Updated: Oct 30, 2018
Author Jenn Mishra
This week let’s (not) talk gear.
The question on the table is: What gear do you need? Really need?
Anyone familiar with PhotoYoga knows that this site is not much interested in the gear - this could almost be the “anti-gear” photography website.
It’s not that I don’t like my gear – I’m a bit of a Sony fangirl and I’ll talk your ear off about my camera system if you give me half a chance - but that’s really the point. If I’m talking about my camera, I’m not really talking about my photography. It might seem so on the surface, but I really talking about the tool that I’m using to capture the images.
It’s like if you come to my home and asked me about my most current home improvement project and I start going on about this really cool paintbrush I used to paint the walls or the nifty miter saw I have in the basement. These are the tools I used, not what I produced.
I’m not saying there isn’t a time to talk toolbox, it can just take over the conversation.
A theme throughout a number of recent articles, books and videos that I’ve reviewed lately for PhotoYoga is the simplification of gear to improve your photography. David duChemin wrote a whole e-book about this Make Better Photographs without Buying Any More Gear. Reducing gear takes photography out of your headspace making it easier to shoot intuitively. Mindy Veissid in her talk on intuitive photography advocates simplifying your gear, as does Doug Beasley when he’s talking about photographing mindfully.
Why Talk Gear at All
Gear is easy to talk about. It’s a great conversation starter when you meet a fellow photog. The camera is right there out in the open and I can quickly show an interest. Sometimes I can start talking about gear and the conversation will morph into something deeper.
Most people have a reason for choosing the camera they have - even the iPhone shooters – and may have very strong opinions. Cameras brands often take on tribal status. We are the cameras we shoot.
At least that is what it feels like. My friends know me as a Sony fangirl, but most (maybe 99%) of those who follow me on Instagram or Facebook or Flickr could care less.
There have been recent comparisons between high-end cameras and the cameras in mobile phones. Pixel-peepers maybe able to find the difference, but most people are moved by the image – not the tool that created it.
We get wrapped up in getting the latest gear or convince ourselves that we’ll get better photos if only had this lens or that camera. But it’s not about the gear. Street photographer, Valerie Jardin famously shoots with a fixed lens Fuji – in jpeg. Nothing complicated about her gear, yet her photos are amazing!
I’ve started changing my opening salvo, asking photographers I meet about what types of photographs they like to make. Most give me a genre (such as landscape) or just shrug and says something like “a little bit of everything.” I wonder if we don’t have as much to say about what and how we photograph as the tool we use to capture the image. An upcoming video review on PhotoYoga by Eileen Rafferty may help us learn to talk about our photographs.
What camera we choose is part of our photography decision-making process. Part of - not the entirety of our decision making process. Allowing gear to take over our thinking and have weight in our day-to-day photography experience creates the danger that our gear becomes our photography and that will show in the images.
Simplifying the Gear
There is a lot to be said about minimal camera equipment.
Reducing gear makes you more “light, nimble and quick” as Juan Pons and Andy Williams, the hosts of the reCompose podcast, often say making it more likely you’ll get the shot. Juan and Andy are both landscape and wildlife photographers – genres that could potentially need a lot of gear – and yet they are both saying reduce the gear. I’ve listened to their podcast for a long time (even when it was back on TWIP) and over and over again they talk about packing only the gear they need on a trip, even leaving that 500mm prime back home. Recently, they were talking about pulling out their smartphones for a quick pic!
Juan and Andy talk about photographers that miss that once-in-a-lifetime shot because they were fiddling with camera settings or changing lenses or were simply frozen, unable to decide how to get the photograph.
It’s better to get that epic shot on your iPhone rather than miss the shot with your expensive DSLR.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” – Wayne Gretzky
Simplifying gear means getting photography out of your head and into heart as Mindy Veissid advocates.
Spend less attention on your camera and camera settings and more time thinking about the photograph itself. Mindy suggests setting up your camera before going out to take photographs. She has thought about what types of things she likes (shallow depth-of-field for instance) and she pre-sets the camera to get this look. Then she only has to think about one thing – in her case shutter speed. I do something similar, but I set up my camera so I only have to think about aperture – adjusting how much depth of field I want for each photograph.
If you camera has programmable modes, take a bit of time to figure these out – it may pay off later.
Or spend a few days simplifying your photography. Go out with only your smartphone or use one of your camera’s program modes. Think more about your composition and less about your settings.
The point is to simplify -- however that works for you. Find the camera equipment and settings you like and use these often.
You may already be unconscious doing this. Look back at your favorite photographs. Is there a commonality? Do you seem to always be shooting in a particular mode or with a particular lens?
If not, go out with a dedicated intention of finding out what you like in your photography. Take one lens. Set your lens to one focal length. Use only one aperture.
Simplify by getting to know yourself better.
In future, you won’t have to take time to decide on your settings, just dial in your favorites that you’ve practiced again and again.
Take a look at what gear you really need. You might be surprised at how few lenses and settings you actually need to create the photographs that you love.
Every so often I dump out my camera bag and have a look (I usually only do this when I think my bag is getting heavy, but I should do this more often). I always remove things from my bag; I rarely add to it.
By all means, buy that piece of gear – when you need it. When you want to be able to produce an image that your current system can’t create. That’s when new gear is needed. Let the images you want to create drive the gear that you need.
But know that buying that new piece of gear won’t make you happy – at least not for very long. As Karen Barnes notes in her article “Why your Brain has no Idea What Actually Makes you Happy”, the brain gets used to the gear and excitement will fade. She suggests spending money on an experience instead. Good advice for photographers!
If the images that move you can be created on an iPhone, then you’re all set – you’ve probably got your camera with you in your pocket. Leave the big camera bag at home.
We all need some type of tool to create our images, but keep the gear talk in perspective.
** This post may contain affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.
Article Written by Jennifer Mishra
Jennifer Mishra is an American travel photographer born in Colorado and based in the St. Louis metro area. She has a background in classical music and academia. She is the founder of PhotoYoga. Her photos are published at Wits End Photography or follow her on Facebook or Instagram.
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