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As a travel photographer and photography teacher, I meet a lot of photographers on a daily basis. Whether they’re amateur or pro, newbie or experienced, first-timers or old-timers, they often have one thing in common: too much gear.
The pro shooters who join me on my photography tours in Southeast Asia tend to look more like pack mules than people: they’re loaded with lenses, lights, filters, and a veritable menagerie of photographic accoutrement – you know, the kind of gear that makes you look like you know what you’re doing.
The problem? None of them ever use any of the gear they’ve broken their backs to bring!
Ok, fine, there might have been one guy, one time, who made it a point to use every single lens he’d brought with him. But normally I see people sticking to one or two lenses per shooting session, never giving the extra gear a second thought. This is actually a really good thing, and all the more reason to ditch the extra baggage, and rely on one or two lenses alone.
How are you going to move your feet, get down low, and capture your subject during the millisecond when the light is just right?
The first thing I teach beginning photographers is to get moving – move quickly, get close to your subject, and don’t be a lazy photographer. When you’re weighed down with kilos (pounds) of heavy gear, you’re not free to respond as each moment arises.
I don’t mean you shouldn’t buy it because it’s expensive; I mean you shouldn’t bring it because it’s expensive.
As a travel photographer, I’m often in remote parts of the world where getting your gear stolen or damaged is a very real possibility. You can’t focus on the photo you’re taking, if you’re constantly worrying about your stuff getting jacked.
If you have one or two lenses with you at any given time, your choice in a shooting situation is simple – A or B. If you’re hauling around 12 different lenses, you’ll not only face a major crisis every time you want to take a photo; you’ll feel the need to constantly switch lenses precisely because you brought so many lenses in the first place.
You’re also much more likely to use the wrong lens, in the wrong situation, just because it’s there. Bring less gear and eliminate the chance of making silly mistakes by 300%.
I think of gear like a crutch. Instead of improving your skills, you become a slave to the latest and greatest gadget, thinking it will improve your craft. The thing about gear is that it takes years, even decades, to learn how to use a single piece of equipment masterfully. After 20 years of shooting with a certain lens, your brain begins to think in terms of its focal length. You effectively merge with the lens, become it.
That’s basically a hippy-dippy way of saying you should be a gear monogamist. Sure, you might play the field every once in a while, experimenting with a 35mm or 100mm lens, but you should remain faithful to your main squeeze in order to truly master her.
My main squeeze for the past three years has been a 50mm lens. Once in awhile I also use my 35mm and 100mm lenses, and it’s this trio that I plan to focus on for at least another decade in order to fully master their potential.
A true travel photographer, or any photographer for that matter, is one who can capture a moment and communicate with his or her audience without the burden of a crap ton of gear. You’re much better off choosing one or two lenses and mastering them than you are having 17 lenses you can only sort of use.
All the photos in this article were taken during my photography tours in South East Asia.
How much gear do you bring with you on a shoot? Which lens can’t you live without?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.