The secrets of taking good pictures: Step 1

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

Photography example (photo credit: Tom Langford)
Photography example
(photo credit: Tom Langford)
Tom Langford is a commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website designer. He teaches photography courses for beginners and advanced.
Everybody knows how to take a good snap - you simply point and shoot, and the camera does the rest. But how do you take a good picture that really captures the moment and is interesting to more than just family and friends?
The good news is that you don’t have to be an artist or come from a creative background to be able to take impressive pictures. It’s hardly rocket science, and there really is no mystery to it. Anyone can develop an “eye” for photography.
You don't need to own an expensive camera either. Students on my photography courses often ask whether it is a must to have an expensive camera. I have to tell them that the camera is the least important component in taking a good picture. To make the point, I show them lots of good pictures that I have taken with the camera on my cell phone.
Becoming a photographer requires practice and patience, and the first step is to understand the five elements that photographers all over the world use when taking “Good Pictures."
The five basic steps to taking good pictures
I teach that there are five basic elements that all good pictures have in common. To help you remember them I have arranged the first letter of each to spell the word BASIC:
Backgrounds – Good pictures have appropriate backgrounds
Awareness – How shapes, textures, perspectives, etc, create effective compositions
Story – Good Pictures tell a story - they communicate
Imagination – Photographers imagine how the picture will look before taking it
Critique – Being able to instantly spot what works or doesn’t work in a picture
To start with we will concentrate on the first step: Backgrounds. It sounds very basic, but its importance cannot be over-emphasized. The next four articles will guide you through the other steps.
Taking care of the background
A distracting background will absolutely ruin what could have been a great picture. Professional photographers will always keep a very sharp eye on the background in every picture they take. Even before they pick up the camera they will have been looking around and noting background possibilities that enhance, rather than detract, from the shots they have in mind.
Snappers keep their eye on the subject and don’t notice what’s behind them. That’s why you will see a picture of a child’s cute expression surrounded by a messy, distracting background. A good picture needs to have a good background, otherwise it’s a snap.
My students always complain that things happen too fast to take account of everything.
How can they possibly control the background when it’s difficult enough just to capture an expression?
I have to agree with them – in fast changing situations you don’t have the time to fuss about. That’s why you have to be aware of the background before you take the shot. As you take out your camera you must already be assessing the background - taking a step to the left or right, forward or backward, and already judging whether to hold the camera higher or lower. It is amazing how a small movement can alter the background significantly.
Something to practice
That’s enough explanation. Now it’s time to put your understanding into practice. Next time you are taking some family snaps try to take at least one with a clean and appropriate background that does not detract from the shot. You won’t find it as easy as it sounds.
And if you get the chance to see a professional photographer working in a changing environment, watch how they move their position before they take a shot. The background is King and they are giving it all the respect it deserves.
A typical snap with a distracting background
A typical snap with a distracting background
A few steps to the right cleans up the background
A few steps to the right cleans up the background
   How do you avoid taking snaps                    A few steps to the right   with messy backgrounds like this?             cleans up the background.
Portrait of Avi in his grocery store, Pardes Hanna
Portrait of Avi in his grocery store, Pardes Hanna
An excellent picture with a background that gives the picture depth
An excellent picture with a background that gives the picture depth
          Here the busy background shows                An excellent picture with a background      his environment and adds to the picture.                     that gives the picture depth.                                                                                                      Photo: Eddie FriedmanSend me your picture
If you are aspiring to take good pictures, and would like some constructive feedback, send me a shot you would like me to look at and I will publish one at the end of my next article.  Please send a reduced sized version of your photo to
Tom's next course begins in Netanya on July 5. Details of this course and all other courses can be found at