I want to write you a letter on how and why to photograph life:
1. Why photograph life?
The world can sometimes be a depressing-ass place.
War, famine, genocide, death, misery, poverty, and suffering.
I don’t want us to be blind to all that human suffering, but at the same time— we need optimism. We need hope. We need something to look forward to. We need more life.
LIFE magazine which no longer exists was all about capturing life. Unfortunately, LIFE is no longer around.
We should photograph our own LIFE. We should photograph our hopes, dreams, happy moments, and the moments which make us feel human.
On the other hand, every photograph we make is a meditation on death. Whatever we photograph will eventually perish and die. This also includes your loved ones.
4. What/who brings you joy?
What puts a smile on your face? What brings you joy and hope in your life?
For me, that is photographing Cindy. There is nobody who makes me giggle, laugh, and feel like a kid again. I can be serious with her, but I can also be silly with her.
My family also brings me joy. My mom (umma) was the one who raised me, taught me all my morales, and seeing how curious she is (she is like a big kid) — she inspires me. I love my sister and her boyfriend, I love Cindy’s family, I love my friends, and I love strangers, and I love all of humanity.
I like laughter. I like capturing it in a photograph. Whenever we see a photo of a laughing lady — how can you not smile and feel a more positive?
5. Positive photography
The world needs happier and more positive photos. Why is it that us photographers are so obsessed with photographing war and famine? Why not happiness as well?
We need both — just like yin and yang. But there is too much white—not enough black. Too much black—not enough white. We need to balance it out.
Whatever you consider a ‘positive’ photograph — pursue that. Photograph happy moments with your kids, your partner, your friends, family, or strangers you meet on the streets. Share positive photographs with people on social media, or print them out and hand them to you.
6. Positive street photography
Shoot with your heart in the streets. Don’t just do ‘hit and run’ type of street photography. Talk to your subjects, smile, and interact with them. Share your joy and happiness of life. Give them a smile. Show them your LCD screen. Offer to email them the photograph.
Be a more ‘humanist’ street photographer.
Of course, still shoot your candid photos — but whenever possible, make eye contact, and smile.
7. MORE LIFE
Photograph growth. Photograph growing trees, growing children, or growing adults.
Photograph organic matter — photograph nature, the water, and anything green.
Photograph concrete — the organic material of man. Photograph your own concrete jungle, and your own reality.
8. Death & Life
Photograph your life in reverse. Think about your death. Think of yourself at 90 years old, looking back at your life, and thinking about how you lived your life.
Then hit rewind, and start to live your life and photograph it.
If you were 90 years old, on your deathbed— what kind of photos would you want to look at? Which photos would you really care about, and not care about?
For me, if I were 90 on my deathbed, I would not care about any cappuccino or food photos. I wouldn’t care about snapshots of landmarks in touristy foreign cities. I wouldn’t care about my street photos as much.
I would care about photos of Cindy, my mom, my sister, my family, my friends, myself (self-portraits), and some meaningful interactions I’ve had with strangers on the streets. I would care about the photos that help me meditate on the joy of life. But then again — I would also like my bitter-sweet photos of (some) pain and misery in the world. We need both to balance out life.
So dear friend, go out and photograph whatever brings you joy in your life. Which of your photos bring a smile to your face?
Photograph more life.
Learn more: How to Photograph Death >