I was recently asked how my approach to photography has changed throughout my 14-year career. And without a doubt, the biggest change has been my embracing of a more “minimalist” approach. It’s driven by my desire to use creative constraints to become more focused and creative. Adopting the “less, but better” mindset instead of the “more is better” meme which drives much of our society today.
The basic idea is that limitations provide us with the greatest opportunity for creativity and inventiveness, and the less distracted we are with options, the more concentrated and resourceful we become as artists.
“The more a person limits himself, the more resourceful he becomes.” –Soren Kierkegaard
Now don’t get me wrong, I love and enjoy the modern tools that allow me to express myself creatively in ways I would have never dreamt of twenty years ago. What I’m referring to is the over-indulgence of tools and technology without clear intentions or goals.
Our greatest asset and uniqueness comes from personal vision and artistry, both of which can easily be diluted, if not sacrificed, by the never—ending distractions marketed to us at every opportunity.
So in pursuit of removing the non-essentials, here’s a definition of minimalist digital photography that I’ve been practicing for some time. I’m borrowing many ideas here from the excellent books written by Cal Newport.
Minimalist digital photography is a philosophy that helps you question what photography tools and accessories add the most value to your creative goals. It is motivated by the belief that intentionally and aggressively reducing the gear and tools you own (or want to own), and mastering a limited and focused set of tools, can significantly reduce technological stress, and improve your work, self-confidence, and creativity.
Why does this matter? Because in my own experience, the many students I work with, and the hundreds of photographers I interact with online and at trade shows, I hear a common complaint: information and gear overload that promises limitless creative possibility but often leads to shallow repetitive work.
“The imagination is unleashed by constraints. You break out of the box by stepping into shackles,” says Jonah Lehrer.
Without vision and a sense of what story you want to share, all the potential in the world doesn’t help. Going deep in one specific area does. Visionaries throughout history have shown that being single—minded and focused leads to clarity and meaningful results.
Think of what you could accomplish if you applied the same discipline and constraints to your own creative goals.
- Spend a year learning everything there is to know about printing
- Spend a year photographing the same subject or landscape over and over again.
- Spend a year using just two lenses.
- Spend a year working on a portfolio of ten images.
- Spend a year learning a complementary skill that will enhance your photography and compositional skills. Hint: drawing.
What deep work will you commit to over the next twelve months? How can you constrain yourself creatively to get out of your comfort zone and produce work you didn’t think was possible?
I always enjoy your comments and feedback!