Secrets of taking good pictures: Making a point

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

Gargoyle 3 370 (photo credit: TOM LANGFORD)
Gargoyle 3 370
(photo credit: TOM LANGFORD)
Tom Langford is a commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website designer.
Pictures communicate, they tell a story, and people will not make an effort to enjoy what you have to say with your camera if your message is unclear. Photographers need to develop the skill of getting straight to the point.
Fortunately this is easy to accomplish: All you need to do is to include a focal point in you pictures, an eye-catching element that strongly directs our attention to what is important.
Making a point
Let’s look at two pictures that could be improved by adding a focal point. The first is from Miriam Wasser. It has rich textures and color, and the blurred lamps give it a sense of depth. I like the way in which it is divided into two areas - left half is in focus and the right half is out-of-focus.
Miriam Wasser
Miriam Wasser
Because this picture doesn’t have a focal point I can’t get a sense of what interested Miriam when she took it. My eye tries to find something to rest on, but fails to do so. I can only guess that the elephant in the center of the composition is important, but it isn’t prominent enough to catch my attention. Below is how the picture could have looked if this was made the focal point.
Miriam Wasser
Miriam Wasser
It’s now clear that the picture is about the attractive elephant ornaments, the focal point that directs our attention and tells the story clearly.
This next picture is by Barry Halpert of a square in Belgium.
It’s quite an interesting picture because of the angle and the composition. We get a voyeuristic feel looking down on the world below.
Barry Halpert
Barry Halpert
Our eye is naturally drawn to the people crossing the square but this is more of a detail rather than a strong focal point. When you find yourself in this situation of having an interesting picture to shoot that lacks a useable focus you have a few options:
1. You can change position or composition to include a new strong focal point.
2. You can wait until something turns up, however you may be disappointed.
3. You can create an area of interest by asking for someone to help, or rearranging the scene.
In the pictures below I imagined being lucky enough to catch a convenient burst of sunlight, or include a handy gargoyle that I hadn’t noticed before. I have also lightened the distant buildings to make more of a contrast with the darker areas, and gave the effect of getting closer to reduce how much of the silhouetted buildings were included.
In reality you probably would not have any of these options, but exercising your imagination is essential if you are to spot just what is possible at the time.
Barry Halpert
Barry Halpert
Barry Halpert
Barry Halpert
The essential point is that as a photographer you must consider your audience. They cannot know what interested you enough to take a picture unless you tell them. Don’t be vague; use a focal point to make your point strongly.
You will often be frustrated, but the more you practice telling a story with your picture the easier it will become.
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
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: