Traveling Light Gets You Photos You Might Have Missed Otherwise

· 21.April.2021

Whenever I leave the house I always have a camera. Even if it is just a quick jaunt to the market or a restaurant. Call it my security blanket if you will, but I feel better knowing I will not miss a shot that for me, a cell phone camera image just can’t compare.

Traveling light is important on these occasions, as I want the advantage of being able to get a high-quality image yet don’t want to be lugging around a bag full of equipment.

Featured image above: I’m going to the gym before the sun rises. Sitting at a stop light, waiting to turn left, I thought the combination of the morning sky, the bus, and the streetlights interesting. The camera was on the seat next to me.

Going light is not as easy as it sounds. To help me make up my mind I purchased a Domke D700 bag, which holds a camera body and two lenses, a notepad, a couple of extra batteries and SD cards and a pen. Period. Nothing more. Give me more room and I’ll start adding stuff, and weight, that I just don’t need and will ultimately just get in my way.

My wife was talking with me in my office when our dog Bailey hopped up on the back of the couch to say hello, slowly inching forward in a sign of affection.

My usual gear for the bag includes a Fujifilm X-E3 with the very light 16-50mm lens, accompanied by a faster lens, perhaps the 23mm F2 or 35mm F1.4 for those times I need the speed.

But my idea of traveling light may not be the same for you. Don’t have an X-E3? Don’t buy one. Use what you have. Almost all the X-series bodies are compact compared to competitors and any of the X-T- or X-Pro-series cameras will work just as well. But resist adding more. When you see something worth taking a photo of and you pull out your camera and other “stuff” comes flying out as well, you probably lost the whole advantage of traveling light.

After dinner in San Bernardino, California, my friend and I went to the local commuter rail station to see what was there. He was leaning against a pole when a train arrived. I held my breath and prayed it would be on focus.

Have I lost a few grab shots because I didn’t bring a longer or wider lens? Probably. But since it is for me, rather than a client, I’m not worried about it. If I can’t capture a good scene with what I brought I should take up being a sketch artist.

I developed this attitude from a legion of great photographers I never met but saw through their wonderful work under sometimes arduous conditions. I’m talking about the photo-journalists of the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s who shot for Life and Look and a dozen other magazines where the events of the world were brought to us via printed page long before the Internet and digital technology.

These photographers used the best equipment they could get their hands on at the time. Even so, a lot of it was crap compared to what is available today, usually consisting of a rather slow 28mm, a medium-speed 35, a fast 50, and a 90. 135mm’s were available but were seldom any good. That was their kit.

The point is that these men and women were usually relegated to what today we see as a medium wide-angle lens, a normal lens, and a short telephoto, and a couple of bodies. Their bag was light, they traveled fast, and it was their skill and vision, not the equipment, which brought home incredible images from faraway places.

My friend Chris Jackson was showing us the sights and sounds of his native England via train. He become so engrossed in the ride he didn’t even realize I took a photo of him.

This is not to say we should not take advantage of new technology that makes capturing images undreamt of back then. On the contrary, embrace the Fuji 50mm F1.0, the 56mm F1.2, the 200mm F2 and what they can do for you if that is what you need to take a shot unimaginable a half-century or more ago. But don’t underestimate your own talent in using your existing gear, as well. Fujifilm, in my opinion, makes a killer 35mm F2 that is so good I take it for granted it that it will always perform well for me even wide open. The great photographers of yesterday would have given their souls for this kind of speed and quality, and we can buy a copy almost anywhere and at any time. Marvelous.

My mother-in-law in her late 80’s in her retirement home. I had come to visit when she sat down exhausted. It was not easy to take this photo, but I felt I had to.

If you just can’t pull yourself to travel with but a single body, there is a flipside. I have a friend who uses Fuji equipment and loves the fact that its lighter and smaller size allows him to schlep even more stuff around. He has a 100-400 always mounted on a camera body to pull out when needed. When he’s traveling, he says, he never knows how long he’s going to be out for and what he going to need, so he carries almost everything he owns. But even with that philosophy, he has a small bag with a single camera – usually his X100V or X-T3 and lens – when he just feels like walking around.

My wife’s hair stylist was finishing up his work when I said, “Hey Frank!” He knew I had a camera and quickly posted for me.

Ultimately, it depends on what you are comfortable doing, and when not on assignment, even a self-made one, enjoying the day out in the field doing photography.

Try it. Bring just one camera and perhaps the 18-55 lens. Or the 16 and 50, the 27 and the 60. Whatever the combination, make it work. The more you shoot, the better you get. The better you get, the luckier you get. It’s that simple.

Wilmer is a drywaller. He took a break from work and spotted me. He looks like no one you would ever want to tangle with. In reality, he’s a sweetheart.