I was doing some research on the photographer Irving Penn, and I was drawn to two words that characterized his photography and life: simplicity and persistence.
Be simple in your photography. Aim to make simple photos with a clear subject, a clean background, and no complications. You can seek to make complex images, but try to avoid complicated images.
Complex images can still be simple. A complex image can still have a strong central subject, yet has additional points of interest in it. A complex photo can also have a simple charm.
A complicated photograph often is too busy, messy, and has too much going on. It hurts the head of the viewer to try to figure out what is going on.
You can also be simple in terms of the gear you use. Use a simple camera, simple settings, and keep the gear to a minimum.
The simpler your camera and shooting process, the more you can focus on making photos that fulfill you.
I also find that in photography projects, people tend to overly-complicate things. They have these grand ideas, visions, and theories behind their projects. But nobody gets it— and it often requires a super-long description to make any sense to the viewer.
My suggestion: keep your project ideas simple.
For example, when I used to work in the corporate world, it made me sad and miserable and I felt trapped. Now whenever I see others working corporate, I feel their pain. Therefore I devised the “Suits” project— just photographing men in suits (a symbol of the oppression of working corporate).
Similarly, I have always been drawn to faces, and especially shooting street portraits. So I embarked on a color “street portrait” project — all photos shot on the Ricoh GR, 28mm, macro mode, vertical-orientation, with a flash, and in color. There isn’t anything deep or complicated behind the message behind the portraits— they are just portraits of people I found interested in, and had some sort of connection with them.
Lastly, I’m currently working on my “Cindy Project” — just personal photos of Cindy. Once again, the photos aren’t anything crazy or complicated— I just take lovingly-crafted snapshots of Cindy in our daily life. And I just called it the “Cindy Project” (you can create a project with a similar title of your loved one).
Persistence means having grit. Not giving up. To continue, and get up even when you’re punched down.
As a street photographer, you need tons of persistence. To gain the guts to shoot street photography takes a long time. It takes getting used to rejection, overcoming the fear of pissing someone off, and of getting closer to your subjects.
Also to become a great photographer is all about persistence. You must find a way to stay inspired in your photography over weeks, months, years, and decades. The greatest photographers are the ones who usually stay in the game the longest, and are able to constantly evolve their style.
In whatever creative pursuit you work in, you need persistence. If you’re starting a blog, you might need to blog daily for a year before you get any traction (that is what happened with me). If you start a social media account, you need to be active, engage with others, and be persistent for a long time before you build a following.
No greatness happens overnight. Whenever people tell you that “Photographer X” is an overnight success, they just don’t know the full truth.
The Beatles played as a cover band for thousands of hours before they got good enough to start making their own songs. Tiger Woods started playing golf as a child, and had a tough father who taught him the game relentlessly. Bill Gates coded and hacked his way through programming for thousands of hours before he launched Microsoft.
The same goes with the master photographers — they needed to shoot thousands of rolls of film before they were able to get any good.
The only way to get good at anything is to stay persistent, and stick with it.
The way to get stronger? Stay consistent in going to the gym. The way to lose weight? Consistently not eat sugar, simple carbs, and drink too much alcohol.
How to make your photography more simple
Don’t overly-complicate your photography. Seek to make your photography less complicated, rather than more complicated. Perhaps instead of shooting multiple-subjects, just try to focus on capturing single-subjects. Don’t shoot against messy backgrounds, find a simple white or grey background to shoot against.
If you have more than one camera, try to stick with one camera and lens for a long time.
If you have a project idea, keep it simple. Choose a subject-matter you want to photograph, and just shoot that.
How to stay persistent with your photography
Try to photograph as often as you can but don’t force yourself to shoot against your will. Only photograph when you want to photograph.
Know that to become a great photographer takes decades. Try to think of certain long-term projects you would like to work on— subject-matter that you will stay passionate for over a long period of time.
Maybe that means photographing those who you love. I never get bored photographing Cindy, as she is the love of my life.
Maybe make a project of photographing your kids or family. Or of your partner. Or of your neighborhood, local community, or a club you belong to. Your church, temple, or religious group. I suggest photographing a project which you would still love if it weren’t related to photography.
If I wasn’t a photographer, I would still love Cindy. And I know that I will love her al the days of my life — so how can I ever lose inspiration to photograph her?
Overall, you don’t want to force yourself to photograph something you’re not passionate about. I feel this is the only way you can be persistent in whatever you do.
The only thing that has helped me stay persistent in blogging over all these years (and close to 1,300+ articles) is that I love it. Even if I still had a full-time job, I would still do it. I love reflecting, learning, and sharing ideas with others. I truly believe the blog is a great medium for self-expression, self-empowerment, and also to help others.
So how can you add more simplicity to your photography, but also stay persistent?
Just have fun. Be like a child. Children never get bored playing (they are persistent at having fun).