Thursday, December 16, 2010

Minimalism and Photography/Filmmaking

Here’s a cool word that people keep throwing around. Some of you may know what it means, some maybe not. It seems to be pretty vague, but to put it simply; it’s a life that focuses on less being more.

I actually decided to move the “How I came to practicing minimalism” at the end of this blog as it’s really long and drawn out and I’d rather give you, the reader, the examples that I’m currently using. Feel free to keep reading for the history of if you so please.

However… in this blog I want this blog to focus on how you can apply minimalism to your filmmaking and photography as it might save you some money, and time when packing to head out on a shoot. I’ll briefly cover how I intend to pack my suitcase, my gear bag and how I justify calling myself a Minimalist at all.

Lets start at the bottom. Yes, there’s some conflict having a desire to be in an ever changing, technologically advancing industry. However, I love making films or shooting photography as a hobby, I feel buying equipment doubles as a business expense and a pastime when I purchase something. I’ve also begun letting go of many other hobbies and putting that money towards relieving debt and clearing up space in my house.

I’ve also noticed that while I’m not a hardcore minimalist and will never be able to fully follow that mindset, applying it to certain areas (especially impulse shopping) has seriously reduced the stress I have in my life.

I’ve also learned that spending money on experiences is much more rewarding than spending money on stuff. . I have the travel bug. And if not eating out at restaurants saves me money to travel the country or farther, so be it… it’s a small price to pay.

Now, packing. Seeing as I want to travel and not be over-burdened by bags of stuff I probably won’t use… here’s some tips I intend to put to use on my two week trip around Washington after Christmas.

With space like this... how can I not make it two weeks? My cat Lun Tha passed through to make sure that you could see the scale of the bag.

How I plan to pack is more simple than what I plan to pack… the how is really just use this small suitcase to keep me from needing to check anything if I fly. If I don’t fly, than it’s to keep me light and mobile.

What I’ll pack consists obviously about the weather. One pair of shoes (be that casual or work/tennis), a couple of shirts, two pairs of pants. My goal for packing my clothes is to keep it doable for five days before I need to do laundry. Rolling the clothes tightly will give them wrinkles but will leave me more space in the bag. Basic toiletries will also go in there. Something like toothbrush and paste, a travel thing of soap and shampoo (if I might be somewhere that I can’t just get some complimentary (I love hotels!) and deodorant and finally… cologne. The end. I don’t really need much more than that. It might change if I were going to say… a tropical island. I may leave a pair of pants in exchange for swim trunks and shorts. But whatever. I’ll post some pictures showing how I packed for the two week trip when I pack.

Now… my gear bag. That’s why you’re here right? You don’t care about my clothes or my minimalism other than how it can effect your photo/film situation. Ok well here’s how my ideal would pack and this is also what I’m working towards…

Canon 7d (although maybe later that would change to a 5d… Or a spare body)

Tokina 11-16mm 2.8 lens

Canon 24-70mm 2.8L lens

Canon 50mm 1.8 (could possibly be replaced with a zeiss 1.4, or the canon 1.4)

Canon 70-200mm 2.8L with Image Stabilization.

Canon x1.4 extender

2-4 batteries, charger and international adapter.

Memory cards (currently have two, want 4)

Laptop and external hard drives (preferably 2)

Zacuto Z-finder, Tripod, shoulder brace (and any other things that I need for specific jobs that I might be doing. These are interchangeable. Don’t take them unless you know you’ll need them.)

And of course… any related filters/cables/speedlights/etc.

Surprisingly I think I can get all of this to fit inside the bag I’m currently using. Though, there will come a time when possibly upgrading to something a little more heavy duty will become necessary. And although that seems like a lot… look at some of the stuff people take on EVERY shoot. I look at this list and it seems like a lot, and even just looking at it just makes me anxious because I’d love to get away with less. Maybe time would show me that I could do without all this. But I feel like the lenses cover everything I could need (except for very specific shoots) for the majority of the work I would do.

And if you’re looking at this list, and it seems familiar… well I did mention it previously in another post about "Building Your First Photography Kit." And you’ll also recognize the overall idea has some strong similarity to Chase Jarvis’ post about Mission Critical gear. So that’s where I took the idea from and worked it to fit my needs.

Now for the history (as briefly as I could… feel free to stop reading if you’re not interested) of how I started changing things to this minimalist style:

For me, minimalism began happening when I moved to Central Washington University in Ellensburg. It’s hard to really call my way of living “minimalism” but I had to adapt to living without a lot of my toys and hobbies, and being inconvenienced by not always having what I needed. I still had a lot.

My second year at CWU brought a new roommate (Kyle, the other ninja) who was in the process of minimalizing his life. It was hard for me to understand why we had selling everything and going to such extremes.

When I finished that year, I was done at school and began moving my belongings home. Boxed up, I filled up my car. 3 trips later, I had moved everything home (see what I mean by a lot?). I didn’t really unpack, just stuck the boxes in a storage room in the basement, out of the way. And that’s where it stayed while I packed up a few things and ran off to Australia.

**please note: each step of this process felt extremely rough to me. It was pretty stressful to say the least.**

I worked the baggage system for my flight. Packed to the brim was a duffel bag, my Molle 3 day pack (packed more like a 6 day pack), guitar case with guitar and as much clothing as I could shove in and around Misty (my guitar’s name) and finally my laptop/camera bag. All in all, around 250 lbs of stuff. None of it on wheels. And I packed poorly only taking two pairs of shorts… to Australia.

I immediately began to accumulate stuff. And I didn’t have an apartment yet. The first two weeks of my trip had me carrying all this stuff until I finally settled in.

As the months went on, little piles of knick knacks appeared, stress followed as I lived in a small apartment which felt more and more claustrophobic. The only way I could describe what I was feeling I needed to do was to purge as much as possible before heading home.

I found some blogs (zen habits, and miss minimalist) who helped me better articulate the feelings inside me and I began to pack and make a pile of clothes to donate. When I left Australia, my total weight for baggage was around 175-185 lbs. it was much easier toting that than it had been (plus, I got a cart this time haha).

When I finally began settling in at home and unpacked from both Australia and my time in Ellensburg, I realized there was also years of stuff sitting in boxes that belonged to me from before I left Vancouver. I tore apart my room and basement. I gathered the clothes, toys, stuff, you name it. Things were separated in three piles: donate, sell and trash. I’ve been home nearly a month and I’m still sorting through stuff. And I’ve made nearly $1000 with a lot more money still coming in.

There. That’s my story. Haha goodnight.


  1. Hey James,

    good post. I'll have to do that when I get back to Montreal and unpack my stuff... Just curious: What kind of stuff is in the "sell" pile and what resources are you using to sell them.

    Thanks. Keep up the good work. Keep building a brand for yourself!


  2. i've been selling anything that i felt was worth the time selling... like my snowboard, lenses that i don't need, paintball and airsoft equipment, almost my entire dvd collection, guitar and a few amps. pretty much i looked at how much i thought it was worth. then figured out how long it would take to sell that item (factor in time to post it on craigs list, amazon, or ebay) and if the time spent is worth the money gained i sell it. if not, i donate it.

    i'm sure i could have made more if i sold EVERYTHING. but it would have taken a lot longer and i have other things i need to be doing. so losing a couple hundred over trinkets seemed acceptable while i spent that other time taking care of the bigger fish.

    and yeah some of it is word of mouth. i tell friends "oh well i've got this..." i've posted on forums for airsoft and paintball, and i'm getting help with some of my musical equipment that i'm looking to sell.

    hope that helps. welcome back to this side of the world :)

  3. Damn. I mostly have trinkets... lol

  4. still... look around online and see waht they might be worth. never know... i found some of my stuff that i didn't think was worth anything to be really valuable.