As it is in many fields and disciplines, less is more, and reducing things to achieve that state of "-lessness" is a complex road to walk. Let me talk a bit about what you'll learn when you trim your gear down and about the benefits of making such an effort. Imagine you have only one gear configuration to save in a catastrophe so you can continue taking photographs. Which one will it be?
One time I heard Omar Rodriguez-López talking about how reducing the number of pedals produced great changes in his music. He became more creative due to the limitations he had imposed on himself. I’ve seen this rule apply in many other disciplines besides music – and, of course, it applies in photography as well. Using less gear invites you to push yourself to the limits to capture the images you want. Prime lenses make you walk more; using film cameras restrain you from shooting more; and using only one lens makes you unbelievably creative.
Let’s talk about the truths surrounding this topic.
Seeking limitations help enhance your style
Since photography relies on several tools for capturing images in the form closest to our desires, it is easy to start reducing our equipment to achieve a minimum amount of valuable gear. I also believe that photography has a certain pattern of growth in most cases, almost like a learning curve. Many of us started with a compact point-and-shoot camera, and as our passion grew, so did our gear. In parallel, we experimented with many styles and niches of photography, and knew how much gear each niche required. For example, wildlife photography requires fast telephoto lenses, macro photography needs to be done with optical maneuvers and macro lenses. At certain point, we started to enhance our personal style and photographic voice. This is the moment we realize that we are working more with specific optical resources, tools and settings. Ask yourself which style of photography you love the most, and which gear you couldn’t leave behind to capture the images you love the most.
By reducing your gear you’ll be more inconspicuous
Less gear means less visibility. Therefore, by maintaining a low profile gear-wise, you'll be more inconspicuous than ever. You’ll blend seamlessly into social contexts in ways you never could before.
Social photography is my deepest passion, and getting close to people is definitely important. You can do this by working with a non-intrusive piece of equipment – like one prime wide-angle lens, one small pancake lens, or even just a small yet powerful camera like the one I currently work with.
You'll enjoy more, and stress less
This most applies when you’re travelling. I’ve been saying this forever, and I’ll never tire of it. Enjoy your travels – you’re investing a lot of cash in the experiences travel can offer. Don’t forget this. Maybe you’ll be travelling alone, maybe you won’t. Maybe your companions are not passionate about photography, but they respect your passion, so respect their presence as well. By dragging around large amounts of gear, you’ll enjoy less, believe me. Grab one piece of gear and you’ll enjoy your travels more than you would when carrying a whole studio with you.
Commitment to gear is key
Committing to a limited amount of gear will give you one of the most fulfilling experiences in photography ever. You'll get to know the gear so intuitively that it will become an extension of your body. You'll know its limitations, its scope, and the advantages it offers. This is the fundamental strategy for learning to shoot from the hip as well, because you'll know exactly what you’re framing without having to peek through the viewfinder.
Once upon a time, I knew a photographer from my country who was here visiting. The guy had been working for several years with just one camera and one lens, and had recently bought a second lens for his camera. He told me that he was so used to his lens and camera that using it was like driving; he made the camera settings unconsciously. Achieving that level of organic reflection is amazing.
The greatest two benefits I can pinpoint are the following:
- A higher level of creativity
Imposing photographic limitations on yourself will reflect in the images you'll be able to capture. Embracing less gear will allow you to return to the basics, and you'll see the richness that available light has to offer to you as you capture images. The result of working with less gear will boost your creativity in ways you never dreamed of if you (like me and many others) once believed that having more tools would produce better images.
- Higher quality
Reducing gear will cause you to shoot less, so you’ll have a greater amount of quality photographic material at the end of the day. Just remember the days of film, when the resources were expensive and each frame was carefully shot. Be grateful for the resources of our time, and don’t fall into the trap of taking those tools for granted.
Reducing gear can take extreme roads – such as micro SD cards and even turning your LCD screen off to avoid chimping . Photography has evolved to a beautiful state that gives people more powerful photographic resources each day, but also seduces them into a state approaching laziness. Remember to create limited scenarios to avoid falling into the sweet tentacles of laziness. Practice, practice, practice, and get to know your gear like it’s an extension of your body.