The secrets of taking good pictures: Review

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

January 31, 2012 14:24
3 minute read.
woman pulls a child on a sled on Mount Hermon

Snowy Mount Hermon 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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

Be aware that if you show your picture to ten different photographers each will give criticism from a different viewpoint. There are many ways to take a picture and many ways it can be improved. If it were any other way, photography would not be the absorbing pursuit that we love.

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As a commercial photographer my constructive feedback is based on a very practical level: is the picture interesting enough to stand up on its own without a title or description? If it holds your attention you may be so intrigued that you want to know more about it, and then a caption would be helpful, but if you can pass it by then a caption won’t help.

Snow in Zurich  (Larry Brandt)

Here’s a fine picture from Larry Brandt who took it on a trip to Zurich. I like its nice clean lines and the simplicity of the composition and color. Something, however, is missing and I could easily pass it by. Each time you take what could be a good shot it’s wise to pause and consider if it captures the subject so completely that it will really hold a viewer’s attention.

It's not easy to see your picture as others see it. If it’s a personal picture that means a lot just to you, that’s fine, but when you send it out into the world it’s good to be aware of how it can be seen.

Commercial photographers have an advantage over amateurs because Art Directors will give instant and articulate feedback – you soon learn how to view your efforts objectively.


With Larry’s shot we see a lot of tracks in the snow leading off to the left. I can’t help feeling that it needs a little something to relate to these – a sign, a hiker, a snowman, a sled, etc, so I have added a figure. I have also cropped it differently to suggest some breadth and space. I didn’t feel the original square-ish frame did it justice. This could have been achieved by zooming out a little, then recomposing, and cropping the picture later. I also darkened the sky to “hold” the picture at the top and direct the viewers gaze to the tree.

Edited version of snow in Zurich (Larry Brandt)

When I learned photography years ago, every enthusiast used black-and-white negative film. It took considerable skill to make a print in the chemical darkroom. Now we use computers, thank goodness, to bring the basic camera image to life.
Using a program such as Picasa can greatly improve your pictures. With a more advanced program such as Photoshop I can do everything I used to do in the darkroom and much more besides - in futures article I will show you some of the secrets of improving good pictures.

Send me your picture

If you would like to develop your photography skills, send me a picture with details of how you took it. I may share some constructive feedback for selected shots in one of my future articles.

Please send one picture only, at a reduced size to

If you don’t how to send a reduced size photo by email 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 next courses and field trips at:

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