One Piece of Non-Photo Gear that Changed My Photography
I’ve never been a Gear Guy, a Toy Boy, or a Next Big Thing Nerd. And, while I do enjoy technology as much as the next person, there’s a part of me that deeply detests the arms race culture of new, next, now that infiltrates every aspect of modern photography. I personally feel that if you are seeking better photos you should invest in experiences, not equipment. Yet as a pragmatist, I’m forced to acknowledge that certain gear can certainly help elevate your photography.
There is one piece of non-photographic gear in particular that has helped me get more unique and interesting shots than any new camera, lens, or filter. What is this miracle product? Well, that would be a dashing pair of olive green fishing waders.
Your author rocking his photo fashion at an extreme level
I bought my first pair of waders on a month-long photography trip to New Zealand in 2012. I started with hip waders and later graduated to full chest waders. As if I had grown a pair of wings, I found that they opened up new realms of photography for me. No longer was I confined to stream banks, lakeshores, and dry sand. Should a photo demand it, I could now stand crotch, navel, or even nipple deep in icy rivers or lakes, happily photographing away with nary a worry for the dampness of my body’s most sensitive parts.
No more was I stuck in the land of if only. “Wow, there’s a great shot out near that submerged tree trunk, if only I could get to it.” Or “I know those icebergs would make amazing subjects for a wide angle photo, if only I could somehow reach them.” With those if only obstacles removed, I could focus on the far more important task at hand: taking the photos I wanted to take.
For example, those icebergs I mentioned a paragraph ago… they were floating merrily away on Hooker Lake in Mt. Cook National Park in New Zealand. So beautiful, so sculpted, so unusual; they were just begging to be used in a photo. Two nights in a row I made the gobsmackingly-gorgeous trek out to the lake with my waders dangling from the back of my pack, looking more like a fish-loving hobo than a photographer.
Arriving at the milky blue waters of the lake, I kicked off my hiking shoes, wriggled into the waders, and with the gracefulness of a ballerina smashing pies with her face, I plunged into the water. I carefully ambled up to the most interesting ‘berg, dinging my shins horribly in the process (a painful reminder that about 90% of an iceberg lies hidden underwater). Then, blissfully immune to the 35-degree water surrounding me, I waited until the last light of day blew a rosy kiss across the top of Aoraki / Mt. Cook, and snapped one of my favorite portfolio shots:
This is a shot I otherwise would not have gotten were it not for my unassuming fishing waders. Ultimately though, the waders are not really just waders, but rather a metaphor for what I believe all gear purchases should be – a way to remove obstacles between you and your creative freedom. Buying equipment should not be a way to temporarily relieve the farty symptoms of GAS, a way to impress the pixel-peepers, or a chance to be as cool as [insert influential photographer here]. Gear, simply put, should act as a tool to help you achieve your own unique vision as a photographer.
Got any other weird pieces of non-photo gear that help you with your photography? Share them in the comments below!
what a nice lecture, but tell me man, how do you fit chest waders in your backpack? do you tie them outside the bag? thx and greetings from Scotland
I usually roll them up and cinch them to the top or back of the bag. Pain in the butt but often worth the weight!
sure it looks like a pain! anyway thanks for the advice
Wish you had given me this tip earlier Josh, to get a similar image I had to do 26 return trips to Hooker lake carrying timber to construct a jetty out to the icebergs!
Question: Do your waders have built in boots? I haven’t found any good ones for women.
I have waders, but the few times I’ve used them, I’ve had to call my husband to come pull me out of the mud! LOL!
I also use a kayak – love it!
Awesome idea… I’m not around water often, or it’s deepish flowing water with slipper river rock as a base – not ideal for standing in with a camera – slips are easy!! I like the kayak idea, but hard to lug around with a bike!!
The best advice, as others have said, is to treat gear as a way to remove obstacles. For instance – the 20mm lens I just bought used isn’t the sharpest, nor is it likely to create award-winning images – but it helped me to get wider views when I want to. Having a 3D printer (or access to one) has also helped me to create different accessories, adapters, etc. An expensive tool that my school paid for [ ;-) ], but quite useful to remove a few more obstacles!
Exactly right! Treat gear as a way to remove obstacles. That way you’re focused on the experience and the image. Sounds like you’ve got a good thing going with that printer! Have fun out there.
This is a wonderful piece of advice…never thought of it that way….Thanks Joshua
My pleasure, Aseem!
That is an incredibly well-written article! What I wonder now, as an amateur landscape photographer, is how to protect the camera and gear from the water being so near to the lens? What about splashes, etc.? How is the equipment protected being in such close-proximity to the elements?
Here is a short video that show how we protect our gear: Keep Your Camra Dry
Thanks, Desiree. In addition to the video Jay linked to I can say that simply being vigilant takes care of 95% of the issues you might encounter. Aside from common sense precautions and care, I also keep a cheap rain sleeve in my bag, as well as a waterproof cover for the bag. If I know I’m going out in the rain I’ll sometimes bring an umbrella as well. And if the conditions are so bad that all that’s not enough, then most likely I don’t want to shoot anyway!
Excellent piece Joshua. I agree totally about the photographic ‘arms race’…you don’t need the ‘best’ equipment to take great photos…As you point out, creativity and ingenuity are key concepts. Nicely written too, by the way
Cheers, Jay. I like to say that you can pound in a nail with almost any hammer. So too with photography if you have the tools you need to achieve your vision.
Well said Josh! I feel the same way about my winter mitts/gloves. Living in Canada, where temps can fall to -40C in the winter my convertible mitt/gloves are the key to allowing me to continue to get out there and be creative. Awesome article – and stunning images!
Um, brrrrrrr!!! In those temps I think I’d be looking more for an electric blanket and a good book rather than convertible mittens….. :)
Thanks for sharing this great piece. My kayak and paddleboard expand my photography horizons in the non-frozen months. Can’t wait to get some waders. I love Joshua’s way of looking at the world and himself. Best bio ever written:)
Aw, thanks, Uschi! I bet the kayak and paddleboard get you to some really cool places indeed!