Clutter Robs Your Photos Of Impact :: Digital Photo Secrets

Clutter Robs Your Photos Of Impact

by David Peterson 3 comments

If only there weren't so much extra “stuff” in the world. Clutter is everywhere. It’s in your room. It’s out on the street. It’s the extra wine glasses you left on the counter because you were too tired to put everything away before going to bed. Clutter kills photos by drawing the eye away from what’s most important -your subject. Here’s what you can do to keep your shots clutter free for good.

Step One: Diagnose The Problem

Clutter comes in many forms. Yes, there will always be clutter in your kitchen, but what about that pole sticking out of your friend’s head? That counts too. Basically, anything that gets in the way of your shot is clutter.

I hate to sound like a misanthrope, but some people are clutter too. If they aren’t really involved in the image, and their presence doesn’t serve a purpose, it’s better to avoid putting them in the shot. It’s completely okay to politely tell someone they’re blocking the shot. I do it all the time.

Clutter can also occur in the background. Power lines are a common culprit. They practically ruin most nature shots, and there isn’t anything you can do except photograph something else. Most nature shots that aren’t 100% nature should be avoided. Unless you’re trying to make a statement about mankind’s impact on the world, keep the powerlines and excess buildings out of the shot.

Step Two: Walk Up To Your Subject Or Zoom In

I don’t even bother moving clutter out of the way for most shots. I just zoom in. When you do this, you get more of your subject in the frame, and the clutter just disappears. If you can’t zoom in any further, just walk a little closer. You’ll be amazed at how much clutter you can get rid of by doing this one thing.

Step Three: Move What You Can

When zooming in fails, it’s time to start moving things around. If you’re about to take pictures inside of your house, do a quick de-cluttering. Put items in their drawers, and remove any decor that isn’t absolutely necessary. This is especially important if you are trying to use your images to sell your house. Nothing says “claustrophobic pit” more than a picture of a messy living room.

It’s a little more tricky to move things around when you’re taking pictures outdoors. The best strategy is to simply move your subject to a place where there is no clutter. That could mean taking two steps to the right, or it could mean walking a mile. Cities and forests can be extremely cluttered almost everywhere you look. Don’t be surprised if it takes awhile to find a good place to isolate your subject.

When you’re in nature (or your backyard), you can at least move debris out of the way. Is your friend standing next to a pile of weird looking twigs? Don’t just stand there. Move them of out the shot before you press the shutter button. You’ll have a much cleaner image.

Step Four: Turn Around, Change Your Angle, Or Frame Your Shot Differently

When you can’t actually move the clutter, it’s time to look for some fresh angles. If power lines are getting in the way of your beautiful mountain shot, you’ll need to walk past them to get an uncluttered image. Before you do this, look behind you and make sure there aren’t any better opportunities. There’s no point in walking a long distance when you can get a better shot by simply turning around.

You might also want to get low or high. If getting down on your belly helps you keep an ugly tree away from your image, do it. Keep changing the angle until the clutter is gone.

Step Four: Accept What You Cannot Change

Powerlines a just terrible. I wish they were all underground so they wouldn’t get in the way of so many good shots. Having said that, there isn’t anything I can do about it. I can’t just uproot them for a few moments while I snap a picture.

If a shooting situation is too cluttered, and you can’t do anything about it, just find something else to photograph. You can’t turn that frog into a prince. You’re better off spending your time looking for pristine scenes.

What do you do to keep clutter from your photographs? Show me by uploading your photo to the Clutter Free Gallery.

Most people think this post is Interesting. What do you think?


  1. duane says:

    In the last example I would edit the wires out with a scratch removal tool and work on cloning the poles out, a lot of minor clutter can be removed and nobody would know it was there.

  2. Tomi says:

    Hi David,
    And what if the so-called clutter is the exact theme of the photo, or at least part of it - like the background for the main subject of your photo?!
    I think that in the photo you've used to illustrate your fourth point, the photographer wanted to present the helpless old street-cleaner person standing in front of a messy pavement in a disordered neighborhood.

  3. Aldis says:

    Depth of field is a technique that may help in removing clutter. Blur everything but the actual object. Can also be done later with a graphics software.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

6 minutes
About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.