Secrets of photography: Lights, camera, action

By thinking like a film director you will definitely become a better photographer.

February 26, 2013 14:53
3 minute read.

Camera 370. (photo credit: Reuters)


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Here’s a useful tip that will help to improve your photography: Look at the shot you have just taken and imagine that it is an important scene in a film. If you were a film director would you be happy with it just as it is, or would you need to order the cinematographer, set designer, props manager, and film crew to make changes to help tell the story more effectively?

The difference between an uninteresting picture and a photograph that grabs your attention is if they tell a story: Good shots spark our imagination and command our interest. They have presence and atmosphere. 

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I like this shot taken by Debra Pollarini in an American hotel. It has the feel of an “establishing shot” from a film. A man in a striking red jacket is descending the escalator and I can’t help feeling that something unexpected will happen when he reaches the lobby.

If I were sitting in the film director’s seat I would instantly start ordering the cinematographer, set designer and lighting crew to make changes. But for the moment I’ll have to use Photoshop to develop the story-telling potential of this scene.

Lights, camera, action!

First, I cropped away the dead area above our hero's head. I then extended the crop to make it into a widescreen cinema format and used the Transform Tool to straighten up the verticals (to add a sense of solidity to the scene).

I extended the set using the Marquee Selection Tool to select the left side of the shot, placing the marching ants carefully over a vertical feature, then used the Transform Tool to stretch the selection. I used the same method to extend the right side of the frame. I also the removed post, sticking out of the man’s head, using the Clone Stamp Tool to copy background areas over it.

The width of the frame now suits the subject. The shot has more atmosphere and a stronger composition.

I’m not happy that the hero's head is lost against the dark background. I re-lit the shot using Curves Adjustment Layers to selectively brighten and darken areas to create the final, moody picture. Being a bossy film director I couldn't resist adding a "I Love NY" slogan to match the existing lettering on the carpet.

Taking more effective shots

Thinking like a film director will help you to take more effective shots: Bossing Photoshop around like a film director will help you to improve your images story-telling potential.

Although it's fun to alter images in Photoshop, it’s more important to try to take more effective images initially. When I retouch one of my own photographs I always try to learn from it how I could have taken a better picture.

When taking this shot, the photographer could have leaned slightly to the right to avoid the line coming out of the man’s head. Taking several shots as he descended may have yielded one with better lighting. Using the wider end of the zoom lens would have given the widescreen format by cropping afterwards.

Try to use your camera so that each picture could be part of a film's storyboard. This will help to give your pictures a stronger sense of narrative, atmosphere and meaning. By thinking like a film director you will definitely become a better photographer.

Picture Clinic 

If you would like to develop your photography skills, you are welcome to send to me one of your pictures that I may publish with some constructive feedback.  Upload your picture here:

Tom Langford is an Event and Commercial photographer: and Details of his next photography and retouching courses in Israel:

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