Single speed, single lens
With Christmas approaching and that last minute present buying rush approaching, ask yourself, "Do I really need another lens or camera"? It's a bit of a ramble, but here are some thoughts on simplifying your camera bag.
I'm all for simplification in my life. Clearer personal and business goals, a simpler aesthetic in my photography, it lets the fun shine through. I used to do a lot of cycling, but for a number of reasons I fell out of love with the sport. I enjoyed being outside with friends, exploring wild places and tearing down twisty rocky trails hanging on by the tips of my fingers, to explode off the hill all smiles and giggles. But the increasing complexity of modern mountain bikes started to intrude into the experience. Sure a modern bike (like a modern car) will flatter even a bad rider, but with increased complexity comes more to go wrong and more maintenance, but worse, the technology becomes a buffer, it gets in the way of the experience.
Is it obvious?
I bet you are thinking, I know where this is going, here comes the Luddite proposing a pinhole camera or making my own glass plates with potato starch. Well, maybe, that is up to you.
Single speed bikes
I recently bought a Cotic Roadrat bike, a hybrid bike, a bit of a jack of all trades and as it turned out also a master of quite a few. The beauty of a hybrid bike is it is good for anything, good on the roads, good off road. OK, you won't be doing the Tour de France or riding sick downhills on it, but I wanted something that I could use for exploring with - "I wonder where that track goes ........?" It really worked and I kind of got back into cycling again, discovered the joy of moving fast through the green, brown and blue. And it got me thinking about mountain biking again, but I just couldn't be bothered with the hassle, all those gears grinding away and needing constant maintenance, distracting from the pleasure of the trail. As it happened, my mountain bike was also in a bad way with lots of bits worn out and having just bought the Cotic I couldn't afford to replace all the bits anyway. I'd read in a few bike magazines about singlespeed bikes - no gears, often no suspension - the idea being there was less to go wrong and you were apparently more connected with the bike and hence the trail! The latter sounded slightly unlikely, but less maintenance sounded good and it was the only type of bike I could afford to build anyway. So I built up this simple singlespeed. I wondered about the sanity of biking in the hills with no gears! Sounded like hard work, an aesthetic ascetic for the sake of it. Trouble was, it was damn good fun. A highly efficient drive means I get up hills easier. More direct connection to the drive means indeed better connection to the bike and hence better feedback from the trails, as well as not having to think about which gear to be in, you simply ride the trail. Fun, fun, fun and emotionally loads better. Now you see where I am going. Less is more.
How it all ties together
There is a real danger of moralising here. And that is not the idea. What you need to understand is your own personal goals and the barriers to achieving them. Maybe your goal is not actually to be a great photographer, but to be a camera collector or always at the bleeding edge of the technology so always buying what's new. That's great, if that's what YOU like. But, having a Nikon D3, Canon EOS1Ds Mk111, Leica M8 or Hasselblad h2D just won't make you a better photographer. It might make your life easier and hence your photography better. Or it might buffer you from the real experience. I totally disagree with the preposition that 'Your camera does matter' at the Luminous Landscape. Easy to counter with an example of the architectural photography of J Michael Sullivan. Architectural photography, surely the preserve of the view camera? Look through the photostream. Sure there is sweet high end kit, but there are also stunning photographs made with rangefinders and compacts! I think what J Michael Sullivan understands is that the image is everything and that just being there with any camera allows you to make great photographs. Simplicity of equipment means less time thinking about what equipment to use and more studying, and enjoying, the subject and the experience of the photograph. Read his artist statement! He calls it 'looseness'. This is a major lesson in my landscape photography workshops. People turn up with everything from compacts that they have just bought to a camera bag full of trick gear that they have used for years. Teaching them just to look with their eyes, not the camera, and it is soon apparent that the camera they use does not make a good photograph, it is the photographer that makes a good photograph. Yes, I've done it. Convinced myself that I needed a new camera and lenses when I set up my photography business. I still do it with some commissioned work, thinking that a new lens would help. Well it might, dependent on what the client wants. You do need the right tools for the job, just remember a master craftsman can make a beautiful piece of furniture with rudimentary tools. And this is quite landscape specific. If you are a nature or sports photographer, sorry, you are going to suffer with big lenses. But, how many of them do you really need?
How this applies to my landscape photographs
Staggering around the hills and coast, laden down with my Über camera bag, chock full of Nikon's shiny stuff. And it was just hard work, just no fun. Well, in some ways no pain no gain. Ansel Adams needed a mule train to carry all his gear, Colin Prior staggers into the hills of Scotland with a giant 617 camera, all the gubbins to go with that camera and then his camping and survival gear! Well, if I'm out for a few days, I'm still going to be doing the staggering under a weight of camping gear, but do I really need ALL the other stuff camera stuff? Probably not, and probably not on normal days out. And when I went through my camera bag, I realised that I didn't use a lot of what was in there. So now, one main camera body (Nikon D2x), one backup body (Nikon D300) and one lens (Nikon 12-24mm lens) along with the basic odds and ends like spare cards and batteries. On a commission I might carry a longer lens to increase the range of shots I can make, but a couple of well chosen lenses is enough. And what about filters? I used to carry a full set of Lee hard grads, a full set of soft grads and a few other random filters including a polariser. Well I hate polarisers with a passion, so getting rid of that was easy. Looking through my notes on filters used, I normally need a 0.6ND hard grad, sometimes a 0.3ND hard or a 0.9ND hard or a 0.6ND soft. So I carry the 0.3ND and 0.6ND hard and the 0.6ND soft. Combining these where necessary covers all the bases that I need, but takes a lot less space and weight in my camera bag. But what do I know? Only about me. So I'm off with my single lens into the wilds to find some grins.
The exact contents of my camera bag:
- Nikon D2x
- Nikon D300
- Nikon 12-24mm lens
- Lee filters - 0.3ND hard grad, 0.6ND hard grad, 0.6ND soft grad
- Nikon remote release
- Spirit level
- Spare battery and cards
- iPod Touch for tides, sunrise and music
- Flare buster
- Leica 10x24 binoculars
- Manfrotto 055MF4 tripod with 468MGRC2 hydrostatic ball head
- Survival bag
- Food & a flask of tea.
- Lens cloths and Turbo Blower
- Warm jacket