Did you ever hear the somewhat annoying saying that is abbreviated to the word “KISS”? It is used as a reminder to “keep it simple, stupid”, which is a way of emphasizing that nearly anything in life can be improved through the use of basic simplicity. I actually prefer “Keep it simple sweetheart”, sounds much nicer.
Planning a party? Keep it simple? Decorating a room? Keep it simple? Buying new clothes? Keep it simple. It goes on and on. This concept really applies to photographic composition as well, and for the purpose of this discussion we are going to look at three different photographs that are excellent examples of the way that compositional simplicity is often an optimal method.
How is that possible? It isn’t ALWAYS the case, but in a very general way, the photographer who assesses their compositions for clutter or irrelevant objects (and then removes them) will have images that are much more powerful and clear. This is because clutter will always distract the viewer and usually prevents them from getting the “message” of the image.
Consider the first image below…
Look at the simplicity of the entire composition. Here we have what is clearly a study of line and form. How can we assess the quality of this composition? We can look at the ways in which the photographer relied on rigid lines and on curved lines, we can consider the value of the colors, and we can even consider the use of the lighting.
Let’s start with the lines. This photograph actually has what are known as “leading lines” which are visual guides that take the viewer to the focal point of the image. In this case it is lines created by the building and which leads the eye to the ornamental vase at the corner.
Of course, the leading lines also lead us to consider the value of the colors too. Look at the “warmth” of the colors in the building and the vessel, and now consider the “coolness” of the sky and the shadow. These values create a nice range of balance that is actually very intentional and very organized.
Finally, we can consider the compositional value of the lighting in this scene. If it were not as brilliant and bold as it is, this image would not have the strong lines and pointed shadows that it offers. This means that the photographer intentionally shot the subject in the strong light of day to create the results.
This image would have required a small aperture, a neutral density or polarizing filter to control hues and colours, and a shutter speed suitable to the potency of the direct light.
The second image is dramatically different from this first, but it too uses strong and angular lines to lead the viewer towards gentler curved lines.
Here we see a tennis ball, and the shadow of some sort of gridwork located to the side of it. This might be the gridwork from the tennis racket or the tennis net, but that is not the issue for this image. Instead, the photographer asks the viewer to consider the angles of these lines in direct opposition to the rounded curve of the ball and of its shadow.
This image is also another that uses light and dark for compositional strength as well. We have the white and the gray, but we also have the bold yellow of the ball. The major “action” of the image is in the farthest two thirds of the scene, however, and the remainder of the space is full of a blurred field of white and gray.
This may initially seem to have been a somewhat basic composition, but even this brief assessment shows exactly how much is going on within it.
The photographer implemented some macro photographic techinques in this scene by recording the finest details of the surface of the ball and by using a very wide aperture or short depth of field. The ambient lighting helps to make shooting the image a bit easier, and this would have required a mid-range shutter speed for success.
The final picture is also a bit of a macro work as well. It uses a studio setup, however, to accomplish the most basic of compositional works.
Here we see that the photographer has opted to position the apple inside of a lightbox setup. We know this to be the case by the complete absence of a visible seam between the base and the background. We also know it to be the case because of the lighting at work across the top of the apple as well.
A photographer can take an example from this image by considering the way that isolation of an object can make it more interesting and effective. Notice how you pay attention to the texture of the apple’s skin, the single leaf, and the ways that light is playing across the glossy surface.
A simple compositional shift can often make any photograph far more effective and interesting.