8 Ways to Keep your Compositions Simple

Keep It Simple, Stupid

Remember the K.I.S.S. principle… It needs no introduction. Then, why do we forget it when taking photographs?

Keeping Composition Simpleby Zamm

First the why

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, when everybody uploads about 20-200 pictures to flickr a day, 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: Simple 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 its 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 interfering 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 many 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 to 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.