Week 9 – Simplify

The goal for Week 9 of the 52 Week Landscape Composition Photo Challenge is to Simplify. Easier said than done. We have all heard the ‘KISS’ Principle, which basically means you should strive to keep things as simple as possible and avoid unnecessary complexities. This applies to almost everything we do; not just Photography. When it comes to Photography Composition, this should be a ‘rule’ for every photo. However, this is one of the most difficult things to master. Every photo we take should only include elements that add to the key message and we should eliminate everything that is distracting from our main message.

I struggle with this quite a bit. When I am in front of a beautiful scene, I struggle to decide what to include and what to leave out. The main message is what I struggle the most. I have gotten better at this but I have a feeling I can improve quite a bit more. In some cases, the message seems pretty straight forward but in many cases I have to consciously think about the message rather than randomly shoot a scene.

What I have learned is that in order to achieve simplicity, the first thing you need is to be clear on your message. Once done, eliminate everything that doesn’t add to your message. Once you have the message, try different angles of view, recompose by placing your main subject in different parts of the frame, zoom-in, use shallow DOF, etc. to see if you can avoid distractions. You have to remember that the outer edges of your frame are also part of the scene. If you can see it, your viewers can as well. Are there things there that you can remove?

The mistake I make is that I try to pack too much into my image assuming that it might enhance the overall image. However, often times, it does the exact opposite. As Ansel Adams said: “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” We often forget the viewer. If you are going to take a photo that others see, you have to pay attention to how your photo will be interpreted by others. When someone is looking at a photo, they may recognize the scene for what it is – a sunset, Golden Gate Bridge, Half Dome, etc. However, they really don’t know what they are looking at. If you try to keep whatever is in your frame to only those things that are absolutely necessary to convey your story, it becomes easier for the viewer to grasp that.

Something attracted you to a scene and made you photograph that. You probably felt something while witnessing the scene. So, as Photographers, it is up to us to figure out what it is that attracted us to a scene and convey that to our viewers. Simplification is the key to capturing a story with an intended message and make sure your viewers have the best chance to understand your intended message.

Coming to the photo that I captured for this week’s challenge. I was in Santa Teresa Park for Sunset and tried different compositional techniques but nothing really attracted me. It was a wide sweeping landscape with rolling hills and beautiful colors. I have shot this lone tree multiple times before. I love the way the lone tree sits on top of this small hill. This particular day, I loved how the lights behind the tree added to the overall scene. Every time I see this tree, I get the feeling of being alone but not lonely. So, I decided to use the rule of thirds and put the tree on the third, put 1/3 grass and 2/3 sky and include just the tree and nothing else.

Is this a good example of simplicity? I think so? But as I learn more and more, I may think otherwise. But for now, this is my take on the goal for this week’s challenge.

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