For a while now, I’ve been exploring ways that I can live and work in a simpler way. While I was out for a walk through cottage country one morning earlier this winter, I found myself in a scene that provided the perfect analogy of this idea of simplicity.
The road was covered in fresh and largely undisturbed snow. The only sounds were the chirping of small birds and the rustling of the spruce branches in a gentle breeze. There was the faint smell of wood smoke wafting around from a cottage tucked away in the trees. The moment was magical. And that’s when that unexpected term from the world of digital photography cropped up in the back of my head: “Noise Reduction”.
In digital photography, ‘noise reduction’ refers to cleaning up the imperfect graininess that sometimes appears in an image. I don’t normally stress about digital noise in my images, especially not while I’m out in such a serene space, but the term seemed to strike a chord and the more I turned it over in my mind, both that morning and afterwards, the more those two words, ‘Noise Reduction,’ seemed to sum up how that winter morning symbolized the simplicity I was intrigued by.
That wintry morning was special not because it was silent or empty, but because every aspect – the crunch of the snow, the scent of the smoke, the sound of the birds and the breeze – was in the right proportion, adding to the scene without becoming a distraction on its own. If the wind had violently whipped up the snow, or the smoke had been to thick to see or breath, the scene would have been ruined, not to mention if it had all been polluted by the drone of traffic.
Using that mark that morning left on me, I’ve been asking myself if particular activities or concerns are meaningful components of the bigger scene, or are they simply ‘noise’, that is, are they distracting more than they contribute, and if so, can they be reduced or done away with altogether. The particular phrasing of this question to myself goes back to that morning, but really it is part of this search for a simpler way that has been ongoing for much longer. This process has lead me to reduce the amount of equipment I use. It has influenced the way I develop my images. It’s even what lead me to a day job outside of the photographic industry, of all things.
I found myself so distracted by the noise of the latest gear and gizmos, and the necessity to brand, market and sell my photography (especially through the immensely noisy world of social media) that making photographs lost much of the specialness that initially drew me to the medium. Now I realize that there are many photographers out there who can take on these facets of the modern photographic business without tarnishing their love of a life behind the camera, and my hat is off to those folks. However, for me, having loosened the ties between my photography and making my living, I’ve reduced a lot of noise in my photography and in the process, I have slowly begun to find that satisfaction in it again.