5 reasons to minimize your camera gear

Photo by Martin Taylor

Have you ever felt like you were just one camera lens away from completing your ultimate collection of gear? Have you ever said to yourself, “if only I had that 600mm lens, THEN I could take those awesome photos I want.” Or maybe there’s some nifty little accessories that you’re just itching to get.

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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steveb2About 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.

Comments

  1. I’d like to add another reason: so you can go on long treks into the wilderness where they scenery is pristine and mostly not viewed by humans, take awesome photos and not break your back, feet and knees doing so!

  2. Boy can I vouch for #2. This past weekend my wife Donna and I went to upstate South Carolina to shoot waterfalls and the Oconee Bell wildflower. Not knowing which lenses we would need I decided to bring all of them. Below is what was stuffed in my camera bag. This is on top of the 5D with battery grip, L-Bracket and 70-200 zoom that was hanging from my neck:

    1 – 50mm prime lens
    2 – 100mm macro lens
    3 – 200mm prime lens
    4 – 400mm prime lens
    5 – 17-40 zoom
    6 – extra cards and batteries

    No wonder I was worn out at the end of the day.

    I ended up using the following lenses during the day: 17-40 and 70-200. Donna stuck with the EF-S 17-85 that was mounted on her 7D (fantastic camera, BTW).

    Next time I’ll probably bring extra lenses just to have them available but when we set out on the trail I’ll probably just bring one extra lens besides what is mounted on the camera bodies.

  3. I couldn’t agree more, but that doesn’t stop me from still wanting that 600mm f/4 or the 300-800mm f/5.6. :) Of course neither one of those lenses are something I would want to take on a hike so I think I will settle for the 300mm f/4 and a TC. My current gear is not top of the line, and I think that has made me a better, more patient wildlife photographer. Learning to work around the limitations of your gear really forces you to think about how you are going to create that photo that you can see in your mind. It makes you slow down and contemplate what it is that you want to do and how you can use the gear you have to make that happen.

    As an example, I wanted to take photos of easter bluebirds that filled the frame but I couldn’t get them close enough to do that, even with a 500mm lens. So I decided to try it with a 12mm lens instead. It was challenging and fun, and I was very happy with the results. This image was taken with a 3rd party zoom lens, and a 6 year old Digital Rebel.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/78469492@N00/3452182087/

  4. Just think about the photos you’ll be able to make when you do get your hands on a 600mm lens? Now that you’ve developed the skills to get closer and get good shots at 420mm, the shots with a 600 will be that much more valuable to you, because you’ll be able to get more out of it then if just bought without pushing yourself with the gear you already have.

  5. I only bring what i can carry in my Tenba ProDigital 2.0 Messenger. 70-200mm f2.8 is II, 50mm canon 40d, flash, 17″ MacBook Pro. April fools i don’t have the 70-200 II. Yet… lol

  6. @renee – Good point! On long hikes or backpacking trips, I usually just bring my Canon G10.. which is great for landscape photos.

    @Zack – I’m surprised you didn’t need a burro to haul all that gear ;)

    @Michael – I’ve been very satisfied with the 300mm + 1.4 combo so far. And, you’re right–it’s much easier to hike with that combo than a 600mm :) btw, that photo you linked to is pretty awesome, amazing you took it at 12mm!

    @marcus – Good point, and I definitely hope to have that 600mm someday :) just not anytime soon (unless $10k falls from the sky into my hand, haha).

    @photografied – haha, that new 70-200 definitely looks nice, especially with the shorter minimum focus distance than its previous version!

  7. That great photograper ( well I think he’s great!) Jay Maisel is reported to have said, ” The more equipment you take, the less pictures you make!”

  8. My 80-400 lives on the D90. I have a Canon G10 for the wide angles, that goes in my pocket. Then I may have the 50mm F1.4 in a pocket. I’ve learned to travel as light as possible on back trails.

  9. Vest-Multiple Camera
    Well….I carry two Canon cameras, a 20D and a 5D MK II. One camera is setup for a 24-70mm f/2.8 and one setup for a 70-200mm f/2.8. I also carry a one addition lens a Super Wide EF 16-35mm f/2.8 and a 2x extender for the 70-200mm in my photo vest.
    How do I carry all this equipment:
    1. For Spring through the Fall I use a Tactical Vest, Model: TacLite Pro Vest mfg my 5.11. About $80
    The vest is/and has:
    • Lightweight Taclite fabric
    • 6.1-oz 65% polyester/35% cotton ropstop with Teflon™ finish
    • 17 Pockets
    • Accommodates AR mags, maps, sunglasses, phone, snacks, water bottles, binoculars, etc.
    • Cut long to conceal sidearm
    • 5.11′s Back-Up Belt System™ compatible
    • Quad-stitched, 55 bar tacks at all stress points
    2. During the winter I use a lightweight Military type, netted, assault vest, XXL that goes over my winter clothing. It also has gobs of pockets and a camel pack. About $60
    3. To carry the cameras I procured a RS DR-1 Double Strap Harness from BlackRapid. Love this to death. Very comfortable and the weight of the camera are evenly distributed on the shoulders. $130
    4. Another good thing I like about the two cameras setup is that I’m not swapping lens under adverse conditions such as dust, rain, snow, etc., thus keeping the elements off the sensor.
    I’m primarily a Street/Candid shooter and love the mountains here in Northern Virginia. So, this setup provides me with my needs. When I go out for a shoot it is normally for 6 to 8 hours.
    Have Fun, Learn, and Shoot a Lot,
    Jim Stearns
    P.S. I’m 72 years young….. :)

  10. Your article is great! You are right to remind us that eventually its is the photographer and not the camera that makes the photo. Henri Cartier-Bresson, founder of the Magnum agency and considered as the father of today’s travel, journalism and street photography was famous to use only one 50mm mounted camera…

    I am trying to make photography as my full time activity since 2008. I am into journalism (but not hardcore news) and candid street photography, I am French but currently stays in Mumbai, India. After many years of carrying two DSLR bodies, one fish eye, one wide angle zoom, two 50mm (one AF and one manual), one short tele (90mm macro), one x2 extender, two flashes, tripod and all… I gave all this to my dad (who became the happiest dad of his street) and switched for a much simpler set : one Nikon D300 + Nikkor 17-55 f/2,8 + Nikkor 80-200 f/2,8 + one flash SB800 + one mono-pod (occasionally). The whole easily fits either in a special photo backpack or, when I don’t want to be noticed, in a shoulder rough canvas bag (in that case I don’t carry the monop’).

    Sometimes I even go out carrying the lightest equipment I ever did: only one Panasonic Lumix LX3. And I can tell you that this little thing really lets me do some good work. Here in India, the moment you show your white face up with a decently mounted DSLR in hand, everybody looks at you, dozens of kids come and want to be in your frame. Most of the people are truly very nice in India, especially kids, but sometimes this makes you miss some good natural city life scenes.
    Now when I carry only my LX3… In my pocket, none notices me. Even when I handle it, I just look like a tourist… I take it out of my pocket, point, shoot and done. It is so small that most of the time I remain unnoticed. And I must admit that the LX3′s wide angle zoom (eq. 24-60mm) is perfect in street conditions. I am very happy with the image quality which is far better than any other pocket digital cameras I ever had before. Of course it doesn’t compete with the D300 and ED grade lenses but does a photo really needs to be technically absolutely perfect to tell a story? In street photography, I don’t think so. It is more a matter of catching the right look in the right frame, a matter of timing and looking for the proper angle… And this is the photographer’s job, not the camera’s.

    Very last point: like a lot of photographers and although all I’ve said above, I love cameras, lenses and all sort of photo gears, modern or old ones. I love to go to Paris’ 12th district and check all second hand stuff there, I love to browse ebay and buy old film compact cameras or manual lenses that fit on my modern DSLR… And of course use them, for fun when I can take my time.

    Cheers to all photographers: the light ones as well as the cargo carriers ones, what really matters is the passion!

  11. I have scaled back as well. I had a backpack stolen with 25K worth of camera gear and was very lucky to get it back intact. I had just put the pack in the car and went to retrieve another camera bag inside a friends house and in that 2-3 minute window, a thief snatched the pack out of my car. A kid that was outside playing saw it happen and we (police & neighbors) quickly found the guy. It was a wake up call and I never leave my backpack alone for even 1 second. Its now the last bag that gets packed as it stays on my back until I get into the car.
    I decided I just had too much stuff and am now down to a Canon 5D Mk II, a 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8L IS, & a 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS and these 3 lenses are able to capture about anything I want. They all fit into my Lowepro backpack with a carbon fiber tripod attached.

  12. Thanks for making this point. It’s easy to go nuts and pack too much gear. I am into lightweight backpacking (not quite “ultralight”) and it is sometimes hard to figure out how much or how little camera gear I should take. Saving weight on an extended trip is essential.

    I also use a Canon G10 while backpacking, but I finally got a Canon Rebel… Guess I’ll be carrying a bit more weight now!

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