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CCYL 4: Simplicity

Since most of us are stuck inside our homes or yards, I decided to rerun a series I did several years ago, called Cee’s Compose Yourself Lesson (CCYL).  This is not a challenge, but I suggest you play with new ideas or ways of looking at taking photos.  Hopefully this will fill your day with a little excitement and joy.  Please feel free to play along and join in the fun.


If you think that photographing simplicity is easy, think again.  Simplicity seems easy, but it really isn’t.

Most people, especially people who are just starting out in photography, try to put as much into their photo as possible.  They want to tell a story, but in their zeal they capture too much and give us so much information that we lose the main point.  Putting too much in a picture is the most common mistake a photographer can make.

In this lesson I want to go to the opposite extreme.  The use of void spaces in a photograph can be extremely powerful. Void space is usually a neutral color, or black or white, used in the background.  Use your background to make your subject stand out.  This goose photo for instance has a rather dark neutral colored background. The dark space around the swan really makes him stand out quite nicely.

Simplicity in photography usually means one object that doesn’t take up more than 1/4 of your photo, or one texture.   Some things that can give you a great sense of simplicity, like reflections and shadows, don’t even show the object.  They hint at what is really there and let your mind fill in the blanks.

Since I specialize in macro photography, you might think that my photos all reflect simplicity, but that is far from the truth.  A macro of a flower takes up the full frame and shows off the intricate, mind-boggling geometric detail and incredible color work in a flower.  It’s anything but simple.

Here is an example of a simple flower photograph.  The tight bud of the flower only hints at what is to come as sunny days bring it to bloom.  I used bokeh (keeping the background deliberately out of focus) to highlight my ranunculus bud.  I should probably take down the brightness of the background a little as that sunny patch to the right of the bud is a little distracting, but I’m showing unaltered shots to help you think about your own photos.

I really don’t care if your photo is well balanced at this point. Just get used to seeing things very simply.  It will help you develop more of a photographic eye.  If you have more than one subject, move, change a new subject, take something away.

Turning a photo into black and white can sometimes simplify or tone down your background.

Another thing to try is cropping your photo to cut out more of the noise.  The objective of capturing simplicity is to pare your subject down to just one thing, then present it in a way that is dramatic or that tells a story.

This first photo tells a story of a family in black and white.  But for simplicity the people occupy nearly half the photo.

Now in this photo with just the little girl displayed in the lower right of the photo, it tells almost the same story but leaves more up to our imagination.  The girl appears to be held up in the air and someone else is taking her photo.

Here are a couple other examples of simplicity.

A plane.

Snowmobile against sky.

Just for fun, this is the original snowmobile photo which was being stored on top of a storage container.

CCYL 1: How Your Camera is Not Like Your Eye

CCYL 2: What all well-composed photos have in common

CCYL 3: Always Take More than One Photo

I’ve gathered a list of challenges and their hosts.  So if you know a challenge host, please direct them to my blog.  Feel free to contact me anytime.  I hope everyone will be able to use my lists.

Qi (energy) hugs


22 replies »

  1. Well described and well illustrated! Your lesson also illustrates its point by presenting just one idea at a time. So often I try to get way too much information into a post. I hope to learn this lesson.


    • Thanks so much for your terrific comment. Thanks Ludwig. I’ve learned that photography is quite simple if we break it down into small chunks. Not always easy to do though.

      Liked by 1 person

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