The secrets of taking good pictures: Step 4

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

July 24, 2011 20:59
3 minute read.
Evora, a small town in Portugal

woman hanging laundry 311. (photo credit: Maxim Reider)


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

It’s the job of professional photographers to take Good Pictures. All over the world, right at this moment, they are shooting for every sort of client in an unimaginable variety of situations and conditions. They have one thing on common – they create excellent images time after time.

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I guess that if you ask most of them “how do you take a good picture?” they would draw a deep breath, look puzzled, and be at a loss for words.

Photo Critique: Telling a story

Of course they would be able to explain technical things about equipment and techniques, but the X-Factor that makes a picture special would probably be dismissed as having a good “Eye." 

This element of mystery can be very discouraging to a novice photographer: surely an “Eye” is something you either have or don’t have? Surely you must be born with it?

There is certainly room for talent, artistry, flair, and creativity, but all photographers take good care of certain fundamental principles. In my photography courses I teach five basic steps to creating Good Pictures – if you understand and practice these steps your photography will improve by leaps and bounds, and people will begin to compliment your photographic “Eye”!


Exercising your imagination

The fourth step is "Imagination." Photographers have a highly developed and practical sense of imagination. I don’t mean they engage in flights of fancy, but rather that they can visualize variations of the picture they are about to take.

Each variation may require a different shooting position, a different camera height, and a different angle and crop. Each variation will Tell a Story in a different way.               

For instance, suppose you are in a nursery and young children are sitting at the feet of a story-teller. How would you go about taking a Good Picture rather than a snap?

In less time than it takes to say “snap” a photographer will have visualized at least three different pictures taken from different positions, and each one will show the situation in a unique way. 

To help you develop your photographers imagination here’s an exercise that you can do right now. All you need is paper, a pencil, and a little imagination.


Draw three rough rectangles and try to imagine the children and storyteller from different vantage points. In each frame roughly indicate how each picture would look. Don’t worry about the quality of your drawings - just use simple shapes.

Here’s my own effort:

 A view of the storyteller, taken low-level from the viewpoint of the children.  
A view of the storyteller, taken low-level from the viewpoint of the children.
 Taken from the viewpoint of the storyteller, looking down to the children’s reactions.   
Taken from the viewpoint of the storyteller, looking down to the children’s reactions.
 Taken from the side showing intimate reactions between the children.

It’s worth practicing this exercise several times on paper using a different subject each time. Then try it when you have time to take a Good Picture. Don’t use the camera, use your imagination, and visualise several shots. Work out the position that each shot will be taken from, and the approximate height and angle of the camera. Only then should you take out your camera and capture each shot.

I ask my students a trick question: “What is the most important piece of photographic equipment you will ever use?” Now you know the answer: “Your head!”

Send me your picture

If you are aspiring to take good pictures, 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 Langford is a commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website designer. He teaches photography courses for beginners and advanced. Details of his courses at:

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