Tom Langford is a commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website
Photography was invented in the early nineteenth century and was heavily
influenced by the prevailing conventions of the Art world. Early photographs
tried to look like paintings by using classical composition - the action or
interest radiates from the center and stops short of the frame giving them a
perfectly balanced and almost timeless quality.
By the turn of the
twentieth century small, inexpensive portable cameras were being mass-produced
that brought photography to the masses. It was now possible to capture live
action and spontaneity that extended beyond the frame. Photography began to
develop its own visual language that challenged the conventions classical
composition and significantly influenced the development of Modern
The photographer's eye
Many years ago, when I first became interested
in photography, I was thrilled by the creative way in which composition was
used. Pictures could be marvelously unbalanced, full of life and insight, and
yet feel perfectly balanced and complete. Photographers seemed to have an
intuitive gift for composition that didn’t follow any obvious rules.
was only when I went to art college and was introduced to Visual Awareness that
I began to understand the secret of their success. Visual Awareness is the
essence of good photography and practicing VA exercises is the most effective
way to develop your eye as a photographer, so lets practice one right
Visual awareness exercise
Start by leaving the camera in your bag or
pocket. Take a couple of minutes to look around and spot an interesting
combination of shapes, textures, lighting, objects, perspectives, etc.
not look for an interesting thing to shoot; instead try to spot some sort of
pattern or spatial relationship you can use to make a strong composition.
now take out your camera and experiment composing the shot. Instead of holing
the camera in the normal horizontal or vertical fashion try twisting and turning
it, moving it around, raising and lowering it, tilting it, zooming in and out,
going closer or further away until a little bit of magic happens on your screen
or in your viewfinder. Trust your instincts and feel the composition rather than
think about it. Only when you have found the most interesting possible picture
take a shot.
This simple exercise will concentrate your attention over the whole
frame and help you to experience how the composition itself can create interest
and movement in a picture.
these exercises to develop the skills that photographers use intuitively when
taking pictures in the real world. Since VA exercises don’t depend on photogenic
situations you can do them at any odd moment. I often use my handy cellphone
camera when I have a little time on my hands.
I tell my students not to
practice VA exercises unless they have nothing else better to do! Try them when
you’re bored waiting
for a train, waiting to pick up your children from school,
waiting in the supermarket, the post office, the bank, or just sitting around,
anytime, anywhere. They’re really fun to do and once you get the hang of them
are quite addictive.
You could try one right now from where you are
sitting reading this article. At first you might find it difficult to spot
anything even remotely interesting, but once you understand that you are not
looking for interesting things to shoot it will become easier and easier to
create a compelling composition. See lots more examples here:
Send me your picture
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
know how to send a photo by email at a reduced size? See my Brief Guide to