The secrets of taking good pictures: Step 3

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

Tom Langford is a commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website designer. He teaches photography courses for beginners and advanced.
All modern cameras have sophisticated auto features that allow you to simply point and shoot. It’s easy to take snaps, but how do you take a really interesting image? What’s the secret of taking a Good Picture?
The worst place to look for an answer is in the camera manual. It makes your camera look far too complex for a mere mortal to understand. Surely you must have a thorough technical grasp of all the various functions before you can begin to take better photographs?
Tom's photography critique
First, the good news - there is very little you need to know about your camera to start taking Good Pictures.
Next, the bad news - you do need, however, to understand what a Good Picture is, and practice frequently until you are experienced enough to stop thinking about it.
This isn’t such bad news since photography is such a joyful and exciting pursuit. Once you get the bug it’s difficult to stop.
An appropriate background and a strong composition are the first two steps necessary to take an interesting picture. The third step is the most important one that binds these together into a creative whole. It’s the ability of using pictures to tell a story.

Stop taking snaps and start telling a stories
Good Pictures tell stories. They draw your attention to a strong focal point and then take your eye on a journey around the picture.
When your eye moves from place to place over an image it's almost as if the picture itself was moving, like a short clip from a video. Pictures that tell stories have this sense of motion and capture our imagination. We feel involved. They draw us in. In other words they’re interesting.
Snaps, on the other hand, are static records of wherever the camera was pointed at so you can show them to family and friends. For a picture to be interesting to the rest of the world it must tell a story.
Thousands of years ago the first cave paintings told stories using earthy pigments applied with sticks. Technology has changed, but human nature hasn’t. Think of photography as a branch of the entertainment business and yourself as a film director – creating an image that keeps an audience interested for longer than it took you to shoot it is the art of good photography!
Capturing pictures that tell stories isn’t easy. It is very rare that good pictures occur just by chance in front of your camera and that all you have to do is to be lucky and quick enough to snap them. Photographers create their own luck by careful mental preparation and practice. They can spot an promising opportunity before it happens and be ready, willing and waiting for the right moment to capture it.
Now that you know how to take a Good Picture you will start to feel more frustrated than ever before: You will spot a story-telling opportunity and be waiting, finger on the button, ready to shoot. More often than not, things don’t fall into place, and the story peters out. Frustration is good, it means that you are now thinking like a photographer and not just snapping away.
Photo: Tom LangfordPhoto: Tom LangfordHere is a picture I took in a Ben Gurion Airport departure lounge. I spotted a great story-telling opportunity: the silhouette of a solitary seated man suggested alienation and loneliness. To complete the story I needed a focal point suggesting the opposite qualities: a group of Orthodox Jewish people, or a happy family walking towards the camera on the right. I pre-focussed my cellphone camera, composed the shot and waited, finger on the button. Every few minutes I checked the focus and composition. After forty minutes, and with the battery running out, no one had passed by. I gave up and snapped this memento.
You win some, you loose some, but the possibility to take a Good Picture cannot be passed up easily and at least I gave it my best shot.
Details of Tom's photography courses and field trips can be found at
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]

Click here for this week's photography critique.
How to Tell A Story
In my photography courses I often use my retouching skills to show students how their pictures could have looked if only they had used them to tell a story.
Bellow are a few before-and-after examples with explanations: