The KISS principle in photography

Mime_artist_Covent_Garden_LondonDon’t worry – I’m not preaching free love. Today I’m more interested in photo composition.

KISS – an acronym for ‘Keep it simple, stupid’ – gained widespread currency in the 1960s. And more recently the phrase has inspired an entire series of books. If you want to learn fashion design in a week, there’s probably a KISS book to teach you.

But what if you’re aiming to take better photos? Is KISS just a cliché or can it point you in the right direction? According to conventional wisdom, clear and simple composition is crucial in gaining a viewer’s attention. And experts tell us that attention spans are getting shorter. Robert Capa put it another way: ‘If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough’.

By those criteria, my picture of the crowd scene in Covent Garden fails the KISS test. Each time I try and count the number of faces in the crowd, I get a different answer. The picture lacks graphic impact, especially when viewed on a computer screen.

Trawling through my files, I was surprised to find that most of my pictures fail the KISS test. Here’s an exception, which I took at a zoo in Kent:

Close-up_of_Puma_clawing_at_bars_of_cageWhat I noticed, as I went through my pictures, is that most of my clear, simple compositions were taken when I was shooting animals for greeting cards. You can read about my trials and tribulations by following the link to Constance the pig.

For me the majority of those ‘greeting card’ photos don’t hold much interest now. Yes, they might grab a viewer’s attention, but will they hold it for long? I’ve realised that the photos which really satisfy me are more complex. They reward close and repeated attention – and often tell a story. Take Garry Winogrand’s street photography, for example.

Nobody wants distracting clutter in a photo, but for me the KISS principle has its limitations. What do you think? Is it a cliché or a useful guide to composition?

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2 Responses to “The KISS principle in photography”
  1. Richard Alton says:
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