composition tutorial: eliminate distractions


Eliminating distractions is, in my opinion, is the most important thing you can do to quickly improve your photography. And it should be simple. But it’s often not…

Our brain has many ways of helping us handle the huge volumes of information we are subjected to every second. One of the mechanisms it uses is filtering. When we are paying attention to one thing, we filter out unnecessary information and we tend to ignore everything else.

As photographers, we often fall into this trap. For example, when we are taking a picture of our child, our attention is focused on them. We fail to notice the distractions in the scene.

what is a distraction?

Distractions are anything in your photo that don’t enhance or complement your subject. They’re things that just don’t belong in the scene. These can be large things like the classic tree growing out of your child’s head or small things like a bright coloured street sign in the background. It can also be bright spots or “black holes” – your eye is always drawn to the brightest spot in an image. Very dark areas can be distracting too.

i do it too!

I’m just as guilty of being so focussed on my subjects that I don’t notice the obvious. Check out these classic distractions in my photos. Eliminating distraction is something I also need to constantly work on.



many distractions that I didn’t notice at the time

ways to deal with distractions

If you see unwanted distractions in the frame, the best solution is to move your camera position to move the distraction out of the frame. Don’t forget that you can shoot from a lower angle or from a higher position as well as moving left or right. Frequently a small shift in camera position of just a few inches/cms can make the difference between a great shot with a background that works compared to a snapshot with lots of things competing for the attention of the viewer.

other ways to eliminate distractions

  1. For something in the background, you can sometimes move so that your main subject hides the background object
  2. If moving camera position isn’t an option, try shooting at a very narrow depth of field to blur the distractions as much as possible
  3. Sometimes you can just remove the offending object
  4. Fill the frame with your subject so that much of the background (and the distractions) is eliminated
  5. Use clean, neutral backgrounds if you can. If you have the choice of backgrounds choose one with minimum distracting elements
  6. Use the sky (or water if you’re shooting at the beach as I most often am). Shoot against a clear blue sky or sea to separate the subject from the background and emphasise it.

you need to see them to eliminate them!

The key to getting rid of distracting objects in your photographs is to be aware of them in the first place.

So before your finger hits the shutter button stop and scan the entire area inside your picture frame. Move your eye around the image in a methodical way (right to the edges), looking for objects that intrude into the picture space and dark or bright spots. Eliminate them before taking the picture.



I'm a professional child photographer who loves to share my passion for photography. I am located in the beautiful Sydney, Australia and provide practical and inspirational photography workshops and online tips and tricks for anyone who want to take simply stunning photos of their kids. Come find me on Google+

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