Secrets of taking good pictures: Finishing touches

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

cloud 390 4  DO NOT REPUBLISH (photo credit: Alex Sarna)
cloud 390 4 DO NOT REPUBLISH
(photo credit: Alex Sarna)
Tom Langford is a commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website designer.
This week we will take a look at two pictures that have been sent to me for some feedback. They can be improved in various ways and I would like to show you a simple process that we can use to create more interesting results.
This shot was taken by Alex Sarna, a photographer based in Ottawa, Canada:
This is a creative shot of the type I call Visual Awareness in my photography courses. One of the great strengths that photographers have is their ability to take interesting shots of nothing. It takes a lot of experience to capture such a strong composition. Alex has tilted the camera to suggest diagonal movement. The bright edge of the cloud and the angle of the rotor pull your attention in other directions as shown below:
Although this is a good picture I think it could be improved a little. The strong diagonal movement towards the upper right corner could have been strengthened by zooming out a little and cropping later.
When taking shots in which the sky and lighting feature, it’s always a good idea to wait and see how they change and take more pictures to give a variety of effects. The retouched picture below shows how a stronger diagonal and a little light striking the tower can increase the dramatic effect:
I feel that the picture still lacks a finishing touch. A more dramatic sky would help, or seeing the blur of the rotor spinning would add something. But what I would really like to see is a flock of birds flying out of the picture in the direction of the strongest diagonal as in the version below. Of course this would never happen, but it’s still important to be able to imagine an ideal version of any picture you take. This will spur you on to go the extra mile that helps to set your pictures apart from the crowd.
The next picture was sent in by Melanie Ellison from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It was taken with an iPhone of her own shadow projected onto a county dirt road.
This is a good attempt at creative photography but it doesn't hold our attention for very long. It's more than just a picture of a person's shadow as our eye is drawn to the watering can. How could Melanie have made the picture more interesting?
As with Alex’s picture I would visualize an ideal version and work towards achieving it. We could firstly show the watering can in use, as in the version below:
But if we wanted to go the extra mile we would need a finishing touch and find a way to add some plants being watered. This may not be so easy to do. We may have to arrange plants on a shelf just outside the bottom of the picture, but I think it would be worth the effort.
Send me your picture
If you are aspiring to develop your photography skills, 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 [email protected] 

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: