Simplifying Our Vision

maple seedOne of Henry David Thoreau’s most memorable words of advice was “Simplify, simplify, simplify.”  It is advice that most of us have failed to heed.  Our lives would no doubt be more enjoyable and less complicated if we could manage somehow to “simplify, simplify, simplify.”

In nature photography it is a good practice to strive for simplicity too.  In his helpful book, Photography and the Art of Seeing, Freeman Patterson writes, “It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of simplicity when making photographs.  Simplicity brings order and stability to compositions, no matter how many other objects are present in the picture.”  He goes on to talk about how abstracting and selecting make simplicity possible.  When I confront a scene in nature the challenge for me is to compose an image which is so simple the viewer can clearly identify the subject.  In order to do this I have to choose carefully what I will include and exclude in the image.  Beginning photographers often include too much in a scene. 

I took the picture above this afternoon.  Our next door neighbors have a beautiful Chinese maple which is bright red right now.  I wanted to photograph it but found it hard to find a composition that wasn’t too “busy” or complex.  I finally spotted the backlit seed and by isolating it with a macro lens got an image I liked.    

This practice of simplifying a scene can also be used in a more general sense when “seeing Creation.”  The world God has made is vast and complex.  Sometimes when I am out in nature I am overwhelmed by what is before me.  What I see is too much for me to take in, too much for me to comprehend.  When this happens I find that by focusing on smaller pieces of the scene, a bit at a time, it helps me better understand and appreciate the bigger picture.  Simplifying our vision can actually enhance our enjoyment of  Creation and help us to find God in the midst of it all.