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There is a creative myth that I would like to dispel. It is from the phrase “the more the merrier.” In photography, more options, more gear, and more technical expertise does not equal something better.

There are times when limitation rules the roost. The composer Igor Stravinsky put it this way: “The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself.” What I’ve found is that it’s a matter of learning all of the techniques and then knowing which ones to leave behind. Like the painter who dabs his brush on his color-filled palette—it’s helpful to have all the colors there, but it’s more important to know which one to choose.

At this point many students say, “Yes, but where do I begin and how can I learn all the techniques really fast?” What I’ve discovered is that it’s best to learn one technique at a time. It’s like taking your vitamins once a day; having the whole bottle at once would defeat their usefulness and they might even become toxic. In addition, it is important to remember that you don’t have to know everything in order to be good. Fine camera work can happen with simple means.

Consider the strategy of one of the greatest photographers of all time—Richard Avedon. Avedon often approached his projects armed with a list of limitations. He explains, “I’ve worked out of a series of nos. No to exquisite light, no to apparent compositions, no to the seduction of poses or narrative. And all these nos force me to the yes. I have a white background. I have the person I’m interested in and the thing that happens between us.”

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