Paths to Simplicity

By Sunday, February 5, 2012grafphoto
winter hiking trail photo

Winter pathways, Clinton River Park, Michigan Image # WI-9553

An interesting thought popped into my head during this day walking in the woods and approaching this area.  The woods around my home are pretty much a jumbled mess.  Vines, scrubby bushes and snags, thorny plants everywhere.  Long time readers may recall me mentioning this a few times in the past.   I think most would agree that the simpler a photograph can be, the stronger it becomes.   Eliminate distracting elements that will confuse the eye and our brains is a fundamental of composition.   So doing landscape type work in my woods can be quite difficult.

Snow is already a great simplifier, but what became immediately clear in this area was this path.   A path moves through an archway of snow covered trees. Why fight your way through the tangled brush, when you can simply go through here? I imagined deer and many other animals thinking the same thing.  If I were a deer, I would certainly take that path versus fighting through snags and thorns.  The path of least resistance has so many examples in nature.

So this made me think back to our attraction towards simplicity;  Simplicity in designs, simplicity in movement, simplicity in photography.  I wondered if this positive feedback response in our brains goes back to our early evolution as a species and instincts for survival.  Perhaps our natural tendency to conserve energy, follow the path of least resistance is so built into our brains, it also influences our perceptions on photography.

File under “Things that make you go ‘hmmmm…


Join the discussion 20 Comments

  • Soothing words and a very fine image to go along. I think I am attracted to simplicity because there are so many tasks, events, paperwork, stuff and other stuff piled higher and deeper in my life.

  • This is a great post, Mark. I think we really do tend to make our lives, and therefore our art, too complicated. While thinking is good, too much can cause things to go awry. Maybe simpler art makes for less competing paths for the mind to travel and allows the viewer to end up where the artist intends.

  • Paul Grecian says:

    Great post Mark. I think it would be safe to say that every thing about us as humans in our evolution effects they way we see art. If you haven’t read “The Art Instinct” by Denis Dutton, I think you would enjoy it.

  • Ove says:

    It’s comforting that most life follows the least resistive path, but essential that the nature sometimes calls for a change.

  • Greg Russell says:

    Roberta nailed it, I think. I think we tend towards uncluttered spaces, and prefer an uncluttered mind, but our own nature seems to work against us a lot of the times. I think learning to photograph, many of us tried doing just that…cluttering up our compositions with extraneous things, in an attempt to make them compelling.

    You’ve done a great job of simplifying this image…the comp is clean, the color palette is pure…all of it is gorgeous. Well done!


  • Roberta says:

    I think so. I think we do best with simple uncluttered lives and surroundings, but we are terrible good at messing things up. Not this image though. That’s a great line.

  • Anthoni says:

    I like your thinking style and creative method of approach. You’re look like on the philosopher more than on the photographer.

  • Hmmmmm! There are voices telling us to take the path less traveled and those to follow the easier path. LIke Paul, I’ve done both and will mostly continue to choose both. It was at the age of 73 that John Muir traveled to South America, alone. He still had the wandering spirit within him.

    There are those who get from point A to pint B by taking the interstate and there are those who take the side roads. It may take longer but we will experience a different world along the way.

    I was surprised at the density of the woods in the Ohio Valley. The Metro Parks in and around Columbus allowed me to imagine what the land looked like prior to plowed fields, paved roads, housing developments and strip malls. How did our ancestors make it through such a densely forested world of nature. There are many areas of the eastern part of the US where present roads are the paved trails left by deer and cattle. They meander rather than conform to some grid laid out by our current housing schemes. I found it difficult to simplify when photographing out there. When I look at my archives I can see I leaned more towards cropping within the frame and more macros. Wide open vistas such as we have along the Colorado Front Range we not as available.

    I agree with Anita, you do have a tendency to cause your readers to “hmmmmm”. Thanks!

    • Mark says:

      That is an interesting point to think about Monte, as many artists want to take those paths less traveled. I think even if they discover something completely new, exciting, and untouched, they will still try to portray it simply. We want our journeys to be rich and filled with so many different things, but when it comes to visual interpretations, I think we still seek simplicity.

  • Earl says:

    Mark, interesting topic and my opinion is it’s a basic method of problem solving for the human mind — at least for mine. We try to resolve things down to their simplest components, sort things out, root cause so to speak, and then reach a decision or adopt a position. Even on more complex images I usually focus on select elements. Perhaps it’s a built in fundamental algorithm of these computers we call the human brain.

    Let me as you a question….D800/D800E?? 🙂

    • Mark says:

      I was hoping to come to you for advice in the “E” or not to “E” question Earl! 🙂

      I really want to get on the preorder lists, but don’t know the real world differences. One question I have is how does it possibly affect sensor cleaning? I think today we are essentially cleaning the AA filter right?

      • Earl says:

        Mark, Good question on the “E” or not to “E.” I believe I read that the “E” would come with a special version of Capture NX which I assume makes some allowances for “extra-sharpness” of the “E.” I’m not sure if you’d be able to tell the difference between photos of the two in a real world situation…jeeze it’s 36mp. 🙂 For cleaning I’d assume the “E” would still have some type of “clear” coating to allow normal cleaning. If it was me and I had to make the call today, I’d probably go for the D800 and save a few dollars on something that may not make any difference anyway. I’m still on the fence on this one.

        • Mark says:

          I read a bit more about the sensor and saw they do have a filter over the D800E, it just behaves differently than a standard one, and essentially negates itself. Since their dust cleaning mechanism is attached to the filter, I think they probably wanted to keep that common with the non-E version, as well as not expose the sensor in the E version to potential damage. I am really on the fence about the question still.

  • Mark says:

    Anita, Paul – glad you found this interesting instead of just more crazy talk. It really makes you think about how many I our actions an reactions may have ties to early survival instincts as a species or as amoebas. 🙂

  • Paul says:

    Well, Mark. You really made me go “Hmmmmmm”. Now you’ve got my mind thinking about that. I guess that will be the topic of the day for my mind to chew on. 🙂

    I think that you’re on to something. It seems that early in live, we prefer to blaze trails, make our own way, or just rumble and rustle through the bushes and underbrush. Later, we decide to take a simpler course, having dealt with enough trail blazing, we prefer to follow the easier path.

    This is a lovely shot and, of course, it fits the post perfectly.

  • Anita Jesse says:

    I always enjoy your “hmmmmm” posts. This is an excellent one. Of course, the best part is that the root of this leads to all sorts of other considerations about how our brains have been programmed over ages and how that effects all our perceptions. It can’t be smart for anyone striving to communicate to ignore these things. Heady stuff and you always nudge me to get back to these matters when I get lazy.

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