Secrets of taking good pictures: Discipline

When you look at the finest photographs you are sure to find the photographer employed a very thorough approach.

Havana 370 (photo credit: Tom Langford)
Havana 370
(photo credit: Tom Langford)
Tom Langford is a commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website designer.
Every week I enjoy receiving the pictures that are sent to me for constructive feedback. They come from all parts of the world and all levels of ability; from snaps to quite professional images. This week we will look at a very good picture that could be excellent with just a bit more discipline.
Discipline is a word that I don’t hear used often in photography, but when you look at the finest photographs you are sure to find that a very thorough approach has been employed by the photographer.
This shot is by Leandro Nevares of Havana, Cuba. It shows a street musician playing a trumpet with the word “Cuba” spray-painted on the wall behind him.
This has a good, clean and classic composition. It has been converted to a monochrome sepia image, which gives it a faded and stylish appearance. The primary focal point is the musician; the secondary focal point is the word “Cuba” that instantly places the picture and suggests that a lively and syncopated rhythm fills the air: It’s difficult to sit still when Cuban music is being played.
The street musician, however, appears to be sitting very still. The picture is telling us only half of the story: Perhaps he is tired and finding it hard to make a living? Is he is playing some slow, somber music? Or has the shot been taken at the one still moment in a lively performance? The picture does not tell us.
The discipline required in this case is to include clues that to tell a fuller story. This could be done in many ways: A shot with the trumpet pointing down, showing a sad face and people walking by, not noticing, would be one story. A shot at an exciting climax with perhaps a bystander looking on spellbound would tell another story. Below I have roughly indicated some possibilities.
Video clips can convey a lot of information in a few seconds – movement, sequence, sound, etc. With a still photograph all the viewer sees is what we show them; they don’t know the circumstances, didn’t hear the music, and didn’t experience the atmosphere in the street. Creating a complete story in a single frame is not an easy task and you will be frequently disappointed and frustrated.
With digital cameras we have the luxury of an instant preview each time we take a picture. Even so, it takes discipline to look objectively at the results and check that a story has been well told. I tell my students to stop taking pictures and start telling stories. This will make al the difference to your photographic art.
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Tom Langford is an Event and Commercial photographer, website designer, and professional retoucher. He teaches photography courses for beginners and improvers. Details of his courses and field trips at: