The Secrets of Taking Good Pictures: Narratives

Photography expert Tom Langford gives his advice on how to make your photos tell stories.

February 20, 2012 18:11
3 minute read.
Tourist 1

Tourist 1. (photo credit: Rebecca Kowalsky)


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It’s a mildly amusing shot of a street performer. I like the out of focus head in the foreground and the snapper in the red shirt (on the right) that give the photo a bit of depth. But my eye takes it all in too quickly and I’m already wanting to see the next shot. There isn’t too much of a story here: “I saw this street performer in London and took a shot of him,” sums it up.

The performer is obviously a primary focal point, so here we have the beginnings of our story. The cropped head isn’t strong enough to hold our interest and doesn’t work as a secondary focal point, so this story lacks a middle section. If this lady held a camera taking a shot of the performer that would make a good addition: We would then have a story and a much more interesting photograph. Here is a retouched version of what I mean:

Rebecca Kowalsky

But what do you do if the lady does not take a picture just when you want her to? How do you create a story that does not exist?

The simple answer is to wait and see what happens. Perhaps another story will present itself for you to capture. But unless you are aware that it’s a story you are looking for, you will hardly spot it even when it does occur.

Below is another story that probably would not have happened: If I had the time I could retouch in many stories. Your job as a photographer is to find the story that turns a snap into a Picture. Time and time again you will face frustration, but with enough determination, practice, patience and a little understanding you will succeed.

Tourist 2 (Rebecca Kowalsky and Tom Langford)

Send me your picture

If 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

Tom teaches photography courses for beginners and advanced. Details of his courses and field trips at: 

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