Sometimes you have to break down what you’re used to doing and simplify things. Do I own thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment? Yes. Do I know how to use it? I would like to think so. Is all of it necessary as a professional? Of course, I wouldn’t buy it if there wasn’t some reason out there that I felt it necessary to create beautiful work. But the same as when you are in school, you have to sometimes reset yourself and start from the beginning. In college when I took photography classes I already had a general understanding of how to use a fully manual 35mm film camera. But when you get to your first photography class in college, you don’t get to use something that “fancy”. They make you start with the most basic principle of understanding light and exposure. They start you off with a pinhole camera, that you have to make yourself. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s basically a box with a hold in it. That’s your camera. You have to learn how light works and how film and photo paper are affected by the exposure to light to start to grasp using more advanced equipment. There’s a reason they make you do this, keep it simple to master the concepts, then you can move on to the “fancy” equipment.
On my recent trip to hike the Colorado Trail with my siblings, I fought hard to take my biggest and nicest camera on the trip. I even took an extra lens in hopes of seeing some wildlife during our adventure. I carried 8 pounds of camera equipment strapped to my chest just in the hopes of capturing great pictures at 10,000 feet. After 3 days and 3 nights, I realized I never used my telephoto lens for anything purposeful, so why did I carry the extra weight? And my other lens was a wide angle zoom lens that could cover almost everything, but very heavy. I used it 99% of the time I was hiking. Quick detour, but what’s my favorite lens to shoot with? A fixed 50mm prime lens, very small and light and very fast with crystal clear images. Did I take my favorite lens on this trip, no I did not. In hindsight I have no idea why I wouldn’t take it, it weighs less than the other two, it’s my favorite, and it does better in low light than the other two I took. For me, choosing equipment to take with me anywhere is always a battle. I have a 40+ pound gear bag full of goodies that I would take everywhere, but it’s just too heavy. If I take a walk with the kids through the neighborhood I’m tempted to grab my big camera in case they do something cute, and I don’t want to miss it. So this is always an internal battle for me.
The family decided to head out to the Dallas Arboretum the other day to enjoy the cooler weather and the beautiful grounds, so I decided I would force myself to Keep It Simple for the day. Normally I would grab a smaller gear bag and put a couple lenses in it, a flash, some macro adapters to take closeups of flowers. But instead I forced myself to simply grab my camera, with one lens, which of course should be my favorite and walk out the door. That was difficult for me to do, but I did it.
What does this do for you as an artist? Well you’re forced to think about the basics. Instead of being able to just zoom in or out to frame your pictures, you have to walk forward or backwards to frame them. Is the lighting correct for your shot? There’s no flash to fill in, so you have to adjust beforehand to get your subject correctly lit for the picture. Do you need to hold the camera extra still for a slightly longer exposure than would be ideal? No tripod, you improvise and lay down or lean on railing to support the camera. Of course it can be a little more of a challenge to do this and get great shots, but if you know what you’re doing, it shouldn’t be impossible at all. We just get spoiled by all the gadgets we have to fill in the gaps and make things easier.
My point of this long explanation is that you don’t always have to have every little gadget or new piece of equipment to do great things. You have to make it work with what you’ve got, and if you put the extra thought and effort into it, you may be surprised at the results. Sometimes you may end up with a more unique result, or you may even discover a new technique that actually works better than a piece of equipment you can buy. We can all take amazing pictures, even if we don’t have the newest and best gadgets out there. You just have to make up for it in effort and technique.
The following images are from this outing, and are they the best ever, no. But I’m happy enough with them that I’ll be hanging a couple on my wall. And even just spending one day forcing myself to keep things simple, I have some refreshed views on how I need to shoot during my normal jobs. You can bet I won’t be taking the same equipment backpacking next year, I’ll gladly save a few pounds by keeping it simple and just going along without all the extras.