8 Ways to Keep Your Compositions Simple

Simplicity is memorable. Compositions are hard… Balance, shape, texture, rhythm, harmony, contrast, so many elements to think about when framing an image that will be memorable and distinct, how can a beginner hope to get all of this in control?

Here we outline 8 simple steps to keep your compositions clean and simple, yet engaging and memorable to those who see your images.

Keep It Simple, Stupid – Keep Your Compositions Simple

Remember the K.I.S.S. principle… It needs no introduction. Then, why do we forget it when taking photographs? It’s all too easy to want to introduce more and more into a frame to ensure that nothing is left out. But we must resist this urge.

Why Must We Take Things Out of A Composition

Why would you want to leave things out of a frame? More the merrier, right? The bigger, the better, right? Umm… sometimes, yes… But not here.

You see, when people look at a photograph, they expect to understand what it is you’re trying to communicate right away, without having to wait.

Today, with a torrent of pictures being uploaded to social media every minute, you really do have to have an eye-catching photograph for it to stand out at all… you could do that by having a great subject, or by having a simple subject and simplifying it further. Remember, less is more!

How to Simplify Compositions:

1. Go in close to the subject.

This could either mean moving closer physically or changing your lens to a longer focal length one or if it’s something small, it could mean changing to a macro setup.

2. Cut the Clutter

Very often we fail to realise that there are elements inside the frame that are not really needed. Remove anything that does not ‘belong’ in the frame. It could be as simple as taking a step to the side to remove the stray bum of a relative while photographing your nephew at Christmas, but it could make a vast difference.

3. Keep an eye on the background

Backgrounds are very important. They contribute to the mood of a photograph no matter how much out of focus they are. If your photograph has a background, make sure that it does not interfere with your foreground elements and distract the viewer from the experience that you’re trying to share.

4. Fill the frame

This is a great way to get rid of an interfering background. Step in close, and fill the frame with your subject. If you’re doing a portrait of a child, go down to her level and fill the frame with a tight close-up.

5. Use backgrounds to your advantage.

This may sound like a contradiction to the previous two points, but let me assure you that it’s not. What I mean is that when you have a clean, clear background, make use of it. You can always use white space to de-clutter a photograph, bringing the subject into clear relief. When doing this, remember that if you can find a textured background without any distinguishing marks, this will do very nicely too.

6. Use simple light

A couple of photographers have told me, “there’s only one sun, so why should I use 4 lights” what they mean is that the more directional lights you have, the more unrealistic your photograph will look. While this is not always a bad thing, you may want to take simple photographs with clear cut lighting so that the lighting does not take meaning away from your subject.

7. Use simple colours

Yes, even the hues and shades of a photograph can make it either complex or simple. Try to make sure that your compositions don’t have too many colours. Very often, a photograph can be sufficiently varied, yet simple, by simply having various shades of the same colour.

8. Above all, keep your equipment simple, stupid

Very often we get carried away with all the lenses and gadgetry that we may own. I know that I do, but I try to remind myself to choose the lens that I’m most likely to use, with maximum advantage to me. That way, when it comes to crunch time, and there’s a photograph you’re about to take, you know exactly what you have in hand, and you’ll be able to make the most of that. It’s all too easy to find yourself changing lenses when you come across that rare tiger spotting… or while your child is taking her first few steps.

Remember, always breathe deeply and relax when you find that you’re not sure about what you’re going to do. Then, remember these 8 simple steps and you’re on your way to taking some remarkably simple, yet memorable pictures.

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Published: July 10, 2007 | Last Updated: July 18, 2021

2 thoughts on “8 Ways to Keep Your Compositions Simple”

  1. Solid tips! I like it :)

    Filling the frame is a good one, particularly with kids. It can make them seem so large and different.

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