Why is it that for so many obsessed with photography the obsession goes all the way to the equipment – and for some even only to equipment? Like me, I don’t care about equipment on a rational level – and in a practical shooting situation, but as soon as Canon (and, yes I do like Canon!) comes out with a new version of my camera I crave for it – or a new improved construction of my favourite lens; I feel like I need it. Of course I don’t, because I do know that good photography isn’t about equipment, but about vision and creative flow. And why is it only us – photographers? When did you ever hear about a writer who needed the latest update of a computer before he or she could write the next novel? For one; I have never.
It’s a counterproductive obsession. The more equipment you carry, the less likely you are going to load it up on yourself and get out there and shoot. I think there are two reasons for this fixation. For one it appeals to the geek in (some of) us – and for those only interested in equipment it really complies with their nerdy personality (you need to watch out my friends!). Secondly – and more importantly – it’s a about fear of missing a shot. Any photographer dreads such an experience. So we amass every piece of gear we feel gives us that readiness to elude this to happen. Longer lenses, stronger strobes, cameras with ISO ratings that would astonish us only 5 years ago. We are pulled to this stuff like a magnet.
It’s all very deceptive. I am not talking about sports photographers who need that big 500 mm or wildlife photographers who need that 400 with and f-stop of 1.4 (if it only existed…), but you and me and most other photographers – professional or non-professional – who shoot daily life or people or landscape or architecture (I’ll give that the latter may find a tilt-and-shit lens very useful, though…) We don’t need 36 M-pixels, 15 frames a second, 51,200 ISO or even a 300 mm. Honestly! Of course if you are on an assignment you want to make sure you deliver. But that’s not what I am talking about. I’m talking about that thing in my brain that screams and throws a tantrum each time I set a long lens aside in favour of travelling lighter. It’s yelling at me, telling me how stupid I am when I let go of all my DSLR’s and everything that goes along with them.
But I have learned to ignore that pull. Yes, I will miss some shots, but not more than all the shifting between tons of equipment will do. On the contrary. I have learned that less is more (who said that by the way?). Really. I get more focused on what I can do instead of what I might miss. With loads of equipment I’ll miss moments because I’m wrestling with lens changes or a heavy backpack or the paranoia that my expensive gear is going to get damaged or stolen. With less equipment I will be more ready at any given time; I can concentrate on the life unfolding itself in front of me, I will have more time on the street or wherever I am, because I don’t need to rest so much as a result of carrying too much, and I can ease down and let things develop in a natural pace.
The fact is that art becomes better with more constrains. When you put a constraint on yourself and how you work it forces the creative process to shift into a fierier pace. So less ends up being more, again. Like the photographer David duChemin says: «I think it’s a sign of growth as artists when we begin to embrace, even create constraints, instead of trying so hard to avoid them.»
I mentioned travelling light. Often now when I go to a foreign land doing a travel story, I will only bring my Fujifilm X-10. That’s it and that’s that. And I really get all the shots I want to. Well, no, not those landscapes my 400 mm would have picked up, but I am anyway mostly a wide-angel kind of guy. So what’s the big deal? A little point-and-shoot camera (a little more advanced I admit to that) instead of 45 pounds of equipment? When I travel like this and meet fellow colleagues they mostly give me those big eyes, saying «you must be crazy – or not really a photographer.» Well, I know the difference between expensive camera-equipment and excellent photography, and sometimes I wonder if they do…
I would like to round of with a quote by the excellent photograph Edward Weston: «[A photographer’s] greatest asset is the directness of the process he employs. But this advantage can only be retained if he simplifies his equipment and technique to the minimum necessary, and keeps his approach free from all formula, art-dogma, rules and taboos. Only then can he be free to put his photographic sight to use in discovering and revealing the nature of the world he lives in.»