I’ve photographed countless sessions in the past nine years. Weddings, families, children, newborns, seniors, huge extended family groups, community events, products for companies, bike races, fine art, birth stories. . . You name it, I have probably photographed it. Knowing that you might be a little bit surprised when I tell you what equipment I have in my bag:
- Nikon D700 body
- 50mm f/1.4G lens
- 85mm f/1.4D lens
That’s everything, besides two 8GB Compact Flash cards, two 4GB Compact Flash cards, three camera batteries, a couple of business cards, and some lip balm. All of this fits inside one Kelly Moore Westminster Camera Bag. I use Photoshop CS6 with Adobe Camera Raw to edit my photos on a 27″ iMac. That’s it!
I started nine years ago with a Nikon D90, the kit lens, and a 50mm f/1.8 lens. A couple of years later I upgraded to my full-frame body, better lenses, and haven’t felt a need for anything different, or anything more since that day. I’d say I’m very much a minimalist photographer, and it works well for me.
Could it also work well for you? Is it possible to have so few pieces of equipment and be satisfied? I’d like to share some thoughts with you, and maybe you’ll find that it’s a system that could work for you. You also might think I’m just insane, and add an additional lens to your collection just to spite me. Don’t worry! I won’t judge you harshly either way.
#1 – Let Go of Keeping Up
All too often in life, we get caught up in what everyone around us has, and what they are doing. We feel that in order to be good enough, we have to have and do all of that stuff too. Photography is no different.
Your best photographer friends are telling you about the latest and greatest lens they just purchased. Your photography competition just switched to a different brand and bought entirely new everything. The blogger you follow online just ordered the most life-changing new camera bag and is urging you to buy it too. You are surrounded by it every day, but you don’t have to keep up. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing to be your best self. Likewise, you don’t need to have everything they have to compete.
If it’s hard for you to see what others have and be satisfied with your own life, then stop looking at what they have. Stay away from social media for awhile, and quit looking at the blogs that are trying to sell you things. Get out and photograph something real with the equipment you have, and you might just forget that other photographers even exist. Eventually, you will be able to congratulate a friend on a new acquisition without feeling even a bit of jealousy.
#2 – Quit Thinking “Stuff” Will Change Everything
Have you ever told yourself that if only you had a certain camera, if only you had a few more lenses, you would be an amazing photographer? While equipment does make a difference, it doesn’t make the photographer. Great photographers can make beautiful photos with anything they have, and a not-so-great photographer could have the highest-end equipment with every lens imaginable and still come up with nothing.
That said, it’s great to work towards purchasing quality equipment because if you’re only going to have very few things, you might as well make sure they’re very nice. You can get a nicer camera body and lens if you know that you’re going to use it all the time, and you won’t be spending your money on a lot of other “stuff”.
Practicing your photography, getting out there and actually taking photos, reading articles and books from the library about photography, and talking with other photographers will help you become a better photographer. And those things don’t cost you anything. Work on yourself instead of your stuff.
#3 – Try Before You Buy
At some point in your life, I’m betting that you thought you had to have something, you got it, then realized that it wasn’t what you really needed or wanted after all. I’m pretty sure it’s happened to you, because I know it’s happened to me, more than once.
So before you buy another piece of photography equipment, see if you can borrow it from someone (or rent it), or at least watch it in action before you take the plunge and put down your hard-earned money for it. I’m very careful about what I purchase, but even I have had a few misses throughout the years.
I bought a reflector that I’ve used exactly two times in my entire career. UV lens protectors were purchased for peace of mind, then I decided that I liked my photos better without them, and I am a cautious person. I trust myself, so I don’t need them. A camera bag that sounded great in theory but lifting a flap every time I wanted to get my camera didn’t work for me. I bought a lens cleaner that the cap never stayed on. These are little purchases, but they’re just money and space wasters to me.
I heard so often that Lightroom was amazing, and that there were so many things that you could do with it, and that I needed it along with Photoshop. I sat down one day with a sweet photographer friend and asked her to show me everything she loved about it, and why I needed it. Every single thing that she showed me could be done with Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop. I felt content with my workflow, and I went home satisfied that I didn’t need to buy another program.
The great thing about trying something out, or watching it in action, is that you can see if it will truly work for you or not. You can read or listen to lots of other photographer’s opinions, but they aren’t you. The things that are important to them may not be important to you. You ultimately have to make that decision if it’s something you truly need and if it’s a good fit for you.
#4 – Let Your Limited Resources Expand Your Abilities
It’s strange to me that someone like me, with such limited equipment, could be so much more content than the photographer who owns suitcases full of equipment and still wants more. Some types of photography truly require more than what I have, and more equipment could be necessary, but you’d be surprised how innovative you can be when you need to make do with what you have.
There is a certain freedom that comes when you have everything you need in your hands and in your head. You don’t need to carry around rolling luggage full to the brim with equipment because you use everything available to you to create something beautiful. If you can’t shoot something that comes to mind because you don’t have the right lens, you either find another way to shoot it, or you find something else to shoot. That something else might be even better than the first thing that came to mind.
You won’t be wasting time, or risking dust and dirt in your sensor, by changing lenses constantly. You won’t be weighed down by multiple camera bodies swinging from your neck. No more worrying about where you put that third bag full of your lighting equipment. Your mind is freer to capture real life.
Decide What Works for YOU
Please don’t read this article as a criticism of photographers who own a lot of equipment. I like things simple in my life, inside and outside of photography. I don’t like to have more than I need, and an excess of anything makes me feel uncomfortable. Being a minimalist photographer works for me, and whether your reasons are that you like simplicity too, or your budget requires simplicity, you might find a few things to think about after reading this.
Are there other photographers out there like me? I’d love to know what equipment you find most essential. And, for all of you who have everything, I’d love to know if you had to cut your equipment down to five or fewer items, what would you keep? What could you give up?