We all have busy schedules between work, family, friends and our photography. A simple life is the thing of the past for most people these days. But, when it comes to photography, simplicity is almost always the better choice. If you think about it, simplicity works with all the genres. Whether sports, portraits, landscape, street, or wedding photography, the photos that emphasize minimalism are popular for a reason. The big lesson? Less is more!
What Makes for Simplicity?
The beauty of a simplistic photo is that it leaves room for different people to connect with it on many levels. With each addition to an image, whether people, places or things, the photographer—in a way—isolates potential viewers from connecting with their image beyond liking it or not liking it.
Here are a few perspectives on what tends to make simplicity in a photo:
Monochrome: Many photographers see the removal of color as a symbol of simplicity. That's often true. Monochrome images have a way of presenting themselves as being simpler since color, in its own way, adds rather than detracts. In order to create simplicity, you're usually removing rather than adding.
Quality not Quantity: Even though you're detracting from an image, simplicity isn't necessarily about quantity in an image. It's about the quality of arrangement or composition of the image. You can have an image of a group of children that is still considered simple rather than busy or chaotic based on the background, if they're wearing the same color versus several different colors, etc.
Solitude or Attitude?: Simplicity can be about both solitude and attitude. A lone cabin in a snow storm like the image above represents solitude, but also interjects an attitude. That attitude can be "leave me alone" or melancholy or desire for isolation. Every viewer will connect with this image in a different way. Those who aren't comfortable with solitude may cringe. Those who relish peace and quiet will embrace it. It's all about the personal experience of the viewer.
People, Places and Things
While people, places and things go together, they often need to take turns being the highlight in an image in order to be simple. An overcrowded image presents chaos. While this can certainly work in genres like street photography or journalism, it contradicts the simple theme. There's a time and place to feature a person or a place or a thing. Think about your goal and which one is paramount to the message of your final image.
The Role of Depth of Field
A busy photo can be greatly reduced to a simpler one by playing with depth of field. Examples of fine art, still photography, nature, and portrait photography are the first to come to mind. Take this image of pencils as an example. Had all the pencils been in focus, the image would appear as a bit more cluttered. By using a shallow depth of field, we isolate the two pencils in front, creating a simpler and eye-catching image. In this case, the color certainly helps and does not reduce the simple feel to it.
When Crowding an Image Works and Doesn't Work
If we look at portrait photography, there are times when added details work to enhance an image. A photo of a girl studying in a library that shows books, even if they're blurred, in the background contributes to the setting. It says something about her. In that case, these added bookcases make the image less simplistic, but they are necessary to tell the story. A simpler photo might have a girl reading a book in a park. In this case, the details of playgrounds and other people in the background are unwanted. Positioning yourself so that those details are removed completely, not just blurred by shallow depth of field, creates the simple impact you're wanting.
What the Pros Say
I recently talked to a few pros about the concept of simplicity and here's what one of them said, "I guess the goal of any serious photographer is to produce a simple image, compelling to the eye, engaging to the emotion, and communicates the message without any clutter. There is nothing simplistic in that!"
He's right. To create simplicity is not always simple. That's part of being an artist, extracting simple subjects that are still compelling and evoke emotion. That's the ultimate goal.
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