Managing with the least resources is what minimalism is all about. This can be a fantastic way to regain vision and clarity of thought. Photographers in general, tend to look down on this and other similar lines of thoughts as weird but the truth is entirely opposite. Minimalism helps in creating some of the best images. It also makes the whole process from initial visualization till the final photograph, more enjoyable. Minimalism is about the freedom and not about restrictions.
Minimalism, Anti-Consumerism and Purists
Minimalism is a way of life where common things are kept to the least possible numbers. ‘Less is more’ … this is the philosophy behind minimalism. Minimalism is not about restricting oneself but more about enjoying what we already have. Minimalists tend to get the most out of their things. A friend of mine uses a APS-C sensor camera with a 50mm lens. This is all that he owns when it comes to photography. On asking about the lack of wideangle, tele or macro, he simply says that he is happy with the photographs he is able to create which his equipment. He does not find them limiting in any sense. There was a time when I had a Nikon D200 camera body with just a Nikkor 50mm lens. Visualization was easy when I had that setup.
Another associated thought is that of anti-consumerism. Here the idea is to go opposite to the trend of buying everything. Anti-consumerists do not rush to buy the latest camera accessories or gadgets. They manage with everything that still works. I have seen photographers of today still using DSLRs like D90 and D200 which were the best of the breed in their times. No, using old film cameras is not anti-consumerism, since there are very few new film camera manufacturers left. Using old film cameras is practically forced on people who still use film. Anti-consumerists do not go on acquiring stuff.
Purists are a third associated breed. These are the ones who love to keep things simple. Most of the purists use simple metering modes in their cameras and find comfort in calculating flash power using guide numbers rather than by understanding through the lens flash power calculations. Purists love cameras with obvious controls of various camera functions that are important for photography. They do not run after high fps, high ISO performance or built in camera’s post-processing capabilities. Purists are the ones who still long for those carefree days of Leica rangefinders using film or Nikon FM and F series SLRs.
For clarity’s sake – A photographer who buys just one good camera with a lens and never feels the real need to purchase more is a minimalist. If that photographer happens to buy the camera and lens from a friend who was selling it since the camera is still good enough, even though the budget was never a factor, is an anti-consumerist. The anti-consumerist is also the one who may not even buy a camera and simply enjoy the beauty. Purist is the one who sets the camera to the default settings, uses basic camera modes and focuses the energy on creating beautiful photographs rather than fiddling around with the camera. Sadly, the present world economy is driven by consumerism, but for how long? These ideologies are still not main stream and economists still fail to see how these ideologies can support the world.
(Wooden House – Photographed using an inexpensive compact camera and edited in Affinity Photo. I had photographed this on a family outing.)
Less is More
Less of equipment translates to fewer choices. There was a time when I had about ten camera bags. As any photographer who has been in the field for a few decades would know, there are no perfect camera bags. My first camera bag was the least expensive model that I could find which could hold my camera safely. Next came a few fashion statements. A couple of camera bags were a spur of moment purchases and then there were the ones with pockets to keep my documents too. Last year, I was planning on a photography trip to a nearby lake and I spend quite some time, trying to decide which camera bag to take. I packed a bag neatly and then unpacked all the stuff, just to pack everything back in into another bag. If I had only one good camera bag, I would have saved time and packed everything into that. (Inside my camera bag)
Recently I was planning a trip to a waterfalls. Being a mini ecosystem in itself, the surrounding area has interesting flora and fauna. Some of the insects and birds in that are which are easily spotted are difficult to find in other nearby places. The flowing water and the falls itself are beautiful. Mist and fog create surreal moods. The problem – what lenses to carry? A wideangle lens will help in capturing the landscapes and making the images come alive. A decent macro will help me find those beautiful bugs. A tele for the birds! Maybe a normal lens for motion blurs. What if I need to capture some portraits as well but the 105mm macro may be a little too short for my use? Maybe I should carry a 135mm lens as well. Now in that moist area, changing lenses might not be so easy. Does a zoom lens make sense? These were the actual thoughts that went on in my mind. I took three lenses with me on the trip and sometimes I carried all the three around. The choices sometimes are overwhelming and make the visualization difficult.
After returning from the trip, I analyzed my results and was surprised to see that the maximum photographs were made using my Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 G lens. (50mm lens for Nikon) Maybe that is the only lens that I should have considered before leaving for the trip.
Minimalism comes with its own comforts. Less of material possessions to worry about. Less of equipment to take care of. The freedom that this provides is refreshing to say the least. The absence of materialistic things creates a space in our minds that helps us think. I have seen minimalists living more peacefully than people who hoard things. One religious person very nicely pointed out to me once that everything that we add to our worldly possessions also adds its weight to our minds. We know of the existence of our possessions and this weighs down on our creativity. I am not a philosopher but I am trying to turn minimalist. Trust me when I say that going minimalist is comforting.
Minimalism in Photography
Even the world looks more beautiful when we look at it in this manner. Try imagining a landscape with forests, a waterbody, looming mountains and sky with beautiful clouds. Cramping everything in a single frame will reduce the impact of each of the elements. The result will create a beautiful picture postcard to send home but nothing more. The same scene with a series of photographs that cover each of these elements will look better than the all-inclusive photograph. The photographs have to tell a story. Think of it in another context. Even when we are present in front of a beautiful scene, our eyes go from one thing to another and wander around, amazed by the beauty. This is the same that our photographs should achieve. The viewer’s eyes should see everything in the way we had seen them. Ansel Adams has rightly said – “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.”
That also reminds me something more that has been said about powerful photographs. Anything that does not contribute to the overall image is actually taking something away from it. Each and every element in the frame makes up the photograph. Minimalism is the key here. Keep your ideas simple. Let the photograph convey the story through simple elements. Remove everything from the photograph that is not contributing to the image. Go close, blur, crop, change your angle or simply shoo away the cat in the corner, do whatever it takes to get your photograph to include only the vital elements that actually create the whole image. Though I may sound repetitive, but I am still saying it again. Keep your compositions simple and straight forward.
(Sunset at Kyiv – This has also been photographed with a very inexpensive compact camera and edited in Affinity Photo)
Someone has rightly said, “When people ask me what equipment I use – I tell them my eyes.” This is true minimalism. This is the art of visualization at its best. The purpose of photography is to create photographs. Equipment is just to achieve that. Lately I have noticed people getting obsessed with cameras and lenses, instead of actually enjoying photography. My word of advice – practice minimalism. Learn to enjoy what you already have. Take your camera out and create photographs.