Lighten Your Load {4 Tips on Reducing Gear on Shoots}

How do I reduce gear on shoots?

I ask myself this question almost weekly. Since I shoot 100% out on location (most requiring travel), what’s in my bag can either cost extra baggage fees or save my keister on a shoot.

Just because I can lug a three-light setup, doesn’t mean I should.

My key: Be prepared not just as an artist, but a Boy Scout.

Gear holds me back more often than I care to admit. This coming from a frugal Boy Scout who admires MacGyver. Give me a van full of photo-related gear to bring to Burning Man (see above), and I’m happy as a clam. Granted, I used about 55% of it, but glad I had it all.

Even gear porn fanatics love to study the guts inside photographers bags, because we know how much time and dough goes into these decisions. No wonder Top Gear viewership is 98.5% male. It’s easy to say, “I’ll take quality over quantity.” But which tools get left behind? My answer:


Don’t let ‘stuff’ hold you back. I offer these 4 simple tips to help lighten your load for your next shoot:

1) Be creatively prepared.
There’s a difference being prepared as an artist, and being prepared as a Boy Scout. You never want to be kitchen sink prepared for a photo shoot to the point gear holds you back. That ship won’t sail. Worse yet, all the other kids will laugh at you. Creatives know how to do more with less, which forces ingenuity and resourcefulness. If you are thinking, “I can get my Sunpak to f/16 in noon sun with a speed light and evenly light a bridal party in one shot,” take a Photo 101 refresher. When that final print hangs on the wall, being creatively prepared means never looking back and thinking, “Gee, I wish I had just one more small light as a kicker on the hair” or “Two bad I left my digital medium format rig in the studio.” Of the thousands of variables that make a good picture, essential gear helps make the art. And good gear doesn’t hurt. Gear essentials to shoot landscapes in Ireland will differ from what I bring to a wedding. You want to bring everything you’ll need, nothing you don’t. Therein lies the fine line on deciding when to lug the kitchen sink.

>> Experience plays a big part in dictating gear. Just don’t fall into a rut. What worked once, won’t always.

2) Don’t expect to control everything.
Intent makes art, not accidents. Even Jackson Pollock had a vision for his paint splatters. If a particular photo works, it is because the photographer made it that way. We have to accept responsibility that every creative decision we make in the final image comes with intent. Some photogs fall prey to the notion that everything will fall into place because of control. Alas, this is where creativity fails. How come dumb luck ‘happy mistakes’ happen more to some than others? Perhaps, they put themselves in a certain situation that forces them to think creativity and not rely on instinct as sole creative muse. But I like to think any professional should be able to walk into a situation and apply their skill with consistent results. And for a creative person, that means consistently creative.

For me, so much of my personal photographic style uses off-camera lighting. If you are not solid on your style, check out my post on developing your photographic vision. I enjoy the challenge and I feel it distinguishes my work as different. Not better, just different. I can always fall back on a one-light technique in a pinch. I’d rather have one quality light (a strobe with a large diffuser) than lots of speed lights. However, a speedlights are wonderful for lower ambient scenarios like at sunset or a ballroom reception where just a kiss of light is needed.

>> Choose only the gear that allows you to be consistently creative.

3) Learn from pain.
If you have three options when it comes to lugging gear: Deal, Delegate, or Leave At Home. If cramped shoulders result in an epic image you bring home, that’s a beautiful effort. I say Deal. Complain to your spouse or assistant, never to the client. As climbers know well, you have to work hard for a glimpse at the top. If you loath the idea of lugging, Delegate. Hire an assistant. Some call this dumping outsourcing, but it frees you up to think creatively. Ultimately, if you sign your work, the vision must come from your 100% talent, reduced to critical visual decisions under low heat. Whereas sandbags, beauty dish, ring flash or C-stand might fall under the Leave At Home, there’s nothing like busting out the perfect creative tool to differentiate your work when you want. Like the time I lugged a ring flash to a wedding in Greece.

>> Know your gear inside and out, which includes capabilities, limitations, and quirks.

4) Balance quality with quantity
Economics influences my gear choices. So does solid back-up gear. I find gimmick gear grows old quick. I rely on the gold standards, which includes at least one trusty light source I can count on no matter what. And the sun doesn’t count. I won’t tout brand names, but will say “go-to” gear can be a tad more expensive and a bit heavier, but is worth it’s weight in gold for reliability. The right tool for the job depends largely on the shooting environment. In low light at a wedding, I can usually get by with a pair of video lights or speed lights. But if I want light to have a signature look, that’s where big strobes and associated light modifiers might come into play. Portable light doesn’t have to cost thousands. And sometimes the underdog wins.

>> So much of choosing gear is personal preference, closely aligned to style, patience, time, effort, and risk.

I hope these four tips help you reduce gear on your next shoot! Be sure to check out other articles in my photographer’s resources here.

And if you have a suggestion to help others, toss a comment below and I’d love to hear your thoughts!
You also might like :
Where to Buy Photo Gear
Going Pro Series, Part 5: Pimp the Work You Want to Shoot
The Hit List: 32 Photo Tips and Tutorials
11 Tips on Choosing a Photography Workshop

3 Responses to “Lighten Your Load {4 Tips on Reducing Gear on Shoots}”

  1. Moses de los Santos — November 9, 2012 @ 12:27 pm (#)

    Thanks RJ. I will never forget…

    “Intent makes art, not accidents!”

    this quote packs a punch!!

    You are inspirational bro!

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