The Secrets of taking Good Pictures: Imagination

Photography expert Tom Langford gives his advice on how to turn an average shot into the perfect photograph.

December 5, 2011 15:32
3 minute read.

chickens 311. (photo credit: Rebecca Siegel)


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

Years ago I was walking with a friend on Hampstead Heath in London. He was pushing his baby daughter in a buggy and we stopped for a break. Standing side by side we happened to take out our cameras at the same time. He lifted the camera to his eye and took a snap; instinctively I crouched low and took a dramatic photograph looking up with only the tiny hands poking out of the sides of the buggy.

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I remember being puzzled at the time how two people standing together could end up with such different results. Many years later I decided to teach photography and analysed how good photographers achieve their results. I realized that having an “eye” could be broken down into a few simple steps that creative photographers apply instinctively. This week we will look at how they use Imagination, and how it can make all the difference to your photography.

Exercising your imagination

Photographers use Imagination in a very particular and practical way. Let’s do an exercise and you’ll see what I mean: Suppose you are working for a magazine and have to take pictures to accompany an article on old age. You have the run of a retirement home for the elderly – how would you prepare for this assignment?

Take a sheet of A4 paper and draw four rectangles to represent different shots. Using your imagination draw a very simple sketch in each frame to show some aspect of old age. What situations might you encounter and how would you shoot them? Try to indicate this in your sketches and don’t worry about your drawing skills.

Of course photographers don’t usually draw possible scenarios, but they do imagine them. This type of mental preparation will definitely help to train your mind to think like a photographer. When you encounter a new photographic situation you will then be able to invent different possibilities on the spot. You will be ahead of the game and be taking photographs rather than snaps.


With this in mind let’s look at a picture by Rebecca Siegel who lives in Shanghai, China.

The rooster briefly catches my eye but there’s just not enough interest in the rest of the shot to keep my attention. By practicing imagination exercises you will spot possibilities that would have helped to turn this into a Photograph. For instance, dropping down low could have created a more dynamic composition as indicated below.

A combination of dropping down low and finding an
extra element could add even more interest – see below.

The truth is that you get out of a photograph what you put into it. Imagination costs nothing so you can afford to apply it liberally! Send me your picture If you are aspiring to develop your photography skills, send me a picture and I will publish one in my next article with some constructive feedback. Send one picture only, at a reduced size to

Don’t know how to send a photo by email at a reduced size? See my Brief Guide to Picasa:

Tom Langford is a commercial photographer, website designer, and professional retoucher. He teaches photography courses for beginners and advanced. Details of his courses and field trips at:

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