“You can’t control the results, only the effort.” – Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is a guy I admire very much he’s about my age, and has accomplished a lot. He’s a best selling author, practicing stoic (highly recommend his book, “The Obstacle is the Way), passionate blogger, and overall down to earth guy.
I read this quote on his Twitter a while back, and it really struck a chord with me.
In life, we are told that if we work hard, we will achieve everything we want in life.
We can control the effort we put in, but not necessarily the results.
For example in street photography. What can you control in terms of effort? You can decide to shoot everyday, to be focused (turning your phone to airplane mode when shooting), you can decide to invest in photographers books (and not gear), you can call up another photographer to do a critique session together, you can study composition and learn how to “work the scene”, and you can study the work of the masters.
But you can’t control the result.
What is the result in street photography? You ultimately can’t control whether you get a good shot or not. You can’t control the weather (although you can control when you go out and shoot), you can’t control what people look like, you can’t control what the city you shoot in looks like, and you can’t control whether all the elements of a scene will come together perfectly.
But we can control the editing process; deciding which shots to keep, and which to ditch.
So this is today’s meditation: detach yourself from the results, and enjoy the process.
I’m easily disappointed. I want every photo I take to be brilliant. But 99.9% of the time, I take shitty photos. If I get 1 shot I’m happy with every 50 rolls of film, I’m doing well.
The problem I have with shooting digital is this: it makes me focus too much on the results, not the effort.
Having an LCD screen on a camera is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that when we’re starting off as beginners, “chimping” helps us quickly learn from our mistakes. But as we get more experienced, the LCD screen is a crutch; it is more of a nicotine addiction. Checking the LCD screen is a sign of our insecurity.
Furthermore, assuming that a good street photographer only gets one good shot a month, the likelihood of one photo being half good is a extremely low probability. Checking your LCD screen every hour, or checking your photos on your computer everyday, has a very low “signal to noise” ratio. “Signal” are the good shots that we get. “Noise” is the bad photos that we take. So after 8 hours of shooting in a single day will result in a few (or no) good photos and a lot of bad photos.
Furthermore I find that the expense of shooting film is a blessing, not a curse. Why? Whenever I’m about to click the shutter, I got “skin in the game”, meaning, everytime I click the shutter it costs me something. Therefore I am very considerate before I take an image. I’m a lot more picky and selective before I shoot.
“But don’t you lose a lot of shots because you’re afraid to click the shutter?”
Not at all. What I do is this: I’m picky with the scenes I decide to shoot, but once I find an interesting scene, I’ll shoot an entire roll of film on it.
For example, I might go an entire day of not seeing anything interesting. But once I see something good, I’ll “shoot the shit out of it.” So rather than taking 1-2 photos of everything, just identify 3 good scenes a day, and try to shoot 30+ photos of each scene.
If you shoot digital, take 50, 100+ photos of the scene. For one of Alex Webb’s most famous “Barber Shop” image in istanbul, he shot 10 rolls of Kodak Kodachrome on it. Like Henri Cartier-Bresson once said, “Sometimes you got to milk the cow a lot to get a little bit of cheese.”
Apparently even Josef Koudelka shoots 1,000 rolls of film a year. And his book “Exiles” which took him over 10 years contains fewer than 80 images. Less is more.
Morale of the story? Shoot a lot of photos, but be very selective which you decide to keep.
Don’t be disappointed
Ultimately you shoot street photography because you love it. You have enough stress and disappointment from your job, income, family life, etc. Why add additional stress, anxiety, and disappointment to your photography — which should be your joy and passion?
Hustle hard when you’re shooting on the streets, but fuck the results. Of course you want to get good shots, but don’t be disappointed if you don’t.
How can we be less disappointed when we’re shooting on the streets? Some ideas:
1. Don’t chimp
Turn off your LCD preview. If you can’t control yourself, tape it up with gaffers tape. Better yet, shoot film (then you truly won’t be tempted). I have no self control when it comes to chimping, so shooting film is the ultimate solution.
Also make it a point to look at your images infrequently as possible. I’d say if you shoot digital, let your photos “marinate” for at least a week before looking at them on your computer. On top of that, I’d suggest waiting at least a month before deciding to upload them. For me personally, it takes me about a year before I can fully emotionally detach myself from my images and identify whether my shots are truly good or not.
2. Enjoy the walk and a nice coffee
One piece of advice I got from my friend Jack Simon: don’t go out and shoot “street photography.” Just tell yourself: “Today I’m going to go on a nice walk, enjoy the city, have a nice chat with some strangers, and enjoy a nice coffee. And I’ll just take photos of whatever is interesting to me along the way.”
Enjoy the process. The journey is the reward.
“The good traveler is not intent on arriving.” – Laozi
3. Don’t upload your shots
I think more photographers should keep their work offline, and not publish their shots until they’re truly ready.
This is also great because it allows us to make images we’re happy with, rather than just uploading images that please others.
Whenever I upload an image to social media it is a lose/lose situation. If I get a lot of “likes” on a shot, then that becomes my new standard. And if I get any fewer “likes” than that, I get disappointed.
For example, before I deleted Instagram from my phone last week, I would get (on average) 800-1000 “likes” a shot. This made me hungry for more. But whenever I got “only” 500 likes, it would make me feel shitty. I would self doubt myself, my inner serenity would be disturbed, and I would feel like a failure.
Not uploading any new shots has been insanely refreshing. I feel more peace of mind, more happy, and less stressed.
So if you’re addicted to social media and the approval of those little virtual red hearts, try an experiment: go 30 days without using any social media. Just uninstall Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr, whatever from your phone for a month. See how you like it, you can always reinstall it after the 30 days.
Don’t worry about making good photos. First of all, just enjoy yourself. Have fun. Don’t add unnecessary pressure or stress or disappointment in life. We already deal with enough of that bullshit.
But still, hustle hard, try to push your limits in street photography (only compare yourself to yourself), and realize photography is a journey.
Godspeed my friend, you got this shit!
*On the way from Stockholm back to Berkeley! So excited to see cindy back home, and wish me a safe flight. Got 2 transfers, one in Frankfurt, another in Montreal. Gonna also try fasting from eating, apparently it helps with jetlag. We’ll see. Lots of cool new stuff I have planned for the blog, plan in printing more physical books (art books and instructional manuals), etc. So stay in the loop, and thanks always for your love generosity, and time in reading this.
Now go shoot :)