Simple Photography

Tokyo, 2016
Tokyo, 2016

We often aim to become ‘better’ and more complex photographers. But what if the goal was to become more simple and basic photographers?

What is simple photography?

Simple photography means to take away the complexity, stress, and frustration of photography.

  • It means to use the simplest camera possible.
  • It means to reduce clutter and complexity from the frame, and to make simple photos.
  • It means to not make ‘clever’ photos— but meaningful photos.
  • It means to not be a pretentious photographer.
  • It means to keep the photo-making process as simple as possible, in terms of technical settings, or post-processing.

Why do we disdain the simple?

We often criticize the simple.

When we call people ‘simple-minded’ — we mean that they are stupid.

When people call an idea ‘a simple idea’ — it is seen as something elementary and not worthwhile.

When people call a job as ‘simple to do’ — they mean that it doesn’t require any deep thought or effort.

Simple is hard

Rather, I think to do things simply is often more difficult, more complex, and requires more thinking (ironically enough).

To make things simple is very hard. The world is full of inter-dependencies, complexity, and chaos. To make things simple, easy-to-understand, easy-to-navigate, and easy-to-use and comprehend takes a lot of consideration.

How to make it simpler?

In street photography, it is hard to make a simple street photo. Because the world and streets are chaotic. How can you take all the subjects in the streets, all the cars, traffic, and buildings— and find peace, simplicity, and quiet?

How can you make a simple photograph — which has complex emotions? Which strikes an emotional chord with your viewer?

Tips how to make simpler photos

Some ideas to make simpler photos:

1. Subtract, not add

Don’t think of what you can add to the frame, think about what you can remove from the frame.

Subtract the fat, the superfluous, and the unnecessary.

2. Think hard of what you’re trying to say

When you’re shooting on the streets, follow your intuition and gut.

But when you’re editing and choosing your best shots, think hard of what you’re trying to say with your photography. What message are you trying to put across?

Think about this when you are working on a photo project. Try to have a simple message in your photos— and try to make your images convey that emotion.

3. Make it easy for a child to understand

Children are the best bullshit-detectors. Often adults play up complex ideas with fancy words— just to confuse and daze others.

See if children find your photos interesting, understandable, or appealing.

They are the ultimate judges.


When in doubt, keep it simple.


Learn more: Zen Philosophy >