When I look at images from other photographers as well as my own, the ones that continue to appeal most to me are the most simplest in terms of composition. These are the images that focus on their subject and remove all unnecessary distractions to leave the viewer in no doubt of the story they are tying to present.
In an effort to constantly improve myself, I often try to analyze an image and understand what makes it work. There are a few techniques I’ve discovered work best to simplify compositions and give them more impact.
Crop. Often I find myself being drawn to an object or person, and cropping the image down so that no background is seen and the subject fills the frame. Of course if you are going to do this, you need to have a strong subject to begin with. An image like this often works best in a series where other images can provide a context.
Shallow depth of field. This helps to isolate your subject and make it pop against a background that gives context but doesn’t take over from the subject.
Repeat. Repetitive patterns in an image help to emphasize the subject, giving it size.
Of course there are times when what works best is the complete opposite of these techniques. It is possible to spend so much time trying to get stuff out of the way of your subject, that you forget to think about putting stuff in the way. Such as the image below. Here context is added through the blurred foreground of wheat stalks giving the feeling of the water tower being on a farm rather than open countryside.