I’ve pursued photography for about 30 years and for as long as I have, the expression “less is more” has been there. I had a darkroom where I rolled my film from bulk, processed the film myself, and printed my own pictures. I started in film and then after a small hiatus made the transition to digital. That transition came with several benefits and advantages. One of the main ones would be the ability to shoot as many images as I wanted, without the cost of processing and printing.
In the early 90’s I took a trip to the Grand Canyon, shooting film. After a ten-day photo excursion, I came home with about 700 pictures. Those included color, which I sent out to be processed and printed, and black and white, which I did myself. At the time, it seemed like an extradentary number of pictures. And, it was! It took me a long time to get them back, process the ones I was doing myself. The sort through them, pick the ones that were going into the album to share with friends and family. Then to reduce those to the few I was going to print larger, mount and frame, to hang on the walls of my apartment. I loved that process and still do.
Fast forward, to present time, 2016. I go to a photo shoot with a couple of college students, for about three hours in two locations and shoot close to 700 pictures, three hours. Rolls of film came 12, 24, and 36. When shooting film, a project, or experiment might be a 12 or 24 roll, so a couple of rolls of 36 film was a lot. But I shot 647 pictures in three hours, that’s equal to almost 54 rolls of film.
So “less is more”. All these years I thought this phrase stemmed from photography, it hasn’t. It’s often attributed to a German architect and furniture designer named Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe (1886-1969). He is a pioneer of modernist architecture. He wanted to implement a minimalist, simple, style of architecture, using modern industrial materials for a modern era. But truth be told, this isn’t where the phrase originated either.
If we look for it in a written form it shows up in a poem. A poem called “Andrea del Sarto (aka “The Faultless Painter”), written by Robert Browning, in 1855. I included the section with the quote below.
“who strive – you don’t know how the others strive To paint a little thing like that you smeared Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,- Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says, (I know his name, no matter) – so much less! Well, less is more, Lucrezia.”
Read the entire poem here
For over 150 years this has challenged people to examine what it is they do and create. The poem is about creating art that embodies both body and soul. Both the material and the intangible. It’s about a connection with the world around us with feelings, form with spiritual, natural with the mystic.
So how can we apply this to photography?
- Slow down, take your time and think about what you’re going to do before you do it.
- Look around, see what’s around you and think about how you can capture it as an image.
- Make every click of the shutter count. If I had to pay for each and every picture I took, I would never have taken 647 pictures of those college students a few weeks ago.
- Include minimalist composition or negative space in your images. Sometimes a lot of empty space in a picture will make a viewer really focus on the central subject.
- Make the main subject small in the negative space. This technique is an invitation to the observer to really examine your picture.
- Eliminate anything that doesn’t add to the image. This means check your background for simplicity, check your borders and see how far in you can crop and still, keep your vision.
- Just keep the best of the best, and the almost best. I’m thinking that will probably be more than enough. When we cull, we need to cull. Get rid of the duplicates, and triplicates. There is really only one best image of the multiple captures that we took, delete, delete, delete.
- How many pictures do you have on your hard drive? When was the last time they saw the light of day? Perhaps it’s time to sort through them and reduce your digital file cabinets.
Remember “Less is More”!