Composition Tips – Simplicity

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When composing a powerful or memorable photograph, keeping things simple often accomplishes the highest impact. The viewer can identify the subject of the photograph more easily, and appreciate its qualities. A photograph that is composed with simplicity in mind will often draw the viewer’s attention and emotion in a more significant way than a shot that is too “busy”, has a cluttered background, or has “too much going on”.

There are a few concepts to keep in mind when composing simplicity into the photograph. A shallow depth of field assists in minimizing background clutter and focusing the viewer’s attention. Consider this photograph, one of my own:

If I had used a wider depth of field in this photograph, the single rose would be lost among the other roses and greenery of the bush, reducing the level of interest the photo would draw.

Use a minimalist’s eye when composing a photograph with a wider depth of field. For instance, consider this photo:

The eye is naturally drawn to the person in the photograph, the size of the surrounding space is apparent without being distracting, and the use of a neutral background increases the visual impact of the image.

It is possible, however, for a photograph to be too simple, which just makes for a boring image. For example, consider this picture:

In this photograph, the sky is lovely and the grass is bright green. You can tell that this is a photograph of a beautiful day. But there isn’t much in this shot that captures the viewer’s interest. Putting an object in this photo – a colorful ball, a picnic blanket, a person sitting in the grass – would increase the level of interest.

Striking the right balance between simplicity and subject matter takes time, practice, and patience. Once this concept of composition is mastered and understood, the reward is visually stimulating, impactful photographs.

Photo Credits (in order of appearance):
- “Rose in High Contrast Black and White” by Tiffany Joyce.
- “Neue wache, Berlin Juli 2006” by Seier on Flickr Creative Commons.
- “Simplicity killed the landscape” by Irargerich on Flickr Creative Commons.

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  • Bill

    Great tip. Thanks.

  • AR Cherian

    Great tip. It's something I must work on, even though it sounds so simple. I'm interested in portraits and group shots. Any further tips on keeping those simple?

  • Kevin

    This is an awesome tip…I need to practice some of that today…Please continue to provide your insight…nnThanks