Some people say:”Your gear doesn’t matter, it’s all about the skill of the man behind the camera”. I don’t completely agree.
There are times when you simply cannot take the picture that you envisioned in your head because your gear doesn’t allow you to. When I talk about “gear” I refer to everything you carry with you: camera, lenses, filters, bag, tripod, clothes, shoes etc etc.
The first time that I went to the source of the river called Dong Shan (Winter Mountain) I had a rough idea of what to expect and I carried the usual suspects for landscape/waterfall photography. You can read the full report of that trip here but to give you an idea of the result here’s the best picture I managed to take:
This picture has a few problems when it comes to composition, and the main problem is that there’s too much stuff inside the frame. It feels like the main subject of the picture is not the waterfall itself, but the whole area. Before hiking there I had no idea how close I could get to the waterfall, and that’s way too far for a ultra wide angle lens. I took the shot on a tripod with the Tokina 11-16 and even after cropping it I still think it’s not very good. The 50mm lens had a different composition problem: in the picture I could only fit the waterfall, and it looked kinda boring.
I guessed there could be a way to cross the river and get close to the base of the waterfall, but I had a ton of gear with me, wrong shoes and the whole area was extremely slippery, so I decided to call it a day.
On the 2nd of February I went back there, and this time I knew what to expect and I adjusted my gear accordingly. No tripod, no Tokina, no prime lens and a few other adjustments took almost 3 kilograms out of my backpack, and a good pair of hiking shoes completed the loadout.
I managed to walk next to the river but there was no way to cross it and keep my feet dry at the same time, so I covered the bag with a waterproof sheet, took off my shoes and jumped in the river. Crossing the river gives the chance to take a straight up shot of the waterfall, but the shot that I preferred was this one, taken form the center of the river itself:
Since the water of the river flows very quickly I knew that I didn’t need a tripod to get a nice shot. A 1/5 of a second was good enough and holding the camera against a flat(ish) rock made the trick. I used the Sigma 17-70mm C for this shot, it was the only lens that I decided to carry with me because I knew the surroundings and there was no need to go wider than 17mm. I think during the whole trip I only took one shot at 17mm and I didn’t even like it a lot.
I could list a few more examples of situations when I was 100% that my equipment was absolutely fit for the occasion, but it turned out that I was wrong. In this specific case the old saying “Less is more” is what allowed me to jump in the river safely while carrying all my stuff, and find a rock where I could leave my backpack while I was taking my shot.
“Having the right gear” on that day meant to carry the least amount of equipment possible, along with a waterproof sheet and the single lens that I knew would cover my needs.