These things can vary greatly, and it would be easy to include a list of things out there that no one really needed, like an hardcover copy of all the JRR Tolkien novels. I think it would be pretty obvious that you don't need that, or I would hope so at least. This list is designed to make you think. As I have said in previous articles, I am not you, and you are not me. We don't do things the same, nor should we, but these are all things worth considering leaving at home if you want to get better at what you do.
1) Those things that only add weight, and little else. We all know what these things are. They are heavy, usually awkward and cumbersome. Often we carry them around with us throughout our shoot with this great intention of using it, only to get back home, unpack and realize you didn't even touch it. What this is can vary greatly per person, for me it tends to be things like extra glass or an extra tripod. This seems a bit ridiculous, but how often have you traveled miles and miles, often carrying your gear on your back, to and from the house to the car, the car to the shoot, and the shoot all the way back, only to unload your pack and realize that you didn't touch half the lenses in your case. Life would have been much easier had you just left those at home. I know its tempting to carry everything you can, and fill up every slot with gear, but it can be a waste of energy. Personally, I search for lenses that cover your bases as best you can, or fulfill a need when out there, and try and limit lenses that double up on focal length or functional use. Cutting 2 lenses can cut a lot of weight, and your shoulders will likely thank you for it.
I typically approach it like this. On longer trips especially I will make sure I have my focal range covered as best I can for the images I want to capture and what I want to work on. Do I want maximum versatility or do I want to focus on working on my composition and placement? Meaning am I taking 3 zoom lenses or taking 3 fixed focal length lenses? How wide do I really need to go? For wildlife, a 35mm lens is pretty wide, and a 24mm will often be too wide unless right on top of your subject and a 14mm lens is likely useless unless you have an Ellie right on top of you.
When you go to pack your bag, ask yourself this, am I packing it because I have the room to pack it? It is the most efficient use of the space? Do I honestly think I will get good use out of this? Is it something I will be upset with myself if I get back and realized I packed it all this time without using it? Or am I packing it because I will use it?
And don't forget, to many options can often just have you changing lenses and adjusting gear, instead of doing what you really need to be doing, just looking for something to photograph.
2) Next, those things that don't fit your style of photography. A remote shutter release in a camera bag of a street or wildlife photographer will likely sit there the entire afternoon with zero use. A flash for someone only there to photograph waterfalls or deep landscapes will likely be wasted space as they have such a limited range. Know what you are, and what you want to accomplish and focus on that. Carry gear that compliments your style and plan, and leave things behind that detract from what you want to do. Limiting what you take into the field with you often allows you to connect more with your gear, you don't have to think as much, or look for situations to use pieces of equipment, instead, you can focus on what you have, and how to use that to capture better images.
Wanting to work on a new style is one thing, packing extra slots in your bag full of tools that don't fit what you are working on this particular trip is something else entirely.
Ask yourself this. What am I photographing on this trip, and how am I photographing it? Will I honestly have time to use this piece of equipment enough to justify taking it?
3) Those things that belong at home, not out in the field. Primarily these are things that are breakable, often cumbersome or clunky, or are just plain out of place where you are going. First and most importantly on my list is laptops. Now don't get me wrong here, I take my laptop all over the world with me. It has been everywhere from Cuba to Africa, but it doesn't go in my camera bag out on a shoot. I don't carry it with me all day long. Opening it and operating it in the field is asking for two things, first is a cumbersome process. There is rarely a situation where it has made sense to pull it out and use it, it is just never practical from a location perspective. The second is a potential disaster. There are so many things in the field that can do damage to technology. Dust, dirt, wind, rain, water, rocks, and sand just to name a few. And all of these things can render a thousand or more piece of equipment utterly useless. I typically set it up at a station and there is stays for the next few days. I do my work, and come back to it at the end of the day. It stays safe, I stay sane, Carrying it with you is often just asking for a problem.
First question here, will I really use this piece of equipment out in the field? How will I use it? If I do use it, how much will I actually use it? Is it more of a novelty to use it while in the field, or is it practical? Is it more likely to break out there? Will its operation detract me from my work?
4) The things you have to read, and pay attention to far to much. These are your field guides and books about where you are going. They could be behavior books, or bird books, or journals. They might be magazines. Now, this is also a mixed issue, and can depend on what your overall objectives are, but if you are truly out there to photograph, leave the guide at home. Do your research before you go, review what you saw when you get back. Don't take yourself out of the moment by spending too much time reviewing, studying and searching for information. Spend your time experiencing and living in the moment. Your work will progress. When you close the books and open your eyes you will start to see the world in a far different light. Trail maps are different, you need those. But animal picture books, guides or behavior books, or even camera guides and manuals. Take those things on the trip, leave them in your room when you head out. While the information can help you connect to the subject, doing your legwork upfront will allow for a much more enjoyable and productive work in the field. Like the laptop, taking them into the field with you is also the fastest way to get it destroyed.
Ask yourself, how much do I intend to use this? And how much of what is in here do I already know? The funny thing is, the more you already know in the book, the more useful it may be to take it (as long as this thing does not fall into the category #1, #2 or #3). Field guides for example might help you identify animals or behaviors, but if you know a great deal from the book already, you will likely only use the books to jot down notes, or brush up on something. On the flip side, if you don't know anything in the book at all, you will likely spend far to much time reading and not enough time experiencing. Early on, it may just be best to sit back and enjoy, do your homework in the non-peak times to photograph, on the plane flights or before you leave. Don't do it while you are in the field.
5) Those things that take you out of the moment. This one is a little different, because most people don't put it in their camera bag, but leave it in their pocket. Its your cell phone, your iPad, your music, a book you want to read, or something like that. Leave those at home. When I head out into the field, I turn it off my phone the second I get on my first flight, and there it sits until I arrive home. I don't take an iPad, I typically only take field guides to review at night. The truth is, nothing can take you our of a moment faster than a ding from a cell, or a message update, or the opportunity to play a quick round of some stupid game. Learn to be where you are. Learn to enjoy where you are. Learn to love where you are. You cannot do that while glued to a phone. Don't update your Facebook from the field, do that when you get home. Adding too much technology or universal connectivity to a moment of pure nature can degrade the sense of connection. It is in this connection that your best images lie, and when you continue to take those elements away and separate yourself from the moment, your work suffers every time.
Ask yourself this, What is the point of brining this along with me? If its to check it often, or post updates on Facebook, or play a game in your downtime, leave it at home. If you need it for your work, thats one thing, if its because either you are afraid the world will forget about you if you don't post 5 times a day to Facebook. Or maybe you are afraid you will get bored. If you think these things right before you are going out to photograph I would think you need to consider re-evaluating why you are going to photograph in the first place. Photography is about connecting with your subject, and if what you are doing is taking a portion of your attention, your work will suffer, and suffer greatly.
The truth is, everything on this list above hinders your work, all to a different degree, but it all does. Everything here has a common thread, and a common theme, and its connection to who you are, and a connection to where you are. That, and that alone is how you produce top quality work, the rest of it, all that other stuff, they are just tools to help you get there, some more useful than others. When you get in touch with who you are as a photographer, your bag gets lighter, your gear starts to minimize, and your work starts to skyrocket.
Good luck out there.
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