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Composition and Avoiding Clutter

It's an often-heard recommendation to avoid clutter. A look around my house would confirm I don't always follow that suggestion. But when it comes to photography, it's advice well worth paying attention to.

"Clutter" is a term often used to describe elements in an image that distract from the intended subject matter. When preparing for some shots, time can be a scarce commodity, but to the extent that you can afford to, don't rush your shooting. For each shot, or at least series of shots, spend some time exploring what you have to work with at that location. Decide what you want to include in your image and position your tripod and your camera accordingly. As you work yourself into the zone and compose your shot, carefully examine everything you can see through the viewfinder. For every significantly identifiable object or element, consider not only whether it is contributing to what you want to express, but whether it might have the potential to, if you can figure out a way to reframe the image without losing the impact of other parts of the composition.

It can also be a good idea to take at least a brief inventory of what is getting cut out of your proposed framing. I sometimes find myself noticing an even better flower or what have you, just to one side of where I was just shooting. I can then proceed to recompose and shoot that new discovery. But I know it's possible to miss that possibility completely and head on down the trail to other spots. Hopefully I do the best I can to look for such options, but it's a foregone conclusion I've missed some. The possibilities are basically limitless, which is both bad news and good news. I will always miss at least some shots, but at the same time, I know there are always countless possible shots waiting to be discovered.

The guidelines for avoiding clutter in your daily life include slowing down, having everything in its place, and getting rid of what you don't actually need. All of these pertain admirably to improving your composition skills by avoiding clutter. Consider your options carefully. Make adjustments carefully. And take your time.

Perhaps this is why I find myself drawn to the wide-angle landscape shot, where a simple zoom change, or a shift of camera position by no more than a few inches, can have a huge impact on composition. The challenge can be downright fun. Sometimes, in the process of repositioning to avoid clutter, I can stumble on a completely unexpected vantage point I would never have found otherwise. Maybe its something you wouldn't understand unless you make a habit of looking at the world while crawling around on the ground. Really, you should try it.

And don't forget to check your depth of field. You can diminish the impact of background clutter by only stopping down as far as necessary. Not all landscape shots need to be shot on the smallest aperture possible.

To the extent that you can afford to, its worth it to spend some time on these sorts of things. Some slight problems can be adjusted later in Photoshop of course, but not everything can, and rarely would such digital tweaking approach the level of satisfaction possible by getting the shot right, in camera, and on location. Trying to repair an image problem on your computer may improve your Photoshop skills. But learning to see potential compositions before pressing the shutter can improve your creative eye. And only the latter can make you better at composing shots through real world field experience.

Now if only I could deal with all the clutter I accumulate in my house.

Date posted: May 27, 2018


Copyright © 2018 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Leaving Things Out
Simplicity can be Complicated

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