The Impact of Less

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A Guest post by Nick Fleming.

Photography is about choices and decisions. Make the right ones up to the moment the shutter button is pressed and a successful composition will result.  This sounds simple enough but we all know how frustratingly elusive this can be. The key to good photography is consistently choosing the right options and we achieve this not through following a magic formula, nor by having the best kit, but by practice.

However, the single piece of information that seems to resonate more than any other with my workshop attendees is that the way to impactful pictures is as much about what you decide to include as what you choose to omit. In my experience it is this last bit, the concept of excluding things to achieve a better picture, that has proved particularly helpful.

I have found, especially with those who are just beginning to feel their way in photography, that there is a tendancy to include too much in their scene. They can not decide what to leave out so they end up including everything. This has as much to do with a lack of confidence than as a desire not to miss anything but nonetheless it leads to a generally cluttered and uninteresting photo.

One way to avoid this is to learn to focus on what really matters in your scene, go for simplicity and be rigorous in deciding what needs to be there. Get to the heart of what you are trying to say: tell it simply and clearly. Concentrate on form, shape, gesture and expression. Less really can be more. The art of leaving out obvious detail is to invite the viewers to use their imagination and to fill in the gaps which have deliberately been left out. It will add a touch of mystery to your composition.

A. waiting his turn-Nick-Fleming.jpg

A potential Gurkha recruit to the British Army waits in line to take one of several physical tests. There is a lot at stake and he is understandably anxious.

His expression and posture says it all. We don’t need to see the figures behind him. The picture hints at their presence though.

Field Training Boots-Nick-Fleming.jpg

Successful candidates are taken to the UK from Nepal for basic training. Here an instructor puts Gurkha recruits through a field fitness session.

We know what these young soldiers are doing without seeing the whole scene. Wet grass, creased boots and the stance of the instructor we can feel their pain!
 
Ploughing Bihar-Nick-Fleming.jpg

A rural scene from India. The viewer instinctively knows what’s on the end of the plough; by leaving it out I was able to get closer to the scene. For me, the woman dressed in a colourful sari sowing the seeds is central to the picture.

Returning in Their Boats With Grass-Nick-Fleming.jpg 

Monks return across flooded fields to their monastery with grass for their cows. Again all the information is in the picture. The viewer knows the figure in the foreground is in a wooden boat very similar to the one in the mid-ground. It is his shape and the light from the setting sun which completes the scene.

Untitled-5-Nick-Fleming.jpg
 
This simple picture is about shapes and figures. We don’t need to know what the man pulling in the net looks like. We fill in the gaps with our imagination.

See more of Nick Fleming’s work at his site – nickfleming.com

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Some Older Comments

  • Tiberman Sajiwan Ramyead March 2, 2012 07:07 am

    I am struggling with DSLR photography, at 68, in my own sincere sort of way. If only I could be reminded daily about the articles messgage! But I know that simplicity is achieved after some pain - painfully simple!

  • Frank March 2, 2012 04:34 am

    For a new photographer like me, this article really stands out and it's theme is the reason I find so many great "professional" photos appeal to me...the subject is clear, nothing distracts my attention away from it. Recently, I (Rambler) responded to the following series of photos trying to point out these very things to the photographer.

    http://www.luminous-landscape.com/forum/index.php?topic=63131.0

  • GariRae March 2, 2012 04:33 am

    Although I appreciate the "less is more" concept regarding travel and editorial photo categories, such as the examples, I wish there would have been nature and landscape examples. I'm just experimenting with "less is more" regarding nature and I'm having a hard time finding examples that find a happy medium between expansive landscapes and nature studies. If someone could write an article or send reference links, I'd greatly appreciate it.

  • Blacksquiggle February 25, 2012 10:49 am

    Thank you great article made me think a bit more about how i take my shots.

  • Lauren @From Everyday To Gourmet February 25, 2012 04:14 am

    Great article! Thanks so much! I'm so new with my DSLR and articles like these are so very helpful!

    @Allison Tsk tsk. Didn't your mother teach you that if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all? Especially when you're WRONG. Sheesh. A great article was written and given to you FOR FREE of charge and all you could focus on was a possible incorrect word?

  • Arch February 25, 2012 03:14 am

    Wonderful article with perfect examples to drive the point home. Well done.

  • gnslngr45 February 25, 2012 12:54 am

    Absolutely agree. non-typical headshots can really add to a photoshoot.

    Flickr:
    http://bit.ly/oufr4c

  • clare February 24, 2012 01:45 am

    Impactful is a word: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/impactful

  • dok February 23, 2012 10:41 pm

    "less is more" said Mies van der Rohe, architect. true on so many levels...

  • Mridula February 23, 2012 03:49 pm

    I wish I would try this out more. Here is one which fits the bill in terms of being uncluttered.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2011/12/skywatch-friday-soap-bubble-and-the-sun.html

  • Medford Photographer February 23, 2012 03:20 pm

    Simple lines and simple colors make the most effective portraits, good point on the need for restricting the shot to the barest details to get the most poignant results.

  • raghavendra February 23, 2012 01:44 pm

    I have made a story. It is simple yet powerful :)

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/p/cat-story.html

  • ccting February 23, 2012 11:44 am

    Simplicity is not simple...Simple is not simplicity..

  • Scottc February 23, 2012 10:56 am

    Definitely agree, a great article.

    This photo has something in common with title photo of this article.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5710070511/

  • Jai Catalano February 23, 2012 10:38 am

    Think like a photographer in the mid 1800's and minimal is all you had.

  • Jeff E Jensen February 23, 2012 08:53 am

    This is great advice. It is easy to try to cram too much into a frame, but as shown, the impact can be greater without the "extra". Of course, it can work both ways, can't it?

    Here's a couple of shots of some lace makers. Including the women in the image would not have added to the images:

    http://jeffejensen.blogspot.com/2011/09/lace-makers.html

  • John Bokma February 23, 2012 08:40 am

    @allison: time to update your dictionary: https://www.google.com/search?q=impactful

  • hubblefromthesun February 23, 2012 07:50 am

    The first examples are great at showcasing hints of emotion which doesn't need the surrounding context to feel it.

  • Allison February 23, 2012 07:26 am

    "impactful" isn't a word

  • steve slater February 23, 2012 06:41 am

    Less means the eye can focus on what is important in a scene:

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/European-Insects-Spiders-and-molluscs/G0000KgqECgOq3Tw/I0000ugJhUSfANzY

  • Erin @ Pixel Tips February 23, 2012 06:40 am

    Lovely! The foggy boat shot is very well-composed.

  • jim February 23, 2012 06:18 am

    Excellent shots in this post. I love rocking the minimal.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/22176685@N07/6899357113/in/photostream

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