26 Lessons Life Has Taught Me About Street Photography

1x1.trans 26 Lessons Life Has Taught Me About Street Photography

Today I turn 26 years old. Life has been one hell of a ride so far. When I was a kid, I had no idea I would be where I am today– with the love of my life, phenomenal friends I have met all around the world, a supportive family, as well as the freedom and opportunity to pursue my passion (street photography).

Ever since I got laid off my job around 3 years ago, life has been a blur. I remember the anxiety I had no longer having a stable income, health care, and a sense of security. I had no idea where my life would take me from that point– but I am so grateful that Cindy, my family, as well as you (my dear friend) was able to support me to run this blog and teach workshops for a living.

I always use birthdays as an opportunity to reflect on life– and think about the lessons that I have learned. Of course in the spirit of my blog, I will present 26 lessons that life has taught me and how it has even given me insight into street photography.

26 Lessons Life Has Taught Me About Street Photography

1. I couldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for the support of others
2. Life is always unexpected; go with the flow
3. Life is a lot about luck
4. Money (and material things) don’t buy happiness
5. Ignore what others think of you
6. You have to block out time for what you are passionate about
7. Walk slowly
8. Spend more time in fewer places
9. Don’t rush things
10. Less is more
11. Talk to strangers
12. Beauty is often found in the most unexpected places
13. We can control how to frame and see the world
14. Be grateful for what you have
15. The more you give, the more you receive
16. Travel is a means to an end (not the end)
17. Home is where the heart is
18. Don’t rely on inspiration
19. Live if everyday were my last
20. Live without regrets
21. Follow your passion
22. Live for others, not for myself
23. Avoid boredom
24. Read voraciously
25. Add value to the world
26. Make love my mission

I write more about each point in detail below:

1. I couldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for the support of others

1x1.trans 26 Lessons Life Has Taught Me About Street Photography

In my life, I have had so many phenomenal, supportive, and guiding role models. When some of my friends went down the path of drugs, gangs, and destructive behavior– my role models were able to guide me along the right path, keeping my head straight. They taught me lessons of virtue, honesty, loyalty, humility, service, and helping out the community. I am so grateful that all of these people helped me mold and shape me into who I am today.

In terms of my photography, I couldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for others either. I have a million people to thank– people who have helped me from a business-standpoint (Todd Hatakeyema), commercially (JJ from Leica, and all of the amazing Leica representatives I have met all around the world), photographically (so many people to mention), everyone who has attended my workshops, and to everyone who has read the blog, left comments, and shared it with other people they know.

I also couldn’t possibly have improved my photography if it weren’t for the critique and honest feedback that I got– and to strive to take my work to the next level. I am grateful for all of my fellow members at the UCLA photography club for helping me start my passion in photography, to the members of the “Black & White Vision” forum on FredMiranda, to the critique I got from the “Grit & Grain” group on Flickr, and to the brutal feedback I have received in-person.

No man is his own island– and I certainly am not. Of course I have tried hard in life to get to where I am, but if it weren’t for others– I would be nowhere.

2. Life is always unexpected; go with the flow

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When I started studying at UCLA, I originally went in as a Biology major (to become a doctor, like any good Asian kid). But after taking a quarter of courses and realizing it wasn’t for me– I switched to something that seemed more appealing to me: sociology.

I had no idea what I could “do” with sociology. After all, the advice I got from others was that sociology majors could only become high school teachers or social workers. But I took a leap of faith– and went into it head-in.

During my third year, I contemplated becoming a Sociology professor– as I discovered that teaching was my passion. However, 6-7 more years of school didn’t seem appealing to me– so I made a backup: I would enter the corporate world doing social media & online community management.

After working at my social media job for a year, I got called into the HR office and was told that I was being made redundant.

I now make my living teaching street photography workshops and running this blog.

If you asked me when I was a kid what I thought I would do for a living– I would say a scientist (I discovered later on that I was really bad at Math, even as an Asian).

I had no idea what direction life would take me– it was all so unexpected. The only thing I could do was “_go with the flow_” and have faith that everything would be okay.

I think in street photography it is the same thing. You never can predict what kind of great photographic opportunities will arise. But by always being prepared (always carrying my camera with me) I have been able to catch some lovely moments here and there.

As much as we like to think that we can control our futures and our fate– there is actually quite little we have control over. Sure we can control how hard we work, but ultimately there are so many complex variables outside of our control– which will take us down paths that we can never expect.

Therefore I feel in street photography– know that no matter how “hard” you try– you can’t always get a great photograph. Sometimes we have to relax, know that if we are diligent in our shooting– great moments will come to us. We need to have faith.

3. Life is a lot about luck

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I am lucky. I was born healthy, without any physical or mental abnormalities (at least none I know about), and was raised by loving and supportive parents. Even though I had a very rocky childhood– I was never homeless, I never went to bed hungry, and I was able to have so many great role models in my life.

However if I were born in any other circumstance, my life would have turned out dramatically different. If my mom was addicted to crack, and my dad an alcoholic– I surely would have gone down a similar destructive path. And unfortunately, this is what happens to a lot of people in the world.

In terms of my “career” in street photography, I have also been extremely lucky. I started this blog when there weren’t many other blogs on street photography– which helped me become #1 on Google for “street photography blog.” If I was born 10 years later, I am sure this blog wouldn’t be as popular as it is.

Not only that, but I got conveniently laid off at the right time. Getting laid off my job was the biggest blessing in disguise. If I never got laid off, I am sure that I would have been at my job– not being able to dedicate myself fully to street photography.

Of course we all know how much luck is involved in street photography as well. A lot of moments which happen in front of our eyes are luck. Sure we can control how we frame the shot and how close we are to our subjects– but we can’t control what they look like, what the light is like, or what is happening.

Not to say that life and street photography is “all luck.” Granted, if you sit on your ass all day– you will never be “lucky.” You have to often go out and create your own luck. Creating your own opportunities by simply getting out of the house– and embracing life full-on.

4. Money (and material things) don’t buy happiness

1x1.trans 26 Lessons Life Has Taught Me About Street Photography

Financially speaking, I grew up in the lower socio-economic bracket. Growing up, I had a single mom who worked 3 part time jobs to put food on the table, to pay the rent, and to get me and my sister through school. We lived paycheck to paycheck, and there were months where we seriously thought we would become homeless. I wasn’t as fortunate as my other friends, who had parents with much more stable incomes– and they could buy all the stuff they wanted.

Growing up, I hated not having enough money to buy the stuff that I wanted. While all of my friends were wearing the latest designer brands, I was stuck wearing stuff at Old Navy. I knew that of course life wasn’t about money– but I still wanted the material possessions my heart desired.

When I started working when I was 15, I spent all of my money on clothes, shirts, jackets, shoes, and other material possessions I wanted. Everytime I bought something new, I would get a huge rush of adrenaline and excitement– and I felt good. However that feeling was fleeting, which just made me go out and buy more stuff.

Fast-forward to college– I started to work a job in IT which paid pretty decent for a student job ($13 an hour). I maxed out my working hours (20 hours a week) and also during the time I got interested in photography. My journey into photography started innocently enough with a little Canon point-and-shoot camera as a high school graduation present from my mom.

I start to get more passionate about photography around the time, and I saw all of these amazing images online. I wondered to myself: how could I create those kind of images? I discovered that I needed a DSLR and a fast prime lens. When I saw how much it cost ($600 for a Rebel XT at the time, and $100 for a 50mm f/1.8) I gasped. $700 for a college student is a ton of money– but I scrounged up and saved up every penny for a few months, and I finally bought it.

The first month with my camera was bliss. The image quality was phenomenal, and I loved the “bokeh” I could achieve shooting wide open. Seriously the first month I shot everything at f/1.8.

Then soon, I fell into the pit of online gear-related forums, rumor forums, and camera review sites. Soon my beloved Canon Rebel XT looked like a piece of crap, and I “needed” a full-frame camera to become a “real” photographer.

I used part of my student loan money to buy a used Canon 5D for around $1200, and I was in heaven. When I thought I would be “happy forever” because I had a “full-frame” sensor, the madness didn’t end. I then got suckered into believing that I couldn’t do my full-frame justice without a Canon L lens. I then used even more money to buy some L lenses, and I still wasn’t satisfied. I “needed” a carbon-fiber tripod. I “needed” a more expensive camera bag to carry my stuff. I “needed” more lenses. I “needed” a Macbook.

It doesn’t stop here. I then fell into the world of Leica, and now the price of Canon DSLR’s and lenses seemed like child’s play. $7000 for a Leica M9? Who the hell would spend that kind of cash on a camera? Regardless, I got suckered into thinking that shooting with a Leica would make me a better street photographer, so I would daydream and lust over it day by day. I came up with these crazy calculations in my head that if I sold everything I physically owned (including my car), I could probably get a Leica M9. But my plan didn’t account for the price of a lens.

Anyways with the generosity of my Mom, she was able to scrounge together her life savings and loan me some money to pay for a second-hand Leica M9. I used my life’s savings to buy a lens (35mm f/1.4 Summilux). Looking back, this was a horrible financial decision. But fortunately I was able to pay my mom back, and still made enough to pay for rent.

I seriously, deeply, truly in my heart felt that the Leica M9 would be the last camera I would ever buy. However the madness didn’t end there. Newer exotic Leica lenses entered my world, like the newer Leica 35mm f/1.4 FLE– which retails for around $5,000.

Even though I thought that having the money to purchase this camera would make me happy forever– it didn’t. After an 8-month fling with the Leica M9, I got introduced to shooting film– and sold off the M9 and used the proceeds to purchase a second-hand Leica MP.

Currently the Leica MP, Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron, and Contax T3 are the only cameras that I own. Even now I like to think that I am “satisfied” I still get tempted. Tempted by all of these new digital cameras coming out. Tempted by medium-format. I have found I have a hard time staying satisfied.

When I was working at my old company, I too got suckered into worrying so much about money (even though sociology taught me that money doesn’t buy happiness). I tried to work harder, put in more hours, to prove to my boss that I “deserved” a raise and a promotion. I saw my co-workers buying new BMW’s and sports cars, and I wanted to “keep up with the Joneses.”

Even now I worry quite a bit about finances. I wonder how long I will be able to make a living teaching street photography workshops– and there are a lot of times I worry about how I can pay my rent.

But over the years, I have started to learn that money really isn’t that important. I have found my most meaningful moments in life through the people I met, through the interactions shooting street photography, writing for this blog, as well as through the books that I read. All of this doesn’t cost much money– yet I often find myself spending too much time worrying about money (to buy a house in the future, to buy a nicer car, buy a new iPad, a new MacBook Pro, etc).

I have learned that I only need enough money to pay my rent, my bills, enough money to go out with friends, and put a little into savings. Other than that, money is a big waste of time. I’d rather spend my mental energy blogging, keeping in contact with friends and family, out shooting in the streets, and reading.

Through psychology I have also learned that if you want money to bring you happiness, you need to purchase experiences– not material things.

I am still not fully cured of this obsession with money, and it is a constant struggle. But when I have been taking Steve Job’s approach to heart– by living every day as if it were my last, to fully dedicate all of my energy and soul into my life’s mission (which is helping out the street photography community).

5. Ignore what others think of you

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I am a normal human being. I care about what others think about me. I get hurt when others judge me or say negative things about me. I like being the center of attention. I like feeling special, recognized, and “important.”

However the more I get into this line of thinking, the more destructive it becomes. I end up spending so much energy on worrying about what others think about me– that I no longer stay genuine. I no longer do things that make me happy and fulfilled– I just try to gain the favor and admiration of others.

When it comes to photography, I can get trapped into this sucker’s game too of worrying about the “likes”, “favorites”, ad the number of followers I have. I used to obsess over these things– checking my phone 24/7, using these pink stars, blue thumbs-up signs, and numbers to determine my self-value. I would also obsess over the number of likes, comments, and page views on the blog. It was destructive.

When a photograph I uploaded didn’t get as many likes or favorites as I expected, I felt like I was a crappy photographer. When I didn’t get that many page views, likes, or comments on an article I wrote on the blog– I felt that I wrote something crappy. If I didn’t get invited to some sort of street photography-related event, exhibition, or contest– I felt like I was a joke.

Fortunately things aren’t like that anymore (at least for the most part).

For my sanity, I have not been spending much time on social media lately. Yeah, I know it is pretty strange– as I have built of the popularity of this blog through social media. I mean, there is just so much to check. Facebook notifications, Facebook messages, the News feed, my Facebook Fan comments, my Facebook Fan messages, Tumblr, Tumblr messages, YouTube comments, Flickr comments, Flickr messages, Google+ comments, blog comments, emails, text messages– the list goes on.

I used to also read a ton of photography and tech related blogs, but for the last 6 months I have made a pretty radical move: I have been taking a fast from social media and the internet.

When it comes to health, they have discovered that fasting from eating for a while (although painful) is beneficial to our health. Funny enough, my best writing comes out when I am slightly hungry (like now), and my best workouts in the gym are when I am hungry as well.

But by purging all of the social media, blogs, and internet-related junk out of my system, I feel clean. I have worried less about what others think about me (whether it be bad or good). If I could make a guess, I think half the internet hates me (at least that is what YouTube comments have taught me) – but as long as my real-life friends and photographers care about me, why should I worry about what people on the internet think about me?

Not only that, but sometimes getting too much positive feedback can be a negative thing too. I found that if I find myself flattered, I become complacent. I no longer strive to produce better photography or features for this blog. Rather than listening to others’ opinions– I have learned to follow my own gut instinct, and follow my own feelings of myself.

Now that I check less social media, I feel better about myself. Also in real life, I try to avoid negative people who drain the life out of me– and spew negativity. I try to stay around like-minded, positive, and up-beat people. They bleed their positivity on me, and soak my mind with only good thoughts.

But even at the end of the day if I had no friends or people who didn’t like me– as long as I stayed true to my life’s mission, nothing else would matter.

6. You have to block out time for what you are passionate about

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Life is crazy. We are all jacked up on caffeine, high-speed internet connections, 4g, emails spewing all over the place, and things to get done. Our to-do lists are overflowing, and we barely have enough time to do what we are passionate about. We can sometimes be so busy attending to the needs of others and putting out fires that we never make time for ourselves.

When I got laid off my job I first loved the sense of freedom that I had. Woohoo– no more 9-5 life for me!

But I actually discovered working for myself, I didn’t know when to stop working and being “productive.” Ironically enough, even though I was a “full-time street photographer” I barely had enough time to go out and actually take photos (as I was busy answering emails, updating social media, doing finances, planning workshops, etc). I also didn’t do the writing that I wanted to do, as I would always check emails first things in the morning– and always attend to the needs of others before myself.

I have recently came to the realization that we will never have time to do what we love– unless we are ruthless about guarding our time, and blocking out time to do what we love.

So now, I have a personal rule: I dedicate the first 3 hours a day to working on this blog.

My days generally go like this: I go to sleep and put my phone to airplane mode. I wake up in the morning and prevent myself from checking my email first thing in the morning, as well as the text messages, and other notifications I might get. I start off with an espresso, go to the gym and lift some weights, take an icy cold shower (painful but invigorating), drop Cindy off to class, sit at a Cafe, drink another espresso, and write non-stop for the next 3 hours. At the end of these 3 hours I usually have a blog post ready to post, and I feel personally fulfilled and whole.

Even when it comes to street photography, I try to go out everyday at around 3pm– to just take some photographs around my neighborhood in Berkeley. I also always carry my camera with me everywhere I go, to take random photos I find interesting in my days.

I know a lot of us have full-time jobs, families, school, and other obligations that get in the way. You might ask yourself: sure Eric, this works for you because you don’t have to work a 9-5, but how will this work for the rest of us?

Even when I was working a full-time job, I would try to get up two hours early to work on my blog for at least two hours in the morning– before my day job sapped the energy and soul out of me. I think even if I had a full-time job, I would make it a practice to sleep a bit earlier at night, and wake up earlier to do my writing.

If you find yourself not having enough time to follow your passion or shoot on the streets– block out the time for yourself. In your calendar, block out an hour during lunch or after work for a “meeting” with yourself. That meeting can just be you going out and taking photographs. I know someone who would leave his house an hour earlier to work than he normally did, so he could take some photographs on the way to work. He would drive, find an interesting scene, get out of the car, take a photograph, and move on.

Know that life is short, and we will never have enough time if we don’t put ourselves first.

7. Walk slowly

1x1.trans 26 Lessons Life Has Taught Me About Street Photography

I am a big fan of the philosopher Nassim Taleb. And one of the tips I got from him was: “To first become a philosopher, start by walking very slowly.”

I have discovered some of my biggest “aha” moments when I walk on the streets, either out shooting– or just relaxing.

As an American, it is hard to walk. I used to live in LA, and we are the car culture of the world. Even walking 5 minutes to go to the grocery store seems like a pain in the ass. We would rather drive.

Ironically enough I have to walk when shooting on the streets, but I rarely walk if I need to get from point A to point B.

Now that I have moved to Berkeley, I have tried to make a greater effort to experience and get to know the neighborhood by simply walking more. Sometimes when I am lured by driving, I choose the longer option– walking.

I am still addicted to speed in a lot of ways (I hate it when my phone doesn’t have 4G or I’m stuck in traffic) and am still suckered in a lot of ways to worry about “efficiency” and “optimization.” Of course walking isn’t efficient nor optimal. Driving is– because it gets us there faster.

But by walking (especially walking slowly) it has helped me better appreciate the world around me, and even help me see more street photography opportunities (which I often pass up when I’m driving, or walking too quickly).

8. Spend more time in fewer places

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When I was a 3rd year in university, I went on an epic backpacking trip through Europe for around a month, which took me through Paris, Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, Venice, Prague, and London. I initially planned it that way– because I wanted to get “more bang for my buck” by seeing more places.

However I discovered that trying to see so many places in such a short time was quite exhausting. For many of the places, I was only able to spend around 2 days in each city– much of which was spent traveling to the place. Just once when I felt I was getting to know a place, I would be off to the next location. However at the end of my trip, I spent a week in London– and I loved it. I think this had to do with the fact that I didn’t feel so rushed, and I could go at a more comfortable place, and to get to really know London.

Now when it comes to traveling, I try to go to fewer places, but spend more time in each location. I have found this to be a lot less tiring, and more enjoyable. I have time to really get to know the place– and by the time I leave, I felt that I didn’t really “miss out” on anything.

In think in street photography to try to shoot too many different projects, subject matter, and locations doesn’t work well either. For me personally, by focusing on fewer projects and ideas– my photography has been much more focused, productive– and I have gotten better images.

9. Don’t rush things

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In life I often feel that everything is an emergency– and I always need to do things quickly and promptly. Not only does this increase stress in my life, but it also causes me to make huge mistakes and lower the quality of my work and life.

In street photography, I feel that the greatest projects I have seen take a long time. While we all want to quickly become great photographers, it is a slow and gradual journey. The best books I have seen generally take anywhere from 2-10 years. You can’t rush creating a body of work. Yet, we are all pressured to constantly shoot and upload new images to the web so we aren’t “forgotten” or ignored.

I used to get really impatient in life– that things weren’t happening quickly enough. Why aren’t I making more money and getting promoted in my job quicker? Why is this food taking so long to cook? Why is this line moving so slowly? Why is it taking so long for this website to load?

Now I have been working on my patience and cultivating it– and found it to reap huge rewards. Funny enough by taking a more relaxed approach, I am more productive in my work– and happier overall.

10. Less is more

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I used to buy a lot of crap that I didn’t need. At one point I remember owning over 20 pairs of shoes, 30 jackets, over 50 t-shirts, and countless other junk I didn’t really need in my life. I also owned too many cameras, too many lenses, and equipment I didn’t really need.

I came across minimalism a few years ago (probably through the Zen Habits blog) and found it to be a beautiful approach. The whole idea of “less is more” seemed a bit contradictory at first (isn’t more, more?) but I found that rather owning my material things, my material things started to own me.

So I started to purge all of my crap. When I moved from LA to Michigan to be with Cindy, I gave away 95% of my clothing, and either sold or donated the rest of the material crap I didn’t need. Except my books (I will never get rid of those), I was able to fit my life’s belongings into a few small boxes and a carry-on.

I found that having less stuff has been quite refreshing. When I wake up in the morning, no longer do I stress out about what I’m going to wear that day. I wear the same pair of pants, a plain t-shirt, my black shoes, my watch and I can use my energy to devote to more important things (like thinking of ideas to blog about).

Even when I am traveling, I used to be a typical Asian tourist: with those huge rolly bags. Now I travel really light: two shirts (quick-dry), two boxers (also quick-dry), two socks (sort of quick-dry), a laptop, my camera, and some film. I can fit that all into a school-sized backpack. This has made it a lot easier to physically navigate through the airport and through a new city, and is less stressful.

In street photography, I think we can easily get tempted to buy more cameras, more lenses, more equipment. We are also tempted to upload more images constantly. I fell into this trap.

However nowadays I only own one lens for my Leica (a 35mm) and try to upload fewer images to the web (only sharing my best work). By showing less, the overall quality of each image was a lot stronger. In a world with so much photography out there, I want to only show my best work.

11. Talk to strangers

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I used to have an aversion to talk to strangers (even though I am a pretty friendly guy). I would have situations in which I needed basic directions to go somewhere. But rather than asking a stranger for directions, I would spend at least 5 minutes on my smartphone trying to figure out where to go.

But ever since I started to shoot street photography, I have been a lot more comfortable talking and interacting with strangers. I have no problems asking for directions anymore– and I find it to be much more efficient than trying to figure it out on my own. Not only that, but I have found these strangers to be incredibly friendly and helpful (some even offer to walk to me where I need to go!)

Even in other “awkward” situations (like standing with a bunch of strangers in an elevator) I try to break the ice by chatting to people next to me. Surprisingly, most people are quite excited to chat to break the ice– and I generally step out of the elevator feeling better about myself, being able to connect with another human being. I have applied this mentality by trying to talk to as many strangers as I can: cashiers, waiters, parking attendants, etc– even small talk helps build a bridge.

In street photography I used to feel that all of my street photography had to be candid. If I wanted to become a master like Henri Cartier-Bresson, I shouldn’t talk to any strangers– to “ruin” the “authenticity” of my images.

But this wasn’t being authentic to myself. For me, I learned to love talking to strangers– and I found the more that I started to chat to people on the street and ask for permission to take their photograph, I made much deeper connections with them (and sometimes better images). Nowadays I would say out of my photos of strangers, around 60% of my shots are candid, and 40% are with permission in which I talk to them.

Generally the shots without permission turn out better, but I have also got some great shots in which I ask for permission.

But personally at the end of the day, I prefer the human interaction I get talking to a stranger and building some emotional bond– rather than pictures.

12. Beauty is often found in the most unexpected places

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I often find that my best street photographs happen in the least expected places– like the grocery store, the airport, the elevator, and just walking around my neighborhood.

Life is the same way, beauty can be found in the small things– like the laugh of a child, the embrace of a friend, or the smell of coffee in the morning.

13. We can control how to frame and see the world

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In life we can control how we can frame events– whether positive or negative. Whenever crappy stuff happens to me in life, I always think to myself: how can this moment be a blessing in disguise? I try to see the positive in the negative.

Similarly in street photography, we decide how to literally frame the world. We choose what to include our frame and what to exclude. We can choose to show the beauty and happiness in the world, or only the pain and misery. Or sometimes we can show both. Know we have this power.

14. Be grateful for what you have

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I sometimes forget how grateful I should be of all the wonderful things in my life. This includes my loving girlfriend, my friends, my family, my camera, my car, and the ability to pursue my passion.

In street photography I sometimes wish I had more fame, more recognition, more followers, more books, more cameras, film, lenses, etc– but I learned to appreciate what I have, and make the best of it.

15. The more you give, the more you receive

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I can often be greedy I want more and more and more. But I have discovered in my life, there is no limit to how much I want and can acquire.

But rather than focusing on acquiring, I have focused on giving. Funny enough, the more I give– the more I receive in return.

For example I give away a lot of free articles, videos, presets, and other stuff on this blog. However the more I give to this blog, the more the community has given back to me. I now am able to do my blog for a full-time living, and that is the ultimate gift I have received.

16. Travel is a means to an end (not the end)

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I used to think that I wanted to make travel the purpose of my life. Traveling has always been one of my joys and passions– and I thought of how I could structure a life in which I could travel all the time.

However after extensive traveling, I found it to be a means to an end– not the end itself. Meaning, I can’t structure my life to simply be on the road all the time. Traveling is a great opportunity to help me see new perspectives and experience the world, but at the end of the day– I need to be grounded, at a home (I will talk more about this in the next point).

Similarity in street photography I think traveling is a great way to break out the monotony of photographing in the same place over and over. However, it is hard to take good street photographs when you travel– in the sense that you don’t have enough time to build a body of work, and a lot of the photos you take abroad can be more cliche.

Even personally, I have found my best photography to be done in my backyard, than when I was traveling. I might get a few “keepers” here and there while traveling, but my most meaningful images are when I spend an extended period of time at a certain location near home.

17. Home is where the heart is

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At the end of the day, there is nothing more important than friends, family, a sense of community, and home.

When I was always abroad traveling, I never had enough time at home. Even though it was exciting to be in all these foreign places, a deep part of my soul was missing when I didn’t spend enough time at home.

Now that I have been spending more time at home– I feel happier, more at peace, and less stressed out. It gives me more time to work on the blog, spend time with those who matter to me, and also focus on photography projects close-by.

18. Don’t rely on inspiration

1x1.trans 26 Lessons Life Has Taught Me About Street Photography

One of the quotes that has really stuck with me from Woody Allen is, ” 80% of success is just showing up.

One of the most difficult things about being a blogger is to be able to consistently blog. There are days I don’t feel inspired, days I don’t feel like writing– but I still force myself to get to my computer, and to write something. And funny enough, even the act of sitting down the ideas start to flow out.

In street photography too– there are tons of times I don’t want to actually go out and take photos. I have tons of excuses: I’m tired, I already took photos yesterday, I don’t feel inspired. But it in those moments I need to give myself a kick in the ass and just get out of the house. And once I’m on the streets, I suddenly do feel inspired and start taking photographs.

So I have learned to not just rely on inspiration when it comes to my life, and it has worked well so far. Even Thomas Edison said: ” Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.

19. Live if everyday were my last

1x1.trans 26 Lessons Life Has Taught Me About Street Photography

My grandfather recently passed away in the last year, and it had me thinking a lot about death. It made me re-evaluate how I lived my life, and what the purpose of my life was.

I also am a huge fan of Steve Jobs and the way he lived his life. Although in many regards he was an asshole and didn’t treat others with compassion– he lived a life true to his own heart, and truly lived like everyday were his last. He also knew that he had cancer, which helped even give him more clarity in life.

Even though I am only 26 years old– I have had a few near-death experiences. Most of these moments were while driving– in which I fell asleep at the wheel, or barely avoided a head-on collision by half a second. In those moments in which flashes by my very eyes– it has helped me realize that I never know when I am going to die.

So nowadays I have been trying to live my life as if everyday were my last. I try to work as diligently as I can, working on this blog, photographing, and spending time with friends and family. Because who knows, when I lie down in bed at night– it is not 100% certain I will wake up the next morning.

20. Live without regrets

1x1.trans 26 Lessons Life Has Taught Me About Street Photography

This goes with the last point– living without regrets.

There have been two big “turning points” in my life– when I started college (and chose sociology over biology) and when I got laid off my job (choosing to work on my blog full-time instead of getting another typical job).

The way I thought to myself was the following: if I look back at my life at age 80, would I have any regrets in the decisions I made?

This has been one of my life’s principles– and it has helped me live a life without regrets. Sure I could have made more money by choosing a different life path, but I probably wouldn’t be as fulfilled as happy. Sure I could have chosen a life that was more secure and not deal with all the stresses of running my own business, but I wouldn’t have the sense of freedom I have in my life now.

In street photography there are tons of moments where I see great street photographs– and hesitate to take the photograph. I then spend the rest of the day regretting not taking the image.

Even though there are still lots of missed opportunities I have in my photography, I still remind myself to shoot without regrets. And even though I have pissed off some people when taking photographs, at least I don’t regret not taking the chance to take a possibly great photograph.

21. Follow your passion

1x1.trans 26 Lessons Life Has Taught Me About Street Photography

I know the saying: “follow your passion” is a bit of a cliche, but this cliche has helped direct my life in a meaningful way.

When I switched from biology to sociology, it was because I wasn’t passionate about biology. It wasn’t a field that interested me, stimulated me, or motivated me. But sociology was different. It was fascinating to me. It was exciting. I actually studied it for fun. I discovered it was my passion.

Sure I had no idea what I would do with sociology for a living, but it helped me in the long run. Combining my passion for photography and sociology– I discovered street photography. And my passion for teaching and sharing knowledge with others has lead to me running this blog and teaching workshops, and sharing the love of street photography with others.

I feel when I am out shooting, I try to only focus on shooting subjects which interest me– and which I am passionate about. If I work on a project and I feel that I am forced to work on it (rather than being intrinsically motivated to do so) it is a sign I have to either stop the project or move on.

22. Live for others, not for myself

1x1.trans 26 Lessons Life Has Taught Me About Street Photography

I want to be happy. I want to live a comfortable life without financial stresses, stress about my health, or the livelihood of my family. I want nice material things and a nice house. But the more I start thinking in this selfish way, the less valuable work I do to help others.

In a quote by Roman philosopher Publilius Syrus, he says: “He who lives for himself is truly dead to others.”

In moments where I am greedy, selfish, and live for myself– it pulls me away from my friends, family, and the community. However the more I think about the work I do as helping others– the more inner-peace and self of satisfaction it brings me.

I also think in my street photography, I like to think that my images can help inspire, motivate, or reflect beauty (or pain) in life. Although I do shoot because I want to please myself, I also want to create images that hopefully help contribute to society. I want to create images that challenge people in terms of how they see society– to challenge the status quo.

23. Avoid boredom

1x1.trans 26 Lessons Life Has Taught Me About Street Photography

Life is too short to do things that bore you. I think we were all put on this earth for a reason. To do great things. To create beautiful art. To contribute to the rest of society.

I feel one of the saddest things is when someone has to do something against his/her will, is bored, and doesn’t fulfill his/her greatest potential.

I have found a helpful way to live my life is to simply avoid boredom. By avoiding boredom, I find things that are exciting and intrinsically enriching to me. I do work effortlessly– rather than feeling like it is “work.”

For example, I work on this blog because I absolutely love it. Even if I had a full-time job, I would still run the blog– because it is my passion, and whenever I write, I am never bored.

For a while I did get bored with some of the stuff that I did wrote, so I decided to switch it up– and only write about things that were interesting to me. And I feel that has helped me grow as a writer, and create more interesting articles that bring more value to the street photography community.

In my previous post: “The 7 Deadly sins of Mediocrity in Street Photography” I shared that mediocrity is often created by a sense of boredom. If we are bored, it means we aren’t being challenged. Many kids in school are bored in school and become trouble-makers, because the curriculum isn’t challenging enough for them. However when the kids are either bumped to a higher grade or given more challenging material– they blossom.

So if you ever find yourself bored shooting street photography: challenge yourself. Perhaps street photography isn’t your passion? Perhaps it might be landscape, portraiture, or fashion? It doesn’t have to be street photography. Or perhaps you need to work on a project that you are passionate about? Or you need to explore a new neighborhood? Let your curiosity guide you, and avoid boredom at all costs.

24. Read voraciously

1x1.trans 26 Lessons Life Has Taught Me About Street Photography

I still have a lot to learn in life, but damn– I have learned a lot in the last few years from books. Ironically enough I am reading far more books now than I did when I did in college.

I find the beauty of reading a book is that generally people spend their entire lives putting their ideas into a book. It only generally takes me about a day to read a book. Some of these books take 10 years for an author to write. This means that by reading a book, I can take in 10 years worth of wisdom from someone far smarter than me in only a day. If I read a few books a week, this knowledge and understanding of the world compounds– and helps me, which ultimately helps others.

In my spare time, I don’t read that many books on photography. Rather I spend a lot of time reading books on philosophy, economics, psychology, sociology, and cognitive science. And through these books– I have been able to learn valuable outside knowledge which helps me in my street photography (and live a more peaceful life).

Also I have invested thousands of dollars in photography books (picture books) which have helped me deepen my understanding of what makes great photography. This investment of books has paid much more than any amount of cameras and lenses could.

So if you want to become a better photographer, buy more photography books (and regular books), and eat them voraciously. The more you fill up your appetite, the more you will feel satisfied and grow.

25. Add value to the world

1x1.trans 26 Lessons Life Has Taught Me About Street Photography

One thing that has given me much more clarity in running this blog is whenever I’m going to publish something, I ask myself: am I creating value for others?

Granted that a lot of the things I do are for selfish reasons– but my most meaningful work is when it is directed at helping others.

That is why this blog tends to have a more “educational” edge. I find articles that aren’t helpful or provide some sort of “lessons” or “takeaway points” to not have as much value.

Also in my photography, I ask myself: are my images somehow creating some value for society? Do my images impact people on an emotional level? Do they change how they see the world? Do my image show some sort of beauty which inspires others? Or are my images self-gratuitous, and am I just shooting to get lots of “likes” and “favorites” online?

26. Make love my mission

1x1.trans 26 Lessons Life Has Taught Me About Street Photography

I think at the end of the day, love is the key. Love is the answer. Love is what propels us to live for others. Love is what keeps us doing what we want to do. Love is the bond which keeps friends and family together. Love is the ultimate goal preached in every religion.

I think in street photography we have to ultimately love what we do, and also show love to our subjects. To show compassion. To show that we care. This is why I generally avoid taking photographs of homeless people (unless I talk to them and treat them like a human being).

I have found it easy for me to sometimes become dispassionate to my subjects– to see them as “targets” rather than living, breathing, blood-and-flesh people. This is what motivates me to always shoot with love on my mind– to shoot in a positive way, and hopefully make some change in the world with my photography.

Wish me a happy birthday with clean water!

If this blog has ever helped you learn something new, helped motivate you, or added value to your life– please show me your gratitude by “paying it forward.”

What is the idea of “paying it forward?” It is the concept that if someone has helped you in your life (perhaps me and this blog) you pay that gratitude forward to others.

Please show me your gratitude by making a donation to “Charity: Water“,  a non-profit whose mission is to bring clean and safe drinking water to every person in the world. I set a goal of $10,000 which means if everyone who visits the blog donates at least $1, we should be able to hit the goal quite easily. I already donated the first $20 to get the ball rolling! You can donate here.

Thank you so much for the continued love and support in 2014, let us continue to grow as a community and continue to drive the genre of street photography forward! :)

Upcoming Street Photography Workshops

If you want to conquer your fears and meet new peers, join me in Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Sydney, Melbourne, San Francisco, Stockholm, London, Portland, Chicago, Toronto, and New York City:

See My Upcoming Street Photography Workshops

  • Mike

    Happy Birthday, Eric.

  • agussiahaan

    Happy birthday Eric, thank you for the inspiration :)

  • David

    Hi Eric,

    I usually never leave comments on blog-posts and whatnot, but after having visited your website on and off for the past couple of months, I must say that I have to give a lot of respect for what you do. Like some other people who have looked through your blog in the past, I initially didn’t find myself very partial to your work, and (if I am to be thoroughly honest with you) I never really thought that your writing and opinions were genuine in that they didn’t seem to add any insight or further value to the topics you discussed. Somewhat regrettably, all I imagined was that what your work came down to was excessive self-promotion and general hype through social media (which, when it comes down to it, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, really). However, I have grown to understand your approach to photography (and to the writing of this blog), and I admittedly must say that I actually see a lot of myself in you as someone who has experienced the same type of socioeconomic and cultural struggles that you and your family has gone through. I believe it is tremendously difficult to garner that sort of confidence required for “street” photography (and for writing a blog read by thousands of people) when you are brought up in certain conditions that make you feel alone and subject to judgment by other people, and I speak from my own personal experience on this matter. Yet, you continue to remain positive throughout it all, and that, I think, is truly something worth commending you for.

    Before I end my comment here, I want to say how awesome of a job you are doing with the blog, and I am glad that it opens so many new doors into different aspects of photography for the people who read through your content. I certainly wish the best for your work, and I hope you continue demonstrating constant and consistent improvement (or however you see fits your philosophy/approach to photography) over the many years to come. I also wanted to say that my favorite image of yours has got to be the one under point #17. Everything about that photograph is beautifully executed, and to me, it offers an emotional depth that I often find lacking in most color photography I see nowadays. I don’t know how I would describe it, but I am glad to have seen that photograph because it gives me a sense of wholeness–and for that, I am very thankful to have landed upon your work in the first place in spite of my initial rejection.

    With all that being said, happy birthday, and I look forward to seeing a lot more great works from you in the future.

    Regards,
    David

  • Alioscia Papout’

    Hi Eric,

    Happy birthday ! Thank you for your blog, it is a great source of “inspiration” (not the one you relly on or wait for, but the one that comes from what surounds you :)).
    I wanted to advice you a book : http://www.amazon.com/Happiness-Guide-Developing-Lifes-Important/dp/0316167258/ref=la_B001IO9SGO_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1391238778&sr=1-1
    I do believe with your mindset most of what is said there is well known to you, but the way it is said might strike you ! The author also happens to be a photographer so maybe you’ll find his photografic work interesting too, but his philosophy is his strong quality !
    Keep growing like you seem to do ! I hope I’ll find the money and the time to preselect my pictures to take an online workshop with you.
    All the best,

    Askat

    PS : you should have a look to the #14 I believe there might be an s that was not intended to be here :)

  • Ghita Katz Olsen

    Happy Birthday to you and thanks for what you give through this blog. It’s always inspiring and thoughtprovoking.

  • raddu

    Happy b day, i’ve apreciate the cause, water means life,that means love,that inspire all this rules and much more
    ty for the great job
    best regards from italy

  • http://www.michaelmeinhardt.com/ Michael Meinhardt

    When I read #22 in the short list, I was ready to protest. Of course you live for yourself first. Everyone does.

    Then I read your explanation and I think you got it right. The important thing to remember is to make yourself happy first, because that – and ONLY that – gives you the energy to help others.

    I was too lazy to read the rest. :)

    Good luck buddy and happy birthday!

  • amosk

    Happy birthday bro! I have to admit I only read the list at the top, but those are some great thoughts. I’m sorry I missed you in Seattle.

  • Daniel

    Glad you’re spending your best time in the day working on this blog, it’s easily one of the best photography resources on the internet, especially the lessons learnt from famous photographers. It’s pretty much unique to find a photography website on the internet that actually provides the reader with something they can take away and help move their photography forward. Nearly all of the other photography websites masquerading as being about photography are really about photo gear and are designed to get the people visiting their sites to follow their links to buy more gear they don’t really need.

    In case you haven’t come across it before, here’s an amazing photography/interview book that gives life lessons from truly great people including Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and Clint Eastwood:
    http://www.amazon.com/Wisdom-With-Three-New-Interviews/dp/0810997770

    Happy birthday and keep up the good work.

  • Rom

    Thank you Eric.I’m speechless..I learned a lot today.

  • Jonas

    Happy birthday! Only 26! – That makes your work even more impressive. Keep it up.

  • AP

    Like everyone else who follows online SP, I saw the condescending post that some of those morons at HCSP made the other day. It’s a shame that group is dominated by one (well, mainly one) or two lazy (oh, right, it’s a “free service”, so we should all be grateful for admins time), mediocre idiots who themselves make no tangible contribution to SP, but who have instead destroyed what was once a decent resource for learning about the genre. You have to search back YEARS, not days or weeks, to find any useful information in the threads there from folks who have mostly realized the dilution and moved on; these days it’s just a sideshow of perpetual pissing matches buried in the crit thread. A handful of thoroughbred jerks like Justin have sunk the HCSP ship.

    Speaking of Justin, good grief, has anyone who ever criticizes Eric’s work actually looked at his stuff? Just flat out bad photography, let alone bad SP; the emperor certainly has no clothes. Those who can’t do: moderate a lame Flickr group, I guess. Anyway, I digress…

    In contrast to those once great outlets that have dried up and become pompously inaccessible, you’ve kept it humble here. You have continued to put in the work of improving your writing, have accomplished more that 90% of the peanut gallery, and yet you haven’t been afraid to acknowledge your shortcomings. I don’t always agree with your words or your photographic approach, but you get my respect any day for the earnest contributions that you have made to SP, and for being a decent online human being. Keep learning and sharing those life lessons, Eric.

    • Passive Observer

      “Speaking of Justin, good grief, has anyone who ever criticizes Eric’s work actually looked at his stuff? Just flat out bad photography, let alone bad SP”

      That’s equally true for many others of his collectives.
      Actually that’s true for 99.9% of photographers that try to market their work as SP.
      That’s true for all photographers(exceptions prove the rule) that came to be known as “Street Photographers” after circa 2000.

      • AP

        By and large, I have to agree. There’s a small percentage of folks getting it right. A very, very, small percentage. All the more reason why it’s almost hilarious to watch that collective flounder. There’s less there than meets the eye, and the more they criticize guys like Eric for being what they feel is subpar and unworthy of his popularity, the more they sink into self-parody. Delicious irony.

    • RED

      I almost puked my lunch out after following your suggestion to look at this guy Justin from HCSP’s photos in flickr. Bad is a kind word…horrendous is more appropriate.

  • Mara

    Eric, happy birthday! You really seem to have a great perspective on life and I am enjoying reading your blog. I would love for s future post someday on books outside of photography that you have read and really enjoyed or felt impacted by.

  • David Sierra

    Happy Birthday Eric, keep on snappin!

  • Giovanni

    Happy birthday Eric. You are a deep person. Keep it up!

  • Jaibo Wang

    26 is too many! you should have a top 5 list instead. ;)

  • Jaibo Wang

    The picture accompanying #16 seems to be heavily inspired by Magnum’s ‘Birds and Planes..’: http://todayspictures.slate.com/20100819/

  • Tzen Xing

    Saengil chukha hamnida (better late than never)! I’ve learned a lot from reading your articles, both inspiring and informative. Thank you for caring and sharing!

  • http://stephenbray.me/ Stephen_BRAY

    Belated birthday wishes Eric. The first nine images are all competent, but I don’t like number 5 because the woman clearly doesn’t want to be photographed, and so both the act of photographing her, and especially the act of publishing an image she doesn’t want published are aggressive. It’s not as if she’s a public figure who has chosen to be placed in the spotlight, she’s just someone going about her business. I know it’s legal to make such photographs, but when the camera becomes a provocation the result is predictable.

    That said numbers 1 and 2 are fabulous. You’ve managed to find some ‘normal’ people out having a good time, photographed them without artifice and projected some happiness into the world. Fabulous :)

  • jasminevphoto

    This is one elaborate blog post that kept me engaged from beginning till end. You’ve distinguished yourself from other street photographers with your consistency, insights and generosity in sharing. Keep up the awesome work you’ve being doing here – I read your blog like a daily newspaper.

  • Ian

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. I’m a fan of your ethic and also your photography. Glad to know you! AND, happy birthday!!

  • Jim

    Terrific post. And a belated Happy Birthday. I’ve been following you on and off for a couple of years, and I must say it’s been an inspiration to watch you grow as a blogger, photographer, philosopher and teacher. You are wise beyond your years. I hope I’m alive in 2040 to see what you’ve done with your next 26.

  • Patric Shaw

    Brilliant Eric……rules to live by….. thanks for the inspiration

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  • Karen M. W.

    i found the blog refreshingly honest! I shine the light on it, is my motto. live, laugh, love… that desribes it all I think.

  • Andrea Lioy

    Great post Eric… I would have titled it “26 Lessons Street Photography Has Taught Me About Life”! :D