What is the one thing that you invariably fail to notice in all good photographs? It is rarely emphasized, much less taught. But, most good photographs would only be half as good without this important characteristic.
That unspoken rule we’re referring to is: hygiene.
There is no photographic definition that separates it from the typical understanding you have of this word. Plain and simple, it is how clutter-free a photograph should be. But of course, clutter can mean different things to different people.
Some of us frown upon cables showing in an image. There are those of us who’d rather not see an empty popcorn box in a soulful image of a soccer field. The light source showing in an image that’s meant to evoke a sense of mystery is also unwanted clutter. Dust on the table in a slick product shot is taboo, if you know what we mean.
But, is hygiene only about keeping an image unpolluted from “garbage” or “dirt”? We feel there’s more to it.
Hygiene is an integral part of composition. You wouldn’t let a pole or a tree grow out of the head of your subject. Or, include the make-up artist in a portrait of a bride. What doesn’t add to a story is clutter.
Hygiene can define the most important element in a photograph, when there are other elements that also add to the story. Are you using the various tools at your disposal, for example a shallow depth of field, to make the subject of your image stand out?
Hygiene is minimalism. The simplest yet the most powerful of stories are extraordinarily singular. Include just the subject in your picture, and nothing else—not even a sliver of color, and you’ll see how easy it is to tell a story. Not to mention how clean your image will be.
Hygiene is also a function of how technically flawless your image is. A whole lot of factors come into play—exposure, framing and cropping, composition, and editing/post-processing. Get all of these right, and you have a clean image to start with. You can then focus on getting the story across without visual hurdles.