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8 Ways to Keep Your Compositions Simple

The best way to keep photographic composition simple is to have a clear subject, use strong lines and shapes, and keep the background simple.

Simple things are memorable. How can a beginner manage to have all the aspects of composition under control? Balance, shape, texture, rhythm, harmony, contrast—there are so many factors to consider when framing an image that you hope will be memorable and distinct, but let’s get you started on this journey…

Must We Take Things Out of A Composition?

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.

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, to make them engaging and memorable.

1. Go In Close to the Subject

This could either mean moving closer physically or changing your lens to a longer focal length or 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.

2. Cut The Clutter

Very often we fail to realize 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 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.

3. Keep an Eye on the Background

Backgrounds are very important. 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.

4. Fill the Frame

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.

5. Use Backgrounds to Your Advantage

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!

6. Use Simple Light

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.

7. Use Simple Colors

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.

8. Above All; Keep Your Equipment Simple

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

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.

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Published: July 10, 2007 | Last Updated: October 8, 2022

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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