I had everything I could ever need, all the dream gear. Broncolor lighting, the latest professional Canon cameras and all the faster canon lenses. I had the latest Apple laptop, tethering equipment, software, c-stands, tripods, light modifiers, Polaroid cameras, all the gear I could have ever dreamed of.
I had it all, and at that time it was good—better than good, it was extraordinary. So why did I later decide to get rid of everything I worked so hard to obtain, and only after a few years after having it?
I used all my gear, and I used it all the time. Everything I purchased I needed… or so I thought. I would do a studio fashion shoot every weekend for personal work, and client work through the week. I was working 6 days a week, with the exception of one day to book and put together a team. I was shooting so much that it got to a point where it was cheaper to own the gear I was using instead of renting it.
I eventually accumulated a lot of gear—gear that I frequently used. I literally had everything I could ever need.
But over time something happened. Something changed. The problem was and wasn’t the photography gear. Using the gear made my life easier. It gave me the opportunity to manifest my creativity and vision into whatever I desired. I had a variety of lighting setups I would use. My clients loved my work and paid me for my time. But slowly, very slowly, I lost my passion for the work I was creating and the jobs I was getting booked for. The work I was doing wasn’t fulfilling my soul anymore. I felt it was time to change things up.
I made the business decision to drop all my fashion work and clients. As a result, I lost a lot of income as you can imagine, but I felt I needed to change the direction of my photography. I wanted a style, a process I could call my own. I had a lot of gear, and that gear wasn’t making me happy anymore. It was beginning to become a burden—to have, carry, use, set up, store and insure.
I wanted a simpler life, a simpler camera setup, and to do that required letting go.
I started reading philosophy, photography books, art books. I started going to museums and art galleries, looking at the work of people I admire and asking myself why I loved their work. I become a student once more—not in the university sense of the word student, although I did enroll in a scholarship program, night classes and workshops.
I went back to the beginning, emptied my cup, and embraced becoming an amateur once more. This is where I found minimalism, essentialism, eastern & western philosophy, and my ultimately discovered my photography roots again.
I stopped using all my gear. I put away the Broncolor lighting and all the beautiful Canon glass and picked up a rangefinder. I needed a simpler process, a guide, a set of basic rules that I could bend and push my creativity against. Abundance is the death of creativity, so I chose one camera, one lens, and one process. My photography gear dwindled down to this and nothing else:
- One camera (Leica M)
- One lens (50mm Summilux)
- One 10-stop ND filter (no tripod)
- One film/preset (Kodak Tri-X 400)
These are the limitations I set myself, this was the recipe for my new photographic journey, and eventually my new photographic style. This were and are the ingredients, the limitations that forced me to think and create. These artificial restrictions forced me to balance my camera on rocks or tree stumps to capture long exposures. This list forced me to admire the colors of a sunset knowing that I couldn’t capture them in my photography.
It was hard at first. I got frustrated and annoyed. I even thought about abandoning this ridiculous idea. But my mentors at the time told me to keep going, and so I did. I persevered. Once I saw to the light at the end of the tunnel it was obvious: the photographs I took were finally mine, they were me. No longer was I emulating and copying other photographs.
Before, the influential imagery around me seeped into my fashion work. I couldn’t help it at the time, when I had no limitations. But now… now my images started to finally become my own.
Because I limited my gear and post-processing, I began to feel free. I no longer had to make gear decisions or ponder lighting setups. No longer wonder what lens I should use; no more second guessing myself. I only had a 50mm lens and one camera. I could only photograph using available light, so no more questions about what light modifier I should use. I no longer had the option to move the light—wherever the sun is, that’s what I get.
This was a difficult transition from being in total control, but it eventually started to feel freeing. Freeing to let go, to accept what is, and stop trying to control everything. It dramatically changed me, my photos and, as a result, it changed my artistic style. I was liberated.
By minimizing my gear, I found happiness. Happiness in less. Joy in serendipity and accepting what nature has to offer. I started to love and create like the philosophers and artist I was reading about. In a scene I was enlightened, I found zen—zen in one camera and one lens.
So now I ask you: does your photograph gear bring you happiness? Does your gear truly set you free to create, or does it manifest itself into procrastination and feel like your swimming upstream just deciding which camera to use today? Could you also benefit from a little downgrading? Picking that default camera and lens you use and saying to yourself, yea this is all I really need.
I don’t regret getting rid of all my gear. I only use one camera and one lens. My post-processing is now black and white for life. Removing the clutter from my creative life. I suggest that you try and do the same. Stop feeding the camera gear economy and start nurturing your creativity instead.
About the author: A.B Watson is a New Zealand photographer based in Auckland. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. To see more of his work, head over to his website or follow him on Facebook and Instagram. This post was also published here.