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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Accessories For A Minimalist

The essential equipment for those who aspire to lightening up

This Article Features Photo Zoom
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: Heliopan Variable ND Filter; Honl Speed Snoot; Lightpanels MicroPro

Minimalism is the process of stripping something down to the most fundamental elements.
The bare essentials. Usually people talk about minimalism in terms of an art form like music or painting. Here we're talking about being a minimalist with your gear and your approach to photography.

The broad economic downturn continues to hit professional photographers hard. Today we're competing against iStock and other inexpensive forms of media, as well as a cadre of talented individuals who look at photography as a way to earn a few extra bucks on the side of their regular jobs and careers. Shedding studio overhead and adapting a go-anywhere, do-anything attitude is one way that pros are making ends meet in a challenging environment that has become the new normal.

We've used the term "run-and-gun" before. It refers to the "get in, get the shot and get out" type of work that many pros do today. Minimalism, while definitely related, isn't the same thing. Minimalism and minimalist photographers adhere to an overall philosophy that pervades all aspects of one's photography, from concept to execution. It's a holistic approach. On the gear side, being a minimalist means keeping things simple. Never set up two lights when one will do. Avoid convoluted setups. Streamline and simplify wherever possible. As you're reading this, it seems obvious, but the first thing many photographers do when they start setting up is pull out three or four light heads and start unpacking a case full of modifiers.

microGaffer Tape
Don't misunderstand; lightening up your gear doesn't mean doing without the necessary tools to get the job done right. It means thinning down your kit to the minimum to be lightweight and svelte. To be a photography minimalist, you need to figure out the most important tools to have at your disposal and then examine what's available to reduce the overall footprint of those tools. For example, everyone needs stands on a set, but a C stand can be a bulky and heavy item. Can you get away with a lightweight telescoping stand instead? There are plenty of tools that can't be thinned down, but wherever possible, a minimalist goes for smaller and lighter.

Part of the holistic approach of minimalism applies to postproduction software and the "fix it in Photoshop" mentality, too. It's easy to become complacent about the ability of software to fix it in post. More often than not, however, this isn't an efficient way to go about your work. Fixing flaws in Photoshop can take a lot of time, and if you have to pay someone else to do it, you can be spending a lot of money. When you're a minimalist, you rely on yourself and the gear you have on hand to make the shot perfect when you press the button. If you can't make it perfect, you do everything possible to reduce the time needed at the computer.

One reason why so many pros aren't in the minimalist camp is because they want to make an impact on the client. If you show up for a big-dollar shoot, you may be self-conscious about setting up a single light while you pull a compact DSLR out of your bag. Having lots of impressive gear and a big entourage make an impact on a client, but today it may not be the impact you hope for. A big crowd can make a client start to wonder where their money is going.

Becoming a minimalist does several things for you. First, it gives you the ability to pack up and be ready to shoot on location with all of your equipment. Second, it focuses you; instead of being distracted by endless possibilities, your brain shifts gears into solving a puzzle with the tools at hand. It can be a liberating experience.


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