The secrets of taking good pictures: Step 2

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

Pelican on grass 311 (photo credit: Eugene Rosenthal)
Pelican on grass 311
(photo credit: Eugene Rosenthal)
Tom Langford is a commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website designer. He teaches photography courses for beginners and advanced.
It’s not difficult to take a good picture, even with a simple compact camera. Awareness is an important factor to consider. Good photographers have a highly developed sense of how shapes, colours, textures, patterns, perspectives and light interact in a picture to form a compelling composition.
Awareness is one of the five basic steps that all experienced photographers use.
Good photographers are often said to have “a good eye”, but this sounds like a mysterious talent that they were born with. I prefer to say that they are very experienced at taking the five BASIC steps mentioned above. It becomes so ingrained that they take pictures intuitively, without conscious thought.
Visual awareness
I was awakened to visual awareness many years ago when I first went to Art college. It was in the days of Carousel projectors and Kodachrome slides, and one of our tutors showed us beautiful pictures that he had taken of sights that we normally don’t notice such as the rust on old corrugated metal, a splatter of rain on glass, the curve of a car bonnet, the pattern that roof tiles make, etc.
They were not pictures of things, but of shapes and textures. He wanted us to become aware and alert to all of the beauty that surrounds us – beauty that goes unnoticed in the bustle of everyday life.
Photographers use their sense of visual awareness to create compositions that draw our attention into the picture and keep our eyes moving from one detail to another.
Visual awareness exercise
This exercise is fun to do, costs nothing, and will dramatically improve the quality of your photography. You can do it anytime, anywhere, and with any camera. I often take visual awareness shots with my mobile phone's camera whenever I have a few idle moments. It is the quickest way to develop your photographers "eye". It’s challenging and it’s fun.
Begin by leaving the camera in your bag or pocket. Take a couple of minutes to look around and spot an interesting combination of shapes, textures, patterns, objects, etc.
Do not look for an interesting thing or subject to shoot. Instead, try to spot an interesting pattern you can use to make a strong composition. .
Now take out your camera and experiment with composing the shot. Try moving to the right or left, front or back, holding the camera higher or lower, and try tilting the camera too. Take your time. Only when you have got the most interesting composition take a shot.
This simple, do-anywhere-anytime exercise concentrates your attention on the essentials and helps you develop the skills you will use later on to intuitively to take good pictures. 
Photo critique
The first step to taking a Good Picture is to be equally aware of the background and the subject. In this shot the photographer has probably paid more attention to the pelican than to the background.
Too much attention paid to pelican rather than backgroundToo much attention paid to pelican rather than background   
There is a small brightly lit bird coming out of the pelican's head, a tree trunk sprouting from its body, and another brightly lit bird close to its head behind the tree. These features distract attention away from the pelican and do not add interest to the shot.
New version with the peilcan in a new positionNew version with the peilcan in a new position
I prepared a retouched version to show the how the picture could have looked after two steps to the left and if the small white birds had flown. In real life the position of the head would probably have moved, so I altered this too. A few further steps could have brought the river into the background, removed the small white birds, and may have added more interest to the shot.
Next time you see a professional photographer responding quickly to events, watch how they move into an advantageous position before raising the camera. With discipline this becomes second nature and they are probably not even aware that they are doing it.
Understanding how to take a Good Picture means that you will be frequently frustrated! In this instance as you moved to the better position other distractions could have popped into view. You will have had the satisfaction that comes with knowledge, insight and application, and be even more determined to succeed next time.
Send me your picture
If you are aspiring to take good pictures, and would like some constructive feedback, send me a picture and I will publish one at the end of my next article.Please send one picture only, at a reduced size to [email protected]
Details of Tom's photography courses and field trips can be found at
Below are some pictures that have taken with a cellphone that use different methods to create a sense of movement.
Shapes and perspective give a sense of movementShapes and perspective give a sense of movement     Wonderful play of light, shade, shape and colourWonderful play of light, shade, shape and colourShapes and perspective give a                         Wonderful play of light, shade, sense of movement, helped by                        shape and color on the kitchen sink.the tilt, and echoed by the feet.          
Two organic textures and perspective that gives a sense of movementTwo organic textures and perspective that gives a sense of movementShapes, contrasting textures, and a sense of movementShapes, contrasting textures, and a sense of movementThe steps at Caesarea. Two organic               Shapes, contrasting textures, textures and perspective that gives                  and a sense of movement. a sense of movement.