to his question of whether this rendering tells the story is
definitely “No!”. The picture would be excellent with or without the
filter because the picture tells its own story.
The primary focal
point is, of course, the girl. We don’t know why she is dressed up, or
if that is actually a circus tent, or what she is looking at. Our mind
fills in the blanks as our eye takes in the details. The man just
disappearing around the tent to the left adds a nice touch of normal
activity to contrast with the atmosphere surrounding the girl. The sense
of mystery is compelling and holds my attention. The story is well
next picture is from Alan Peters of Bowen Island, British Columbia. He
says: “We were visiting Ceasarea a few weeks ago on a rainy day, on a
trip to Israel from Canada. I was enjoying watching the waves flowing
into Herod's pool.”
picture has been taken with the wide-angle end of a zoom lens and I
like how this has exaggerated the perspective. This draws our eye
towards the horizon, but there is nothing waiting there to hold our
attention. The sky is slightly dramatic and occupies the top third of
the frame - the foreground rubble occupies the bottom third. What is
missing from this picture is a focal point to direct our attention to
what is important; to what the story is about.
Without a focal
point we don’t know what Alan’s shot is about, and a picture without a
story cannot hold our attention. The story will have to be supplied
verbally: “I was enjoying watching the waves flowing into Herod's pool”.
This is fine if we are talking about personal snaps, but good pictures
need to speak for themselves.
I suggest that after taking a shot,
you should assess it on the preview screen at the back of your camera.
Imagine you are looking at the picture for the first time and have never
been to that location or know anything about it. Can you tell what it’s
about and why it was taken without any verbal explanation?
would have been impossible to connect this picture to Herod unless there
was a convenient sign to incorporate into the shot. It may have been
possible, however, to take an interesting and dramatic picture of what
Alan actually enjoyed - the waves flowing into the pool. This would have
required a different angle, composition and intention.
that the viewer does not have your first-hand experience of the
situation and you need to supply clues in your picture to suggest what
interested you. I know that it’s difficult to view your pictures
objectively, but it’s essential to progress as a photographer.
you are aspiring to develop your photography skills, send me a picture
and I may use in one in my articles with some constructive feedback.
Send one picture only, at a small size to suitable for emails to
If you don’t know how to send a photo by email at a small size please look at my Brief Guide to Picasa: www.langford.co.il/courses/PicasaGuide.html
Langford is an Event and Commercial photographer, website designer, and
professional retoucher. He teaches photography courses for beginners
and improvers. Details of his courses and field trips at: http://www.langford.co.il/courses