In photography, there are broadly two different types of photographs. And I realize that statement immediately brings up arguments about how there are dozens of genres and themes, but it’s not the genres and themes that I’m talking about here. Rather, it’s the level of complexity within the image. Broadly speaking, there are minimalist images, which are the photographs in which every element possible has been removed in order to really drill down on the subject material, and then there are more complex images. More complex images steer away from minimalism by including more elements. Sometimes only a few, and sometimes dozens of things.
What’s interesting about this is that I have found over the years that many photographers prefer a more minimalist style. Myself, I’ve created many things that were minimalist. It’s not even always a conscious choice, as I’ve decided to go out and create in the minimalist style. Rather, in isolating the subject material and in organizing the composition, there is a tendency to remove as much as possible in order to bring organization to the composition.
Sometimes, I think that this temptation to create minimalist images is so strong in many of us because creating this type of image is easier. When you think about it, it’s true. It is far easier to compose an image that features only one, two, or three elements compared to organizing a composition that features a dozen people, six trees, tables, chairs, and whatever else happens to be in the frame.
And that thought—the idea that images with more elements are more difficult to pull off—leads me to another thought, which is that perhaps this is a worthy challenge for all of us. Organizing the chaos can be an exercise in creativity, something that can help hone our compositional skills.
So the question I pose is this: How complex can we make a photograph while still holding the composition together? Certainly, many photographers have accomplished this. But I think it takes a lot more attention to detail. In a sense, by attempting this sort of thing, we really are organizing the natural chaos that life tends to present us with. After all, that’s all composition really is—bringing a semblance of organization to the image so that it’s pleasing to the eye.
Can you take what would otherwise be a chaotic image, and rather than removing elements, instead organize the existing elements so that it creates a meaningful, interesting image? To my mind, that feels like a test of skill—and these sorts of tests help to push us so that we continue learning and growing.
It’s certainly something worth experimenting with, I think. Even if it’s not your normal style, it can’t hurt to push your limits on occasion by trying your hand at making a complex image.