Little Lessons 6: Composition: Don’t distract from the subject.

In the last “little lesson” I looked at how important it was to have a clear subject that you expected the viewer to be drawn to. If there are too many competing subjects, then the viewer finds it confusing. Another related aspect of composition is that the subject shouldn’t be surrounded by distracting elements. Let me give you an example:


The tree with its reflected image provides a focal point for your eyes. The problem is that there is some grass growing in the foreground about 3 strands of which are distracting when you try to look at the tree. Almost a good picture, but this lets it down.


This is the original picture of Jess that I used for my 100 portraits project. Clearly Jess’s face is the subject here, but notice how you keep getting drawn to look at the ceiling lights near her head. I removed these for the project as shown below:

Jess no lights

In the following picture, the kitten is the subject, but notice how my mouth on the upper right draws your attention. Humans are programmed to scan pictures for faces and this really cuts down on view-time for kitty. Poor composition I’m afraid.


In the following picture of me on our boat (in younger days), the classic error of having something rising out of my head has been committed.  It’s an easy error as you are usually looking at someone’s eyes through the camera and not therefore scanning the top of their head. This backstay (wire) will draw your eye when you look at me.


The following photograph of a young footballer didn’t need a plantpot behind his head. Notice how that draws your attention from his eyes.


This next one taken on a previous trip to Madeira would have been better without the foliage in the foreground. How much effort would it have cost me to shoot from over it or perhaps to the side. Very distracting.

St Michaels point Madeira

And to close, here is a portrait of Bob. He is the subject, and there are no distracting elements. This is the strongest picture in this posting because of that clear focus on the subject with no distractions:


So in summary:

Items growing from your subject, poles, plantpots, distracting colours or patterns should be avoided.

Bright lights draw the eye, so if they are near your subject they will probably be distracting.

Parts of faces or just any other faces tend to draw the eye so they can be a problem

Watch out for intruding foreground items, e.g. grass, intruding on the subject.

Next time: Simple rule of thirds.


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