How Much Gear Do You Need?

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Sometimes I buy photographic equipment just because I think I might be needing it in the future: manual flashes for Strobist-type photography, a hydrostatic tripod head for serious macro, a super telephoto for bird photography… It’s mostly just plans that never turn into reality, but it wastes money and storage space, so motivated by my switch from Nikon D7000 to Olympus m4/3, I want to examine what we really need and what we can sell.

80% Street and Travel Photography

Katja and I usually fly to our locations then go by foot several hours a day, so we pack in a minimal set of gear. However these items should be enough for 80% of all street and travel photographers:

  • body with a shoulder strap (1),
  • general-purpose zoom,
  • longer lens (a tele-zoom, a portrait prime or a longer macro)
  • spare memory cards and batteries,
  • lens cleaning gadgets,
  • small bag to hold everything (2).

If you are more serious, go on longer trips or to more remote destinations, you probably need additional gear: for shaping the light (3), editing images, making backups and staying in touch with your loved ones. So let’s fill these gaps:

  • flash and TTL cord (4),
  • foldable reflector for filling in the shadows,
  • foldable diffusor for removing hard shadows and for shooting through with your flash (5),
  • portrait lens (6),
  • additional memory cards and batteries,
  • battery charger,
  • laptop,
  • backup hard-drive,
  • larger camera bag (2).

If you are more landscape- or architecture-oriented, then add:

  • extreme wide-angle lens,
  • small and light tripod,
  • “moderate” ND filter (7),
  • remote release.

20% Product Photography and Macro

  • Macro lens,
  • sturdy tripod (8),
  • 2-3 continuous lights with stands (9),
  • 1 additional diffusor.

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Everything Else …

… is apparently unnecessary and shall be sold. I know this sounds radical, but I believe firmly in throwing away ballast and simplifying one’s life.

So what’s for sale?

  • PocketWizards,
  • manual flashes,
  • fast normal lens,
  • sturdy tripod,
  • panorama adapter for rotating around the lens’ nodal point,
  • legacy lenses and m4/3 adapter,
  • larger bags accommodating SLR gear.

  1. Cameras are usually sold with neck straps, which are uncomfortable and covered with colorful ads for the camera manufacturer, so do yourself a favor and get a shoulder strap.
  2. Finding the perfect bags was a tough task, to which I’ll dedicate a separate article.
  3. Understanding why and how to modify the light is the biggest step towards producing great images. In fact, it even changes the way you think about your photography: instead of finding or getting images, you now start making them.
  4. Since most remote TTL systems need a direct line of sight and TTL pocket wizards are quite expensive and require additional batteries, a TTL cord is still the simplest way to take your TTL flash off the camera body.
  5. Acting effectively as a soft-box.
  6. We suggest the much smaller and lighter f/1.8 alternatives. With the f/1.2 or f/1.4 lenses you are falling prey to the law of diminishing returns big times.
  7. For shooting stills of moving water or movies in bright sunlight.
  8. Fortunately there are tripods which are both small and sturdy, so you can use the same one for travel and product photography.
  9. Off-camera flash is cool, but WYSIWYG is much better. It’s time for photographers to see the light (pun intended).
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