I think it’s pretty easy to get excited about new camera gear. I’ll admit it: I’d love to get my hands on a 600mm f/4, or that Canon 7D. And, I’m sure you would too 🙂
But, then we get reminded by great photographers like David duChemin that gear isn’t the most important thing. The photographer is what really makes the photo, and one of the best ways to improve your photography is to simply just go out there and take more photos. Experiment. Make mistakes. Learn from them.
I think as nature photographers, it’s especially important to minimize our gear, and here are a few reasons why:
#1 – Your vision is infinitely more important than your gear
Has anyone ever looked at your photos and said, “Wow, you must have a really good camera!“? It’s one of the most annoying things we hear as photographers, because we know that it’s not really the camera that makes the photo great: it’s your vision as a photographer. It’s your unique perspective of the world that made your photo great. The camera was just there to capture the light.
#2 – Less gear means less weight on your back
As nature photographers, we usually go on long hikes or backpacking trips with our gear, so we feel it every step of the way. It’s amazing how much lighter your bag will feel if you take one less lens, or just one camera body.
#3 – Saves you money
Those cameras, lenses, and filters can get expensive pretty quickly. If you minimize your gear and focus on the bare essentials, you’ll save a ton of money!
#4 – Forces you to push the limits of your existing gear
Every single camera or lens has limits, but within those limits is an infinite supply of great photographs. I think a lot of times we look at new gear as a solution to one of our problems, and don’t realize we could actually push the limits of our existing gear to accomplish the same thing.
For example, one of my favorite subjects to photograph is hummingbirds. And, of course with birds your lens is never long enough. But, when I saw the hefty price of a long lens like the 600mm, I simply said, “uhhhhh, no.” So, I looked into another [cheaper] way to solve my problem: find out how to physically get closer to the hummingbirds without scaring them away. After watching them closely and learning their subtle habits, I’ve managed to get pretty close to them and get pretty decent shots with a 420mm lens (300mm + 1.4 extender).
#5 – Leaves you more room for other stuff
Without so much camera gear in your backpack, you’ll have more room for other things that help you observe and enjoy nature, like a pair of binoculars or a great book, like The Deerslayer or Desert Solitaire.
Of course, sometimes you really DO need more gear
At the bare minimum, of course, you’ll always need a camera and at least one lens (and a tripod too!). And, if you have a strong desire to photograph certain subjects, then you’ll most certainly need special gear–you can’t really photograph birds with a 50mm lens.
But, before you add that next camera lens to your cart, just ask yourself, “do you REALLY need that? is there no other feasible way to get around your problem?” Don’t be afraid to answer yes (when the answer really is yes) 🙂
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About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, computer scientist, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of Southern California.