We can overcomplicate things when trying to compose a great photo. So today we’re looking at simplicity in photography composition, specifically:
- What is simplicity in photography composition?
- How to achieve simplicity in photography composition?
At the end of this article I explain all the techniques I used to create the photo below, and what makes it a good example of simplicity in photography composition.
What is simplicity in photography composition?
Simplicity is the photography equivalent of minimalism. It’s a photography composition technique that concentrates on keeping only the absolutely necessary information in frame.
You could be easily fooled into thinking that simple composition is simple and not thought out.
However, because you choose to make the composition simple, you actually need to consider many composition techniques to create a striking image that holds your viewer’s attention.
5 tips for achieving simplicity in photography composition
A great deal of thought goes into stripping out all unnecessary details to create simplicity in composition.
You need to ask yourself what you need in the photo to tell the story. If it doesn’t add to the message of your image, you need to figure out a way to remove it, or at least minimize it.
Let’s take a look at what affects simplicity in photography composition:
- Excluding elements
- Filling the frame
1. Backgrounds in simple photography composition
A busy or distracting background instantly reduces the simplicity of the composition and makes the photograph busy. To fix this, try changing your position, or getting in closer to cut out unnecessary detail.
If you can do neither of these, consider using a wide aperture to reduce the depth of field and blur the background.
2. Excluding elements from the composition
It’s not just a matter of thinking about what doesn’t work in an image, you also need to consider if everything you see in frame is serving a purpose. Is it adding to the image and does it need to be there?
What you can leave out? Would removing an element from the shot make it a stronger photo? If it’s not part of the story and doesn’t add to the message, exclude it from the image.
Of course that’s great if it’s moveable! If it’s not, try to change your position, or crop tighter so that the distracting elements are no longer in frame.
3. Fill the frame for simplicity in composition
I’ve mentioned getting in closer to cut out distractions, but sometimes filling the frame is simply to make it all about your subject.
When you get in close and fill the frame, you focus the viewer’s attention on exactly what you want them to see. This strengthens your composition purely by being so focused and “in your face”.
Further reading: Fill the frame – how, when, why
Above is a fairly standard shot without much thought for composition. Once I had the basic shot I wanted to create something that would stand out. So I zoomed in close for the shot below and filled the frame to cut out all extra information. I converted to black and white and increased contrast in post to emphasize shadow and texture detail.
4. Color in composition
We can consider color in two ways when aiming for simplicity in photography composition:
- As a choice between a color image or a black and white image. Sometimes removing all color also removes distractions and the image becomes more focused on form and light.
- Or concentrate on the colors you choose to include. You could use just one color palette in the image.
Alternatively, use complementary colors to create interesting photos. These are colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel, such as
- Orange and blue
- Purple and yellow
- Red and green
Above is a holiday snapshot, but also, by including my fella in the photo, it shows the size of the quiver tree. Below is a more eye catching photo of the same tree. I excluded surrounding distractions by standing below the tree and using the blue sky as a simple background. Plus blue complements orange.
5. Lighting for simplicity in photography composition
Light is the basis of all photos, therefore lighting is also a big decision when it comes to composition.
Let’s look at directional light versus flat light for creating simple composition.
Directional light for simplicity in composition
Reducing an image to strong contrasts of light and dark with directional light removes distractions and concentrates on the form of the subject. Therefore it simplifies the image.
In both images the subjects are lit from behind, to camera left, so light wraps around them, highlighting their baby bumps. Although in color, the above image is further simplified by the subject wearing black against a black background.
Flat light for simple composition
However, if all other factors have been considered, flat light, might also add to simplicity in photography composition. The very lack of shadows could simplify a scene.
Further reading: Flat light photography – how, when and why use it
Silhouettes are a prime example of simplicity in photography composition.
By exposing for the background and ensuring that the subject is no more than a shape, you remove all unnecessary clutter.
Further reading: How to photograph silhouettes with ease
Elements that make the top photo a good example of simplicity in photography composition:
The main photo of the newborn baby’s feet and his dad’s hand at the top of this article uses several composition techniques for simplicity in photography.
Here’s why I chose it as the main image for this article:
- It’s in black and white to highlight the shadows and the difference between the texture of the father’s skin against the newborn’s skin.
- This is enhanced by the angle of light, which is coming from above and to camera right.
- The fragility and size of the newborn is highlighted because his feet are tiny in his dad’s hand.
- Using the father’s hand instead of the mother’s adds to it – her hands would be smaller and smoother.
- The black background removes any potential distraction.
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