I am a mother to five children. Plus a dog, cat, goats, and chickens. Believe me: I know what a mess is!
I am also a mother who loves to take pictures of her family. And while I am not necessarily ashamed of our “lived-in” home, I am also not always wanting to advertise the piles of school papers, stacks of laundry, muddy footprints, and scattered toys that are part of our everyday.
More than misrepresenting our mess, I want to make sure that what is important to me is readily visible to my audience in my photos. I don’t want our mess distracting from my kids’ adorable little faces!
Over the years I have learned some creative tricks for keeping the clutter of everyday life at bay so that your subjects can shine. Today I am sharing five of my best tips for minimizing the mess (you won’t need to touch the vacuum once!) in your photographs.
Change your perspective
Changing your perspective is a great way to add variety to your photographs. Instead of having everything shot from where you stand, try getting down low to make your subject look larger than life or shooting from above for a more authoritative point of view.
But even more than adding personality and variety to your photos, you can use different perspectives to remove distractions! Shooting from down low eliminates any clutter on the floor and can give you a clean background with the sky or ceiling.
When you shoot from above, clutter on the walls or elsewhere in any given environment disappears. Instead, your elevated perspective allows just one small area of the floor or ground to be the background.
So, when you look at a scene that might feel distracting and overwhelming, try to look at it from a new perspective. Find an area without clutter. Use that to draw the attention of your audience toward your subject and away from the mess.
Use light with intention
Light is at the center of photography. But even better? You can use light to make your subject stand out and any distractions disappear when used with intention.
Brighter areas of the frame will naturally attract your viewer’s attention first. When you see a scene that may feel chaotic or cluttered, try moving the important elements of the frame to a brighter area of the frame.
This can be as simple as moving a toddler and her blocks to the area of the playroom where the window light naturally falls. Or you can wait for a cyclist to move to a sliver of light in an otherwise shadowy city street. Or you can move your subject closer to a light source so that everything further away from it falls into darkness.
The scientific term for the phenomenon that is happening here is called the Inverse Square Law. Mathematically, it states that the brightness of anything in a given scene is 1/distance2. But you don’t need to take out your calculator every time you want to take a picture! The concept just means that the closer something is to a light source, it will be brighter than the things that are farther away from it.
The next time you find yourself in a setting with lots of clutter, work to find the brightest area of the room and move the activity there. Then expose for that and see how the rest of the scene melts away (without ever touching a feather duster!).
Clutter is often simple a matter of how things are arranged in any given situation. For example, the pile of mail that is currently scattered all over my kitchen counter currently looks like a terrible mess. However, if I take 30 seconds to put that mail into a neat little pile, it will suddenly look so much more organized! The same items are there, but they are now arranged in such a way that they don’t feel as though they are out of control.
When you have a lot of subjects in a frame so that it feels too busy, be patient. Wait for your subjects to arrange themselves in a way that is more organized. Try to press the shutter button when they are not overlapping and falling into each other but rather are distinct and separate.
In this scenario, I like to find the best environmental composition for the frame. I position myself here and wait for my subjects to be in activities that keep them separated. The physical separation in the frame translates as organization and can make the chaos of a scene feel more intentional and purposeful.
Clean only what you need to clean
When I see a scene worth photographing, the last thing I want to do is set down my camera to clean! However, taking a few minutes to move that pile of dirty mismatched socks out of the frame can make all the difference (and save me hours of cloning in Photoshop later).
When you see something that looks like it could be a potential distraction, take a minute to move it. I am not telling you that you have to clean the whole house (something I am actively avoiding right now! HA!). Instead, I am telling you just to clean enough that your audience would imagine that everything outside of the frame matches what is inside of it.
Again, this isn’t to deceive necessarily (unless my mom is looking at my pictures…I want her to think that she taught me well and that the whole house is perfectly tidy!). Instead, it is to keep your audience focused on what matters in your photographs by removing the distractions.
Embrace the mess
My life is never going to be Pinterest tidy. And that’s just the way I like it! We have a pile of muck boots by the front door and big messy smiles on our faces.
While I sometimes wish that things were a little less cluttered, the fact is that this mess is our reality and that we love the life we have created. That’s why I am perfectly okay capturing our mess from time to time. It’s part of our story. It’s part of our happiest memories. The mess just shows that we are so busy having fun that we don’t have time to get rid of the evidence!
In these moments, I want you to embrace the chaos. Most of us don’t have maids to tidy-up after us and that’s okay. We shouldn’t be ashamed of our everyday and in fact, I think that we should celebrate it! So when you see the mess and feel inspired, let it stay in the frame.
Those dirty dishes are evidence of meals shared. Those scattered toys are evidence of games played together. And even those finger-smudged windows are evidence of the happy little hands that are so happy to see you pull in the driveway after a long day of work. And I think those kinds of messes are worth capturing from time to time.