Photo Feedback

I judge a lot of photographs every year and for some competitions, I also provide a short suggestion or hint that might help each entrant improve his or her work. And one of the most common suggestions is to simplify the photo so it's not so busy.

When a photo is too busy, usually the best solution is to find a different angle. Of course, this isn’t always possible and sometimes it is too late to go back and shoot something again, but on the other hand, learning this lesson could encourage you to explore your subject more fully in the future.

Some subjects thrive on being busy - the busyness itself is the subject. However, this needs to be very obvious to be successful. More often, our subject should be clearly communicated. When we tell someone a story, we need to provide some background, but the background shouldn’t confuse the story itself. The same can be said about photography. What is your subject and does it stand apart from its surroundings and background sufficiently so your viewers (and judges) know that this is what’s important? If not, can you find another angle or edit the image so the subject is more clearly defined?

On the left page above, there are two photos of a Tiger Heron. Thirty or so photos were taken of this bird, waiting until the background was less busy. And for a competition, we’d crop the image more tightly, removing the green leaf at the bottom as this is also distracting. What we're really doing is making the photo less busy.

There are three techniques we can apply to make a photo less busy.

Technique 1

Often it’s not possible to ‘fix’ a busy photograph with post-production techniques. However, you can learn to be much more aware of what is in the viewfinder at the time of capture. Consider changing your camera angle to provide a simpler background, walking or zooming in closer to your subject to remove unwanted objects, or choosing a different location for your subject.

Technique 2

Sometimes a busy photograph can be improved by simply cropping it. Remove unwanted complexities from the frame! 

Technique 3

For photos where the subject is really important to you, look at using post-production to subdue the distractions – darken, desaturate, defocus, reduce contrast. Unfortunately, not every busy photo can be fixed with post-production.

This is our third installment in a series of articles titled How To Win Photo Competitions. Each instalment has half a dozen helpful tips that are not only great for competitions, but for your photography in general. To read more, subscribe to Better Photography magazine online. You'll find details on the website.

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