Secrets of taking good pictures: A personal story

Photography expert Tom Langford explains how passion can go a long way when creating the perfect photo.

October 9, 2012 18:05
3 minute read.

Camera 370. (photo credit: Reuters)


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Like any profession, photography attracts two types of people: Those that see it just as another job, and those who are passionate and simply can’t consider anything else. I fall into the latter category.

My father was very artistic and when I was about four years old I watched him casually sketch a portrait of my sleeping Grandfather. I was amazed that black lines on white paper could resemble a person and that a wash of dilute orange watercolor could look like a flesh tone. This experience made a deep impression on my young mind – since then I have always been fascinated by the art of visual communication.

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Beyond the basics

After leaving school I worked as a lab technician at Sunderland University in the UK. Two of the other technicians were interested in photography and had put together a makeshift darkroom. I learned from them all about apertures, focal lengths, f-stops, angles of acceptance, shutter speeds, exposures, high-acutance developers, etc, etc. I never actually saw them take a picture but they were certainly knowledgeable about the basics.

I moved to London to take a degree in fine art. I borrowed the college’s camera once or twice but it was many years before I bought a camera for myself. I discovered that I had a passion for photography and for fun I used to take pictures of friends posing like fashion models. They urged me to become a fashion photographer so I approached some of the many any model agencies located in London.

For years I “tested” – I took pictures for my portfolio, and the model, hair-makeup artist, and clothes stylist choose pictures for their portfolios. At first I was concerned and anxious by the need to produce good pictures during every shoot, but with experience I learned to relax and produce consistent professional results.


Professional values

There is a tremendous value in shooting pictures for other people, whether you are paid for it or not: As an amateur you have to satisfy only yourself, but when shooting for others you need to be able to see your pictures through their eyes. Even small details that you may not notice or care about in your own work can be embarrassingly unacceptable to a client.

Practicing in semi-professional situations forces you to speedily develop high standards. When people depend on you to produce good results it’s amazing how you suddenly find the energy and determination to provide them. Start with simple projects such as offering to take the pictures for a school event or for a day trip with friends, etc - you will find the experience invaluable. By stepping outside your comfort zone you will develop the ability to adapt to changing conditions and solve unexpected problems. It might be unnerving at first, but it is great fun too.

Don’t worry too much about equipment and technique: For years I shot fashion models on the streets and in locations all around London using a simple manual camera and two prime lenses. I used only available light and didn’t even have even a pop-up flash.

Developing an “eye” often requires no more than becoming conscious of all the practical details that go into making a good photograph: An appropriate background; a strong composition; a sense of animation or atmosphere; a sensible choice of position and distance from the subject; and the ability to see what’s actually in the picture rather than what you think is there. It certainly isn’t rocket science: To rephrase the old saying: If you take care of the details the picture will take care of itself.

Constructive Feedback  Aspiring photographer can send pictures to be used in future articles for constructive feedback.  Send one picture only, at a small size to suitable for emails to

Not sure how to send a photo by email at a small size? Look at this Brief Guide to Picasa:

Tom Langford is an Event and Commercial photographer, website designer, and professional retoucher. He teaches photography courses for beginners and improvers. Details at: and

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