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FORUMS Photography Talk by Genre General Photography Talk 
Thread started 25 Jul 2011 (Monday) 13:31
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Alton Brown on decluttering -- brilliant

 
Chippy569
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Jul 25, 2011 13:31 |  #1

As I'm sure a few of you know, I'm a major fan of Alton Brown's show, Good Eats (which sadly, is no longer in production. I mourned.) Anyway, I am getting married very soon and my fiancee tasked me with doing the gift registry (never again) so I picked up his book, GEAR For Your Kitchen (external link) to help me decipher what I should be looking for when it comes to equipment. However, I found two hells of gems in the introduction of this book, which I will now quote for you.

Phase One
Clear one large drawer, a cabinet or shelf, and a portion of your pot rack if you have one. If you don't have a proper storage system for your knives, get one. Then, every time you use a tool (including pots and pans, all hand tools, and knives) put it away in one of those cleared areas. If you run out of room make more but under no circumstances allow the used and unused to mingle. Live and cook like this for sixty days.

Phase Two
After sixty days, pull out everything that hasn't been used and evaluate. Specialty tools such as waffle irons, ice cream makers, party gear, and seasonal stuff like canning gear should be labeled with a piece of masking tape marked with the date and re-stored. Everything else goes. Sell it, donate it, give it to a friend but get it out of there, and fast. If you find that sentimental attachment prevents the dumping of certain artifacts, fine. Aunt Margaret's rotary ice crusher can go live with the other family memorabilia or better still, another family member who isn't interested in kitchen evolution. Is this a painful process? A little. I hated to see the salmon steamer go. But I've found since that on the rare occasion when I do steam a salmon, heavy-duty foil does the job just fine. I also said "sayonara" to a duck press, several tart pans, and a beautiful French gratin that had been used once then abandoned because it was too hard to clean.

Phase Three
The items you marked with tape are on six-month probation. If any remain unused after that time, banish them. So, if you really like your ice cream maker, or pasta maker, or ricer, you have to use it or lose it. I make fresh pasta at least twice a year if for no other reason but that I don't want to give up the pasta maker.

Phase Four
The next step is to weed out redundancies among those items that survived the first elimination round. Pick up every single tool and ask it these questions:
  • What do you do?
  • Do I have another tool that could do your job as well if not better?

    If the answer is yes -- banish it. Once the second round of eliminations is done, you must ask the remaining tools the following:
  • Are you well constructed and designed for the job for which you are intended?

    If the answer is yes, then the item stays; if it's no, you dump the rubbish and go shopping for something better.
  • This is a valid practice for us photographers if we replace "kitchen gear" with "photo gear." I understand that there are people who truly love to collect gear, and that's well and dandy, but I also believe in efficiency and in saving money where applicable. The above method is a great way to evaluate what we as photographers actually use in our practice. Luckily, photo gear is often sellable so if pieces are deemed superfluous it can be converted to income. If you have, say, a darkroom and processing chemicals, it might fall into the "6 month" rule and force you to whip out the film a bit more often. Or be a good way to clean off the lens shelf.

    You don't have to buy the shiniest, latest version of every cooking tool (in fact, I recommend that you don't). Your gear should be designed to best perform the tasks that will be required of them for as long as you think you'll need them. In this light, spending a few hundred bucks or more on a chef's knife is not unreasonable. Nor is spending a few minutes to thoughtfully evaluate something as inexpensive and mundane as a vegetable peeler.
    Besides saving money and space,
    the process outlined above will force you to think, evaluate, and develop. As your arsenal diminishes, your reliance on other items increases. I find it almost impossible to function without the drywall tape tool that I use as a bench scraper. I break out in hives if I misplace my spring-loaded tongs -- that's why I have three pairs of them, which I now have room for because I ditched the garlic press and the zester. At present time, I own fewer tools, and fewer pots and pans than I have ever had. But they are all top quality and, in some cases, quite expensive.
    After you've done a thorough spring cleaning of your existing kitchen toolbox, make it a habit to ask yourself why you need the tool before purchasing. It should either perform a task that no tool currently in your collection can, or do it so much better that it deserves a place in the lineup.
    Although each of the tools listed here must be considered on its own merits, there are some general tool paradigms I hold to be true.
    1. The fewer parts the better. Not only do fewer parts mean less breakage, it means less joints for dirt, grime, and food to lodge in. In the case of identical part counts I look at the specific design. If a tool must have numerous parts -- say, a food mill or pasta machine-- choose those that disassemble for easy cleaning. Pasta may not be that much of a danger when it comes to food sanitation, but what about a can opener? If you can't clean it easily, it's a problem waiting to happen.
    2. Tools must be comfortable to use. Quality won't matter a whit if the target tool doesn't interface with the rest of the system, meaning you. Never buy a tool that you cannot handle, feel, play with, and if possible, use in the store. (I know of a few stores that provide "test-drive stations" with various foodstuffs available for testing purposes -- a very good idea.) Again, repeat after me: a great tool that doesn't fit my hand isn't a great tool. Okay, glad we got that cleared up.
    3. Do some research. This book will help evaluate tools --I hope--but the best places to turn for specific brand and model recommendations as well as specific comparisons are word of mouth and periodicals such as Consumer Reports and Cooks Illustrated, which don't accept advertising. I don't always agree with them, but their aim is true.
    4 .Don't fall for marketing ploys no matter how traditional their reasoning may be. Do not give credence to sales people who hit you over the head with words you don't understand or foggy concepts. If they say their widget is better because it has XXX, then don't buy into the rap unless they can explain to you what that means.
    Example: Knife experts love to wax poetic about "full tang" design, which means that one solid piece of metal was used from one end of the knife to the other. If I'm getting ready to go into battle I would most certainly want my sword to be full tang, but if the most violent task I'm about to encounter in the kitchen is cutting through a chicken, I can think of about six characteristics of a knife that are more important.
    5. Never buy sets of tools unless you need every single tool in the set. If you do, the other stuff will sit, taking up room, and that's a bad, evil thing. I don't even believe in buying pots and pans in sets unless it's as a gift for someone who's absolutely starting from scratch. I am suspicious of sets because I think that manufacturers package dogs with winners in order to move them. If everything in the set were a winner, they would force us to pay à la carte prices. That's just the way it is.
    6. Expensive isn't always better.
    7. Cheaper isn't always better.

    While his writing deals specifically with kitchen gear, I find it can be applied to pretty much any aspect of the house. This is especially true of photography equipment, both when it comes to determining needs and then evaluating how to best fill them.

    It's applicable elsewhere in our lives, too. Take your garage full of tools, for instance, or that bookshelf of books. Or even that closet of clothes. I am currently on day 8 in my own kitchen and it's been quite an interesting revelation. (I've used two pots, a cutting board, a handful of knifes, and a spoon so far.) I also find that his paradigms of tool buying apply to any and all tools, kitchen or otherwise.

    The rest of the book is pretty food-gear-specific but that intro was great and I thought I'd share.


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    mbellot
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    Jul 25, 2011 14:30 |  #2

    I enjoyed the old AB, what he "evolved" in to not so much...

    That said, I tend to agree with the concept (at least for photo gear) which is why I don't have heaping piles of the stuff.

    Four good lenses (16-35, 24-70, 70-200 IS and 120-300 - all f/2.8) two shoe mount flashes, two bodies (20D and 1DIII) and a small handful of accessories (remote release, extension tubes, etc).




      
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    moose10101
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    Jul 25, 2011 14:35 |  #3

    mbellot wrote in post #12819920 (external link)
    I enjoyed the old AB, what he "evolved" in to not so much...

    Same here. Alton the "food nerd" was awesome. Alton the sideline reporter doesn't do much for me.




      
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    jmg181
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    Jul 25, 2011 14:39 |  #4

    Chippy569 wrote in post #12819621 (external link)
    Anyway, I am getting married very soon and my fiancee tasked me with doing the gift registry (never again) so I picked up his book, GEAR For Your Kitchen (external link) to help me decipher what I should be looking for when it comes to equipment. However, I found two hells of gems in the introduction of this book, which I will now quote for you.

    Crap. We haven't started that yet... now I'm worried. Going to have to keep my fiancee reigned in.....


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    mbellot
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    Jul 25, 2011 15:27 |  #5

    moose10101 wrote in post #12819947 (external link)
    Same here. Alton the "food nerd" was awesome. Alton the sideline reporter doesn't do much for me.

    Even the later day "food nerd" (last couple years of Good Eats) didn't do much for me. It became more about silly "plots" than cooking science.

    The whole Food network has been on a downward slide in my opinion with too much focus on competitions and "celebrity" with far too little actual cooking content - especially content that I might be able to use.




      
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    nathancarter
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    Jul 25, 2011 15:31 |  #6

    Also a Good Eats fan.

    I've done my best to keep my photo clutter to a minimum. I don't need any more lenses - I have three, and that's all I need. (well, until I move to a FF body that won't take the EF-S mount Sigma). As for other gadgets and gimmicks .. well, let's just say that I don't own a single plastic diffuser ;)


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    whuband
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    Jul 25, 2011 15:44 as a reply to  @ nathancarter's post |  #7

    Sage advice for photographers who, by nature, are usually gadget freaks and collectors. I'm in the "thinning the herd" mode right now and it's amazing how much crap accumulates in our closets and lives. I have found several efficient ways to get rid of it - sell it, give it away, or get divorced. They all work equally well!
    I shoot about 125-150 events a year, and for 95% all I need is just two bodies, two lenses, two lights, and a hand full of batteries and CF cards.


    1D4, 6D, 7D2, Sony a6000 with Sony16-70, Rokinon 12mmf2, Canon lenses: 17-40L, 17-55 f2.8, 10-22, 50mm 1.4, 85mm 1.8, 70-200mm IS 2.8, 300mm 2.8 IS, 580EXII (3), 430EX, Alien Bees.

      
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    FatsoForgotso
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    Jul 25, 2011 21:47 |  #8

    For years I've lived my life according to the belief: Simplicity is King.

    As a semi-pro, I usually carry everything I have in my signature but use 20% of it at any given shoot. One lens, one body, a flash, and a diffuser. Unless its a portrait session or really lowlight, that lens usually ends up being the 17-55. I only have the ultrawide for a part time architecture photography job.

    I came to this realization years ago when I was starting to play music. After a stint of buying and trading for everything that I thought would make me better at guitar, I realized I didn't need 80% of the crap I owned. I haven't bought new guitar gear in 3 years and I don't see it happening anytime soon. My guitar rig is the same as my photography rig. I own what need, if I don't constantly use a guitar pedal or a lens, I don't need to own it anymore.

    Once more, simplicity will force you to be better at what you do. I'd seriously advise anyone reading this thread to follow these rules, clean house, and go out and take photographs. Its refreshing and liberating.


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    Curtis ­ N
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    Jul 26, 2011 00:11 |  #9

    I enjoyed Alton until he described 2% milk as "milk that's had 98% of its fat removed." I realized then that he was a fraud.

    I do like his gear philosophy though.


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