Simplify, Emphasize, Exclude in Composition


For me, the essence of composition can be summarized in three words: Simplify, Emphasize and Exclude.  Simplify your compositions by emphasizing what's important to you and excluding what isn't.  Composition is all about SEEing.  The most significant problem that photographs have is a cluttered composition.    When we look through the viewfinder, we care most about the subject--we want to make sure that we get that part right.  We don't as readily think about all that surrounds the subject.  It takes time and practice to learn to pay attention to the background and the edges of the frame to see what's going on there as well.

Muddy Creek Falls Closeup

As you are getting ready to take your picture, ask yourself some questions.  What's most interesting to you about what you're shooting?  Is it the colors? Is it the texture of the subject or the way it's lit?  Is it a pattern or design that strikes you?  Is there a message you want to convey or a story you want to tell?  If you can isolate what you think is important about the scene you're shooting, you then can emphasize those things and exclude all those things that distract from what you find most important, interesting or pleasing about the image.

  1. Are you mostly interested in the textures of your photograph?  If so, perhaps a black & white image will highlight the textures and simplify the composition by removing distracting color.
  2. Is there clutter in the background?  Try shooting with a very narrow depth of field to blur it so that it's not noticeable.  Is you interest in the grand expanse of a landscape?  Make sure you have a lot of depth of field to have it all in focus.
  3. Is there a pattern that has caught your eye?  Try zooming in around that pattern so it fills up your frame as much as possible.
  4. Perhaps you've found a very interesting subject--try shooting from an angle with a lot of distance between the subject and background so that the background can be a solid color and the subject will stand out.
We'll cover a lot of these kinds of techniques when we cover elements of design and composition, but the main theme that will be consistent throughout is SEE: simplify, emphasize, exlcude.  Know what you think is interesting, important, or beautiful about your scene and remove as many distractions as possible so that the message of your photograph can come through most clearly.