Simplicity and Limitations as Tools for Photographic Inspiration

Simplicity and Limitations as Tools for Photographic Inspiration

Photography is complex. I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll state it again: it is not easy. There’s so much to learn in order to become proficient in the art. Cameras, composition, light, and subject interaction. These are just some of the things that will decide if you’re able to do well. The key to learning each of these things is time. Time, and a sprinkle of perseverance, will get you so much further than any new gear purchase you can make. Today, I’d like to take a look at how we can learn some elements of our photography and further our craft.

I’m an advocate of understanding what it is you do. Understanding your subject will lead to deeper images. Understanding your gear will lead to more technically proficient images. Understanding light will lead you to more visually attractive images. All of these things combined will produce beautiful photographs if the magic ingredient of luck is there. Let’s take a look at some ways we can simplify our approach to learn and become inspired in different ways. 

One Prime Lens

Taking one lens and camera with you can limit your options severely. For example, leaving the house with only an ultra wide-angle lens, you will be limited to that field of view the whole time you shoot. I do this quite frequently with my Fujifilm X70. It locks me into using a 28mm focal length and working with a small body like this makes it difficult to change settings quickly. These limitations force me to get close to my subjects, pre-visualize and prepare my camera for what I want to capture. The same can be done with longer focal lengths. 

One Flash

When I was learning to use flash in my photography, I flashed everything. It didn’t matter what it was. I simplified my kit down to this basic requirement: there had to be a flash. By doing this, I learnt what worked and what didn’t. I learned the limits of my gear and much more about how light works. But, the best thing I got from this was creative inspiration. By knowing that I needed to use a flash, I started shooting it into corners of the room, directly at my subject, or back into the lens to create flare. By placing this constraint on myself, I was able to create images I would never have thought of otherwise. Not only that, but the whole process made me see light very differently as a whole. 

One Shutter Speed

Another way to simplify your choices is to select just one shutter speed. Try shooting at 1/15 of a second for a whole day. What does that do to your ability to hand-hold the camera? What happens when there is a moving subject? What happens when you move the camera? 

Then try shooting at 1/8000 of a second for a whole day. What happens when you shoot a waterfall at this shutter speed? What about a seagull? This simplification of your choices will force you to see how things might look when photographed differently. 

One Aperture

As with the shutter speed limitation, aperture will force you to see in a different way. It can be easy to shoot every subject at f/1.4 and blur out all the distractions of the world. But, what if you shoot at f/11 and let all those distractions become part of the story? How does that change your image? Try doing the opposite of what you think is right and shoot with your aperture at the opposite end of the spectrum and see what changes you need to make in order to make a pleasing image then. 

Shoot JPEG

This may seem like a small limitation to place, but it can be very liberating. It could be compared to selecting a film stock if you’re not shooting digital. Once you’ve baked it in, that’s it. JPEG files allow for less manipulation than RAW files and that constraint will help you to focus on making the photograph in camera with the tools at your disposal. 

In Conclusion

There are so many ways to limit your tools and simplify your photography. By restricting yourself, you force either creativity or complacency on yourself. The choice is yours, but the results will speak. By choosing a specific aperture, lens, camera body, ISO, focal length, or even forcing yourself to use flash, you will become more proficient with your tool of choice and create images you may not have known were possible. 

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Jacob Cornelius's picture

Good exercises all. I would like to also recommend shooting only for black and white, which raises the importance of composition; and only shooting if a certain color is in the scene, like red.