Photography: Perhaps You Should Embrace Your Limitations

Reddish Egret Photo by Scott Bourne

“Results are uncertain even among the more experienced photographers.” – Matthew Brady

I once heard landscape photographer John Shaw say “The difference between a pro and an amateur photographer, is that the pro knows what NOT to include in the composition.”

I pondered that and realized that there’s some Zen to photography. I know that many times, it’s the limitations in photography that we need to become more comfortable with.
Our inclination as humans and as photographers is to ADD SOMETHING. But what if we realized that it’s all about TAKING SOMETHING AWAY?

This is most easily applied in composition. Start with a big, wide scene. Then start taking things out of the scene – either actually removing them or simply getting closer to the main subject. Changing the focal length, angle or field of view, etc. As you reduce things that appear in your viewfinder, you get closer to finding the thing that matters most – the thing you really wanted to photograph in the first place.

But it doesn’t stop there…

Sometimes you find yourself in the field with the wrong lens. Or maybe you come upon a once-in-a-lifetime chance and you only have the point-and-shoot in the bag. Maybe you simply can’t afford what you need in the way of gear. It’s okay. That shouldn’t stop you
from making great photos. These limitations are only a roadblock if you let them be. Learn the limitations of your gear. Learn how to wring every drop out of every lens. Your images will start to shine because you learned how to make images with what you had. Making do will often inspire more art because in the process of elimination, i.e., not carrying (or even having) every piece of gear you want will force your mind’s eye to pick up the slack. Your vision improves with LESS gear. You take away gear but you add vision.

There are other sorts of limitations that you should consider embracing. How about the limitation of shooting on a bright, sunny day at Noon? The light is very harsh and downright unattractive. You can add fill flash, as many photographers do in order to balance the harsh daylight. But you can also limit the light by blocking it from overhead, putting the subject in complete shade, making the new main light the open sky in the background. Create an L-shape (like a tree – trunk forms the long stroke of the “L” and the tree branches and leaves serve as the short stroke of the “L.”) The “L” is inverted now and the tree provides shade from the harsh, direct, overhead sun at Noon and the open sky provides a pleasing main light. You eliminate the light – not add to it.

This Zen way of thinking takes practice and an open mind and patience. But I’ve seen great results by trying this approach and encourage you to do the same. On your next photo outing, think about limitations and how they can work in your favor.