8 Ways to Maintain Simplicity In Composition

Great composition is a vital aspect of creating memorable photographs. It’s about having a clearly defined subject, integrating strong lines and shapes, and maintaining a minimalistic background to keep the viewer’s attention centered on the subject.

Artistic composition in photography can seem complex with many elements to deal with, like balance, shape, texture, rhythm, harmony, and contrast. Yet, every great photograph starts with simplicity. Simple compositions tend to become more memorable, leaving a lasting impression. As a beginner, navigating these components of composition might seem overwhelming. But fear not, let’s begin this journey of mastering simplicity in composition in photography…

Simplicity in Composition – Removing Elements

Keeping Composition Simple. An orange wall with a window in it.
by Zamm

The more elements that we remove, the more our viewer’s eye can focus on what is important to your image.

You see, when people look at a photograph, they expect to understand you’re trying to communicate immediately, and without difficulty. Anything that complicates a composition takes away from its effectiveness. That’s why simplicity in composition is an important technique.

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 in 8 Steps:

Here are 8 simple steps to keep your compositions clean and simple. At the same time, it will make them engaging and memorable.

Go In Close to the Subject – Prominence Through Proximity

Getting close to your subject is key to creating a powerful composition. This could either mean moving closer physically or changing your lens to a longer focal length. If it’s something small, it could mean changing to a macro setup. To expand on this… going closer to the subject fills the frame and makes the main subject of your image more prominent. This simplifies your message.

If you’re doing a portrait of a child, go down to her level and fill the frame with a tight close-up.

Cut The Clutter – Exclusion for Impact

A clean, uncluttered frame allows the viewer to focus on the main subject. Very often we fail to realize that there are unnecessary compositional elements inside the frame. By removing them from the frame we focus on essential elements. It could be as simple as taking a step to the side to remove the intruding arm of a relative while photographing your nephew at Christmas, but it could make a vast difference in the impact that final image has.

Be thoughtful and deliberate about what you include and what you exclude from your frame.

Keep an Eye on the Background – Background Awareness

The choice of background can dramatically affect the mood of a photograph. They contribute to the mood of a photograph no matter how out-of-focus they are. Make sure that elements from the background do not interfere with your subject and distract the viewer from the experience that you’re trying to share.

Hide busy backgrounds, and look out for telephone poles emerging from behind people.

Fill the Frame – For Distraction Elimination

Filling the frame with your subject or similar elements can eliminate distracting backgrounds. This is a corollary to the first point, but not quite the same. Filling your frame is a great way to get rid of an interfering background. Apart from going in close, you could also introduce more of the same element to fill the frame with your subject.

For example, if you’re photographing interesting pebbles, instead of using just one, fill the frame with many interesting pebbles.

Use Backgrounds to Your Advantage – Backgrounds as Amplifiers

Clever use of backgrounds can enhance your subject. 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, it could add texture and meaning to your image… But be careful to not let it become too overpowering.

When you have a clean, clear background, make use of it… Show it off!

Simple composition with a plant. White background with a plant in the center.
Simple composition with a plant. Photo by Kari Shea

Use Simple Light – Uncomplicated Lighting

Simple lighting can highlight your subject without making the scene look artificial. A couple of photographers have told me, “there’s only one sun, so why should I use 4 lights”. At face value, it seems old-fashioned. What they mean is that when you have many directional lights, your image is likely to look unrealistic.

While this is not always bad, you may want to take photographs with clear-cut lighting so that the lighting does not become more of a star than your subject.

Use Simple Colors – For Variation

Using a simplified color palette can lead to visually appealing images. Yes, even the hues and shades of a photograph can make it either complex or simple. Very often, a photograph can be sufficiently varied, yet simple, by simply having various shades of the same color.

Learning color theory will help you understand the effective use of colors in your images.

Keep Your Equipment Simple – For Optimal Use

Keeping your equipment setup simple allows you to focus more on the composition and less on managing gear. 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 there’s a challenging photograph to be taken, you know exactly how to make the best use of your equipment.

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. Using familiar equipment can often yield better results.

Remember This Tip About Simple Compositions

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.

How do you keep your image compositions simple? Leave a comment below, or tweet your response to us.

Susheel Chandradhas

Susheel Chandradhas

Susheel Chandradhas is a Product Photographer and Filmmaker based in India. He has been taking photographs (almost) all his life. He has a diploma and a bachelors degree in Visual Communication, where his classmates all believed that he would write a book on photography... Instead, he writes on this website (because - isn't a community more fun?).

His passions include photography, parkour, wide-angle lenses, blue skies, fire extinguishers, and fast computers.

In addition to writing for Beyond Photo Tips, Susheel is a staff writer for Fstoppers.com, and owns and runs ColoursAlive, a photography, and video production studio.

You can connect with Susheel on Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

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  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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