The Power Of Limitations

The Power Of Limitations

When photographers ask me what gear they should bring on my photo workshops, my recommendation is to keep it simple. Bring whatever you want on the trip, but bring one body and one lens on the daily photo walks.  Most will give a huge sigh of relief while others will wonder what to do with their fancy new camera strap that allows them to carry two DSLRs. This is how the power of limitations begins.

Limiting yourself to one lens to take on your photo walk, knowing you must live with that decision all day, may sound terrifying to you, but you with benefit twice: You will save your back and learn exciting new ways to see.  Naturally, your lens choice will depend on what your are planning to shoot that day. Many photographers prefer the flexibility of a zoom lens. I recommend a fixed focal length lens such as a 50mm or, if you’re a Canon shooter, the new 40mm pancake lens.  Should you decide to limit yourself to a 50mm lens for the day, you immediately increase your chances of making better pictures. Why? You will be forced to slow down and take more care in your composition. With a fixed lens your feet are your zoom. You will work the scene more carefully and pay closer attention to what you include in the frame, and more importantly, what you decide to leave out of the frame.  Result? Some interesting photographs and a great learning experience – such can be the power of limiting yourself to one lens.

When shooting street photography with a DSLR, a small lens such as a 50mm also has the advantage of making you more invisible..

Another way to slow down and improve your images is to either shoot film or pretend you are.  Set a limit to the number of frames you will shoot that day instead of using the ‘spray and pray’ approach.  Trust me – if you limit yourself to 24 or 36 exposures for one photo walk, you will make every single one of those frames count. Those of you who have shot film, you already know what I’m talking about.

In the fall of 1994 environmentalist and nature photographer Jim Brandenburg, embarked on a journey to shoot one frame a day for 90 days. Imagine that – limiting yourself to just one frame a day for 90 days!  And those were the film days. Truth be told, he was my inspiration to pursue photography as a hobby and later as a career.  To learn more about his amazing journey and get some inspiration, I encourage you to read his story in his best seller book Chased by the Light, NorthWord Press, 1998.

Setting limitations should be kept simple such as picking a theme for your photo walk.  Maybe you decided to focus on a color or to photograph only cats. Eventhough you are likely to shoot other items of interest unrelated to your goal, your focus will turn an ordinary photo walk into a treasure hunt, and isn’t that more fun? This will spice up your photo walks in your hometown and help keep you focused in a new environment where it’s easy to get overwhelmed by so much novelty or newness.

Double the fun and select one lens (here the 50mm) and pick a theme (photographing cats) and your photo walk will turn into a treasure hunt.

However, if you are a beginner or still experimenting with your camera functions, please do shoot more – even lots! These limitations will better suit you once you have some experience under your belt.  The more you shoot, the better you’ll get!  When I first picked up a camera I wish I had benefited from the luxury of shooting digital, the film days were expensive and the experimentation process was definitely slower.  Shoot your heart out in the beginning. Stay excited and keep learning. Master your camera settings and experiment with whatever lens you own. You will soon realize how the power of limitations can fine tune your craft.

Have fun!

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Valerie Jardin I live and breathe in pixels! Photography is more than a passion, it's an obsession, almost an addiction. When I'm not shooting or writing, I spend my time teaching this beautiful craft during photo workshops all over the world! I am also thrilled to be an official X Photographer for Fujifilm USA. Visit my Website Follow me on Facebook , Twitter , Instagram. And listen to my Podcast!

Some Older Comments

  • Rick December 2, 2012 02:30 am

    @ Ryan:

    Your blurry pix might come from a couple different sources - if you are shooting close objects at 1.8, you might be shifting your camera or body slightly taking the image out of focus since the DOF is very thin. Or perhaps you are using multi-focus points instead of one single focus point.

    For many images, 1.8 is too narrow, try shooting at 5 or 5.6 to see if the problem goes away. Also, set the camera to use only 1 focus point instead of an array and couple that with using back button focus.

  • Ryan November 16, 2012 04:11 pm

    This is great! I love to just take my 50mm around as well. But I am having trouble with my new 3month old Nikon 50mm f1.8G lens. Very blurry photos unless I'm in live view. Getting frustrated. Oh well.

  • Mridula November 16, 2012 03:45 am

    Slow down is what I surely want to do but even after reading it so many times at DPS I am only partially successful!

  • Javier November 14, 2012 03:08 am

    During a training, my only available camera was a Samsung Galaxy SIII, and I ended with this picture that I'm currently using as desktop background.
    [eimg link='' title='SEM 669C+' url='']

  • Lal Nallath November 14, 2012 12:18 am

    Awesome writing...I think unknowingly or knowingly i am already practicing the power of limitations...still yet to limit myself to 50mm will try it one of these days...thanks for this...will keep on coming back...

  • Iris November 11, 2012 01:53 am

    I do this on a consistent basis - picking one lens when on a personal photo walk. It makes me think more and currently my 28mm is my favorite lens to do that.

  • Chitra Sivasankar Arunagiri November 10, 2012 06:33 am

    Great writing Valerie. Sure there is a great power for limitations. I realised this very recently. I have a 40 mm STM Pancake lens just like you. I used to rely more on my 18-135 mm zoom lens but when I got the 40 mm Pancake lens, things changed. I learned to compose better. Check out some of first frames with the Pancake lens.

  • raghavendra November 10, 2012 04:17 am

    i love the way each photograph says a story.
    All the pictures are a very clear and neat
    emotions have been captured beautifully

  • Scottc November 9, 2012 09:13 am

    Agree with limitations. I think the fixed focal length can be the greatest teacher of all, often discoverng different perspectives on a subject simply due to the extra walking around.

    I've also found project groups on flickr to be valuable learning tools.

  • Jai Catalano November 9, 2012 08:52 am

    The power of limitations is good to test yourself and keep sharp. On the flip side I wouldn't suggest it if you are working on a project or needed to have multitude of equipment to use.

  • Ben Chapman November 9, 2012 08:49 am

    Just make sure the lens you choose is an educated choice.
    I went to an exhibition this year and only took my camera and 50mm lens, I thought the 50 would be good for some great arty photos and the wide apertures would help with the low this case I was right.

    However, for family and friends wanting to see what was at the exhibition my photos of parts of pieces really didn't help. In that case I should of just taken a point and shoot which could go wide.

    I suppose it's all about the intended use of the photo

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer November 9, 2012 07:49 am

    I fully support the power of limitations thinking and once my photography students are at a certain level, and actually even when they are just starting out, to limit their shooting in some way, be it by bringing just one lens, or using a tripod, or only photographing blue objects, something like that so you have a goal and can go home and know if you accomplished what you wanted to or not, and most importantly so that you are just not scatter shooting everything in site.

    I follow this philosophy myself. When recently I saw a Ferrari California parked on the street, I only had my Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D lens on. The shot I made:

    Had I had my 17-50mm with me I might have been tempted to photograph the entire car, which was not in a good location and definitely did not have a good background. So since I was limited by the 50mm lens, I think I ended up with a better shot than I would have even if I had a wider lense.