I was recently speaking with Sam Abell, a very experienced photographer, and we landed on the subject of photographer mentality while out shooting. Sam mentioned that he takes a minimalistic approach to his gear, and that he’d take photos without a camera if he could. Since that’s not feasible, he usually heads out with just two camera bodies equipped with two different prime lenses.

Sam went on to say that, for him, less gear allows him to be more “in the moment”. And this is coming from a photographer with years of experience shooting for National Geographic.

Stop and think about that for a second. How often do you go out shooting fully geared and you end up fussing around with all your lenses and accessories. Not to mention hauling around a bag full of stuff that gets in your way or weighs you down. At the end of your session, did you really need everything you brought? Or did you take it just because you might have needed it?

Sam’s thoughts on the subject made me realize that I had already discovered the same for myself, I just hadn’t been cognizant of it. Some months ago, I started ditching my camera bag and running out with just one or two (or sometimes three) cameras around my neck. OK, three gets to be cumbersome, but I can’t help myself sometimes. In doing so, I’ve found that photographing is more enjoyable and I’m not missing shots while messing with a camera bag or swapping lenses. I’m more “in the moment” when I have less gear on me.

So here’s a tip: Every once in a while, just head out with one camera and nothing else (alright, a pocket camera bag is allowed). If you really want to go minimalist, slap on a prime lens and leave the zooms at home. Oh, and while you’re out shooting, don’t ruin the moment by being regretful for leaving your equipment behind… just be in the moment and enjoy it.

Oh, and you’ll find out more about the conversation with Sam Abell on October 21st.

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I’m also a fan of moving light, I even limit my bag size so I can’t put too many things inside.

October 17, 2008 10:51 am

I *absolutely* agree with this – I started out shooting with a single old Pentax spotmatic with a 50/1.4 and 135/2.5 lens. That was it – I didn’t have any other gear. As I got more into photography a rapidly accumulated a small arsenal of lenses, and would often walk around with multiple bodies and 5 or 6 lenses. I probably spent more time switching lenses than actually taking pictures (not to mention my bag probably weighed around 15lbs!).

However, as I became even more experienced, I began to realize the value in minimalism – using what you’ve got :-) I like to challenge myself to see how *little* gear I can get away with. I did probably my most successful “photo trip” with a single 35mm (eqiv) prime and a 50-200 zoom (and even then, the prime was used for probably 85% of my shots). I never found myself wishing for more gear. In fact, for most of my personal work, give me a 35, 50 and 135mm (equivalent) primes and I’ll never ask for anything else (maybe an off camera strobe)!

The only time I really carry a lot of gear is when doing a specific shoot for a client when lots of lighting/backup gear is required…

October 17, 2008 3:01 pm

I wholeheartedly agree. I almost always take only one camera body with a single lens on it. Often times it’s a prime, too. I have a lot more fun taking pictures than switching lenses (and carrying them). I’ll pick one lens I think will do the trick before I leave, and then find a way to make that work for me.

October 17, 2008 4:15 pm

Add me to those who agree. Less gear is liberating and helps focus. Not that there’s anything wrong with having a nice and wide selection of lenses etc. but I’m completely content deciding what to bring ahead of time, and enjoy working with what I brought (with extremely few exceptions, where my judgement was off).

I often only bring one lens to a shoot.

October 17, 2008 11:16 pm

I do often leave the house with 1cam 1lens. Especially when it’s a prime lens you have to start thinking and looking around in a certain way.

October 18, 2008 3:31 am

I must say I find it hard to leave gear at home. I have a Lowepro backpack which has (nearly) all my gear. I have only 1 camera and 3 lenses (70-200L, 10-20 and 24-105L). I wouldn’t think about leaving any of those home. But sometimes I wonder why I walk around with a flash in my backpack while I’ve never actually used it outside… And I know the answer to that question too: I’m afraid to be standing somewhere and thinking… if only………………..

October 18, 2008 8:23 am

I feel like this is me right now because I don’t have other equipment. I’ve got my 50mm 1.4 and the kit lens, which I only use if I absolutely have to have the wider field of view.

I’m all for minimizing, and would love to find a good “all purpose” portraiture zoom lens, but I don’t know. Any suggestions? I’ve heard the 24-70 2.8 is a good one.

Anyway, I carry my camera and two lenses around in my Crumpler 4 million dollar home, and I love the convenience and size.

October 18, 2008 8:35 am

I have recenty come back from Canada. I went out always with a PAS camera in my back pocket a little olympus stylus 850sw. I used it several times and in danger of looking like a tourist I used it few times.

I came to a realisation its not the camera but the bloke holding it. I got some really good shots, I was reallly limited in lens and aperture.

However I was shocked on return to find that the images I had taken were still of high quality. I no doubt stocked up my portfolio with some good shots. I also saved my poor back and managed to travel a bit lighter.

One of the best press photographers I know carries a small digital leica with him all the time.

The biggest complaint from aspiring photographers is what do I shoot?

Well how about putting the camera away and explore with your eyes, shooting minimally you get to see so much more around you. Plus your long suffering partner can have a conversation with you and not your 20-300 lens in the way.

Rich

October 18, 2008 12:46 pm

I went to a lecture by Sam a little while back and it changed my whole way of thinking. I now use minimal approach to photography and simply waiting for something to happen. How much more in the moment could you be. Ever since then I slap 50mm prime on and an even smaller 24mm in my jacket pocket. Oh and a bunch of batteries, and maybe a tripod, an extra memory card since I shoot raw. Oh and a flash. Okay, I don’t travel as light as I should, but you know, can’t be too cautious, you never know when a situation might present its self.

October 20, 2008 1:36 am

Must agree with this in everyway. Every now and then, hitting the road with one camera body, a 50mm and nothing else (but a spare battery and some memory cards) is very good for the soul (and creativity). The return to basics reminds me that photography doesn’t have to be all-consumingly technical, that a lot of it is about transmitting feeling.

Just love :)

October 20, 2008 5:56 am


I’m about 2 years into DSLR ownership, and this mentality is what I’ve settled on lately – it’s really the only way I’ve been able to reign myself in from lusting for and purchasing new equipment. I’ve also talked two of my friends into getting DSLRs by telling them how great (and cheap) the Canon 50mm f/1.8 is.

October 20, 2008 6:09 pm


I don’t go for lugging around a big bag of gear while shooting … but when possible I like to keep a bag of photo goodies in the car so I can dip into it if I need to. :)

January 19, 2009 1:55 am

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