The ultimate advice I always give to anybody that loves Photography, is to always have a camera with them. It doesn't matter what gear you choose as your trusty companion, as long as it is reliable.
About three years ago, I was working as a salesman for heavy machinery hydraulic components. I was traveling with a driver from the company were I was working with, and we hit the road at dawn. There is something really peaceful and enjoyable about driving at early hours of the day, especially when the heavy traffic is the norm on the roads you usually drive through. The sun had already hoisted, and the light was charming. Suddenly, about one hour after departing, I saw one of the most striking scenes I have ever seen in my life. And I wasn't carrying any kind of camera with me that day, so I only have the memory of the scene, which is imprinted in my mind so vividly, that I could draw it, unfortunately, the ability of drawing isn't a gift I have.
I live in El Salvador, a Latin-American country, so the common cultural element you can find in the majority of our population, is the strong religious believes, especially for Christianity. The scene was like the following. On one side of the highway, there was an old lady kneeled on the ground, with her arms lifted to the sky and with her eyes closed. Her mouth was moving, so I can figure that she was praying out loud. She was praying with a passion and faith, I could only describe in its truest form, as Tangible. Two elements were close to her that shocked me. One of them was a couple of persons standing next to her, minding their business, completely unmoved by the praying woman. The other one, a fire built by her (I guess). To her right, a fire made up of wood and trash, at her left, people minding their business, and at the center, the praying woman. That was the scene that changed my philosophy of photography forever.
That's the best I can remember the scene thanks to my sloppy behavior of not carrying a camera with me at all times. That moment in time changed my discipline forever. I remember talking with truckers about that particular scene in that peculiar spot of the highway, and for my surprise, they have seen the woman too, praying. I think I have driven by that spot at least eighteen to twenty times after that happening, always hoping to see that same scene again, or at least a similar one. It has never happened again for me, yet. I have faith that someday, I'll see her again, and I'll be prepared to capture the image I so deeply crave.
It is not a cliché for me. You really need to always have a trusty camera with you at all times. You don't need to go through a bitter experience as I did to include in your routine the companionship of a camera. Learn from my mistake, this is the reason I'm sharing this anecdote, so you can learn and take advantage of my harsh mistake. That image has been wondering in my memory since that day, and it hasn't leaved me alone. It is a vivid image that haunts me by remembering me that having a camera with you at all times is really important.
I have talked with photojournalists that have been involved with several wars, and trust me, some of them have not enjoyed the company of a gun with them at all, but they have a very wise philosophy, and they said that it's better to have it and never use it, to need it for one second, and don't having it at all. The same applies to camera, since it's a weapon for capturing truth and reality when talking about Street Photography and Social Documentary Photography. Moments happen quicker than the blink of an eye, and you have to always be prepared to capture those moments that get your attention. With Street Photography and Social Documentary, you can't control a lot of variables, and as romantic as it may sound, serendipity is one of those huge variables you just can't control at all.
You’ll find plenty of tutorials and tips, thousands of articles and cheat sheets, but I find that intimate and true words from any person, are really priceless. That’s what I’m trying to achieve with this anecdote of mine, which is obviously not a great success from my behalf. But I find that the lesson that I learned through my skin, is something I’ll never forget. I have read and heard a lot of always have a camera with you, but until that day, I didn’t truly understood it. Don’t take advices for granted, and don’t you ever feel fully confident when taking pictures, especially in Street Photography. Please, don’t lower your guard, be always vigilant and aware of your surroundings. Happenings are just around the corner, so always be prepared. I try to always turn off my camera with the same settings, always. (1/125, f/5.6, ISO 100) And I do this to gain precious time when turning it on again. About the gear, the only thing I can tell you, is that you chose the most comfortable, and inconspicuous camera you can afford. Little yet powerful cameras are the best way to go when thinking of a daily gear. You should have a trusty camera with you, and try to bond with it in a way that you unconsciously can operate it. I recommend small gear because carrying a chunky camera all day long, forever, is not something I should consider as comfortable or enjoyable.
The saddest part here, is that I have heard this advice from friends and online websites. But I’m stubborn, and really didn’t took the adequate attention from those wise words that I heard without the proper meditation. Please, don't wait to be so regretful that you end up haunted by the vivid memories of the images you left behind on capturing. Listen to me and take my humble advice, always have a camera with you.