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Why is it that we always try to over-complicate things?

Why do we need to try to add complexity? Why do we make things more difficult than they need to be?

I’m very stupid

The best acronym that has stuck with me for the last 10 years is: “KISS” (Keep it simple, stupid). Whenever I try to start doing things which are complex or complicated, I try to hit myself with the “simple stick.”

Why is simplicity so hard?

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Simplicity is one of the most difficult things to attain in life. To seek simplicity in our daily living, in our thinking, design, photos, creativity, and happiness.

Simplicity isn’t just removing the superfluous. Simplicity is tackling the complexity of the world, and trying to distill something to the pure essence.

It means to constantly challenge our conventions and thinking. To really stare at something, and look deeply. To ask ourselves, how can we maximize our effectiveness, and to reduce waste or excess?

Simplicity in photography

Mumbai, 2014

To make a simple photo doesn’t mean to just have a blank background, and one simple subject.

A complex photograph can be made simple. For example, a lot of my favorite photos by Alex Webb are pretty complex on the surface— yet are simple at the end of the day. They are simple, because they focus on a few simple colors, a few simple gestures, and a few simple emotions.

Even a complicated DSLR can be made simple — when using it is effortless. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Canon 5D series — it seems complicated on the surface, but when you get to know the controls, you can change the settings without thinking. The camera is more simple than you think — that is why professionals prefer to use it for commercial work (they don’t need to think when shooting).

Simple yet complex

Hanoi, 2016 #cindyproject
Hanoi, 2016 #cindyproject

Your photography project can be pretty complex on the outside. But you might still have a simple take-away message, morale, or theme in the project.

Try to think of ways you can balance simplicity and complexity in your photography and life.

How can we make our photography and lives more simple?

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For me, I always try to ask myself: “Why?” I always question why I do something — which helps me get to the essence of what I’m trying to do. Then I try to simplify complex matters, and distill it into a central theme or objective.

For example, I often wonder why I do what I do. Why do I live? What purpose do I have in the world?

If I could distill the question of the “why” I live — it is to help others. To serve others. To empower others. Therefore I need to focus just on this. And I try to help others by blogging, writing, making videos, teaching, or giving advice.

If I try to ask myself, “Why” do I take photos? It is to find more personal significance and connection with the world. Therefore realizing this — I know that I don’t need a complicated camera. I just need the least cumbersome, complicated, and the smallest camera possible.

Ask yourself the big “why” questions in your photography and life — and the answers and solutions tend to be simple.

If you want to reduce the complicated to the simple, here are some other thoughts:

1. What can I remove?

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Don’t think about what you can add. Think about what you can remove or subtract.

For example, if you’re working on a photo series, think about which photos you should remove — rather what photos to add to the series.

I am a big fan of the philosophy of “all killer, no filler.” Only show your best work. Don’t show the “filler” material — which just adds unnecessary bulk.

What can you remove in terms of your gear? What cameras, lenses, and equipment do you not really use?

When it comes to post-processing — how can you simplify your workflow? What complicated or time-consuming can you stop using?

What stresses or anxieties can you remove from your life which you find are unnecessary? Which negative people can you remove? What chores can you eliminate which you find to be a hassle?

When in doubt, subtract.

2. Don’t seek the “best”

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Whenever we try to do the “best” — we tend to over-optimize and to focus too much on efficiency.

But optimization and efficiency can be disastrous. We over-complicate things. We all know that when we travel, nothing goes according to plan. We need to add flexibility, redundancy, and buffer when traveling (and living our daily lives).

Furthermore, don’t seek for the “best” camera in your photography. By seeking to have the “best” — you will own many different cameras, lenses, and equipment for different scenarios. You will have too much gear, which will complicate your life.

Instead, settle for “good enough” gear. No gear is 100% perfect. Yet you can probably find a camera/lens which is “80% good enough.”

Too much focus on perfection can lead you to do nothing. By seeking to do “good enough” — you will take action in your life, and make real changes.

3. The 80/20 principle

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There is a famous principle called the 80/20 principle — the idea is that 80% of your effectiveness in life can be attributed to 20% of your actions.

Some examples: 80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers. 80% of your happiness in life come from 20% of your friends. 80% of your value is from 20% of your activities.

Similarly, 20% of the people in your life can create 80% of the stress in your life. 20% of your activities can lead to 80% of your wasted time. 20% of your customers can create 80% of the anxiety in your life.

It doesn’t have to be a perfect 80/20 split. Sometimes it can be 90/10. 99/1. Or 60/40.

The basic principle is try to figure out how to make yourself more effective. You can do this by focusing on where you can create the most positive impact. This also means subtracting the few people from your life who create the most stress and anxiety. And it means to remove the biggest time-wasting activities from your life, which don’t create much value.

As a photographer, what 20% of your photos constitute 80% of your creative vision? Maybe you should remove 80% of the photos in your portfolio, and focus only on your 20% best photos.

Out of all the different genres of photography you shoot, which are you the best at? Perhaps you should just focus on that, and subtract the other genres of photography which can distract you. Maybe this means shooting fewer landscapes, flowers, and family birthday parties— and more street photos. Or even within street photography, it might mean not being distracted by shooting too many different styles. This might mean focusing on one style of street photography (candid, street portraits, urban landscapes, etc).

Conclusion: Simplicity is sublime

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I look at the design of this blog, and as time goes on, it gets more simple. Yet to make it more simple is difficult. I have to really think of what content is the most valuable, and how to make the most seamless user-experience. Of course it isn’t perfect, but everyday I endeavor to make it more simple to use, but more valuable.

In my photography, I get tempted to make my photos more complex. Yet I realize the true value in my photos are the simple, yet emotionally-complex images.

When you approach a workflow, lifestyle, or art which is truly simple — it is sublime. It brings a huge wave of contentment, tranquility, and peace. Not only that, but we can live our entire lives, and not truly find “simple” — it is something we need to work hard on a daily basis.

So how can you simplify your photography, life, and relationships? How can you remove from the superfluous or unnecessary from your life, and add to the valuable, meaningful, and purposeful?

Keep it simple, silly.

Eric