Simplicity should be one of the easiest thing in the world to capture. And yet it can prove extremely challenging. In general we lead complicated, noisy lives, and that’s reflected in our photography. So think of this sketch as the chance to let all the clutter and racket go at least for a little while and concentrate on something simple.
You can also think of simplicity as isolation. It’s the art of controlling your viewer’s eye by giving her only one thing to look at.
The most obvious way to do this is to literally eliminate everything else in the composition except the subject. In this example, your eye goes straight to where the photographer wants it to go. The composition wasn’t much of a challenge here, as the artwork was mounted on a plain, white wall.
Sometimes shot composition has to be more selective. This fish was part of a larger artwork, a whole school spread out across a library wall. The larger group might have worked as an example of pattern, but I had to move in closer to isolate a single subject. Note that you don’t necessarily have to have the entire subject in the frame.
Nor do you have to limit yourself to subjects neatly surrounded by neutral backgrounds. This radiator cap from an old Ford truck is backed by the hood and front of the vehicle. But by getting close and filling the frame with the subject, I managed to isolate it.
A narrow depth of field can also be your friend when you’re shooting for a simple image. Getting close to this faucet handle helps isolate it, but the background still would have added a lot of distracting detail. By narrowing field depth, I knocked the background out of focus and greatly reduced its ability to draw the viewer’s eye away from the subject.
Other visual elements – such as this single blue element surrounded by a contrasting orange background – can also be used to simplify photos.
Other composition elements can be so strong that they give you a sense of simplicity even in what otherwise would be a complex image. If all these plants were the same color, the result would be visual chaos. But that one purple flower stands isolated. Your eye might stray around to some of the other leaves, but the main draw remains that one isolated spot.
So you don’t have to limit a shot to just one thing in order to create a sense of simplicity. But be careful. The more you add to the shot, the less isolated your main subject will be.