Simplification is the technique of reducing a composition to only the most essential elements that support the visual statement. This technique is particularly difficult for photographers. Studio settings are controlled, but in the case of street photography, improvisation and off-the-cuff shooting situations, its often impossible to control things “in the frame” that don’t support the composition. Landscape, architectural photography and interiors present challenges of unnecessary elements as well. 

Simplification presents a challenge to lessen the impact of extraneous subjects. This can involve reframing, changing the view point, getting in closer or moving back (to diminish proportion), focus and other techniques to bring out the necessary elements to the picture.

It should be noted here that simplification implies minimalism. While this is a major part of minimalism, its not limited to that visual style only. It just means your pairing down to only the essential elements.

For example, lets say you’re shooting a skyline at night and there is a lamp post in the frame. This will probably detract from your visual picture so you’ll want to find a way to either make it part of the composition (probably unlikely) or get it out. This could require changing the view, moving to a new location or any number of solutions.

The sample image I’m using here is the famous Stravinsky portrait by Arnold Newman. The final shot was cropped for simplification. The image was fairly simple to begin with, a portrait of the great composer sitting at a piano with a white background. However the final decision to crop the image was done to maximize the visual impact. All shapes not integral are eliminated. This allows the shapes made by the dark piano to have more visual impact. The subjects head draws more attention since its now closer to the edge of the frame. A sense of balance is now there that wasn’t as prominent in the original picture.