This is one of the top mistakes I see even pretty experienced photographers make.
Usually we like to see a little space separating each element so our eyes can easily distinguish one element from the next. In this example, it’s totally fine that my brother and I visually merge here side by side, because we were buddies. But the tractor coming out of my head? And the horizon line sitting on my brother’s shoulders? Not so great.
When elements converge, it gets confusing for our eyes and creates what we call a tangent. A tangent is something that is touching but isn’t related. A tangent in art happens when two objects look like they are related, but the creator did not intend for them to be. Now lets look at the image below...
Do you notice how much more comfortable it feels to have all the space around the subject and all the other rock formations? Each element has room to breathe and not feel crowded to our eyes. Negative space does not have negative connotations; it just means there is space with “nothing” there. The negative space and isolation around each element is really wonderful here.
Do you see how the two rocks on the left are getting close to converging? This is the only place where we could use a little more space ideally. It is a very minor issue here and it’s not like you could swim out and move the farthest rock formation anyway. But when we can help it, we want to give things breathing room or make them join in more considered ways. If you’re taking a picture of a place setting at a dinner table, it means you want to make sure there is at least a little room between objects—the plate and the flatware, the fork and the knife, the edge of the plate and the edge of the frame, etc.
Tangents usually make an image feel crowded, awkward, or just visually confusing.
Repeating similar but not identical elements in a composition always makes for an easy win. It automatically creates what people refer to in art as unity, harmony, coherence, and rhythm which is always visually pleasing. And as an added bonus: when you’ve got a lot of unity in the elements themselves, you don’t have to work as hard to create a killer arrangement because you’ve already built up so much juice in your materials. Just avoid the tangents and you should be golden.
When we are taking pictures of anything from real life, most of the time it will behoove us to simplify the composition. This is especially true for images on Instagram. Square frames are particularly difficult to organize visually and are most successful when the compositions are minimal or abstract. On top of that, people are consuming images so quickly on Instagram that keeping them simple can be a helpful way of serving your audience.
Here are a few key ways you might go about simplifying a scene:
Find a simple background or remove extraneous items from the background
Limit the color palette
Locate the subject in the center of the frame or following the rule of thirds (aligned with the # shaped grid that appears when you pinch an image as you select it for Instagram)
Push yourself to focus on what is most beautiful to you and omit the rest