The secrets of taking good pictures: A clear subject

Photography expert Tom Langford explains how to convey a clear message by capturing a clear subject.

October 23, 2012 11:46
3 minute read.

Camera 370. (photo credit: Reuters)


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

When on holiday in an unfamiliar place we enjoy new sensations, tastes, colors and cultures. These impressions come flooding back to us when we look at our holiday pictures - it’s easy to assume that we have captured them in our photographs.

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This picture was taken last year in Guilin, China, by Chuck Cutler of South Orange, New Jersey. He took it while walking along the Li River where families were enjoying the day in various ways. It awakens vivid memories of the occasion for him, but what does it convey to others? Let’s take a look to see what we find ...

By Chuck Cutler

There is a strong focal point in the center of the frame showing a man laughing in front of a huge 2009 date. The people in front of him are out of focus and appear to be absorbed in their own activities. The prominent 2009 sign is obviously important but I can’t tell why.

Chuck explains that this is a picture is actually of some locals enjoying the popular pastime - a game of cards. The cards, however, are blurred, and not given any prominence. Would it have been possible to take this picture and to convey the subject more clearly?

Making the subject clear


Of course it is impossible for photographs to evoke your personal memories in others, but if you can make the subject of a picture clear you will definitely develop your skills as a photographer.

In this instance the picture is about a group of people playing cards, but the laughing man and the 2009 sign strongly detract our attention away from the subject. Shooting from the same position we could recompose the shot as I have indicated below ...

By Chuck Cutler

In this version our attention is drawn to the main card player and the cards he is holding. I have shown how the shot would look with him and the cards in focus:. By choosing a wider aperture the laughing man would be out of focus so he would only add color to the occasion and not dominate it.

More importantly there now seems to be a convivial relationship between the two main characters and I am no longer distracted by the huge 2009 sign which plays no part in the scenario.

Chuck used a Canon 7D SLR to take this shot. By using it in P (Program) mode you can instantly override the auto exposure and select a wider aperture by rotating the forward command dial. This is a fast-shooting trick that you can practice so that it becomes instinctive in this type of situation.

To take a picture that quickly conveys the subject is not such an easy task for a photographer, especially when on holiday. You can always take plenty of personal pictures for your own enjoyment, but every now and then pause, look carefully at the preview on the back of your camera and try and develop the trick of seeing what others may see.

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. “Details of Tom Langford’s photography courses at: Event Photography: Commercial Photography:

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