By Wayne J. Cosshall
There is great confusion between simple and simplicity among many photographers, and this often flows over into a suspicion of technology. Let's explore this.
Simplicity and purity are often desirable qualities in photography. They grant an image a cohesion and striking quality. But they have nothing to do with the technology or process used to create the image.
An image that has simplicity and purity has all aspects pushing in the same direction. The image may appear to have a Zen-like minimalism, with everything in the image feeding towards the meaning and interpretation that the photographer desires. Such an image is true to itself and to the photographer who made it. Such an image may still be complex; it’s just that the complexity is not clutter. The photograph may have complexity of interpretation, meaning, or execution.
Making great photographs is a complex process. There are so many options and thus decisions to make at every stage from the 'what to shoot stage' to the final processing and printing, and every stage in between. This complexity is often seen by photographers as a problem with digital, and thus provokes a nostalgic longing back to the 'simple' days of film. What such people forget is that analog photography was also very complex, with all sorts of decision points, from film choice and chemicals to what contrast paper to use.
So while images can have simplicity, the process of creating that simplicity is far from simple. Even the most minimal photographic process is an immensely complex process, when you actually think of all the decision points and all the ways that your actions affect the result.
Complex processes become simple to the mind through repetition. If you think back to learning to drive you will remember that things that you now do automatically and without conscious thought were, when learning, immensely complex and stressful. Same with photography and any other skillful activity.
So for photographers the important thing is to have a process that is effective. Don't worry about creating or finding one that is simple. Effective, from a photographer's perspective, means a process that allows you to capture and portray what you see in the way that you saw it in your head. There is no right or wrong with processes; it is rather what works for you personally.
So this approach puts in perspective all those complex processes, from camera exposure to high dynamic range imaging (HDRi) and everything in between. If it works for you and you get the images you want through doing it, keep it up. If you are not getting the images that you want, try something else.
Simplicity in an image can be the end product of an immensely complex workflow. That is fine. It is not the workflow that someone is or should be judging when they look at the image, it is the image itself.