Photography Rules of Composition: Simplify

Photography Rules of Composition: Simplify

Here is the first of the photography rules of composition you need to have in your toolbox: simplify! You want to break the rules? Well, you need to master them first, so read on!


You’ve probably heard of the KISS principle. "Keep It Simple, Stupid!" It teaches us to strive for design simplicity, and avoid unnecessary complexity. In photography composition, that means that we don’t want to include any elements in our picture space that distract from our main message.

It’s very tempting sometimes, when we come upon a great scene, to try to include everything in the picture. That is a mistake. It ends up being a jumble of elements that make for "information overload" for the viewer. It’s up to you to figure out what attracted you to the scene in the first place, and simplify the image to emphasize that factor.

You must evaluate each element in the frame, and make sure it contributes to the story. If it doesn’t, you need to eliminate it. This can be done in a couple of ways.



First, you can simply recompose the image to eliminate the unnecessary elements by changing your position, or just moving the camera a little.


Zoom in

You can also zoom in closer to fill the frame with only part of the scene.

photography composition: Zoomed out
The base of the tree and the patchy ground are distracting.
© Julie Waterhouse Photography

photography composition: Zoomed in
Zoom in to focus attention on the most interesting part: the face.
© Julie Waterhouse Photography


Use shallow depth of field

Depth of field is great a great tool for simplifying. A shallow depth of field can eliminate background clutter, and draw attention to the in-focus elements.

photography rules of composition: deep depth of field
A large depth of field produces a busy image.
© Julie Waterhouse Photography

photography rules of composition: Shallow depth of field
A shallow depth of field focuses attention on the right-hand flower.
© Julie Waterhouse Photography


I recommend you read the next of the rules of composition: eliminate distractions.