8 Ways How Money Can Buy You Happiness in Street Photography

Leica M9-P Hermes Edition

(Pictured above: Leica M9-P Hermes Edition. Only $50,000)

We are always told that money doesn’t make us happy. Although I like the saying, it isn’t entirely true. Scientific studies do show that money buys us happiness- but only to a certain extent. For example, if you literally make only $10 a month, of course you will be miserable. However making $10,000 a month compared to $5,000 a month won’t make much of a difference. According to some study I read, money can only buy you happiness to the point that you make $70,000 a year. After that, it doens’t make much of a difference.

Money can make us happier in street photography. You also don’t have to be rich to reap these rewards. Curious on how money can buy you more happiness? Keep reading to find out.

I just read an article in Science Direct titled: “If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right“. I used to be the type of person that I always wanted more material things. Although I have a fun 1990 Mazda Miata Convertible (in Red) I would always want something newer, faster, and sexier. I would see my friends buying a new BMW or Mercedes, and of course turn green with envy.

Fortunately traveling has made me less materialistic. I try to pack light, so there is an extent to the stuff I can carry. In my messenger bag, all I carry is a laptop, computer, and one camera and one lens. By carrying more stuff, I actually enjoy my traveling less. After all, how enjoyable is it to check out places and go shooting when your gear weighs a ton?

So how can you use money to make you happier? I have taken some of the concepts from the article, and will apply them to street photography. I have also provided photographs of Ernest Haas‘ early b/w work to accompany the points (thanks to Iuri Kothe for telling me to check out these images!)

Principle 1: Buy experiences instead of things

Ernest Haas Street Photography

Ernest Haas

The study showed that from an experiment, people reported enjoying experiences more than material things.

For example, think about the last time you wanted to buy a new camera. For myself, it was the Leica M9. I kept telling myself that it would be the pinnacle of modern technology, that I would keep it forever, and would be happy with it forever.

However after the first 3 months, the effect wore off. I got quite used to the camera, and didn’t appreciate it as much.

However let’s compare this to experiences.

Think about the last time that you had a certain experience, like traveling. I remember the first time that I went to Beirut, Lebanon. I went there having no idea what to expect, but left feeling like Beirut was my home. Random people in the streets would invite me in their house for coffee (and vodka), the kebabs and schwarma filled my stomach with glee (Bar-Bar!), and the people treated me like family (my host Mohammad’s mom said she could find me nice wife in Lebanon.

Therefore if you have money, don’t use that money to buy a new camera or a new lens. Use it instead to go on a vacation or travel. Take a photography workshop. Pay the entrance ticket to a photography museum, or buy photo books (you pay for the experience to see what’s in the books).

Principle 2: Help others instead of yourself

Ernest Haas Street Photography

Ernest Haas

The study gave an example in which experimenters gave students money to either a) Use on themselves or b) Use on other people. They tested the students’ happiness before and after, and the results of the study showed that students that gave away their money felt much happier. Those who spent it on themselves didn’t feel any different.

Therefore if you have some money, donate it to other aspiring photographers via Kickstarter or Emphas.is. Support a photo project of a photojournalist who wants to travel and work on a project. Donate money to Kids with Cameras to support photography-related projects for disadvantaged children in India. Even give away your old point-and-shoot cameras or DSLR’s to photography programs at local high schools or colleges.

Principle 3: Buy many small pleasures instead of few big ones

Ernest Haas Street Photography

Ernest Haas

In the study, they say that having many small pleasures is better than several large pleasures because of “diminishing marginal utility”. For example, eating one 12oz cookie isn’t twice as enjoyable as eating one 6oz cookie.

How to apply this to street photography? If you want to use your money to go on trips, it is a better idea to go on several small trips in a year, rather than one large trip.

For example, rather than blowing $10,000 on an epic trip to Paris for a month – perhaps it may be better go to on 10 trips (each of them being $1,000). Rather than spending $100 on one expensive photo book, it might be a better idea to buy ten $10 admissions to some photography/art museums. Rather than print out one huge canvas-print of your own work, it might be better to print out several 12×18’s and keep one for yourself and give the others to others.

Principle 4: Realize that we quickly adapt to new cameras & toys

Ernest Haas Street Photography

Ernest Haas

Research shows that we quickly adapt to positive and negative situations in life. For example, research on lottery winners show that after a year, their self-reported happiness doesn’t change much from before they won the lottery. Another example is that people who lose all their limbs (quadrapalegics) report the same amount of happiness before and after their accident over a year.

Once again, realize that if you do decide to buy a new camera or lens – you will get used to it. The same goes with a new camera bag or a new strap.

Takeaway point: Be happy with what you already have.

Principle 5: Delay looking at your photographs

Ernest Haas Street Photography

Ernest Haas

There was one study when students were faced with the choice of when to kiss their favorite celebrity, they were willing to pay more for the kiss to take place 3 days later rather than 3 hours later.

This study along with others suggests that there are emotional benefits for delaying pleasurable things.

For example, if you are stuck working in an office, sometimes the anticipation of going on an exotic trip to Hawaii is actually more pleasuable than going on the trip. As humans, we like having things to look forward- which keep us motivated, inspired, and happy.

For myself in my photography, I love the delayed gratification that shooting film gives me. Every time I am about to process my film at the end of every month, the anticipation of getting the film developed and seeing my shots is like a kid waiting for Christmas. I love waiting for “Christmas presents” every month.

If you don’t shoot film, you can do the same with digital (if you have enough self-control). Try not to see your photographs at the end of each day. First try every few days, then a week, then every few weeks. Experiment- and see if you enjoy the delayed gratification!

Principle 6: Realize that every camera and lens has its pros and cons

Ernest Haas Street Photography

Ernest Haas

When you think about buying a new vacation home next to the beach, all you can imagine are the warm sunsets, the peaceful quiet, and the cool air. What you don’t think about is the pain of things breaking down, having to pay the large costs of it, and with the stinging mosquitos at night outside.

I have tested many different cameras out there. DSLR’s, micro 4/3rds, Leica’s, Point-and-shoots, iPhones, etc. There is no “perfect” camera out there- as they all have positives and negatives.

For example, I love my Leica to death. I love how it is fully-manual, the ergonomics, and the compact size and unintimidating look. What I don’t like at times is the lack of autofocus. I like taking snapshots, so when I am just out and about with my girlfriend or in the grocery store, I like to bring my Ricoh GR1s around as it is compact and has autofocus.

Full-frame DSLR’s are fantastic for high-iso, image quality, and responsiveness. But they are awful because they are big, heavy, and obtrusive.

Lenses with apertures with 1.4 or less are great for shooting low-light and nice bokeh, but they are often more expensive and heavier and larger- and annoying to carry around.

Every camera has its ups and downs. I encourage people to try out new cameras and experiment, but once you find a camera/lens combination that you like 80% well- I say just stick with it.

Principle 7: Buy another street photographer a beer

Ernest Haas Street Photography

Ernest Haas

Spending too much time comparing different cameras and lenses is bad for your happiness (and wallet). You are better off spending time meeting other street photographers. Why? There was a study in which Harvard students were given the choice to compare different dormitories on campus. Some of them had really nice features like private bathrooms, private cooks, etc. Some of them didn’t include these features, but still promoted a great sense of commmunity & interaction.

The students expected that their happiness would come from having nicer material features of their dorms, but the truth was their happiness stemmed from the community-aspects of each dorm.

Therefore realize that you are more likely to be happier when spending time with other street photographers- sharing your favorite photo books, talking about photography, critiquing each others’ portfolios, and going out and shooting with one another.

Spend your money on buying beers & food for your other street photographers – or hosting some sort of party. Rent out a cafe, get a projector, and share your work!

Takeaway point: Spend less time in front of the computer thinking about what new camera/lens to buy – and more time trying to meet other people who share the passion of street photography.

Principle 8. Ask other photographers for their opinion

Ernest Haas Street Photography

Ernest Haas

Research suggests that the best way to predict how much we will enjoy an experience is to ask for a second opinion. In one study, experimentors asked women how much they would enjoy a speed date with a particular man. Some of the women were shown the man’s photograph and autobiography, while the other women were shown ratings based on other womens’ impressions of their date. After the speed date occured, women reported having a more accurate representation of the man based on previous ratings – rather than their own first impression.

Therefore if you are thinking about traveling to an exotic location for street photography – ask others who have already been there for a second opinion. Of course their experience will not always accurately predict how you will feel going there, but it might give you a better sense.

For example, when I first was about to go to Paris – I expected that it would be the best city in the world for street photography. I imagined the old romatic streets – and the history of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, and many others. However when I arrived, I realized many parts were quite touristy, and it wasn’t as romantic as I expected. When talking with other street photographers who shoot there, they expressed similar thoughts.

The same goes for buying a new camera. Before you buy it, ask someone else (who is a street photographer with similar interests as you) for their thoughts. Although it won’t always be accurate, it will give you some insight to help you make a better decision.

Takeaway point: 17th century writer François de La Rochefoucauld was correct when he wrote: “Before we set our hearts too much upon anything, let us first examine how happy those are who already possess it.”


Money can buy us happiness, but only up to a certain point. Realize that money can buy us happiness when we spend it on traveling, reading photo books, meeting other street photographers, and going to photography museums. Realize that money won’t buy us happiness when we buy new cameras, new lenses, and excess equipment that we will eventually “get used to”.

You don’t need to be rich to become a great street photographer or enjoy it. Appreciate what gear you already have, and spend the rest of the money (and time) shooting street photography and meeting other passionate street photographers.

TLDR; Buy experiences, not gear

What are your thoughts? How can money buy you happiness in street photography? What do you agree/disagree with this article? Share your two cents by leaving a comment below!

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  • Joetaylor666

    Great post, gave me plenty to think about. Thanks Eric.

  • Whyrudoingthat

    I am waiting on that beer man…

  • http://twitter.com/lazyedt Eddy T

    hahaha nice post bro. you’ve been watching TED ::thumbs up::

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      Yeeeee boy

  • Mike Avina


  • guenter.gruen

    good stuff, your sociology diploma paid of!

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      Haha yes – and fortunately I’m not homeless! (yet)

  • Uerzo

    nice post, i agree, for me travelling experiences are the best way to improve my photography.
    Nice Blog ! Congrats for your work.

  • Jason Zeis

    I would buy other photographers beer (if I was 21 hah). But anyways great article!

  • Guido

    Very true… However looking up gear and review has some degree of happiness too. Especially if you know you can afford it somehow :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonas-Germann/1322217995 Jonas Germann

    Traveling is a good way. I have get some inspiration in berlin, and now i plan my first photoproject.
    So now I have to buy some things. Not much because i’m not rich. But this makes me happy, to realise my idea and sometimes you need money for it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jefferylewis Jeff Lewis

    Nice article! I bought a book off of Dave Matt – http://www.dayvmattt.com/dm/ to support his street photography and that made me feel great! I agree with the gear thoughts – most cameras take great pics, we just need to get out and use them!

  • http://twitter.com/50mm_Streettog DipayanBhattacharjee

    Great post buddy! Cheers!!

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      Thanks man!

  • Japancamerahunter

    Seems like you owe me a few beers then…

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      Yes I do! See you soon in Japan mate :)

  • http://www.wenmemoir.com/ RJ

    Nicely put. Experience is what that fills human’s existence.

  • Joe

    Send me a keg!

  • IstealPhotos

    Just wondering if you have the permission of the Ernst Haas Estate to use his photos…

    • Judge “F-Stop”

      Just wondering if that is actually any of your business?

    • IBorrowPhotos

      does’t matter as long as he gives credit for the photos.

  • Nabazanwar

    a nice sociological view…. nice :-)

  • Nabaz Anwar

    … and I’ll buy you a beer or two…or three… if you come by Copenhagen.

  • http://twitter.com/loncatt Loncatt

    Very good insight on how to be a happy street photographer! very true, through my own experienced too :) Thanks Eric

  • Andrea

    One of your best article Eric, thanks

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      Cheers Andrea! :D

  • Jeroen

    Really awesome article! And so true, money only makes you happy for a short time while an (travel) experience is for live!

    Last month I saw a graffiti which quoted: money kills culture. In some way I think this is also true…unfortunately

    Enjoy your stay in Amsterdam and next time I will join the workshop as well to buy you a beer;-)

  • http://finderview.com/ Neil Gorman

    Another way to (possibly) express this would be…

    1. Buying gear does not increase a photographers skills.
    2. However, if you already have skills good gear can be helpful.
    3. Learning via experience can (has a much higher probability) of increasing a photographer’s skills.
    4. It is better to spend resources (time and money) on things that will increase skills, before you spend money on gear.

  • Brent.

    Hi Eric,

    Two things off the top of my head:

    1. What money buys, me, is time. Time to do what I want, when I want without the worry about the next buck. Unfortunately like most of us, I still have to work to buy that time.

    2. The journey, the anticipation, and the experience is way better than the end goal. I always enjoyed this quote:

    “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”
    –Robert Browning

  • http://www.citysnaps.net/blog/ Brad

    Haha… My gear is a Canon Elph 100 HS ($110) and an iPhone. That’s all I need. With those I can get the street photos (and more importantly experiencing the energy and rhythm of the street) I want…

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      That’s the best way! :)

  • Mr G

    I’ve been following your exploits on youtube for some months now and think you have a fresh, young and vibrant approach to your work that I’m sure gives inspiration to many who are considering following the path you have chosen.

  • Suddhasatwa

    Hey Eric, please add my name in the list of people who would like to buy a beer for you, but for that you have to travel to India. :-) Tk cr and keep posting such wonderful articles.


  • Rickprokosch

    This is a great article. I am guilty of getting used to my gear and then wanting new stuff because it’s exciting.

    I have my lumix gf1 and 20mm lens which I love. Tempted on getting the x100 now becaues it’s exciting to have even better high iso capabilities. I really have to turn this desire off because I know it won’t make me happier, just poorer! My iphone and gf1 are really all that I need… I don’t even need another lens for my camera, this one is great.

    Actually, I’ve recently fired up my mom’s old pentax k1000 film camera because I have about 8 rolls of film and love the manual controls on it. I have MORE fun shoointg this camera than my gf1. There is something to be said for the simple things in life.

    TLDR; Articles like this keep me from trying to by happieness with more expensive gear. Old gear can sometimes be even more fun.

    • Raymondmasse

      I’ve got one Fuji X100. The worst you can buy for focus, slowest auto-focus of them all. Hyper sensible control’s buttons. If it’s on sleep for battery economy purpose, events have passed way before you can shoot. You are missing nothing, except a ton of frustrations.

      • http://www.facebook.com/veronica.cardenasvento Verónica G. Cárdenas-Vento

        In the contrary, I love my X100, not that I’m advising you to buy it. All the issues mentioned by Raymondmasse are not a problem to me. I am not sure how the control buttons are hyper sensible though, they are just fine to me. The auto focus is slow but you get used to it. When I shoot with it at night, I feel like I have no limitations, I can shoot anything, it is an awesome camera. I also own a 5D Mark II and as far as ISO, the X100 is just as good or even better. Before I forget, the camera that I started shooting street photography is the Canon S95, it might not be one of the best cameras for s.p. but it sure made me fall in love with it. I still use it because of portability, you can literally put it in your pant’s pocket.

        I’ve had the X100 for a couple of months now and I’m just fine with it, I do not desire to purchase a new camera/ gear. All I am looking forward to is to have the time to travel. A few months ago I read this post and it all made sense, I always share it with other people when it applies to the situation. This is one of the best advices I have ever received.

        But most importantly, Rickprokosh, keep shooting as long as it makes you happy!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001776543563 Brett Franklin

    Really, really enjoying your blog Mr Kim, that piece was superb and very true, i see a lot of myself in that very splendid and well written article…food for thought indeed….
    Brett Soul

  • http://www.frompittolawn.com/ Qmungous

    #5 – 1st step to self control should be turning off the LCD

  • http://www.alexcoghe.com/ Alex Coghe

    One of your best post ever, mate! And i know how Eric Kim there is in this writing.

  • http://www.captureminnesota.com/users/tdoty3 tom

    “Man’s Search for Meaning” By Viktor E. Frankl

    A good book for anybody trying to understand what really brings happiness.

  • Sophia Rengganis

    Great article Eric! It provides me new perspective regarding happiness in photography. Very inspiring! :)

  • Acep Abdullah

    Thank you Mr Eric. I think i owe you a view beers for your article. I learn a lot from your article. Maybe sometime you can visit my blog and give critics to my works, so i can improve my photos. C u in Jakarta, if you manage to visit my country Indonesia

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  • vishal arora

    Great article.

    I am just a beginner in streetphotography.

    Do drop in to give your suggestions

  • Metamorfosiuno

    Great post Eric, we one live in a society where we want everything now. Then if we are lucky to get it the novelty soon wears offs and we are looking for the next better thing.
    Does this make us a better photographer or person? Not really, sometimes we just need to learn to step back and think.

  • Carrie

    Can we meet up? I really will like to learn more from you.. I’ll buy you beer and pizza !!

  • iuri kothe

    You’re welcome, Eric ;-)
    And many many thanks for your tips!

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  • NatalieJohn89

    photography is the most amazing art. The best thing about street photography
    is that it is possible for the final viewer of a print to see more than the
    original photographer. Thanks.
    Photographers in Melbourne

  • Raymondmasse

    If I meet someone and start to talk about photography, of any kind (street, portrait,etc.), and the discussion points to photo equipment within two minutes, I know I have nothing to learn and to share.

  • Mr G

    Can’t wait for your review/comments etc on the new Leica Monochrome.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Donohoe/100000308877053 Paul Donohoe

    excellent!! I am travelling, using what little money we have to buy experiences. On May 1 we go to Lisbon for six weeks…now THAT will be an experience and me and my camera will be working overtime you can be sure…Eric yu have said it all Money can buy you the opportunity to be happy with experiences ..so that’s the real message we all should hear from this (and anyone who spends $50000 on a camera is really living in a dream land and it’s very sad!)

  • Anonymous

    I did read the article, but my favourite part was the little TL;DR sum up at the end.

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  • Hefty Miguel

    Nice article Thanks

  • Brenda Kofford

    appreciate this article especially since my current bank statement has me asking myself, “what the *(^& did I just do?”

  • http://stephenbray.me/ Stephen_BRAY

    Yes, I agree with most of this. Of course when you buy a new
    lens, camera, or other toy, it’s not the ‘thing’ you hanker after
    but some experience(s) you think the ‘thing’ will bring you. That’s
    how advertising works – through associations.

    Also I’m unsure if one good trip may not be better than lots of
    small excursions. HCB would spend at least a month making
    images in places to which he traveled. That’s not to say he
    didn’t make more friends in those places, than if he travelled
    more widely, or that he enjoyed fewer adventures and
    experiences – but yes, this article is good stuff, particularly
    the bit about travelling light. When I travel I take a tip from
    Satash Kumar and don’t even carry money ;)

  • Michael Rasmussen

    Who is in Portland to have a beer bought for them?
    Consider Buenos Aries, great street scenes there.

  • Barb

    Ernest Haas is called Ernst Haas.

  • Fabulous-Femme

    Just found this article via your Facebook :-). And you are right it is still true. It pretty much is true for any job in the world. You need to have an income to support a nice life – the basics need to be covered. Shelter – Food – Security – and maybe sometimes a little bit of luxury! The rest is up to yourself – any $ more will not make you any happier.

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  • http://www.LeslieDeanBrown.com/ Leslie Dean Brown

    That is a nice piece, really.

    I see so many photographers with “screen addiction”. If you’re always looking at the screen, that’s less looking at the real world. I am actually trying out a digital camera with no screen hehehe. I seem to take more photos per day with it and I really look forward to viewing them at the end of the day. I’m not sure my photography has improved but it does seem to be a bit more enjoyable. I probably will put it back in at some point however as the majority of [menu] settings are essentially stuck. Man they looked at me very strangely in the last camera shop I went into (I forgot about it).

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  • Ziggy Mack

    [simply] thank you.

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  • http://keithgoldstein.me/ Keith Goldstein

    Eric, it’s Ernst Haas! Shame on you!

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  • Philippe

    Great article, inspiring!

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  • http://www.aguiarphotography.com.au/ Jose Aguiar

    I have travelled to 45 countries and it has had a great influence in my way of things. Street photography is a great part of travelling photography. The contact with local people, the architecture, history and cultural items are a great source of inspiration.

  • Cyril Jayant

    Very good article and nice advice and Point to spend very thoughtfully and vice on photography.

  • Duke Henry

    Oh this really apply to me now. I just came home from short talks (kind a seminar) with photographers. And i bought one of my dream book (street and photojournalism). You’re right Kim. Materials can make you happy in a certain point of time but having great experience without spending a lot, the memories will never fade.😊

  • Jeremy H. Greenberg

    Great piece! I thoroughly enjoyed that one. Focus more on shooting and less on gear (pun intended). Check!

  • Jeremy H. Greenberg

    When are you coming to Hong Kong next?

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