Keeping All Options Open

October 03, 2022

Standing on the coastline of one of the Dutch islands with my camera bag strapped on my back, just gazing into the distance with the horizon so far away that the world looked endless, I inhaled deeply and felt the stress of the weeks before just drop off my shoulders. We came here to unwind, to rebuild my condition after a recent covid infection and to stare at the infinite horizons.

Keeping All Options OpenKeeping All Options OpenHow having less lens options might help you becoming a more creative and happier photographer

The weather was like it is supposed to be in autumn on these islands, blustery with lots of rain. It can be all seasons in just one day in this time of the year and it has a sense of wilderness that is very rare in this country. Not really deterred from the prospects of rain we walked long distances, just for the pleasure of walking and spending time together away from home. 

Because I don’t look complete without my camera, as my husband likes to say, I carried my small Leica Q2 every time we went out. The backpack with the other camera and lenses only on my shoulders when we had no intention of walking more than 15 kilometers. Just having one camera with one focal length with me, was part of the one lens, one camera project that I have been working on for a few months. The focal length of this lens is 28 mm and this rather limits your options, which is actually the point. Working with just one lens challenges you enough to enter a state of flow, which can not be achieved in a state of boredom or working on autopilot. You need to be totally involved in the process if you are pushing yourself just far enough outside your comfort zone, you become immersed in the process and you forget everything else that is going on around you. Time does not exist and your focus is as complete and narrow as it can be. 

The day came that we found ourselves hiking 20 kilometers to the far eastern point of the island, said to be remote and quiet. This of course appealed to me, being someone who actively seeks out to be alone. We arrived there and to our utter surprise a group of cyclists arrived there as well, even though it is said that this location can not be reached by bike or car. This was something like an anti climax for me and so we turned around to walk back along the shore. We had hoped to see some seals on the so called remote and quiet location in the east of the island, but as it was not quiet, there were no seals. However, as we walked back we were on our own again and a seal had just come ashore to take in some sunshine. As it was lying there, curving its body in sheer delight of having the sunlight warming up its wet skin, I was feeling the frustration of not having my telephoto zoomlens with me. All I could do was watch this seal as I would never want to scare this animal away just because I wanted to make an image.These is his home, I am just passing by and have no right to disturb it.

The day after that I had all lenses and two cameras with me to prevent such a thing from happening again and the beach looked like a sea of seabirds. We were on our own out there between thousands and thousands of birds and now I had a 70-200mm lens. I picked it up and started to look for a composition that might work and then I felt this tiny bit of frustration nagging me, which said : I wish I had a 100-400 lens on the camera right now. I laughed at myself, because this is what happens to many of us and many of us follow up these thoughts by adding more lenses to our collections. I choose to not believe those thoughts of not having enough anymore. I know better than to believe all thoughts that enter my mind.

When we arrived back at the cabin we were staying in, I started to think about options. After five months of working with my small camera with the 28mm lens on it and later with an additional 75mm lens, I think I can safely say that more options do not guarantee you’ll make better photos. In fact I am going to be daring and say the opposite is true. You might however miss out on a lot of shots you had in mind, but….you will also make photos that you did not have in mind and this last thing is probably quite important in inducing a state of flow, because you will have to work harder at finding compositions. You are stretching your abilities and this is a good thing.

For most people though, the missed shot will haunt them and they will do whatever they can to stop this from ever happening again. The disappointment of a missed photo can stay with some photographers for a very long time and some get quite depressed about it. This is why YouTube videos aimed at photographers with titles like :" This is why you need a ….(fill in the blank with 24-200 or 100-400 or 200-600mm) lens", are so popular. 

I will be bold and say that you don’t. You don't need that lens. Having all the options will not make you a better photographer. It will make you a photographer with lots more photos in your archives, it might also make you less frustrated when you miss a shot that you had so wanted to make, but…you might become a better observer and also a happier person if you stop pursuing more gear all the time. I used to be that person who wanted to cover all bases and I still have lenses from 16mm all the way up to 200mm, but then I stopped. I realized that I was always going to miss some shots that I had hoped to make, but I would also always be able to make some that I never thought I would. I have often believed that I missed out because I did not have a 100-400mm lens, but I was wrong. I did not miss out, I simply was not able to make some images and that is totally fine, because I made some others with the lenses I did have. 

Gazing at the waves rolling in from this vast sea I realize that not having the “right” lens actually helped me enjoy the moment. The long telephoto lenses are for those who specialize in this kind of photography. I can live without them. I’d rather be satisfied with what I have than to constantly stay in this state of needing something else, expanding my options. 

It turns out I expanded my options by limiting myself to one or two prime lenses these past few months. These lenses can go a long way and I missed the involvement in the process when I had my zoomlens back on the camera. I had thought this would come as a big relief, but the opposite was true. 

Heart of the ForestHeart of the Forest

And so one day I went out on a very foggy morning, the first one in a very long time for me, to photograph the forest and I did something daring. I left all my options at home and took just my Q2 with its 28mm lens and my other camera with a 75mm prime and made myself work with these. Less can be more if you are open to the opportunities instead of being stuck in expectations. 

It is the choices you make that in the end make up who you become, so make sure your choices are yours and question the voice telling you that you don't have enough options. To believe in it will never hush it. To act on its words, is to never be satisfied. 

Please check out my new workshop pages if you are interested in taking part in one of my upcoming autumn workshops.

As always I would like to express my gratitude for your interest in my work and writing. I highly appreciate it. I aim to keep writing these essays without sponsorships from third parties as much as possible, but of course writing these takes a lot of time and effort and if you feel compelled to support my work, please consider buying a print or my eBook The Magic of Forest Photography. I would be very grateful. 

My print shop went online recently and contains all portfolio images and all the images from the book Woodscapes and Praxisbuch Wälder Fotografieren. The prints are available in many sizes and on Xpozer (my personal favourite), canvas, aluminium dibond and many more. 

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