I’ve been noticing something recently. As I gain more experience in photography, I carry less equipment to a client session. It’s not a conscious decision I’ve made at any point. It’s just sort of… happened. Furthermore, I’ve been noticing certain other professional photographers are doing the same thing.
If you read books, magazine articles or blog posts about a topic such as wedding photography, they’ll likely be filled with photographers bragging about how much equipment they carry, usually along with a photo of a stuffed kit bag or three. While this is great for kit envy and wowing your clients (and, to be fair, being prepared is clearly a good thing), I have to say that in most cases this is simply not necessary.
I fell into this trap myself around 2006 while I was moving away from working with landscapes and natural history exclusively and began capturing portraits and covering weddings. The boot of my car would be absolutely filled with camera bags, tripods, studio lighting, backgrounds & supports and a step ladder (great for group shots by the way). I covered my final wedding in July 2014 and by then I was carrying a single bag containing two pro-DSLR bodies, 3 fast lenses, an L grip with flash on top and a 38cm softbox for the flash. Some spare batteries, memory cards and a couple of Lee lens cloths completed the set.
My bank balance thanked me. My back thanked me. My clients thanked me… because the photographs I presented were every bit as good as earlier weddings captured with far more kit. I’d simply learned how to make better use of what I had, so I didn’t need as much to create the same quality of image.
More recently I’ve documented local businesses with one body, two lenses, a spare battery and a couple of memory cards. Basically I can now walk to local client or get a train to more distant ones, because I can carry everything I need to do a fantastic job. What a difference from a boot load of kit! I’m not only lighter than I used to be, I work faster too. I don’t need time to unload my car and setup. I don’t need time to pack my kit away again at the end, then unload when I return to my office. I arrive, say hello, take a camera out my backpack and begin to take photographs.
If I had been planning to reduce the amount of kit I use I would be concerned it would compromise the quality of my work, but thankfully the reverse has been the case. As I spend less time fiddling with kit and more time observing what’s happening and thinking about the photographs I need to capture, I spot even more detail than I used to. It’s remarkably calming to hold a camera in my hands and just take photographs.
As reducing the amount of equipment I carry was not a conscious decision, I’m not certain what particular reasons I had for doing so over time. Perhaps I just got fed up needing five trips to my car each time I was filling or emptying the boot. Unfortunately the articles I’ve read from other kit reducers have only mentioned it in passing, so no real help there in understanding it either. Perhaps the point that’s of most use here is that you simply do not need a lot of equipment to take great photographs in many styles and types of photography. Some forms of photography will always need more equipment than others of course, but it’s certainly worth considering what you actually need to use in order to carry out the form of photography you’re interested in.
So, new entrants to (semi-)professional photography: pay attention to your knowledge, your ability to take a great photograph and your people skills. Buy or borrow the equipment you really need and travel light. You’ll save thousands of pounds you probably don’t have and will hopefully be less likely to develop a bad back.
More than anything else, make sure you love what you do.