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Do you have Too Much Camera Gear?

In this post, Steve Berardi from PhotoNaturalist talks about the problems of having too much camera gear, and what you can do to minimise your gear.

Image by Claudio Matsuoka

Image by Claudio Matsuoka

When you first got into photography, you probably started out pretty simple. Maybe you started with an advanced point and shoot camera or an SLR with the kit lens. Photography seemed so simple back then, didn’t it?

Then, as your interest grew, you started buying more and more gear, until all of a sudden, out of nowhere, you found yourself surrounded by mountains of camera gear: lenses, filters, flashes, memory cards, cleaning kits, bags, camera bodies, lens hoods, tripods, ballheads, panheads, levels, tripod collars, camera straps, card readers, remote shutter releases, and the list goes on forever…

But, is all this gear really worth it? Is it really all necessary to achieve your end goal of capturing light?

Problems with having too much camera gear

Whenever you get new gear, you may just think about its cost in money: can you afford it? Should you wait until they lower the price? Is it really worth it to get the name brand or should you buy an off-brand?

But, anytime you get new gear there’s a whole lot of hidden costs too, which Leo Babauta illustrates brilliantly in a recent post on his new blog about minimalism. Here are some of those hidden costs he talks about (along with some adaptations I’ve made about how they relate to photography):

  • Too much gear clutters your space, causing distractions and stress
  • You have to constantly move your gear from your house, to your camera bag, to your car, and finally to the photo location (and then move it all back)
  • When you move to a new house, you’ll have to move all that camera gear
  • For a lens or camera body, you have to store the warranty information somewhere, and make sure not to lose it
  • If your gear breaks, you have to get it repaired (or replaced), which costs more money and time
  • If you went into debt to buy your gear, then you have to constantly worry about that debt
  • If you eventually decide to get rid of your gear, then you have to spend time (and possibly money) to get rid of it (e.g. eBay, craigslist, etc)

One of the biggest costs that personally affects me is trying to decide which gear to bring. As a nature photographer, I can only carry so much gear in my backpack, so I’m at a point now where I can’t carry it all in one bag! Having so much camera stuff has become a hassle because now I have to seriously think about what to take and what not to take on a hike.

Why gear isn’t the most important thing

So, maybe now you recognize all the hidden costs of your camera stuff, but after thinking about your gear, you still think it’s all necessary for capturing great images.

Although you certainly need special gear to capture certain types of images (i.e. you can’t really photograph birds without a long telephoto lens), the gear isn’t the most important thing. In photography (and just about everything), it isn’t the gear that makes an image great, it’s the photographer.

Nothing illustrates this more beautifully than the new book by Chase Jarvis, The Best Camera is the One That’s With You. The book is full of remarkable photos he took with the simple camera on his iPhone. He didn’t even use Photoshop to edit the photos, but instead relied entirely on iPhone apps.

Often times, I think that instead of pushing the limits of our existing gear, we just buy something new in hopes that it’ll solve our problem. Everyone loves to get a fancy new toy, right?

How to minimize your gear

Although I don’t think you should necessarily get rid of all your camera stuff and just use your iPhone for now on, I do think it’s a good idea to minimize your gear and focus on what you really need. I have a feeling there’s probably some stuff in your camera bag right now that you haven’t used in awhile.

So, how do you minimize your gear? And, how do you resist the urge to buy even more?

Well, here are a few things that have worked for me:

1. Keep a list of what you use and don’t use during a photo shoot. I actually learned this trick from a backpacker that always wanted to reduce the weight of his bag. Whenever he left for a trip, he would make a list of everything he put in his backpack. While on the trip, he would cross something off if he used it. If he went on enough trips without using something, he stopped bringing it. The same thing has worked great for me as a nature photographer (I always want to hike with as little weight as possible).

2. Push the limits of your existing gear. Learn the limits of the gear you already have, and if you get an overwhelming urge to pass those limits, then that’s the time to get another lens or another camera body.

3. Focus on adding knowledge, not gear, to your camera bag. I think this is the single most effective way to minimize your gear. Read blogs (like DPS, heh), books, and magazines. Attend workshops or other classes. And, perhaps most importantly: experiment with the gear you do have! Learn as much as you can: knowledge doesn’t take up space, and it doesn’t cost nearly as much to obtain!

About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, and computer scientist. You can usually find him hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains or the Mojave Desert, both located in the beautiful state of California. Read more of his articles on nature photography at the PhotoNaturalist and follow him on Twitter.

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