Just Eight Tools for My Gear Bag?


If our cameras are here to teach us how to see without them, what purpose should the photo tools in our gear bag serve? Here are four criteria for choosing the tools in the bag. My goal is to offer criteria for choosing effective gear that helps drive your vision.

The purpose of this article is to invite us to question our choices before we jump to acquire and lug around yet another piece of photo gear. This article is not a pitch to buy this brand, but instead offers a way to select gear. We will look at gear criteria.

“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”       ~Aristotle


Perhaps we use gear to help us make pictures, without getting in the way of our subject. Maybe our tools merely satisfy our itch to shop for new toys. While there are top-notch reasons for owning an array of  photographic tools, one of photography’s principals that has helped me assemble gear is the “KISS” or “Simplify” principle.

Trimming down what we carry is tough, so here we’ll ask: “IF I HAVE TO CHOOSE just 8 pieces of gear in my bag, which ones do I choose?”

Fundamentally, the criteria for choosing a piece of gear gets us to ask: Is it affordable, can I use it portably, can I let it go for something else, and does it flexibly and creatively help my craft?

Let’s think about the first four items. For these first few tools, as photographers we may have the main tools in common.The first four common items in the bag might be, for instance: 1) Camera body 2) Lens A 3) Lens B 4) Tripod.

The final four tools are the toughest to choose. Since our needs as photography are highly individual, perhaps a reasonable and flexible way to figure out 8 essential tools is determine the criteria for keeping a piece of gear in our bag day in and day out.

By criteria, I mean a quality like weight; many photographer’s value travelling light, so the weight of a tool takes on added meaning. For instance, the heavy metal tripod goes with the gear when travelling by car, the lightweight carbon fiber tripod gets packed for plane travel.

Know this: beginner or pro, we all go through the mental hoops of the Cirque du Soleil as we try to trim down our photo gear.


Each of us gives a different value, or weight, to the criteria we use. For instance, if you are reading this and think “Wait, he didn’t mention my iPhone”, I support your personal choice. What you won’t see here are the words “right gear.” It is clear that we all have highly individual criteria, and will each chose different gear sets.


1. ECONOMIC. Can I afford this tool?

2. ARTISTIC. Does this tool improve my range or vision, sharpness or some photographic quality I find invaluable? Does the tool help me express (share) my message? For instance, a tripod is listed in the first four tools because a tripod allows for longer exposures, and also makes for sharper images by decreasing camera movement.

3. ERGONOMIC. Does the gear fit well into my bag? Do I feel like I want to pick it up and use it (haptics, weight, size)? Does it balance the rest of the items in my bag?

4. EXPERIMENTAL. Can I experiment with the gear (open source, DIY, hack) or am I limited by a gear maker’s proprietary design?



Of course, you will curate your own  gear set depending on how you photograph. Here are my 8 choices, based on tools and gear I’ve used in the past year.

#8 FILTER. Polarizer and ND filter that are useful for nature and landscape.

#7 Tripod. Heavy and with tall extension.

#6 Extra Batteries for camera and for remote flash trigger.

#5 Underwater all weather point and shoot camera.

#4 Speedlight design flash and remote flash transmitter.

#3 Super Telephoto Lens. 200-500 mm.

#2 Wide Angle Prime lens, most often 20 mm for landscape and 28 mm for urban use.

#1 DSLR Camera body with multiple large, fast, reliable CF and SD memory cards.



We are only human, so we are going to want to fudge a bit on choosing just 8 pieces, and debate with ourselves about getting just one more piece of “essential” gear in the bag. There’s always the nagging, “but what if I need…”

A rubber air blower and microfiber cloth always go in the bag, because in dusty or wet weather it is impractical to make photographs without these cleaning tools. Our lenses get dirty and dusty, so to avoid damaging our expensive optics, use microfiber cloths instead of a tshirt for cleaning.

OK, now back to the TEN MINUS TWO concept: Let’s see what a top pro puts in his bag.

Responding to a reader’s question on his Facebook page, American photographer and best-selling author Scott Kelby wrote a piece on July 27, 2015 asking what 10 pieces of photographic gear he recommends.

To Mr Kelby’s credit, he gave two versions, and its clear from his choices that portraits are one of his specialties. Mr. Kelby offered suggestions for ten items he’d choose if he had to start over on a budget, and to appeal to a wider audience, another 10 piece version based on gear that he currently owns. Without listing or endorsing any brands, and with all product info removed, I constructed a schema of Mr Kelby’s ten pieces of recommended gear, pictured here.


Each of us has unique photographic needs, so our gear varies widely. Teaching pros, Portrait pros, Wedding pros, Filmmakers and Videographers, Nature photographers –we all have unique skill sets, so each one of us is searching for a effective tools to create our work. Hopefully this article gives you good ideas how to choose the best gear to drive your exceptional vision.

Jim Austin Jimages is a commercial photographer and adventure photographer. Austin is devoted to teaching workshops and One: One Coaching. He lives aboard the sailing catamaran Salty Paws, underway to Nova Scotia for summer 2017. 


All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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