Seeing & Looking
Simplify Gear to Sharpen Your Attention
Our cameras help us make photographs efficiently. Our gear should not get in the way of our vision. A guiding principal for our gear is to "simplify" it. This lets us experience where we are, and see it deeply, without being distracted by bells, chimes, breakdowns in gear, and fatigue from packing too heavily. We want to attend to creating photographs, not to the camera menu. To help simplify a landscape workflow ask: "if I allow myself only 7 pieces of gear in my bag, what do I choose?"
Reasonable criteria for choosing a "good" set of gear depend on these questions we pose about our workflow: is this piece of gear affordable in the long term? Can I carry it easily? Does it flexibly and creatively help my craft? How does it fit with my other gear?
How Do I Decide Which 7 Tools?
The most useful items are your camera body, lenses, tripod and all weather clothing.
The final three tools should be flexible to your specific landscape photography challenges. In a monsoon area, you may want extra dry bags and anti-moisture silicon dry pads. In dusty areas you may need a larger dust blower. Since our needs as photography are highly individual, a reasonable and flexible way to figure out our essential tools is determine the criteria for keeping a piece of gear in our bag day in and day out.
By criteria, I mean a quality like weight; many photographer's travel extensively, so the weight of each tool takes on added meaning. For instance, a heavy metal tripod goes with the gear when travelling by car, but for plane travel a lightweight carbon fiber travel tripod gets packed instead.
What Criteria Is Helpful to Use ?
Photography is a personal craft. Each of us gives a different weight, literally, to the gear we use, and we should wear our thinking as well. For instance, if you are reading this and think "Wait, he didn't mention my iPhone", I support your personal choice. What you won't read here are the words "right gear." The 4 basic criteria are economic, artistic, experimental and ergonomic. Think of all four when choosing a specific piece of gear. We all have highly individual criteria; here are mine:
1. Economic. Can I afford this tool? Can I afford to pay more for a more reliable and rugged form factor.
2. Artistic. Does this tool improve my range or vision, sharpness or some photographic quality I find invaluable? Does the tool help me express (share) my message? For instance, on the first qualities, a tripod allows longer exposure durations, and also makes for sharper images by decreasing camera movement.
3. Ergonomic. Does the gear fit efficiently into my workflow and bag. Do I feel like I want to pick it up and use it (haptics, weight, size). Does it balance the rest of the items in my bag?
4. Experimental. Can I experiment with the gear (open source, DIY, hack) or am I limited by a gear maker's proprietary design?
Clearly, this is only an outline, as you will create your own specific personal gear set depending on what kinds of photographs you make. Here are my 7 choices, based on what I've used in the past few months this year:
Your Gear is Unique to You
Of course your mileage will vary, and we each have unique photographic needs. I am doing more travel and nature photography. Portrait pros, wedding pros, bloggers, nature photographers all have developed specific skills and thinking for their differing challenges. We are all searching for workable, efficient ideas and a tool set to match them.
Photos and Writings by Jim Austin Jimages
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