A few days ago Mike Johnston of TOP (The Online Photographer) ignited a firestorm of controversy by espousing that beginning photographers should spend a year shooting with nothing but a Leica, one lens, and one (black and white) film in order to hone their skills of observation, composition, and vision.
Now, without starting my own debate, I agree with what he is saying – and it got me thinking. Essentially this exercise boils down to the value of limitations as a teaching and creative tool.
Nowadays taking a photograph is easy. Point and Shoot, nothing too it. But we don’t want to just take photographs. We want to take *good*, nay *great* photographs. And *that* is very, very hard! And often, the very things that make it easier to take a picture, make it harder for the beginner to take a Great picture. They become crutches, and the learner goes along relying on said crutches which is fine for a while, but hamstrings him when it is time to “move to the next level” as it were.
And I think that much as Mike is saying – a great way to move past these hurdles, is to actually impose limitations on ones own work. Limitations force us to figure things out. They don’t allow us to rely on crutches. The make us use skill to compensate for limits. And of course, no one is saying you have to limit yourself forever, but it can be a valuable teaching tool. On this very blog, I’ve espoused taping up your zoom to a single focal length to improve your compositional skills and learning to “see” in a particular length.
And yes, I’d even say it’s not a bad idea to spend an entire year shooting with nothing but a leica and a single lens.
These things are all limitations – self imposed limitations – but they all serve the same purpose: to push us beyond our reliance on the camera as a tool, to force us to use our eyes and our brain to compensate for the shortcomings of our gear rather than our gear compensating for the shortcomings of our eyes!
So before you knock it, try it. Stick on a prime lens and shoot with it instead of a zoom. Turn off your autofocus and auto exposure. Heck, put on an old manual lens that won’t do ttl metering and use the sunny-16 rule to train yourself to estimate exposure. And shoot with a leica for a year.
It’s the limitations that we impose on ourself that train us to overcome the limits that our gear imposes on us.