This Photo Tip is part of a series of photo tips. View the entire list on the Photo Tips page.
A big part of creating a good photo is to include in the frame the elements necessary to tell the story. Just as important, however, is to eliminate the unnecessary elements that don’t contribute to the subject or the story.
In Fill the Frame, I told you about framing the shot tight around the subject. Tight framing is a good way to simplify the shot and get rid of the elements that don’t contribute to the story. As an example, take a look at the following shots.
The first shot has all kinds of junk on the left side has nothing to do with the subject and distracts from the story. The second shot gets rid of those elements and keeps the focus on the subject, which makes the story more obvious.
There are other ways to simplify the shot. Take a look at these examples:
These shots are cute and funny, but that stroller in the background is distracting. Here’s a solution:
Same shot, same story, but less distraction. The shot was easily simplified by moving the camera, which changed the angle of the shot. The background is now uncluttered and less distracting, which makes a much nicer photo. (He also stood up from the chair, which may have helped out with the clutter.)
Here’s another great example:
The kids decided to decorate the swing with their sidewalk chalk. Notice the distracting elements in the photo. Normally I’d advocate shooting at the kids level for a better camera angle, but in this case shooting down from above created a cleaner shot without all the useless background. The tight crop fixed things up, too:
Sometimes simply turning the camera to frame the shot vertically instead of horizontally will remove the unnecessary elements, allow a tighter frame, and result in a better photo.
If all else fails, there is absolutely nothing wrong with physically moving elements (usually!) If something in the background or foreground doesn’t contribute to the story and you can’t re-frame or adjust the camera position, move the item to get it out of the shot.
Many of the examples I provide related to a tight frame are actually photos that were cropped in post-processing because I didn’t shoot it tight in the first place (either because I wasn’t paying attention or my lens wouldn’t zoom far enough.) Don’t be afraid to crop your images after you shoot them. Ideally you want the shot perfect out of the camera, but if it isn’t, feel free to crop it to any size and shape you want. If you aren’t going to print it, there is no reason for it to be a 4×6 or other ratio as it came out of your camera. Don’t be afraid to crop an image down to clean it up. It’s all about creating a nice photo.
For those of you with a DSLR or a smarter point-and-shoot camera, you can open up the aperture wide (smaller number) to throw the cluttered background out of focus. This is a more advanced technique better saved for a later post.
Now for your part… Actively take a week after each post to practice the new technique. It will quickly become part of your normal procedure and “muscle memory”. Your pictures will improve but you won’t have to think about every rule individually. Post some shots where you have applied the simplification technique to improve your shots.
Stay tuned for the next tip in this series.
Or view the entire series of Photo Tips on the Photo Tips page.