How to Simplify Your Life as a Photographer

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Whether you’re an amateur or a professional photographer, complexity, confusion, and chaos are your enemies. When your life is chaotic and you’re feeling out of sorts, you’ll be unfocused and your photography will suffer. As a creative person, the last thing you want is to neglect your creative pursuits like photography.

“The more simple we are, the more complete we become.” – August Rodin

Here are 5 ways for you to simplify your life so that you can focus clearly on your life and love of photography.

Lighthouse - How to Simplify Your Life as a Photographer

Embrace simplicity in your photos by including as little as possible in the frame. In this photo, I eliminated the foreground as well as boats and other objects that could have been in the frame. All our attention is drawn to the clouds and the lighthouse in the distance.

1. Tidy up a mess

“Have nothing in your homes that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris

One of the simplest ways to bring some order to life around you is to tidy up a mess. Find space that you’ve got control over and clean it up. Start with your desk, or clean up your bedroom. Maybe you’ve got piles of stuff laying around the house. Choose one pile, sort it out, and put it away.

Once your space is clean, make it beautiful. Make a print of your favorite photo and frame it. Place it on your desk or hang it on the wall. Creating a tidy and beautiful space around you will help you simplify the chaos and encourage your creativity.

Jellyfish - How to Simplify Your Life as a Photographer

With nothing else present in this photo our full attention is drawn to the little jellyfish. Sometimes simplicity in photos is hard to achieve because there are so many other distracting elements.

2. Organize your photography gear

“There are two ways to be rich: One is by acquiring much, and the other is by desiring little.” – Jackie French Koller

Gather up all your photography gear into one place. This is especially helpful if you’ve got equipment stashed all over your house or apartment.

Clean it thoroughly, sort it out, and sell what you don’t need. By simplifying your gear, you’ll have fewer decisions to make and you’ll be freer to take photos when you’re in the moment.

For example, instead of wasting time wondering which of your eight lenses you should use, you’ll have three favorite ones from which to choose.

Frosty window silhouette - How to Simplify Your Life as a Photographer

Silhouettes are an excellent way to simplify and draw attention to your photos. The frosty glass adds an interesting background.

Organizing and simplifying the gear you own is one way to simplify your life. But another way is to simplify your desire for more gear.

Photographers are notorious for suffering from GAS – gear acquisition syndrome. Buying new gear is necessary from time to time, but sometimes buying stuff is an easy way to feel like a photographer rather than actually being one.

Make the most of the gear you’ve alredy got and only purchase what will truly allow you to take more creative photos.

Robin's egg - How to Simplify Your Life as a Photographer

I love taking photos with my Fuji x100s because it has just one prime lens. I don’t have to think about lens choices or focal lengths. Instead, I forget about my camera and just observe what’s around me.

3. Learn one new thing

“Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification.” – Martin H. Fischer

You’ve embraced simplicity by cleaning up some small space, you’ve made that space more beautiful by printing and framing one of your photos, and you’ve begun relieving your GAS.

Now, take your favorite camera and lens and go learn something new. But learn just one new thing at a time. As a creative photographer, you’re likely eager to learn many new things and become a better photographer. That is a worthy ambition. But don’t pile on too much learning at once. That will only hold you back.

Choose just one article, book, or course, and master that before moving on. DPS has a lot of tips and articles for you to learn from, but they have also organized and simplified topics with their books and courses.

Coffee mugs - How to Simplify Your Life as a Photographer

I decided to spend some time trying to learn food photography. It’s a fun skill to study about. I needed to create some sort of background for this coffee mug and decided to stack up a few other mugs behind it. I like the repetitive pattern, another form of simplicity in photos.

4. Create a photography project

“Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.” – John Maeda

With your new learning, why not tackle a photography project?

Many photographers have thousands of disorganized and disconnected photographs. And they have dozens of ideas in mind for what they will photograph next. Make of list of everything you’re interested in trying as a project and then choose one thing from the list to accomplish.

Silhouette and symmetry with a living room window - How to Simplify Your Life as a Photographer

I have a growing collection of silhouette photos with my living room window. Soon, I’ll gather them all together and choose my favorites for a photo book. The symmetry in this photo is an element of simplicity.

Instead of the chaos of too many options and ideas, choose one thing and bring it to life. Maybe you could take a day trip to a favorite location. Or gather together friends for a portrait project. Maybe you should sort through photos from the past and create a photo book.

In just a few days or weeks you could have a finished project and something new to hang in your tidied up space. Tackling a project will help simplify your life and bring order and accomplishment to your day.

Close up portrait of a toddler - How to Simplify Your Life as a Photographer

Close-ups simplify portraits by eliminating distracting backgrounds. Toddlers and kids have lots of fun peering into the camera or playing peekaboo.

5. Photography business

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci

It is natural for photographers to consider starting a photography business. It’s a natural move since entrepreneurs and creative people are cut from the same cloth. Starting a photography business may seem like the ultimate way to live as a photographer. But even with a business, you must keep it as simple as possible.

Fishing boat silhouette - How to Simplify Your Life as a Photographer

I love to show up early before family photo sessions. Arriving at the harbor at 5 am in the morning, I captured this beautiful silhouette of a father and son heading out on one of the Great Lakes to fish.

If you’re already in business consider ways that you can simplify your photography business:

  • Keep your business aligned with what you actually love to photograph.
  • Offer one type of photography rather than doing everything.
  • Choose a simple pricing strategy.
  • Create a simple mobile-friendly website.
  • Put limits on how long your workday will be.
  • Create simple systems to make your workday flow.
  • Carve out lots of time for family and friendships.
Baseball - How to Simplify Your Life as a Photographer

I played baseball as a kid and feel nostalgic about it in the autumn months. Photographing a single object, such as a baseball, is a way to practice simplicity in your photography.

Start simple and make steady progress

Take the next 90 days (3 months) to simplify your life and your photography. Clean up your spaces, appreciate the gear you’ve got, learn just one new thing, and bring it all together with a photography project. If you have a photography business or are thinking of starting one – keep it simple by keeping all the parts simple.

Let me know in the comments what you plan to simplify first.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Mat Coker is a family photographer from Ontario, Canada. He teaches photography to parents and families, showing them how to document their life and adventures. You can get his free photography ebook, and learn more about taking creative photos.

  • Hi Mat,
    Loved this post. I really need to work on point number 1, Have several hard disk’s unorganised.
    Regards,
    Kartick.
    Jestaplo

  • Mat

    Kartick, Glad you found it useful! I made organizing my photos the goal of 2017 – took a while, but what a relief to have it finished. Good luck on the journey!

  • Steve Duffey

    When attempting to click on the link for your e-book in my yahoo email, I get a warning telling me that the link is non-standard and may contain malicious code. Might want to check that out, I will wait before going forward.

  • Mat

    Thanks for letting me know, Steve. I’ll get in touch with my website company and find out what’s going on 🙂

  • Steve Duffey

    I can send you a screenshot if you need.

  • Mat

    Thanks!
    I sent them your comment, so I’ll let you know if they would like a screenshot.
    Thanks a lot!

  • Diane

    Mat what an excellent article. I honestly thought I lived a simple life, without clutter, but hadn’t realized how a few more tweaks are needed in terms of my photography. Love your suggestions and I definitely plan to embrace #4 as it’s one I haven’t yet done.

  • graeme stewart

    These photos are so much better than the last article. I can see now that you have talent. And I like the quotations.

  • Mat

    Diane, I’m happy you found it helpful! A photography project is such a great way to bring things together. I wish you well with it 🙂

  • Indeed, its a big relief!

  • Great article. We could all do with a bit of simplicity in our lives. I have embraced this for years. Poverty actually helps- you can narrow your world to the bare minimum. Until recently, I had one camera and one lens for three years. Very simple.

  • Mat

    Thanks, Don!
    What would you say the best part of one camera / one lens was? What did you learn from it?
    Not long ago I took nothing but a wide angle zoom lens to photograph a friends family. I wanted to break my dependence on my favourite lens – 50mm.
    I chose the wide angle lens because I thought it was the least useful for the type of photos I was after. The photos were important enough that I felt the pressure of that choice!
    I think the photos turned out just fine (the family loves them), and there were losts of unexpected photos that just wouldn’t have happened with the 50mm.
    I looked at your website and love the light and mood of your photos!
    Mat

  • SG

    What a wonderful article!!! Perhaps we could exchange thoughts and ideas on how to further simplify life and things around us. I have a rule if something has not been used for 6 (six) months or more then I can rid of it (exclusions like photographs, videos, memories apply). Please send a private message so I can get some lessons from you.

  • Mat

    That’s great you found the ideas so helpful! Could you get in touch with me through my website?

  • SG

    Matt, Apologies for a stupid question but I am unable to find your website. I have looked around this site and also google so perhaps I am missing something.

  • SG

    Ignore my message. I found it.

  • Alice Wilson

    So great article Mat. Of course I know nothing about photography, but I know what I like and think that I have a good eye.

    Question: In the cup photo, I would have centered the cup in front of the third one and rotated it a quarter turn to the left so that the handle paralelled the background ones. What photography rules govern or were broken here?

  • Mat

    What a great question, Alice!

    Here was my thought process on the cup photo.

    The main principles in mind were: repetition, centering, off center main subject.

    I wasn’t following any exact compositional rules – such as the rule of thirds.

    The cups in the background are centered and I decided to stack them with a repetitive pattern. That pattern seems to make them blend in with each other a little more (perfect for a background).

    The main cup was intentionally placed off center. Personally, I like an orderly photo with the main subject or element a little out of place (centered background, off center main cup).

    Even though I could have turned the handle to the side I felt that would make the cup look too ‘perfect’ for this particular photo.

    I love your orderly mind, Alice!

  • Alice Wilson

    Thank you so much!

    I just met you Mat and already I love you and admire your work so much.

    Although I don’t really understand all of the photography principles, what I can say is, ‘Brilliant’!

  • Mat

    You’re too kind, Alice!

  • I love that ‘the least useful’… exactly the type of attitude I have- make this work under restrictions. We have so many choices as photographers- lenses, cameras, focal lengths- if we control those choices, like you said, you get great results! Thanks for checking my site and the feedback. Much appreciated.

  • Mat

    You’re welcome, Don. Loved it!

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