I confess to having more gear than I need – much more. The fact that I run Photofocus is partly to blame. I review and evaluate a bunch of gear. Some of it ends up in my bag. Sometimes things that I would have never bought if I hadn’t tested them end up in my gear room. But how much of it do I need or really use? Probably not as much as you’d think.

I believe that I am going through sort of an epiphany in this regard. I have so much stuff laying around that we had to recently build an additional storage room at my studio. That’s when it hit me: How important is all this stuff to my photography?

Shiny things attract us. It’s cool to get new gear. I know the rush of opening yet another box from Adorama as well as anyone. But do I really, really need it?

I remember when we used cassette tapes to play music. Heck, I remember buying 8-track tapes. (That sound you hear is all the under 30 crowd furiously typing “8-track tape” into Google to find out what the heck I am talking about.) I owned a Zip Drive and thought it might change the world.

I remember thinking floppy discs were cool. I bought the first Sony Betamax, the first Walkman, the first Discman, and the first Watchman. I had a Newton before the iPhone/iPad were even a bead of sweat on Steve Jobs’ brow. I owned more than one pager (I liked the Alpha Elegant Dual the best.) My IBM Selectric typewriter was a really good machine.

You get the point. At one time, all this gear was cool stuff we all had to have. Now it sits in museums and garbage dumps and in collections owned by sentimental folks like me who remember the good old days.

While these examples aren’t photographic in nature, I believe they serve the point I am trying to make. Stuff is just stuff. Gear is just gear. We need SOME gear. We need a camera and a lens and a medium to record to. It’s very helpful to have the means to stabilize this gear and to get good light. After that I am not sure we really NEED anything else, but it sure is fun sometimes to have it. It’s downright helpful even in the right circumstances. But I am not sure it is actually necessary.

Some of the most iconic photographs of the last century were made with a 4×5 Graflex Speed Graphic cameras and a flashbulb. The Speed Graphic could not be farther from modern 35mm gear in terms of construction or configuration. It didn’t have auto anything. If most of us had to use one today to make a living we’d starve. We’ve become spoiled.

Each year I find myself taking less and less into the field. I sometimes find all my stuff gets in the way of actually making the great images I see in my mind.

I’m traveling to Alaska in a few weeks to make images of bald eagles. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip and I’m tempted to take everything I own. But then I have to manage it, keep track of it, secure it, get it on the plane, maintain it and move it around in a hostile environment. After thinking about it and sorting out what I think I might actually use on the trip, this year I am taking about half the gear I took two years ago to photograph Coastal Brown Bears. I am sure I’ll leave something behind that I COULD have used when I get to Alaska. But it doesn’t mean it will cost me any images in the long run. It might in fact help me score some great images as I spend less time fumbling through my bag for the next gadget and more time seeing the light in southern Alaska.

I find myself quoting David Du Chemin quite often. “Gear is good. Vision is better.”


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