One way to improve your images is to simplify them. Reduce the compositional elements to the basics so the viewer clearly knows the reason why the image was made. Clutter, busyness and distractions complicate a photo and leave the viewer wondering what the main subject is. Carve away the extraneous, so what you see in the viewfinder are just the essentials. Study the entire viewfinder, especially the edges, to make sure there’s nothing unnecessary. This takes practice. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll upgrade your images.
There are a number of techniques to utilize to simplify a composition. Use a zoom or long-focal-length lens to eliminate background clutter. The busier the background, the truer this rings out. A tight crop reduces the subject to the essential parts. Be careful to not crop off important parts of the subject. As you zoom in, be aware of the background. If it’s still busy, move to your right, left, get higher or get lower to eliminate the distraction. Another technique is to use depth of field to your advantage. Open the aperture to throw the background out of focus. If the subject is very close to the background, this won’t be possible. If you can, have the subject change position. A wide-open aperture, coupled with a long lens, with the subject a good distance from the background, is a great recipe to limit depth of field.
Another technique is to move in close. It’s the same as if you use a zoom, but you zoom with your feet. The closer you get to the subject, the more you isolate it from a distraction. Pare down what you see until the image is reduced to the basics. An alternative is to change the angle from which you photograph. A few steps to either side can make all the difference in the world.
ISOLATE YOUR SUBJECT: For the image of the ground squirrel that accompanies this article, I used a long lens. It was very cooperative and close, but I still got out my big zoom to isolate it against the grass. I wanted narrow depth of field to throw the background out of focus. An inherent aspect of depth of field is as an image is magnified, the depth of field decreases. As I wanted the subject to pop out from the background, I opted for a longer lens to fill the frame and create shallow depth of field.
USE DEPTH OF FIELD: In the image of the merlin in the wildflowers, I intentionally threw the background out of focus. I used a long lens and set the aperture to wide open. While both of these were key, the aspect that had the biggest impact was I got on my belly so the background would be far away from the bird.
CONCENTRATE ON DETAILS: When dealt a bum hand, I try to make lemonade out of lemons. In my pursuit to capture fall color in the Colorado high country, I woke up to three days of straight rain. During the one lull I had, I ventured from my cabin determined to make a photo. Nothing materialized until I looked at my feet. As if sent a signal from the aspen gods, there it was. I zoomed in to the slice of fallen leaves and raindrops. While the grand landscape image was lost that year, I came home with a winner as I concentrated on the details. A simplified image.