Photo Tip #1: Simplicity

Category How-To

By Suzanne Simmons

As a high school photography teacher, there are certain pointers that are simple enough for all of my students to do right off the bat and not even have to think much about. These tips are surefire ways to improve their images from day 1 of the class. The easiest of all of these pointers is simplicity. If it sounds simple to you, that’s because it is.

When you are composing a shot, no matter where you are, you need to pay attention to the background. For some locations that we find in the wild, the background is entirely fitting and does not distract from the subject. However, in the instance that it is hard to identify the subject in your shot, the first thing you should do is to simplify the background and get rid of anything that may be distracting. Here are some tips from accomplishing that:

  • Get right up in your subject’s “face”. That may mean switching your digital camera to macro mode if your object is small. But your overall goal is to fill as much of the frame with your subject as you can without detracting from it.
  • Move your camera to a position where the background is less cluttered. The ground is often a good standby for smaller subjects since the monotone ground covering, such as brown leaves or green grass, generally won’t distract the viewer. For other objects, the sky may be your best bet.
  • The last tip is to throw the background out of focus. If you are using a point and shoot camera, you can often use the preset for portraits, which will generally (in technical terms) decrease the depth of field of the image. If you are using a camera where you can change the aperature setting yourself, the lower the number, the shallower your depth of field will be. I have a lens that has an aperature of 1.8, but most of your stock lenses will generally reach around 4.5. No matter what your lowest is, try that first and see how blurry the background gets. The further apart your subject is from the background, the blurrier the background will be.

In the end, it all boils down to paying attention not only to your subject, but also what is behind it. One of the biggest mistakes that most people will make at least once is to have an object, such as a tree, “growing” out of a person’s head. But, if you learn to pay attention to what is going on in the background, your photos will improve immensely.

That wraps it up for my first photo tip. As you go around taking photos of the world around you, keep this one pointer in mind. Post your favorite simplicity photos as comments to this article and check back to see mine as well. If you don’t want to upload it, tell me how simplicity is improving your photos during your adventures outdoors.