Monday, October 04, 2010

Mastering Simplicity

Well known British mathematician, Sir Erik Christopher Zeeman, once said, "Technical skill is mastery of complexity while creativity is mastery of simplicity."

While Sir Erik's quote doesn't specifically address photography or photographers, there's much for photographers to think about (and hopefully learn) from his words.

Photography is part science and part art. No revelation there.

Interestingly, I see many photographers painfully focused on the complexity of technical skills (the science) while too often neglecting the simplicity of creative skills (the art) both in their work and the way they go about performing it.

My ebook, "Guerrilla Glamour," addresses photography's science/art duality and strongly suggests shooters spend more of their time mastering simplicity than struggling with complexity. In other words, keep it simple stupid. In fact, that's the major theme of my ebook... plus it's about shooting pretty girls in glamorous and provocative ways, of course.

BTW, my "guerrilla" photographer theme must be catching on. Just today, I read an article on Digital Photography School's website titled, "Why You Need To Be A Guerrilla Travel Photographer – And How To Become One." I'm not saying the good folks at Digital Photography School borrowed my guerrilla theme. I'm just saying.

I'm also not downplaying the importance of technical skills needed to shoot good pics. But the truth is, especially if you're either a part-time or full-time auto-shooter, there's not as much to learn (techy and science-wise) as some would have many believe. That's the whole point of auto-this and auto-that, isn't it? To flatten the learning curve? To make the science of photography as no-brainer as possible? To automate many of the technical functions of photography and thereby simplifying them?

It's not like mastering the creative use of auto-modes is tantamount to going to brain surgeon's school. Sure, there's still plenty to learn when you're dedicated to snapping really good images, even when you're using auto-everything. So why do so many folks seem to make things more difficult for themselves? More importantly, why are they making complex out of that which is specifically and technologically designed and manufactured to be, uhhh... non-complex?

One would think all the freeing-up of photographers' brain reserves -- you know, because they don't have to dedicate as much gray matter (as they once did) to storage space for technical things -- would mean they're now able, almost entirely, to concentrate on simplicity and how it's such a big part of creativity.

I've almost completed my new ebook, "Guerrilla Headshots." It should be out this month. Like it's predecessor, "Guerrilla Glamour," it's focused on doing things as simply and efficiently, with less (and less expensive) gear and fewer technical concerns. This time out, my ebook targets headshot photography, a sub-genre of general portrait photography and something I've been actively shooting since around 1980. It's probably a genre many of you are called on, fairly frequently, to shoot as well.

The pretty girl at the top is Chayse, captured inside a warehouse and in front of a windowed, roll-up door. The warehouse is located somewhere in down-town Los Angeles. I doubt I could find it again without directions. If you've ever been to downtown LA, in and around skid-row and the produce and flower markets, you know how maze-like it is down there.


John said...

I agree with the genius of simplicity. But I'm not convinced that relying on the auto modes necessarily allows the photographer to capture the image he or she envisioned. The automatic modes all treat the scene according to someone else's idea of how that particular combination of light and dark areas should be treated. It can be invaluable to understand which scenes are treated appropriately by which automatic mode, but it is sometimes equally invaluable to know when a scene won't be rendered as desired without manual intervention, and equally valuable how to perform that intervention. Thus, I still believe that you need to learn all that technical stuff so thoroughly that you can forget about it, that you can do it on auto-pilot.

jimmyd said...

@John, I didn't mean to imply that auto-modes offer the best or only way to shoot in all situations. Certainly, there's a time and place for auto-exposure techniques. Personally, the vast majority of my work is shooting in manual mode, i.e., when it comes to exposure and certainly for my glamour work. But many do shoot in the various auto-modes and, I guess, that's who I was speaking to, leastwise, in terms of those who routinely shoot in auto-modes... if that makes sense. :-)

Anunnaki said...

I can agree with you that simplicity is really the best in photography. But to be able to do a great photo that looks simple it takes a look of skills. I been working with different kind of photographers and those who always are working with technology, they dont get great spontaneous photos.

jimmyd said...


You're oh so right. Mastering simplicity is not, uhh... all that simple.

In my ebook, i stress how great pics are often missed because too much of the photographer's focus and attention is elsewhere, that is, somewhere other than on the model.

Simplicity isn't just about the end result. It's also about the process of getting there.

John said...

"Mastering simplicity is not, uhh... all that simple."

THAT is worthy of a Zen master! It's one of those things we should all have to write 100 times on the chalk board. It's one of the reasons I keep enjoying your blog, Mr. D. Seriously.

mrpilles said...

Jimmy, besides your comments on the "sweet spot", I'm sure you have heard the other famous saying: "in the zone," when everything you do comes out better and with less effort than you normally need.