In a former career, I spent a lot of time in project meetings seeking solutions to a variety of technology problems. Almost without fail, among the first things asked at such meetings was whether there are low-hanging fruit – goals that may be easily, quickly or inexpensively accomplished and whether this might elicit a significant improvement. Although a reasonable approach, it is not often acknowledged that for any complex problems there are only so many low-hanging fruit to be had, and when the problem recurs with consistency, a complete solution also must eventually tackle more difficult to reach “fruit”.
Applied to photography and art, perhaps our two greatest challenges are the consistent production of novel work and the continuous growth of our expressive abilities as artists. As most experienced artists likely will attest, these are, in fact, two facets of the same problem. As articulated by photographer Robert Adams, “When photographers get beyond copying the achievements of others, or just repeating their own accidental first successes, they learn that they do not know where in the world they will find pictures. Nobody does. Each photograph that works is a revelation to its supposed creator.”
In more practical terms, think of the common postcard views found in National Parks and other well-known scenic locations – views that can be photographed with great success and with little investment into effort and creativity – as the landscape photographer’s low-hanging fruit. Other easy solutions, such as automated special effects, plug-ins and other push-button processing shortcuts similarly qualify. Regrettably, people are lazy.
This is not meant as an accusation but rather as a statement of fact – we evolved to minimize effort in times when food and other resources were scarce, and our ancestors had to make the most of every calorie. For many today this is no longer the situation, and yet our brains still are programmed to lead us down the path of least resistance. It is, however, within our control to make a conscious decision to invest efforts against our innate propensity toward ease. What we find time and again is that creative accomplishments earned through great effort are also the most satisfying.
The temptation of ease is among the reasons we see so many images of the same subjects and techniques leading to beautiful images with the least amount of effort – same places, same styles, same visual effects. And, when the low-hanging fruit in one place are exhausted, many move on to seek yet more low-hanging fruit in other places. In other words, rather than take photography to a higher level, photographers often follow the herd from one park to the next, from one country to the next, from one ‘easy button’ to the next, skimming the surface for easily acquired beauty but rarely exploring deeper within the subject and within themselves.
It is worth remembering that creative pursuits differ from other activities in the sense that creativity relies on novelty, and novelty, if it is useful, requires cognitive, and sometimes physical, effort. In art there is no such thing as wasted effort. Every investment you make in making your work unique will be rewarded, whether successful or not. It is the path to personal growth.
Read this and many more articles in High Definition inside Issue 49 of Landscape Photography Magazine.