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Simplify – June Photography Challenge

One of the things I see most often with beginner's images is that they try and put too much into them. The images are cluttered and busy, and the subject isn't immediately obvious – sometimes not even to the photographer, when they view it later.

Have you had that experience? Have you ever looked at one of your images, and asked yourself, “What on earth was I taking a picture of here?”

If so, this will be the perfect challenge for you this month:


After using two duplicated layers and blend modes. One in Color Dodge mode which brought out more texture on the rocks, and a second in Screen mode which lightened the water. Both were masked to only apply on those smaller defined areas.
Waterfalls and streams are a popular photography subject. But think about getting only part of it, get closer and focus on one element.

Less is more, simply put. Going more minimalistic in your approach to your photography can help you take your work to the next level. Let's look at why that is the case:

What makes up great images?

Great images usually exhibit one or more of the following qualities:

  1. They have great lighting (read: Quality of Light – What is it? How do you use it?)
  2. They have a clear subject (read: 5 Mistakes Beginners Make Using a Wide Angle Lens and How to Avoid Them)
  3. The viewer is drawn into the image
  4. There is a story being told (read: What is your message? Storytelling photography)

Let's dig deeper into #2 – having a clear subject. If you haven't already read the article on using wide angle lenses mentioned above, start there. Most kit lenses and intro camera kits include a wide angle lens, and it's common for newbies to not use it to its advantage.

So, what can you do to simplify your images?

Well – simply get closer!

I was down on my elbows in the sand to get this shot in the Sahara desert.
Many boats and fishermen on this beach, simplified by focusing on one,and framing to only include part of the guy and net.

Physically get closer, zoom in, or a combination of both. Look at the edges of your image – all the way around. Is there stuff in the shot that isn't needed? Get closer and crop it out. Is there stuff in the background that is distracting from the subject – get closer and get rid of it (you may also need to adjust your camera angle: get lower, higher, move left or right). Macro is an extreme of getting close. See if you can do simplify without going fully macro!

Make a point of slowing down and examining the entire image, looking for things that don't belong there. Then remove them. Yes you can do some of this later by cropping in computer – but you can't change the camera angle, or the aperture to blur the background, or the lighting.

Here's a list of things to help you simplify:

  • Check the edges of your image and remove extraneous things
  • Look at the background behind your subject for distracting elements and remove them by getting closer, zooming in, or moving your position (move your feet!)
  • Get closer – physically or by using your zoom. Take an extra challenge by doing this with a prime lens like a 50mm – then you have to move yourself and the camera.
  • Review the image and count the number of things you see in it. If you have more than one – get closer until you have just one!
  • Shoot a shadow or a silhouette.
  • Use a large aperture for a shallow depth of field to focus on the subject.
  • Crop in tight – shoot tight on people, maybe even crop into a head, or show only part of the body, or how about just hangs or feet?
  • Think minimalistic – one chair in a plain room, a lone duck floating on a lake, a shadow and nothing else, a silhouette – take almost everything out of the image until you have achieved minimalist.
Fuji X-T1 tilt screen feature is helpful
One thing in the photo, clear subject.
Busy intersection in NYC simplified by changing to black and white and cropping to show only the shadows.

Winner of last month's challenge – macro photography

I'll let you think about all that for a moment while we recap last month's challenge, macro photography. There were over 265 comments and 50+ entries into the macro challenge that started in April – well done guys! Some of the things I noticed in the comments:

  • Some people used macro lenses, a few used extension tubes, one person tried close-up filters, yet another tried reverse macro.
  • All kinds of cameras were used from SLR, mirrorless, compact, point and shoot and one entry was even taken with an iPhone. Just proves there is no one or right way to do it, they all worked.
  • There was lots of creativity in subject matter and some great images.
  • I was thrilled to see you helping each other, and answering questions about your images. In particular tjeerd who mentioned the Raynox DCR-250 macro lens attachment and focus stacking and helped others try them out. Great job, way to be a team player and give back to the community, thank you!

To quote P James in his comment, “the macro lens provides that ability to view things a little differently” which I think sums up the challenge beautifully. So from all the eligible entries, one was randomly selected and the winner is . . .

Rita Heinrichs – congratulations!

Your copy of Don Komarechka's book Sky Crystals will be on its way to you shortly.

Details for this month’s challenge – simplify

scarab bettle closeup with Fuji X-T1 mirrorless camera
Shallow depth of field using a large aperture.
Try photographing only parts of people – hands, feet, or faces.

To be eligible to win the prize:

In order to participate in this challenge and be eligible for this prize you need to:

  1. Upload your SIMPLIFY photo to the comments section below 
  2. Include your shooting data (camera, lens focal length, ISO, aperture, shutter speed).
  3. Tell us about your experience and what you learned by doing this challenge? Did you shoot differently than usual? Did you notice a difference in the resulting images? If you shared your images online elsewhere did you get good comments?
  4. Upload your photo and shooting info by the cut-off date of July 15th, 2016 (11:59 pm EST or UTC-5).

Please note: if you do NOT fulfill all the steps above your entry will not be valid. Just adding your photo will NOT be counted as an entry. I want to hear about it too please. The point of these challenges is to help you take better photos – tell me about that. 

You may post more than one photo, and do this as many times as you like over the month (you can comment as many times as you like, and share as many photos as you want – but it will be counted as one entry per person). The more you practice the better you’ll get at it, like anything.

The Prize

This month is all about learning. A great way to improve and grow is to have your images reviewed and to get constructive, helpful comments. So the prize for the winner this month is:

FIVE of your images reviewed by me!  

I'm my own worst critic – you too?

I don't normally do image reviews (once a year maybe), so this is a special one. I will take your images and do a spoken review of them, then record it to video for you to watch on a private page for your eyes only. When I do image reviews in my classroom sometimes there is some anxiety around that, but fear not.

  • No one else will see this – just you, and whoever you share it with.
  • I always find positive things to encourage you, and give a few tips on things you can either improve through post-processing, or in-camera next time.
  • The goal is to make you feel good about your images and have something to move toward.


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