Better Photo Tips – Keep it Simple

One day you spot an interesting small stone wall. Just past that you notice a pretty young girl playing in a field of flowers. Behind that you notice an old weathered barn with an old tractor sitting in front. “Ah”, you say to yourself, “the perfect photo”. But is it really? No. It may be the perfect series of photos, but that’s a different story.

This picture would fail as a great shot; A) because it is far too complex a composition, and B) the camera has no way to effectively focus your attention on four different subjects on four different planes at the same time. Let’s break this down to the more realistic shots.

Photo #1 – – – You get down low enough that you see the stone wall in the foreground with the classic barn and tractor in the background. Using selective focus, the wall is sharp and the barn and tractor are a soft hazy pastel type background. 

Photo #2 – – – You lean over the fence, zoom in on the young girl with the field of flowers as the background. Using selective focus, you make the girl in sharp focus and the flowers around her gradually get softer and softer. Your camera is at enough of an angle that your do NOT include the barn and tractor in this image.

Photo #3 – – – Getting the owners permission first, you climb over the fence. You compliment the little girl on the pretty flowers; then you shoot past her using the flowers as the foreground and the barn as the background. You may again want to get down low so that the flowers become more dominant. Using selective focus, you focus on the flowers about one third of the way into the field, making them sharp and still having the rest of the field and the barn in soft focus.

Photo #4 – – – Since you already have the owners permission, you walk around the field until you get close enough to the barn and tractor. This time you decide to get down really low (you are laying on your stomach). You fill 2/3rds of the frame with the tractor. Using selective focus, you make the tractor in sharp focus and the barn is now soft focus.

These are the basic shots I would shoot in this situation. Now admittedly there are other possible combinations. You could; (for example) put the tractor in the lower 1/3rd of the frame, then focus on the barn and deliberately make the tractor itself go soft focus. This way the tractor is framing the rest of the shot. To be honest there are dozens of possibilities, but each of those still boils down to one main subject and one supporting background (or foreground).

Yes, the camera can technically take a shot with everything in it. But the human mind is only going to focus on one story, or one set of foreground/background images at a time. Your job is not to capture the universe of possibilities all at one time and confuse your viewer. Your job is to point out the individual miracles within the universe so that your viewer can appreciate them more than they ever have before.

The most powerful images in history are those that are simple and direct. They tell a story. The viewer should immediately be drawn to your image and feel an emotional impact. This can not happen if he or she has to visually sort through all the clutter you left in the image. If you want to be award winning, if you want to get published, if you want to sell your work . . . keep it simple.