I have a secret I want to share with you about how to be a more creative photographer. Here it is, ready, in 5, 4, 3… Throw your stuff out. Yep, toss it. And I’m not referring to annual spring-cleaning either. I’m talking about a deep-clean way of life — minimalism.
Six years ago, prompted by a tiny hallway closet, I became a minimalist. It was purely circumstantial. My family lived in an 870-square-foot condo in San Francisco, California. For reference, the average American home is around 2,600 square feet. We had one small closet that functioned as a hallway, storage and linen closet. One day I decided to toss out most of our linens, keeping one or two of each item. It felt so good that I purged the rest of our house. What’s crazy is that I felt happier and more balanced — I was addicted to getting rid of things and keeping only what was essential.
Minimalism created more than just physical space. It created mental space by promoting the things I valued most and eliminating distractions. This shift in mindset has led to a more creative life and has dramatically affected my photographic style.
Living minimally helps me live creatively.
Living minimally is energizing. When people activate their decision-making skills to make quick decisions about what to keep or toss it puts them in get-things-done mode. As a result, my long to-do list for running my photography business gets shorter faster because I’m already in the mode of making quick executive decisions.
Thinking of ways to simplify the way I live also prompts me to think about how I can simplify my business. For example, I automate correspondence with clients and I ship print orders direct in fuss-free packaging — no custom packaging happening over here.
Even more so, as a creative, I require mental space to think about and execute my photography projects and creative writing. Minimalism enhances my productivity to do these things. There’s a scientific explanation for this: When things are cluttered, it can make people feel anxious or scattered. Humans have evolved to create order because it relieves that anxiety. Because I have fewer distractions at home (my workplace) it allows my mind to dream, rest, ruminate, and problem solve.
The way I live affects the way I shoot and edit.
The important takeaway here isn’t that I’m a minimalist, it’s that my lifestyle choices impact my art and give me a photographically unique point of view. For example, I photograph all of my newborn families in their home. When I arrive, I choose the room with the best light and then clear the clutter. From artwork hanging on their walls to books on the nightstand — everything gets stashed. I believe only the most loved items should be in the shot, be it a special stuffed animal for a sibling or a blanket on the bed.
Even the way I photograph my expecting mamas and families on-location is influenced by minimalism. For example, I love a center composition. It’s strong, pointed and the importance of the subject is clear. I get the other angles too, but I love the simplicity of a good center composition.
Can you guess what type of editing process I have? Yup, it’s minimal too. Because I learned photography by shooting film in the late 90s (geez, that sounds so long ago), I kept my editing minimal when I switched to digital. I knew which color and black and white film stocks I loved, so I use those same digital film presets for my editing. I simply choose my digital film preset and sync it to all my images in Lightroom. Then I adjust contrast and exposure. I try to clone as little as possible. After I’ve exported my final images, I wait a month then delete all the rejected photos off my hard drive. That’s clutter too, people.
Declutter your home and declutter your mind.
Getting rid of the junk, the clutter of everyday life is especially important for creatives. As photographers, we need mental space and clarity to free up creativity. And the digital noise, the artifacts, the files and (gasp) photos? Yeah, those are clutter too. When you’re ready to start clearing out the distractions around you and live minimally, here are three tips for decluttering your life.
1. Get over your historian-itis.
Because photographers are natural historians for their own families, it’s easy to accumulate all the hand-me-down prints and albums going back for generations. Now is the time to cut that stash in half (or less). I know, it seems so heartless. But having hundreds of thousands of photos is just not conducive to being productive or mindful.
Here’s a simple method: Ask yourself three questions and do not rethink the fate of any single photograph. If you answer no to any ONE of these questions the photo gets axed: 1) Does this photo provide any important historic/familial information that I want to pass down? 2) Is the photo original and not a duplicate (doesn’t have to be exact)? 3) Does this photo generate an immediate emotional response?
Evaluate, purge and repeat. I got into photography at a young age, so I have boxes filled with prints. Additionally, because I am the photographer in the family I’ve inherited all of my family’s generational photos too. Apparently, my side of the family loves taking photos because I have boxes of photographs that date back to the early 1900s. I tackled this project by going through all the printed photos and putting each in a keep or discard pile. I did that five years ago and there’s not a single photo I regret tossing.
2. Use an app to help you get organized.
If you find that after decluttering your home/office you’re getting distracted with digital clutter, try an app to keep you focused. Two that I like are Nothing and Freedom. The Nothing app is great to use if you’re trying to break the habit of looking at your phone. The Freedom app is perfect to use when you’re working on focused activities such as creative writing, editing or any endeavor that you really just need to avoid digital distractions. It blocks websites and distracting apps on your phone for a specific amount of time and can be customized. These two apps will keep your productivity and creativity flowing by minimizing digital noise and distraction.
3. Hire a professional organizer to get you started.
If you’re breaking out in hives thinking about tackling the mounds of unworn clothes in your closet or the tchotchkes overflowing in every corner of your house, hire a professional. Yes, this service exists. Enlisting the help of a professional will keep you on track and will also free up time so you can focus on more important things – like your art. I used SprucedCo in San Francisco to declutter my pantry and master walk-in closet. Please, don’t go into The Container Store without a plan. You’ll never be the same again.
Nah! Sure, I’m a minimalist but that doesn’t mean a girl can’t have her choice of gear to shoot with! I always bring two lenses with me to every shoot. Here’s a short list of my gear:
To clarify, I’m not an extreme minimalist. I have stuff. I have more than two camera lenses and I have a small stash of memory cards. For me, minimalism isn’t restrictive but a way I anchor myself to be more productive and creative. It is about how my lifestyle choices impact my art and creativity in a positive way.
Would you describe yourself as a minimalist or are you a clutter-queen/king? Drop me a comment about why your style of living is fulfilling, be it cluttered chaos or minimal living, and how it complements your creative pursuits.
All photos by Tarah Beaven