Via Negativa Photography


Some practical #photolosophy thoughts— don’t seek to add in your photography, seek to SUBTRACT from your photography, in order to make better photos, be less distracted, and to distill more purpose and meaning into your photography and life!

Some practical ideas:

  1. Before you go on a photography trip, don’t think about all the stuff you need to bring on the trip; think about what you don’t need to bring on the trip. Or in other words, figure out what NOT to bring on your trip. A “not to pack” list is probably more effective than figuring out what to pick.
  2. Don’t seek to add to your camera or lens collection; seek to REMOVE or subtract superfluous gear from your collection. This means give away or sell the cameras, lenses, devices, and equipment which are accumulating dust in your home. An easy rule: if you haven’t used a camera or lens for a year, either give it away or sell it.
  3. When you’re photographing a scene, figure out what distracting elements to remove or subtract from the frame, rather than what to add from the frame. For example study the work of Josef Koudelka and see how he was able to maximize the soul and emotions in his photos, while subtracting distracting elements from his frame. Or how Richard Avedon subtracted the background — a zen white background to maximize the emotions in the faces of his subjects.

This concept of “via negativa” comes from Nassim Taleb, who kind of figured out how modern consumerism works:

Big companies and corporations try to sell you stuff to add to your diet, lifestyle, or garage. Their business is “via positiva” (things to ADD to your life, which just ends up cluttering and complicating your life).

For example in the past I wrote why camera companies want you to be perpetually dissatisfied with your camera gear — if we were suddenly 100% satisfied with the camera equipment we already owned, what incentive would we have to buy new camera equipment? Without new sales, a camera company would certainly go bankrupt. And a company doesn’t want to go bankrupt — they want to maximize their sales; that’s what is in their best interest.

This is why I’m skeptical of almost any camera website or blog which makes their primary income through affiliate advertising (if you buy a product through their affiliate link and they get a small commission, of course it’s in their best interest to have you purchase the product). Or why I’m skeptical of websites and Youtubers that rely on Google Adsense (banner advertising) to make money. Why? It’s in their best interest to maximize their viewer count, and their view count — for them to make a living from their content-creation, and also for them to maximize their income.

Be skeptical of everyone, including me (ERIC KIM). Put less trust into bloggers and “experts” and gear reviewers. Put more trust in yourself.

So once again to conclude, just ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is distracting to me in my photography? What is scattering my focus in photography? Is it too much gear or equipment? Is it getting distracted by social media?
  2. What can I subtract from my life which will give me more purposeful focus in my photography?
  3. In terms of my photographic composition; how can I simplify my compositions, by subtracting distracting elements from my background or the edges of my frame?

To achieve more zen, focus, and purpose in your photography, everyday seek to subtract 1 superfluous thing.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” – Leonardo da Vinci


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