Minimalism, an artistic style that relies on “pared-down design elements,” succeeds because it doesn’t overwhelm the viewer/listener — you’re not bombarded with elements to process, thus you can more easily appreciate the whole work of art.
This is essentially the artistic embodiment of the maxim that less is more. But not only does this philosophy apply to works of art and design, one can also take a minimalistic approach to the tools used to create art.
Want to improve as a photographer? Minimize your gear.
Too Much Stuff
Most, if not all of us, have given in to the self-delusional — and ultimately self-destructive — idea that if only we had more stuff we would magically be better photographers; a macro lens, a wide angle lens, a fast prime, a super telephoto lens. Somehow, these things will be what propel us to the ranks of the globally esteemed.
Like I said, delusional. Because while you’re busy acquiring new lenses and upgrading your camera to the latest model, you’re probably not busy shooting, and this is a problem. Of course, no one in their right mind would suggest that owning the best gear possible is a bad idea, but when all your attention goes to stuffing your camera bag full to the brim, then you’re completely missing out on the joy of photography. You might stand back and admire your collection of lenses and accessories, but then cringe at the thought of having to carry it all when you walk out the door. You’ll be perpetually uninspired, your creativity suffocating under a mountain of unused gear.
Imagine how many potentially great shots you will be missing out on, all because you don’t have your camera with you whenever you leave home.
Give it Up
No, you don’t need to get rid of all your lenses and cameras, but if you find that having so much to choose from is negatively influencing your ability to actually get up and make new photographs, then the answer is to place some limits on what gear you make available to yourself.
If you are one who struggles with self-disciple and self-control, then this is obviously going to be a challenge. But if you stick with it, you will eventually find that, psychologically, the whole process of preparing to do photography becomes less of an ordeal; giving yourself fewer choices makes it easier to actually choose. When you don’t have to think so hard about other issues, you’re freer to focus on creating meaningful images.
Here’s how to lighten the load on your mind and around your neck.
The One Lens Solution
You’ve got lots of great lenses, right? Go through them and pick your favorite, then for some length of time, shoot exclusively with that lens. If you think you’ll be tempted by all your other pieces of glass, put them away — out of sight, out of mind. 50mm is a common focal length for exercises such as this; it’s a classic focal length that has produced many a classic image. Some of history’s great photographers made their mark using nothing but a 50mm lens.
This isn’t an advertisement for 50mm lenses; it doesn’t matter what lens you choose — just pick one and stick with it. You will gain new perspectives on how to see the world around you and you will become intimately acquainted with your lens of choice.
The Film Camera Solution
Talk about downsizing! Minus an LCD screen, virtually unlimited storage, and other digital enhancements and conveniences, film cameras are the epitome of functional minimalism; load a roll of film and go. If you don’t already own a film camera, acquiring one won’t put a strain on your wallet. Creatively, you’ll become a more thoughtful photographer, as your resources are somewhat limited; given that you have a set number of frames when working with film, you will learn to be more cognizant of exposure and composition. When you go back to digital, you’ll feel like a more efficient photographer.
You can make your dollar — and creativity — stretch even further by picking up a toy camera. Toy cameras — most of which use film — are plastic and enchanting; you can make images with a toy camera that you simply can’t get out of a traditional film or digital SLR. Toy cameras are ultra affordable, quirky, and fun. All of these factors combine for a unique photographic experience, one in which you are free to concentrate just on photography.
The Point-and-Shoot Solution
Point-and-shoot cameras are small, light, and portable — pocketable, even. So there's no reason to ever leave home without it. If you're concerned about image quality, consider this: everyone knows a great image when they see one; it's about how a photograph makes the viewer feel. The viewer isn't worried about what camera was used, so you shouldn't worry about it either. Just get the shot.
Challenges push us and help us grow. It may seem to defy common sense, but self-imposed limitations are often good; limiting your access to the wealth of camera gear you have at your disposal will cause you to rethink your approach to photography and help you focus on the most important elements of creating.
All artists need their tools, but when one’s tools become the center of attention, the act of making art fades into the background. If you ever find yourself in such a predicament, seek to minimize the distractions that are keeping you from maximizing your potential.