The Joy Of Photography - Limiting Your Options

2001_042_10.jpgTake it from somebody that has been shooting images for 40 years. I have had my prolific years and my lean years. I am saying that in an overall photographic sense - not just a commercial sense. I have taken breaks that have lasted from 6 months to 3 years. When I say break I mean a total break, no camera, no images - none. I have self assessed as most of us do in all endeavors. I have searched my soul to figure out why I make pictures. I have gone from one end of the photographic universe to the other and back again in terms of formats, medium, and far more importantly, subject matter. Here are a couple of really simple things that I have found to be true - for everyone - at least to a degree.

My photographic work and my enjoyment of the endeavor in all ways fares better when my options are limited either through choices I make or the circumstance I happen to find myself in. I am not kidding. Take a look at this for a second - my work AND my joy - better. This is coming from someone that values freedom over and above everything- well at least on par with truth. That may seem contradictory at first glance but it is actually quite congruent.

Imagine for a moment that you could photograph just about anything you want - really. Anything at all - all of us can. Now imagine you had whatever resources you needed to do that - equipment, funds, access, materials, budget. Also imagine that you had the skills that to make it all look anyway you wanted it to. The skills of every single solitary link in the chain that leads to the final image. No obstacles. None whatsoever. Everyday you wake up and you ask yourself what am I going to photograph today? What equipment, materials, techniques, lighting, post processing treatment, location, background, paper, printer, large format, medium, lens, and all of those choices were yours to make with no limitations on availability or skill to maximize their use. Would you make good work? I doubt it.

The funny thing is that when you first fall in love with photography and your options are severely limited all of the above seems like photographic utopia. There is a quest to remove those obstacles and there should be or none of us would make very good images because of the severe limitations from far too many perspectives. So you do need to achieve some degree of competence. It is a worthwhile quest. Now here is the tricky part. At some point your options become so broad that every image becomes a massive decision making process that seriously compromises the subject for the sake of the process. This is why I do not shoot commercial work any longer. The subjects became meaningless to me - like some stupid parlor trick. And for my next trick…watch me pull the rabbit out of my hat…. wwwoooooo.

Fantastically boring and worse completely meaningless. If you want to make better images and have way more fun doing it limit your options early. This takes a lot of discipline and even more guts. The more skill you acquire the more guts it takes. Trust me on this. Your images will thank you - trust me on this as well. Really take a hard look that the images you like the best - yours and other peoples. Take a look at the images that survive a decade or more and suffer the slings and arrows of time, context, taste, fashion, fad. I can say with 99.9% confidence that they were made under severe limits - probably more limited that what you access to right this second. The photographers that make them generally limit themselves one way or another to very specific subject matter that interests them - to materials and medium, ruthlessly eliminating anything that gets in the way of their connection with the subject. Try it sometime for yourself. Give yourself NO choices photographically make a decision in less than one minute on ONE subject, ONE lens, ONE treatment (black and white/color/print size/final output, all of it in less than one minute), this is really hard to do in the digital age. Shoot with whatever equipment you can carry - without a camera bag, just in your hands.

Just do it.


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