Gear, like most stuff it seems, accumulates over time.  Before you know it, you’ve got more stuff than you know what to do with.  And, yeah, each piece is important as it responds to some specific potential situation or use.  With other genres of photography, perhaps you can just roll in bags and bags of gear to the set, home, studio, etc.  But, with landscape photography, that is not the case.  Gear must be toted on your back over varied terrain for relative distances.  What to do?

When I started this photography journey I was in my late twenties and my view corresponded.  With an athletic background and a stubborn streak I figured I could carry any amount of gear any distance without fail.  Hell, give me someone else’s gear as well and I’ll carry both of our burdens up the mountain.  And if I couldn’t for whatever reason, I figured I would just hit the gym to make whatever adjustments necessary to handle the load.  If I had the gear, I was going to bring it.  The naïve thought was that while the individual next to me was compromising because they didn’t want to slug the weight, I would be ready with gear in hand to capture the beautiful scene!  Luckily (although I didn’t think so at the time) I didn’t have the financial resources to obtain all the heavy gear that would’ve tested that mindset.

When I started out I also had an entirely different photography process.  Photography was balanced with outside career pursuits, meaning I could only get out and about for targeted, short periods of time with the camera.  Hikes were short and intense, followed by longer periods of non-photography work.  Each time I broke free for photography I was starving for the experience and full of pent up energy to attack the trail and experience the outdoor life I was otherwise missing.  It was like breaking free from school for summer break or finding water after a long hike; I couldn’t imagine getting enough!

Over the years, things have changed considerably for me.  Most importantly, I made the decision to go full-time with landscape photography.  Now, when I’m out in the field it is usually for ten-day stretches at a minimum; sometimes trips can extend into one or two months without seeing four walls.  For a combination of financial and practical reasons, I camp while traveling.  And yeah, my gear load has grown as I’ve expanded my kit and added redundancy where necessary to fulfill commitments.  Mentally, things have changed as well.  I’m not limited anymore; I get my fill of the outdoors.  The challenges are less about getting somewhere and more about making somewhere productive when I’m there.  I have to be much more careful about my own pacing and process.  And it goes without mentioning that I’m now in my mid-thirties; the bulletproof has worn off.

So, to answer the question directly, no, I don’t bring my full kit on every outing.  I match my gear to the location and conditions that I’m seeing, and those that are forecast.  In fact, now that I’m full-time with photography and have less restriction with my time on location, I spend a good amount of time hiking without any cameras at all.  I bring my cell phone and call these little outings scouting trips.  Whenever I arrive on location, I will take the first couple days to walk around during mid-afternoon light with no weight whatsoever on my back in the locations I hope to shoot during the trip.  I document all the different opportunities I can find with the cell phone.  I try to figure out what the optimal focal length will be to document the various subjects, as well as what filters and/or auxiliary gear I might need etc.  I try to imagine what light and conditions will translate most powerfully to convey the subject.  Then, during the sweeter light of the morning and evening hours (or whatever dynamic light I’m after), I tailor my bag each outing to match the opportunities I saw during my scouting trips.  The heaviest I keep my bag these days is the D810 with a wide and medium lens and the MkII with the macro–that covers every focal distance from 17mm to 70mm (plus the 100mm macro).  I rarely use telephoto.  My filters are all the same thread size, so a handful of those contributes minimal weight.  I have a couple 128GB cards and about five batteries providing me plenty of juice should I find something spectacular.  Two mini flashlights and a headlamp for those super early or late outings.

Do I miss opportunities this way?  Sure.  Without a doubt.  But I know, from personal experience, that the price of burning out physically or mentally will cost me far more photographs in the long run.  The best gear in the world won’t fix being physically spent or mentally shot when it’s time to work.  Not to mention, sometimes it’s just nice to sit back and experience something neat without a camera.  I’ve always been in this game to spend more time active outdoors.  The creativity and the photography, while intoxicating, exist only to enable that experience for me.  I’ve learned to keep that foremost.

Got a question?  Fire away!  Use the comments section below and keep an eye on the blog in the near future for an answer.

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