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Occam’s light razor

OK, so it’s an odd title for a blog post, and most people won’t have a clue about Occam’s Razor, I guess I had better start with an explanation of what it actually means!

A wee bit of history(and some philosophy thrown in for good measure)

William of Ockham was born in England at the end of the 1200’s, he became famous as a logician. He never actually used the phrase that now bears his name, but the principle that it implies is used throughout his writing; simpler explanations are, other things being equal, generally better than more complex ones. Or to put it another way; Keep it simple, stupid. There are quite a few justifications for using this method in most things in life, it’s a nice philosophy to apply to everyday situations.

I’m always wary of people who use more words than necessary, there’s a good chance they are trying to hide something amongst the torrent. Politicians fall firmly into this category!

But this is a photography blog….

So how can we apply Occam’s philosophy to photography? I think this applies to anyone who has reached a certain point in their photographic “career”, that point is when you have acquired a fair selection of lenses, lighting and other miscellaneous equipment that you have options for how you can light and compose a shot. There is a temptation to throw the kitchen sink at it, to use flash where ambient would be more appropriate or break out the tripod and cable release when you can get the same result handheld.

Learn how to use the tools at your disposal

Then learn why you shouldn’t use them. One of the hardest, but probably most important, things I have learned is that flash has it’s place. Don’t try and use it in every situation. Don’t try and throw to much light at a scene, just because you have five flashes, doesn’t mean you should actually use them all. Some of the most effective shots come from a well placed single light creating an interplay of light and shadow.

How many men does it take to dig half a hole?

So with the idea of keeping it simple, you may think that shallow depth of field is the ultimate expression of Occam’s Razor. What could be more simple than that millimeter thin slice of focus? But shallow DoF should just be another tool in the arsenal, knowing when and where to use it to great effect is the same as knowing when to use hyperfocal.  Shallow DoF(and bokeh for that matter) purely for the sake of it isn’t great photography, yes, I know this is contentious and but it will remove all of those “Wow, great DoF” comments on Flickr in one quick, clean bullet to the head.

Guilty as charged

I’m guilty of all the “crimes” above. I’ll hold my hands up and say that. I’ve used FAR more light in a shot that it actually required, I’ve used shallow DoF for no other reason than I’ve got a lens that goes down to 1.8! Am I proud of this, no, I’m certainly not, but photography is a learning experience and I’d like to think that I’ve put aside childish things and developed from resorting to the cheap tricks of the trade.

Look and then look again

If you only take one thing away from this post, then make it the following: Simple is better. Taking two seconds to re-evaluate how you are lighting or composing and removing unnecessary complexity as a result is a good habit to form.

Footnote

I had intended that my next blog post would be a review of the Canon 17-40 L I purchased recently to replace the 24-105 for landscape shots, but as the UK weather has not been co-operating I haven’t actually at the opportunity to use it for anything other than silly portraits!