Secrets of taking good pictures: Photo articulation

Expert Tom Langford says that detail is everything when it comes to photography.

Camera 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Camera 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
Tom Langford is an event and commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website designer.
Compliments are pleasant to give and receive but won’t help you to develop as a photographer. To progress you need to understand exactly what is impressive about a shot. It’s important to assess its strengths and imagine how its weaknesses could have been avoided. Most importantly, you have to be able to state your observations simply and clearly. The art of articulate and precise criticism will help in shooting articulately and precisely.
Here’s a wonderful picture taken by Laura Spizzichino from Rome. It was a pleasure to receive such a fine shot. She took it in Porto Ercole, Monte Argentario, Tuscany, at the beginning of August using a Nikon P510.
Porto Ercole (Laura Spizzichino)
Porto Ercole (Laura Spizzichino)
An exercise in improvement
Why is this a great shot? What are its strengths and weaknesses? Could it be improved? Take a moment to form your own answers: If you are alone, try speaking out loud in simple, clear sentences. This is a really effective photographic exercise, so give it as much attention as you would pay to carefully composing a shot.
The girl, almost in silhouette, forms a very strong primary focal point that draws the eye downwards and into the picture. The eye is then forced to sweep upwards to the secondary focal point, the boats. A strong sense of movement is created that reinforces the playful skip of the girl. The dark passage frames and concentrates the action. A story is effectively told of an innocent moment of childhood – a carefree girl, a summer’s day, the bobbing boats, and sun on the gentle waves. The picture evokes memories and has an atmosphere that is easy to relate to.
Laura must have reacted speedily to capture this shot. The Nikon P510 is a “bridge” camera: Although it looks like an SLR it has a fixed lens that focuses more slowly. She turned the camera on its side and must have sensed the story before shooting. Top marks for speed and visualization.
Room for improvement
The right and left halves of the composition are symmetrical. Symmetry suggests order and stability rather than movement – this is the only feature that could be improved. Placing the girl off-center to the left and tilting the camera slightly would add to the sense of movement. It would strengthen the impression that she is about to disappear round the corner at any moment. The retouched version shows this effect but it is preferable to frame it accurately before shooting.
Porto Ercole 2 (Laura Spizzichino)
Porto Ercole 2 (Laura Spizzichino)
The area around the girl was lightened to increase the feeling of light and shade. Pictures straight out of the camera are rarely good enough to show immediately and deserve some attention and refinement.
Every time you see an effective composition such as this one, file it away in the back of your mind for future use. The next time you spot primary and secondary focal points at opposite ends of the frame you will then be prepared to capture a story as captivating as this one. Try to use off-center placements and slight tilts to increase the sense of motion.
Photography is more about vision, understanding and experience than it is about cameras. With enough practice you will start to react instinctively and capture great shots without conscious thought. The articulate photographer has a head start over everyone else.
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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 at: and