Thursday, February 5, 2015

Less Is More In Photography

"In today's age, we are always obsessed with the concept of 'more.' We falsely believe that we need more stuff, more money, more cameras, more lenses, more megapixels--more, more more." --Eric Kim
Old Life, New Life - Victorville, California
There is a misconception that more is better. More will make you happier. More will increase productivity. Just a little more is all you need.

In photography, like much of life, more is not better. In fact, less is more.

With regards to photography, the "less is more" principal applies to three areas: the image, the camera bag and the internet. Let's take a look at each.

Less Is More In Photographs
Fruit Cup - Tehachapi, California
Simple photographs are often better photographs. Why? Because the point is easily understood by the viewer. Because there are fewer unnecessary elements that distract the viewer from whatever the point is.

Photography is a form of nonverbal communication. Clear and deliberate communication is required to make a strong image. The more complicated the communication, the more muddled the image becomes.

Photography is a lot like sculpting. A sculptor uses a chisel to take away everything unnecessary until the work of art is finished. The photographer must "chisel" away everything that isn't important to the point of the photograph.

Legendary photojournalist Robert Capa said, "If your photographs aren't good enough, you're not close enough." Don't include too much in the frame. Instead, refine the composition by moving in closer.

One mistake that I often see (and I'm sometimes guilty of myself) is that the edges and backgrounds were not carefully checked for distractions prior to exposing the frame. Usually moving a few inches one way or another is all that is needed to clean things up. One step forward or to the left or right often can make a significant difference to the photograph.

Less Is More In Gear
The Forgotten - Tehachapi, California
A year-and-a-half ago I had two different DSLR cameras, two different digital compact interchangeable-lens cameras, two film SLR cameras, two film rangefinder cameras, plus a couple other film cameras, and a whole host of lenses and other equipment. It was much too much!

I would usually pack three cameras (plus lenses and other stuff) in a camera bag. The bag was a pain to carry around and would sometimes be in the way. I even had my camera bag stolen once.

What I found is that, with all of the gear that I brought, I would use one camera with one lens about 75% of the time. Half of what I brought wouldn't get used at all. The rest shared the other 25%. And all of the stuff I left at home collected dust.

Having all of this gear did not make me a better photographer. It did not make photography more enjoyable. The fact is that I had Gear Acquisition Syndrome. If anything, all of this unnecessary stuff got in the way of what was important.

Besides getting in the way and being a distraction, having all of this equipment made me lazy. I'd change a lens instead of moving myself to a better spot. Laziness is the enemy of creativity. On top of that, when you have less you tend to be more innovative with what you do have.

And should I mention all of the wasted money on rarely used gear? Photography can be expensive, and it isn't logical to drop loads of cash on things that will only get used every once in a while.

So I've been simplifying my camera bag ever since. I now have one DSLR (with two lenses--a prime and a zoom), my cell phone, and a couple of rarely used film cameras.

A good camera bag is a small one with just the bare minimum in it. The best camera bag is no camera bag at all. Keep it light, keep it simple, and focus on what truly matters in photography: the photographs.

Less Is More On The Web
The Compaq Desert - Mojave, California
It is easy to get sucked into the computer. There is a lot of information on the web. It's endless.

Are test charts and the insignificant differences between cameras or lenses worth our time? Does it really matter if some brick wall is slightly sharper in the corners with some lens? Does it really matter what the opinion is of a stranger in a photography forum?

What is most important is living life. Life isn't real on the internet. Real life is in the real world. Besides, every minute on the computer is a minute not out photographing.

You cannot photograph while surfing the web. However, you can photograph if you are out with a camera in your hand.

The internet is useful and important, but in moderation and with a grain of salt. Don't take it too seriously. Don't waste too much time in front of a computer screen while real life passes you by.

On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
Less is more. That applies to almost everything in life. More will not make you better or happier. In fact, the opposite is often true.

Keep it simple. Don't overcomplicate things. Don't include too much in your images or in your camera bag.

This goes against what society says, but more will never satisfy. You'll never have enough "more."

Instead, give "less" a try. Fewer distractions in your photographs. Fewer cameras and lenses. Less time on the internet looking up gear. There is real satisfaction in the less principal.

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