Secrets of taking good pictures: Discipline

When you look at the finest photographs you are sure to find the photographer employed a very thorough approach.

April 28, 2012 01:42
3 minute read.

Havana 370. (photo credit: Tom Langford)


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Tom Langford is a commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website designer.

Every week I enjoy receiving the pictures that are sent to me for constructive feedback. They come from all parts of the world and all levels of ability; from snaps to quite professional images. This week we will look at a very good picture that could be excellent with just a bit more discipline.

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Discipline is a word that I don’t hear used often in photography, but when you look at the finest photographs you are sure to find that a very thorough approach has been employed by the photographer.

This shot is by Leandro Nevares of Havana, Cuba. It shows a street musician playing a trumpet with the word “Cuba” spray-painted on the wall behind him.

This has a good, clean and classic composition. It has been converted to a monochrome sepia image, which gives it a faded and stylish appearance. The primary focal point is the musician; the secondary focal point is the word “Cuba” that instantly places the picture and suggests that a lively and syncopated rhythm fills the air: It’s difficult to sit still when Cuban music is being played.

The street musician, however, appears to be sitting very still. The picture is telling us only half of the story: Perhaps he is tired and finding it hard to make a living? Is he is playing some slow, somber music? Or has the shot been taken at the one still moment in a lively performance? The picture does not tell us.


The discipline required in this case is to include clues that to tell a fuller story. This could be done in many ways: A shot with the trumpet pointing down, showing a sad face and people walking by, not noticing, would be one story. A shot at an exciting climax with perhaps a bystander looking on spellbound would tell another story. Below I have roughly indicated some possibilities.

Video clips can convey a lot of information in a few seconds – movement, sequence, sound, etc. With a still photograph all the viewer sees is what we show them; they don’t know the circumstances, didn’t hear the music, and didn’t experience the atmosphere in the street. Creating a complete story in a single frame is not an easy task and you will be frequently disappointed and frustrated.

With digital cameras we have the luxury of an instant preview each time we take a picture. Even so, it takes discipline to look objectively at the results and check that a story has been well told. I tell my students to stop taking pictures and start telling stories. This will make al the difference to your photographic art.

Constructive Feedback

If 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

Don’t know how to send a photo by email at a reduced size? See my 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 of his courses and field trips at:

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