The Minimalist Photographer: Why Gear Isn’t Everything

When most people enter the world of photography they’re bombarded with long lists of equipment deemed necessary for their pursuits. This can be extremely intimidating – especially for those starting out as amateurs on a budget. 

Luckily, you don’t need as much gear as you think to take excellent photographs. With enough practice, you’ll come to learn that having the latest gear is not nearly as important as honing your skills and maintaining a good eye.

To prove our point, we’re delving into minimalism in photography and explaining why gear isn’t everything in this diverse industry.

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minimalism in street photography
Photo by Andrew Gook on Unsplash

The Benefits of Being a Minimalist Photographer

Honing Technical Skill

There’s nothing wrong with updating your gear as frequently as you see fit, or can afford. It can keep your photographic work at its highest quality while maintaining a certain sense of pride in your profession or hobby. However, there are several benefits to going minimalist that you should know about before you splash out on pricey updates.

Sometimes, we can get swept away with envy when we see other photographers’ shiny, brand-new equipment. But hold on. Think about past photographers who produced some of their best work with basic, affordable gear. Many of these legends didn’t have access to expensive accessories, lighting kits, or lenses. What they focused on were technical discipline and sheer skill.

Having minimal gear encourages you to foster your own technical discipline instead of relying purely on the quality of your equipment. You’ll be forced to get creative with natural light sources and interesting compositions, which could help you develop a unique and distinctive style.

Reducing your gear (or buying minimal gear) will allow you to get the basics of photography right first. Having just the bare minimum on hand will encourage you to practice constantly, and to rely on your photographic experience and skill above all else. Having the latest gear doesn’t always make for great pictures, and you’ll learn this soon enough with basic equipment at your side.

minimalist landscape photography
Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash

Unique Style Development

Simplifying your range of gear could well assist you in defining and refining your photographic style. When you place your focus on developing technical skills, you might eventually lose your interest in advanced gear altogether as you learn that it’s nice to have, but not essential.

Gaining experience helps photographers to discover what types of photography they might like to specialize in. You may find yourself borrowing certain equipment to photograph wildlife, animals, or human subjects, and if this is a common trend, you can purchase the right gear later down the line.

Spending and Owning Less

Photographers who own all the latest gear have a lot of responsibility on their hands. It can be difficult, and frankly exhausting, to clean, maintain, and transport huge amounts of equipment. Plus, if you insure everything, your costs will mount up monthly. 

Becoming a minimalist photographer will eliminate these issues and save you a significant sum of money over time. Once you reduce the amount of unnecessary gear you own, you’ll have more cash available to spend on top-quality essentials.

Additionally, large amounts of gear can take up vast amounts of space in your home or studio. Instead of having unused gear gathering dust in closets, you can whittle your collection down to the reliable gear you use most often—and that takes the best photographs. If you already own superfluous gear, you can easily sell it and make back a portion of the money you’ve spent.

Faster Reaction Times

Carry around heavy photography gear for a few hours and you’ll likely end up with pain in your shoulders and back. If you’re out for a full day, carting around a ton of gear can be a literal pain in the neck!

Carrying only your essentials will allow you to be on your feet for longer without suffering any pain or discomfort. You’ll also be able to react quicker and snap fleeting subjects that you may not have been able to capture otherwise. 

Some experts even recommend leaving your bag behind and taking just your camera and a single lens along for the day. You will probably need to move around freely, especially during location shoots, and it’s much easier to do this without pounds of gear in tow.

Going minimalist will make the decision-making process for each photo simpler. Your shooting rate will speed up, and you’ll miss fewer opportunities for prime snaps. You’ll be able to respond quickly and spontaneously to events that unfold in real-time, which is helpful when photographing real-life events like parties, parades, and sports events.

How to Minimize Your Gear Set-Up

Choose a Slimline Camera

You’ll obviously need a camera for your photography sessions. However, you don’t need the largest or flashiest model. Sometimes, even a smartphone will do the trick. Many modern smartphones now boast features like wide-angle options, low light functions, automatic stabilization, and ISO adjustments. As long as you apply your rules of composition, find good lighting, and shoot at the right moment, you could end up with professional shots simply by using your trusty mobile phone or tablet.

If you need something a bit more advanced, there are many quality slimline cameras available on the market. It’s important to invest in a camera that’s robust and resilient, even if you’re on a tight budget. Check out reviews on the web and gain insight from other photographers before making your choice. If you’re up for it, you can browse the second-hand section of your favorite gear website to find a great deal at a reasonable price.

To Tripod or Not to Tripod?

Tripods and shutter release cables are important parts of every photographer’s box of tricks. They ensure sharp and good quality images and supply interesting creative angles too. Additionally, they allow you to rest your hands and your head while you wait for the ideal shot.

With all that said, there will be times when your tripod won’t come along for the ride. In this case, you can use flat surfaces like tables, steps, benches, and chairs as substitutes. If you invest in a tripod, make sure it’s small and easily portable so it can go wherever you can.

Bringing the Correct Lens

Minimalist photographers tend to travel light when it comes to lenses. We recommend packing just one or two of your favorite options (or whatever suits the occasion). This allows you to make fast decisions, keep your kit lightweight, and stay focused on the task at hand.

If you need to use a lens you don’t own, like 35mm prime or macro lenses, you have several options. You can borrow them from friends or nearby professionals, or even rent them from the camera shop of your choice. Both options are more cost-effective and convenient than buying the equipment outright, especially if you won’t use it that often.

Today’s camera lenses cater to a vast number of purposes, budgets, and focal lengths. Take some time to calculate the focal lengths you will need to use most regularly and do some research into which lenses work best for your unique style. Make investments accordingly, with minimalism in mind. Carrying loads of different lenses around can be hindering and potentially expensive, especially if you are prone to accidents!

As for lens hoods, you can usually make do without one. Some professionals use their hands or a strategically placed book to block the sunlight from their lenses.

CAPTURE ONE
Black & White Styles

Picking Filters

Many photographers use neutral density filters to control their exposure. Polarizing filters cut down dramatically on haze and glare, which makes them a popular option too. You can do without both. 

Adding and removing filters can slow your ability to quickly adjust your settings. If you want a minimalist filter set-up, stick with just UV filters. If the weather or atmospheric conditions are not conducive to good pictures, you can take them another day, or adjust them using Lightroom or another program of your choice.

Your use of filters will depend on your personal style, the subjects you shoot, and what kind of work you want to display in your portfolio. Filters can be great for those who specialize in landscape photography—but they’re not crucial. If you don’t want the extra gear, just search for subjects and angles that work without special filters, or change your lens if necessary.

Lightening Up on Lighting Gear

Lights, light modifiers, and flashes can all produce spectacular lighting conditions for photographs. Alas, they take up a massive amount of room in your studio and camera bag. They also use extra accessories like light meters, battery packs, and stands, which can be cumbersome and pricey in equal measure.

If you want to lighten your gear load, you can work with natural light as your primary light source instead. This gives you the opportunity to work flexibly in several locations while taking advantage of shadows and authentic light effects.

Forsaking lighting gear will teach you how to check light forecasts, sun direction, and sunrise and sunset times. These are all crucial photography skills. With enough time, you can rely entirely on them and forgo most lighting equipment.

Still, many photographers note that you should always have a reflector on hand for portrait shoots, even if you don’t have any other lighting gear. 

Do your own research and practice regularly to find what works for you. You’ll soon be able to trust your own instincts when it comes to lighting and leaves the complex lighting systems at your studio for more involved shoots.

Minimalist photographer - using lines
Photo by BRUNO EMMANUELLE on Unsplash

Minimalist Photography in a Nutshell

It isn’t gear alone that makes a skilled photographer. Likewise, a lack of equipment should not hold you back from taking excellent shots in all conditions. 

By becoming a minimalist photographer, you can keep your costs and physical burdens low while still taking top-quality shots. This will allow you to hone your natural skills and talents, work with your environment, and assess what gear you can and cannot do without. 

Photographing with minimal equipment will free up space and energy and foster your own creativity. Use what you have on hand and keep your kit simple, and it might surprise you what you can achieve.

Featured photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

Hey I’m Peter. I’m the owner and editor of Photography-RAW. I make sure that you get the best articles about photography. Personally, I prefer to shoot landscape, nature and macro photography.
I hope you enjoy the site 🙂

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