4 Tips for the Minimalist Photographer

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Tips for the Minimalist Photographer

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!

Tips for the Minimalist Photographer

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.

Tips for the Minimalist Photographer

#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.

Tips for the Minimalist Photographer

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.

Tips for the Minimalist Photographer

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.

Tips for the Minimalist Photographer

#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.

Tips for the Minimalist Photographer

Test Drive

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.

Tips for the Minimalist Photographer

#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.

Tips for the Minimalist Photographer

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.

Tips for the Minimalist Photographer

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?

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Melinda Smith

was born to be a teacher. She teaches violin lessons and fitness classes, as well as photography classes and mentoring. She lives on a mini farm in Eastern Utah with her camera, husband, kids, chickens, horses, bunnies, dogs, and cats. Visit her at Melinda Smith Photography.

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  • randypollock

    This is a rabbit hole and I realize this, but I’m curious if outside of your business and say photographing your family, do you ever have the urge as an artist to photograph say your farm, or wildlife…or when traveling to carry a small mirrorless camera in your purse or jacket pocket. In business do you not worry that if on a job your camera body develops the flu and you don’t have a second body…is there never a chance that you might need a flash or strobe for a client and possibly it’s unique to your style but for many people having a database for organization is a huge part of why they own LR or On1 or others. Yes GAS is a horrible state to be in I think you would agree your level of simplicity is on the one end of extreme and for those starting out reading this article, don’t freak out that your not like this artist…for many in photography today their pleasure may lean toward being simple, for others it’s enjoying hours in front of PS and for others its the buying and selling of gear. If your style of photography isn’t hurting your bottom line then enjoy your craft

  • Alan

    My minimalist

    Primes are nice, however, I have an aversion to changing lenses, especially when outside. More than once I’ve been forced to clean some dust specks off of the final work. Zooms lessens the chance of that happening. Add in that I also prefer to shoot people from a distance. Most people are more comfortable, natural, and far less distracted when the camera isn’t in their face.

    Yes, a prime can be sharper and lighter. Much of that sharpness becomes subjective though. Add in the quality of the plastic elements has improved tremendously. A lens doesn’t need to be heavy glass.

    Full frame or cropped? The cropped sensors of today are superior to the full frames of just a few years ago. They are lighter and that does make a difference on long trips. Many people find the smaller cropped cameras easier to hold.

    I keep a 70-300 on my 80D that gets used 95% of the time. I keep the kit 18-55 on my T5 but only use that when I expect to be doing wide angle. I almost always leave my other half dozen lenses, extension tubes, tripods, etc at home.

  • Thank you for writing this article! I struggle with wanting or creating the desire for more lenses and equipment far too much! Contentment with what I have is definitely something I need to work on everyday. That being said, I shoot mostly weddings and events, so my lenses of choice are 24-70 f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8 and an 85mm f/1.4. I always have one or two flashes for low light compensation. I feel like this combination allows me to capture everything my clients want at the quality we are both happy with. These lenses are not cheap, but give me the flexibility required in many different scenarios. I do only carry one body (Nikon D750), so there is definitely risk there, but I have never had a camera fail on me yet! I used to only shoot primes when I first started shooting professionally, but enjoy the flexibility of the zooms when shooting various events. The zooms also allow me to be more discreet during ceremonies, which is important to my clients.

  • Danielle Cundiff

    Thank you Melinda Smith.

  • CeeZee

    I find it hard to believe you shoot a wedding with only one camera! I’m sure your clients would be reassured to know you have backup(s) out in the car!

  • It sounds like you’ve found the perfect thing for you! Great thoughts. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • You’re welcome. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • It may be skating on thin ice, but indeed I do shoot weddings with only one camera.

  • It sounds like you’ve found your “just right”! Thanks for your comment. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Indeed! I do lean towards one extreme, and as I stated in the article, it’s not for everyone. ๐Ÿ™‚ Some photographers do get pleasure from lots and lots of gear, and I’m glad for them! I hope we can all do our thing and be happy. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Leyden

    Good stuff! My experience relates to #1 and #4 – I’ve been ‘playing’ digital photographer since I purchased a Canon T1i [with BOTH kit lenses ] when that was the latest thing, and have longed for ‘something better’, BUT I’ve learned that what I have is all I NEED to have fun.
    BTW if LR is what you learned first it would most probably be you go to app. If I had spent the [ lots of ] time to learn PS I would no doubt be in your ‘camp’. Thanks for the article.

  • Richard Bauman

    I’m becoming a less is more person overall and though I have a several lenses for my Nikon D5200, I tend to rely on just two for most of my shooting–a Tamron 18-270 mm zoom, and the 18-55mm kit lens. When I shoot car shows, I especially like the 18-55, it’s lighter weight, an since I’m usually shooting close-ups it’s easier to manage. I’ve gotten prize wining pictures using the kit lens as well as the Tamron.

  • Daniel Ausec

    Great article Melinda ! just in time..I only have 2 kit lenses and a 35mm 1.8 which I love..but I’ve been watching too much YT I think and was going crazy trying to decide between a few lenses, but I never thought that I actualy couldnt do anything with what I have..I am now completely satisfied and at peace with what I have ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Alan

    Thank you. BTW, that was a good article.

  • So glad you could find peace with what you have! Happy shooting! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Congrats on your prizewinning picture! How fun that you shoot car shows!

  • I think you’re exactly right… if I had learned LR first, it would probably be my go-to. I just never saw the need to expand on what I already have, when it works for me. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you for your comment!

  • Alan

    Far less so today, but 25 years ago it wasn’t unusual for wedding photographers to shoot an entire wedding with just a 50 or 80 mm. Sometimes with 36 shot rolls, more often with 24 shot rolls of film. A long day would be 6 or 7 rolls of film.

  • Donna Clausen

    Hi Melinda, loved the article and all true. We want what others want … bunch of sheep we are. Anyway, I have a Canon 100D, a kit 18-55mm, Canon 50mm, Canon 100mm macro and Sigma 70-300mm. I use the 1st three all the time, experimenting and learning. As an amateur learning is key and I break the rules as it’s about THAT shot for me at that moment. No time to wonder. Gut instinct and pull the trigger. I have no interest in upgrading as I believe woman maketh image, camera doth only a tool. Keep the articles coming! You’re a mensch.

  • Peter

    Hi Marvin,
    Bit risky only 1 camera. Just had to replace the shutter mechanism on my Canon EOS 1 series with less than 50k shutter actuations on it.
    I do have other cameras, so it wasn’t an issue as I could continue shooting with my EOS 60D (backup camera) with my older EOS 50D as my backup until repairs were completed (10 days).
    I would never shoot an Event, Wedding or anything important without a backup camera. Even when I was shooting Medium Format film weddings I still had at least one 35mm camera with me.

  • Richard

    When my highly compact Canon S100 shut down on me in northern Malaysia, I found myself needing to choose, fast, what to do next with photography. I used to shoot slides with a 35mm Olympus OM1 (with 3 lenses) manual SLR (no “D”) and I loved it, then. The S100 was the first digital camera giving me back some enjoyment of photography, but was still falling short of what I needed. I spent 3 weeks reading, comparing, communicating with friends and wondering if I should go to a DSLR. But whenever I walked into a camera shop, and believe me there are a lot in Kuala Lumpur, I always went back to compact cameras (not CSC’s).
    I decided in the end to buy the best camera that could simply hang from my belt, that is pretty restrictive, because I thought a photo taken by a normal camera will always be better than one not taken by a fantastic camera which stayed in the backpack. Plus I travel 6 months a year in Asia and my by pack weighs 18 pounds and I wanted lightweight. So of course it was a battle between the Sony RX100 and the then newly out Canon G7X. The more “manual” feel of the Canon, light compensation button, and its very bright lens were perfect for me. So I now concentrate on the “be there” and I am ready anytime.
    Can’t go much more minimalist…and happy.
    The only thing I really miss is a polarizing filter
    Richard

  • Rob

    Totally agree with your ideas on photography… When I get where I am shooting.. I have a four slotted carrier.. Holds 3 batteries, and 4 cards.. I hang my mirrorless camera with lens around my neck and that’s it.. I use a cropped sensor Sony and a 16-70mm f4 lens… With shade.. Carry a smallbag if the weather looks questionable… That’s it…

  • Sounds like you’re free to go anywhere and everywhere with your camera! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I love your philosophy that any photo taken with a normal camera will always be better than one NOT taken by a fantastic camera which stayed in the backpack. If too much gear is keeping you from pulling your camera out, it’s definitely not doing you any favors! Glad you got the perfect lightweight set up figured out!

  • Thank you so much for your wonderful comment! Keep making those beautiful images, woman! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Solange Paquette

    This is so true! Here’s is an extreme example, showing that the camera doesn’t make the photograph. My sister used to be an avid traveler and photograph, in the good old ” 35 mm ” days. Years later, she eventually switch to digital, but just the basic point and shoot. She start travelling less, and photograph less also. But last winter, after retiring, she went on that memorable 2 months trip to southern India. She decided that even the small camera was too much of a fuss and took only a smart phone. Guess what? She brought back amazing pics! As I was amazed of the results, she told me wisely: ” It is not the camera that makes the photograh! “

  • Sonny Rutherford

    Thank you for a good article and yes I do need to concentrate on what I have and not what I want and I know I can get so much more and learn so much more with what I already have. I started with a Nikon D3100 and 2 kit lenses and quickly realised that I needed/wanted faster fps for equine sport and got the D500 and 70-200 2.8. Recently got the nikon 40mm so I could play with Macro so now I keep the 40mm on the d3100 and the pair of cameras are suiting me just fine, one for equine sports and one to play and practice different photography. I would love to add a 24-70 one day in the future but will keep to these 2 for now.

  • pete guaron

    One “decent” camera, and one small one. A standard lens and a w/angle. I shoot mostly available light (day or night), but for occasional use I have a speed light and for macro, floods. I could live with that.

    As an indulgence, and because I was able to pick them up virtually brand new and dirt cheap, I also have a couple of tilt-shifts (24mm and 85mm) for architectural & food photography.

    Because I like doing macro, I also have a 100mm macro lens. And a Cognisys Stackshot, which is rather elaborate for most users, but enables me to do fine macro work that would otherwise be rather difficult.

    When I finally decided to take digital seriously, I sat down with all my analogue gear and appraised it all – in terms of how much use I’d had from it, what I’d achieved with it, what I’d like to have in the digital gear I was going to get. After disposing of all of it, I’ve been consciously trying to avoid GAS.

    I found myself sitting at a table on the sidewalk, at a cafe in Montmartre, a couple of years back, when two ‘togs from Australia sat down at the next table and buried the table top in a collection of Leicas. They saw my cam and asked me what I shoot with – got all snooty, because they clearly felt their gear was “better”.

    I didn’t feel at all comfortable about the conversation – Montmartre is rife with pickpockets, the gendarmerie and the locals all warn you about not taking risks, and finding these two sitting right next to me, with the “measles” or red dots on their Leicas flashing messages across the square to anyone vaguely interested in what they were carrying was extremely unsettling.

  • Old Ted

    Iโ€™ve done the โ€œEverything I ownโ€ thing before and been so sorry because it weighs a lot. And Iโ€™m tired after just a couple of hours.

    So, these days, I try to plan what camera/lens combinations that I think I will need for the days shooting.

    1. The lens that best suits my intentions will be mounted on the camera body.
    2. A quick disconnect strap that can serve as a neck strap or sling will be attached.
    3. I carry a โ€˜Satchelโ€™ style bag just large enough for my camera/lens and limited other equipment.
    4. 1 or 2additional lenses,
    5. circular polarizers for daylight shots,
    6. An external flash might displace a lens,
    7. a spare (freshly charged) battery,
    8. lens cleaner and micro fiber cloths,
    9. remote shutter cable,
    10. Circular polarizers (if needed)
    11. Occasionally ND filters, or rarely UV filters.
    12. and a few other small ancillary items.

    What have I bought (that I had to have) that I later regretted? An expensive bag with Velcro closures on the main flap. ZZZZZZZZZZiiiiiiiiiiippp !

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