In photography, just as in life, simple is often best. So let me help you simplify photography with these five easy tips. Once you incorporate them into your photography, I promise your images will dramatically improve.
Five Easy Tips to Simplify Photography
When I first began as a photographer, I remember thinking how difficult it was to remember all of the different pieces of information I had heard on how to create great images. Set your camera here, use this lens, never do this, always do that; blah, blah, blah…
Yes, I completely understand that there is knowledge and skill required to take great pictures, but as photographer’s we tend to over complicate things. In this article, let me help you re-focus on what is most important in photography. Keeping all of the clutter in your mind that can cause you to over think great images and ruin otherwise awesome images!
Follow these five simple tips, and your images will get better. I promise.
Let’s get started:
1) Simplify your Photography by Simplifying your Gear
If you have ever tried to learn from some of the past masters of photography, you’ll begin to notice a simplicity to their photography. Not only a simplicity in the images but a simplicity to their approach. For example, Henri Cartier-Bresson mostly used a small Leica camera and a 50mm lens.
By simplifying his equipment, he was less focused on his gear, and less noticeable to those he was photographing. He was then able to focus his mind on searching for, and capturing beautiful images, not fumbling around with equipment.
Ansel Adams said, “…any photographer worth his (or her) salt could make some beautiful things with pinhole cameras.”
The image below, “Moonrise Over Hernandez,” was taken very quickly after Ansel Adams had pulled the car to the side of the road. He knew his equipment, and he intuitively knew the settings needed for this image. This is what simplification is all about. You are ready to shoot at a moment’s notice.
Understanding that gear is not the end-all, be-all of photography will help you to simplify and de-clutter what you have to think about before you even take a picture.
For me, I use a 85mm 1.8 lens 90% of the time. Why? Because I know what I will see with the lens even before I put it on the camera. I am in-tune with the lens, and I know how to use it to create beautiful portraits every time.
I know many photographers who love the 50mm 1.8, and use it exclusively as well.
My advice to you is, stop worrying so much about gear and find a lens that allows you to see through the camera what you see in your mind’s eye. I would suggest a lens with a small f-stop to allow for shallow depth of field, 2.8 or below. This will give you a greater ability to be creative in your images.
2) Simplify your Photography by Simplifying your Camera Settings
This is a big one. So many photographers today feel that if they aren’t shooting in manual mode, they aren’t really a photographer. Nonsense. Again, the proof is in the images, not in the camera mode selected.
If you spent less time thinking about the settings of your camera and more about composition or light, don’t you think your images would improve? I know they would!
To simplify camera settings, I would suggest using aperture priority mode for portrait photographers, and shutter priority mode for sports or action photographers. By shooting in these modes, you are letting the camera choose some of the settings while you select the settings that are most important. To learn about these camera modes, check out this article on them.
When I shoot an engagement session, my goal is to create images where the couple looks and feels in love.
By understanding this, I know that the background is of less importance and therefore shooting with a shallow depth of field for most of my images will be what I want.
You control the depth of field with aperture, so shooting in aperture priority mode is a good way to simplify your settings.
Again, some people consider shooting in manual mode to be the holy grail of photography, but I’m not interested in those things. I am only interested in delivering excellent images to my clients.
By shooting in aperture priority mode, I simplify by removing the need to think about shutter speed and ISO. I can focus solely on the f-stop I plan to use for each shot. This simplification allows me to focus on what is most important, namely: light, subject, and composition.
In this image from an engagement session, I was in aperture priority mode, with the f-stop set at f2.0. Once I have the aperture decided on and set, I no longer need to worry about camera settings. I can now focus on what matters.
Positioning them with their backs to the sun always creates soft light by backlighting their faces. Ahhhh, soft light.
Then, I simply need to wait for emotion to capture and consider the composition while capturing it. It’s just that easy.
If you incorporate this into your preparation routine, thinking about your image goals before you head out on a shoot, it will greatly simplify what you worry about when taking pictures.
When shooting a bike race, you may have two image goals. One, to freeze motion and two, to show motion blur to give the feel of movement. Achieve both goals by adjusting the shutter speed, thus shooting in shutter priority mode will greatly simplify the settings you need to worry about for this session.
During the race, consider only the shutter speed while shooting and focus your attention instead, on light and composition.
As you simplify your camera settings, you begin to simplify your photography. Reducing the distraction of too many camera settings, truly allows you to focus on taking great photographs.
3) Simplify your Photography by Removing Distractions from your Images
Removing distractions from your images is an easy way to simplify your images. In the image below, the clean, minimal scene helps to focus the attention of the viewer exactly where I want it to go. In the image below of the succulents, the clean white background and soft-directional light has delivered a visually pleasing image and focused the viewer’s attention on the subject.
The very essence of this type of photography is removing anything from the image that distracts. As a portrait photographer, this is something I often do to draw the eye to the subject.
You may be thinking that you don’t have a studio and couldn’t achieve this look.
Well, the first image was taken in the clients home. I often will find a small corner with a monochromatic wall and use it to shoot. Don’t let fake restrictions stand in your way!
Whether in a clients home or a studio, you can create these types of images. In the image below I got low, to isolate the couple with the clouds and the cherry blossoms.
Take a look at this bowl of blueberries. There is nothing to distract from the blueberries in this image. The table and bowl are white, and the light is soft and directional. This soft, directional light serves another purpose as well. It creates light in the water on the berries themselves, helping to pull that detail out and give this image a feeling of freshness.
Remember, shooting this way doesn’t require that everything is white. You can have contrast, but it should be subtle and even. When shooting in this style, the background does not have to be white to carry that same feel. Isolation, soft directional light, and neutrals are what brings that feel home.
This minimalistic style is a trendy style of photography at the moment and can help you deliver beautiful images without the stress of worrying about the background.
4) Simplify your Photography by Shooting with a Shallow Depth of Field
Using a shallow depth of field is a great way to remove distractions from an image by blurring them out and drawing the attention of the viewer to your subject. Using a shallow depth of field also gives your images are more modern, professional look.
In the next two pictures of flowers, notice how the use of depth of field focuses your attention on the subject. In the first image, you may think it is simply a picture of flowers, but in the second image, you know which tulip was the focus of my image.
The first image is not wrong, but the second image removes clutter and distraction and focuses the attention of the viewer.
Shallow depth of field is a powerful way to simplify. Often, especially when shooting pictures of children, you don’t have time to select the perfect background. In both of these pictures, the background was not enhancing the image, easily removed by using a shallow depth of field.
With both of these images, imagine the background just as sharp as the subject. How distracting would that be?
It would turn these images into snapshots, creating far less compelling images where the viewer would become easily distracted by what is happening in the background.
To achieve this type of depth of field, you will need a very fast lens, one that can reach an f-stop under f2.0. I recommend that every photographer start with either the 50mm f1.8 lens, or the 85mm 1.8 lens. Both are inexpensive and will deliver excellent results.
In this photo, the background just becomes a blur of color helping my son, who happened to be sick, pop out of the image. There is no mistaking what my subject is in this picture.
If you don’t have a lens that can achieve f-stops below 2.0, then use a lens with a long focal length to create depth of field. By utilizing a 200mm-300mm lens, you should also be able to create depth of field.
5) Simplify your Photography by Getting Close to your Subject
Getting close, and filling the frame with your subject is a great way to get rid of distractions.
Robert Capa, a famous photographer said, “If your images aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”
This quote refers to this tip of removing distractions by getting close. Therefore, when you get close, you intentionally crop out most of the background and draw the attention of the viewer directly to your subject. This won’t work in all situations, but when used correctly can help your images to stand out.
In this urban senior image, the piles of garbage could not be blurred enough to create a beautiful picture. That left me with the option of getting close, to remove the debris from the image. The texture of the bricks remains, but the trash is gone.
By getting close allows you to remove distractions and keep the viewer’s eyes right where you want them. With family sessions, people leaning in and looking snuggly is an awesome way to capture images that convey love.
As a result, shooting this way not only removes the distractions of the background but gives the feeling of love between the family members.
Photography can be hard to learn, but as you learn to simplify it will become easier to understand and allow you to focus more on simply capturing great images. Start incorporating these five easy tips into your photography and you will see a vast improvement in your images.