Using Less Gear Will Actually Improve Your Photography

Throw Away Your Camera Gear; Haoyuan Ren on

If you think that getting the next lens, body or strobe will instantly improve your photography, photographer Haoyuan Ren suggests a different point of view (no pun intended).

Ren has been shooting for about seven years and is landing jobs with the big magazines and shooting celebrities (Tilda Swinton, Dean Norris shown above and Taylor Schilling stood in front of his lens). Interestingly, Ren’s advice for photographers is to use less gear.

In an interview with InMyBag Ren’s suggests to throw away as many pieces of gear as you can (or actually not to buy them in the first place). Ren advices that:

These days, we are constantly told by manufacturers through advertisements and reviews that having the next best thing will bring us better pictures.  In reality, it’s not always the case…

And has a valid point as to why too much gear is actually bad for you:

Too much gear will slow you down, not just physically, but you’ll have too many technical choices.
The benefit is that less gear gets you thinking creatively, in both problem solving & shooting.
Push you from your comfort zone, get you trying new things, this in turn helps keeps your style fresh.

So it is no surprise that Ren’s baseline kit is not that big, he carries a Nikon D800, 3 lenses (Nikon 85mm f1.8, 35mm f1.8, 50mm f1.4) and a Ricoh GR, along with some small miscellaneous items.

Throw Away Your Camera Gear; Haoyuan Ren on

Hard to argue with the results. (The original post has a few more incredible photographers operating on minimal gear)

[How to Get More Creative: Throw Your Camera Gear Away | InMyBag]

  • yopyop

    These portraits are great (along with Tilda Swinton when you follow the link). My question is : how does he light ? With a flashlight and a small reflector ?!

    • Haoyuan Ren

      1 speedlight + 1 umbrella + 1 reflector. Still light and simple.

      • yopyop

        Thanks Ren. So (not trying to be a smartass, promise), the photograph does not exactly show your complete gear list, right ? I’m genuily interested in this because I am too leaning towards simplicity.

        • Haoyuan Ren

          Besides what you see, I have a 24-70 (that I never use) and a Nikon SB-900 (which I also never use) and a tripod. I don’t own any other bodies or cameras besides what you see. My goal was always to fit what’s needed in a small messenger photo bag and right now I am using the Tenba Messenger DNA11, that means i don’t buy 1.4 primes either (and they’re expensive).

          In order to keep with the simplicity, my lighting kit consists of 2 speedlights, 2 umbrellas and 2 lightstands. I only use one light whenever possible and the second light is for backup.

          I don’t have much, and everything else I listed are considered nonessential and I can still shoot without them.

          At one point I had 20, 24, 28, 35, 40, 50, 85mm prime lenses, and it was annoying and debilitating. So you can see why I decided to scale down and now only use what I have in my bag.

          • yopyop

            Thanks for your answer !

  • Dave Neal

    That makes ablot of sense. As a ‘training exercise’, why not pick one lens and go out for the day? I don’t do it often, but tje most memorable was a manual-focus Sigma 90mm. I learnt about modest macro work, but a LOT about zooming-with-your-feet and parallax :)

    • Nexus

      I do this all the time ‘start out my day with say a 85mm’ and only IF & WHEN required will I curse that I didn’t bring a bag full of glass! ( more importantly, I can consciously answer WHY another lens would have gotten the shot )

  • Viggo Næss

    Hank! :oD

  • Viggo Næss

    Hank! :oD

  • Bob Pease

    I have almost the same kit, except I’m a Canon shooter. I couldn’t agree more – I know exactly which gear will get me a shot to work with and I just have to get creative with my choices if I find myself in a tricky situation.

  • Vin Weathermon

    Strobist has a whole video series on travel photography where he makes the argument that if you can limit yourself to small compact everything, leaving no “single point of failure”, that you will be a better photographer because you are truly free to live in the moment…not wearing yourself out carrying bags of gear. He has a point….but when I go out for the day with one lens (say that insanely expensive 85mm f1.2) I quite often am bummed I can’t shoot 16mm wide. And when I had the Fuji X100S, I wanted thin DOF and tight but with the fixed lens I was stuck. Sooooo…I’m one of those guys that drags the overstuffed camera backpack around.

    • Lukas Prochazka

      well if really matter what kind of photography you are doing I think. portraiture photographers ussually dont go to 16mm and if they do they plan it so probably wont take 85mm…if I would do big jobs I would still have bunch of gear carrying with me in big pelican cases carried by assistents 😀 …

  • Haoyuan Ren

    Thanks for the write up! I don’t regret having a small kit one bit, it’s very nice to not have to worry about a rolling case when traveling.

    • Rod

      You use a 35mm DX lens on FX camera?

      • Haoyuan Ren

        No, it’s the FX G. I think there is a mix up somewhere.