Photo by Anthony R Socci

When In Doubt, Leave It Out

As you listen to one of your favorite orchestral arrangements of one of your favorite classical compositions you notice a great crescendo and then suddenly, as if someone flipped a switch, all musicians come to a screeching silence except one. She’s the oboe player and her soulful expression of a haunting melody stands in stark contrast to the cacophony of instrumentation just prior to her solo. You could call this “musical minimalism.”

Compare this to your photography. You decide to create a portrait with an elaborate combination of ornate backgrounds, props, hairstyle and makeup and your end product is equivalent to the orchestral cacophony. Next, you start stripping your composition of all its trappings until you’re down to just the essential elements that come together in one soulful statement. This is your photographic minimalism and you find that there is power in this image that could not have been created with all the other elements you just removed.

Referring back to the title of this article is the phrase that I heard while attending a professional photography class at the Rochester Institute of Technology: “When in doubt, leave it out.” I have created some of my very best images while employing this phrase. Another old saw that has been repeated too many times is, “less is more” but the truth is, it’s true.

At times you may want to create an image that shouts “cacophony” at a wedding, for example, the moment when excitement is high as single women line up to catch the bride’s bouquet.  How about when bachelors clamor over each other vying for the prized garter with which comes the honor of placing it on the leg of the not-yet-married lady who previously caught the bouquet?

Contrast this with light coming from a window to illuminate the bride-to-be in a thoughtful moment contemplating the giant step she will soon take that will change her life forever. There is a powerful statement in this minimalist image that will endear you to your wedding client and may lead to additional wedding work.

As a student of aviation, I remember one of my best flight instructor’s comments upon successfully passing my final check ride and receiving my pilot’s license. “Now you have a license to continue your flight training, and remember, a good pilot never stops learning.”

The same advice can be applied to your photography career: “A good photographer never stops learning.” If you haven’t explored minimalism, schedule a self-assignment to explore this element of photography or sign up for a class at a nearby college or one that offers a class online.