When More is Less in Photography

greg_band3As in any of life’s endeavors, in photography, more is sometimes less.  Here are 12 examples.

1. More is less when the weight, size and complexity of the gear makes you less aware of your environment, less spontaneous, less able to capture the serendipitous moment. Of course, if you are shooting Cathedral Rock in Sedona or patiently waiting under camouflage to get the perfect swarm of shore birds in flight, then bring all the gear.

2, Learning more and more photographic styles and editing techniques, and stretching yourself all the time, can be less,  if you never master anything or don’t develop a style. When you try acquiring advanced pano skills while you’re still trying to perfect the straight-on shot of Mount Rainier, then more can be less.

3. If you are not totally familiar with your high end, professional or prosumer camera, then photographing with more custom settings can be less. If you haven’t yet “become one” with your machine, keep it relatively simple. There are happy mediums between total custom and total auto. That doesn’t mean the money you’ve spent on the camera is wasted. You still have a superior sensor, more megapixels, image stabilization, and many other features that add great value in any mode.

4. More is less when you try so many types of photography and subject matter that you never have a body of work that can fill up a solo show, or a book, or provide an even modest legacy. This obviously overlaps with #2.

5. Seeking out criticism from more and more photographers and experts, thus crowding out feedback from ordinary lovers of art, is often less. The same image will elicit vastly different reactions from a room full of photographers, a gathering of diverse artists, or a group of art lovers (who are not artists).

6. Doing more conceptual/narrative (as distinguished from decorative) photography may be less, if the concept has been well worn. There are precious few new or “aha” photographic narratives. This is of course a matter of taste. When I’ve seen the one thousandth image trying to remind me how small and inconsequential I am as a human being, a grain of sand , it leaves me cold. (Cold as in “yawn,” not cold as in “depressed”). I’d much rather be looking at a pretty flower.

7. More edgy can be less if you’re doing it just to be edgy. Faux edgy looks contrived. Even casual viewers will notice, now that all of us are inundated with edgy photographs. Much of edgy ceased being edgy a long time ago.

8. The pursuit of more pixel perfection can be less, if it makes you discard works with great color or composition. Most “ordinary” (not meant condescendingly) viewers don’t see or care about the imperfections you see as a professional photographer.

9. More cohabitation with Contemporary Art (e.g., as reviewed all the time in the Art section of the L.A. Times), may be less, if it moves you, for example, to appropriate other people’s Facebook posts, print them sloppily on a low end Epson, punch holes in the center of each, and display all 12,000 of them on a stick. Sorry, I can’t get past that one.

10. Taking more pictures on a photo shoot or expedition, like 8000, rather than 200, may be less,  if it  dissuades you from sorting and editing soon (as in “Oy, I can’t get myself to plunge into that morass), or leads to boredom once you do get off the dime. Have more confidence in the first two takes.

11. Seeing more and more photos can be less, if the sheer volume of great shots out there makes you feel hopeless about distinguishing your work. Or, if it desensitizes you to what’s really good in your own work.

12. Too much analysis of photography may be less, if it’s paralyzing or takes up too much of your time. Reading more articles like this one, can be less.

I hope reading this will aid your journey, even though it caused you to miss the wonderful shot of your cat flopping off the fire place mantle.

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4 thoughts on “When More is Less in Photography

    1. Irv Lefberg Post author

      Thank You, Jim. I continue to grapple with these photography issues all the time. I appreciate your comment greatly. I wrote it partly for myself, so that I could go back to it from time to time to help stop myself from going off into the wild blue yonder. BTW, I tried subscribing to your blog — is it your’s? — and I think I succeeded, but am not 100% sure. Its very impressive. I was very much into leadership issues in the past, and still am, to a lesser degree. I always viewed “management” much more in terms of “leadership,” than the operational side. Somewhat jokingly, I would say that the sort of thing my agency thought of as “management,” could, and should, have been done by higher end “administrative assistants,” not six figure division heads. Take care, Irv

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  1. Lee Loventhal

    These points you made about more is less are very right on.I try to only shoot images of subjects that are gorgeous, interesting, that move me emotionally, or tell a story with as message.

    If you ask other photographers about you images, you will get several sometimes conflicting suggestions and end up in a quandary. It may be better to just have more confidence in what you do, As Irv said, and I agree that the average viewer will not be as critical of small imperfections as another artist will. Do the best job of editing you can and move on.

    It is important to work certain subjects or locations to have at least a small body of work..

    Lastly I think it is worthwhile to learn the working features of the high end camera you bought. It does help a photographic artist compose and effectively create his message, as well as the mood of the image. Like Irv said, in the mean time use what you know, but you will be disappointed if you only shoot in automatic mode. Just learning to adjust White Balance, ISO, and learning to use Aperture and Shutter Priority will take you a long way.
    That is my 2 cents worth.
    Lee

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    1. Irv Lefberg

      Thanks Lee. I think you said it well — keep working toward really understanding your camera. Until you’ve done that, don’t try to use features you dont fully understand, but progress quickly beyond auto to the intermediate presets.

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