What is a Minimalist Photographer?

Minimalism: a style or technique that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity. m-w.com

Simplicity is Divine

People often make things more complicated than they need to be. And that’s especially true with photography.

Many photographers are technically oriented and can go on and on about their gear and the pros and cons of each piece. Nevermind the art of it.

Others are gearheads, always seeking out new pieces to add to their already large photography equipment collection. What they have is never quite enough.

But in both cases I prefer simplicity over complexity. Less really is more.

Traditional Idea of Minimalism in Photography

Some people think of minimalistic photography in terms of what’s actually captured in an image. Traditionally, a minimalistic photo has very few elements in it. It’s simple and clean. And a minimalistic photographer could be described as one who takes only images that adhere to this philosophy.

Vernazza, Italy Sunset by Kim Olson

This is about as minimalistic as my images get. Taken in Vernazza, Italy, as the sun was setting.

My Version of Minimalism

Then there’s my version of minimalism as it pertains to photography.

For me, being a minimalist photographer has less to do with the outcome than the means to get there. I define photo minimalism as using only what you need to still create images you love.

I’ve always been a pretty lean photographer, so I prefer to carry as little as possible. I like to shoot on the go and spend just as much time in the moment as capturing the moment.

Less gear = less fuss = more enjoyment.

What Photo Gear Do You Actually Need?

With so many advances in digital photography technology, it’s easy to think you need to upgrade to the latest and greatest. And in the beginning this was probably true. My first digital camera was pretty pathetic and I think I can only make prints up to 8×10″.

But now that digital has caught up (and some say surpassed) film photography, once you purchase your core items, you’ll rarely need to upgrade. Though a couple of exceptions I can think of would be if 1) you couldn’t afford the gear you wanted in the beginning and you’re ready to upgrade or 2) you weren’t sure which pieces you’d need to best shoot the subjects you photograph most so it makes sense to swap out.

So what do you actually need to make beautiful images? At the most basic level, I’d argue you only need two things: a camera and you.

What Gear is Good to Have

Of course you’re not going to take a bunch of stellar images with just a camera, especially if your only camera happens to live on your phone.

Don’t get me wrong, though. The phones nowadays are capable of capturing images quite well. Especially if that’s the only camera you have on you.

Trees, sky & pond at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

Captured with my phone while on a morning walk at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

What I’m saying is that your abilities will certainly expand as you have better and more gear – but only up to a certain point. I think once you go beyond the essentials, a lot of your gear becomes filler and will go unused most of the time.

Some equipment, like tripods, are considered must haves for landscape photographers. And it’s true that there are times you simply won’t be able to take the same images as someone who does have extra gear for that purpose.

But sometimes you really can do without and I think it’s helpful to take a moment to really examine what you’ll use, what gear you really need and then forget the rest.

Union Square in New York during Christmas

This shot was taken handheld since tripods and I don’t get along.

The Essentials

My setup is pretty simple. I rely on 1 camera body, have ever only owned 3 lenses and do the majority of my editing in Lightroom. That’s the essence of what makes up my photography.

Do I want more lenses? Sometimes. I know I don’t own the best gear. But I make it work for me and it almost pushes me more when I know I have to work with what I have.

I do also have a few accessories to round out my collection of gear, but on the whole, that’s it. I can carry everything I need in one bag and still make images I’m happy with.

The Bottom Line

The biggest thing I hope for you to take away is that you don’t necessarily need a lot of gear in order to create gorgeous images. You do, however, need the right pieces and know how to use them.

The right pieces will vary person to person based on what you like to shoot, but I fully believe that if you’re not a professional photographer and just want to make images you love without all the fuss, you’ll be good to go with only 1 camera body, about 3 lenses and 1 image-editing software program.

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12 Responses to What is a Minimalist Photographer?

  1. Ernest Spadafore November 9, 2013 at 11:34 am #

    Which three (3) lenses do you use. If possible, specifics please. Thanks.

    • Kim November 10, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

      Hi, Ernest – Here’s a post I wrote that goes into detail about all the gear I use and own:

      https://www.simplerphoto.com/my-photo-gear/

      • Ernest Spadafore November 10, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

        Kim,

        Thanks for the details on the Canon EF 50mm lens.

        Do you know if there is an IS version. I’m getting a bit shaky these days.

        Thanks again,

        Ernest

        • Kim November 10, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

          Hmm, I honestly don’t keep up with gear a whole lot. I did initial research 5 years ago and haven’t done any since. The good thing about the 50mm 1.8 though is that when you shoot pretty wide open, there’s so much light going in that shake is a little less noticeable. That said, though, I know what you mean – I’ve had troubles in low-light conditions. I’ve dealt with it by upping the ISO or putting it on a timer/tripod. Hope that helps!

  2. Howard Harawitz November 10, 2013 at 7:24 am #

    Thanks for posting that. I agree completely. I have one camera — a Canon G11. I like it because it has all the features I need and I can easily carry it with me. I also use Lightroom for processing and organizing my photos.

    Cheers and regards,

    Howard Harawitz
    Alameda, California

    • Kim November 10, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

      Thanks for your comment, Howard! That’s great that you get what you need out of the G11 and Lightroom. I’ve been recently debating about going to a micro four thirds system since it’s so much smaller and lighter that DSLR gear. I’ve been using my iphone for so many photos these days that I think it’s time to at least consider downsizing further.

  3. Paul November 11, 2013 at 8:50 am #

    I shoot with a Canon T2i and kit lens that I have never been happy with. Came to realize it was the lens alone that bothered me. My images were rarely as sharp as ones I’d see online. OK, and my images were very unimaginative. So now I am working at actually SEEING what’s around me, not taking that first shot! And I’m saving up for a new lens! I think this post is very informative. Thank you.

    • Kim November 12, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

      Oh, for sure. Lenses have *a lot* to do with the quality of the images. And when asked if I think someone should invest in better lenses or bodies, I personally think lenses are the better investment. I wrote about it here, actually: https://www.simplerphoto.com/better-camera-body-or-lenses/

      And I still highly recommend the 50mm f/1.8 that only costs about $120. I use it more than any other lens and the images are top-notch!

  4. anotherview November 12, 2013 at 5:39 am #

    In doing landscape photography, a minimalist approach to it would include a circular polarizing filter along with the correct use of it.

    Proper hand-holding technique with today’s optical stabilization obviates the tripod for most general photography.

    A minimalist kit should include lens-cleaning gear. I use the LensPen cleaner.

    https://www.lenspen.com/

    If doing photography with flash lighting, then of course the gear essential for this photographic approach will add to the minimalist kit. Even so, I’ve found in practice I can get all the useful gear needed in one bag, including camera, lens, dedicated flash, and an external power pack.

    In the beginning, I carried plenty of photography gear just in case. But it burdened me, and I used mainly only part of it. Today I carry far less, and do just fine making do with what I have.

    • Kim November 12, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

      Absolutely, a polarizing filter helps heaps when it comes to landscape photography. And I manage to get by fine without a tripod so long as I hold steady or prop the camera up on an improvised tripod.

      Good point about the lens cleaning gear. I have a pen and cloth (though I don’t use the pen that often).

      Glad you’ve learned to carry and get by with less. I started with very little and now carry even less than that. For me, if it’s the choice between bringing everything (which is too heavy so I don’t usually want to) or going out with a single lens and body, I’ll opt for the latter.

      • anotherview November 12, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

        For the minimum, I try to get everything in one camera bag: Camera with lens mounted, CP filter in a protective pouch, spare battery, spare memory card, and a LensPen cleaning tool. Nothing else, I can go all day and shoot hundreds of pictures with this nominal set of gear.

        • Kim November 12, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

          Sounds like a pretty ideal setup to me! :)