Imma try to share with you all my secrets in terms of how photography principles, based on the last 10 years I’ve been making photographs.
1. Time devours all
Time devours all but leaves no ashes.
I’ve discovered the only way I know whether I’ve made good photos or not is this:
Have they stood the test of time?
Time is our ultimate counselor. In terms of life, friends, and relationships. That which lasts a long is generally better.
For example, my favorite photos from the last 10 years have still survived. The photos that I’ve lost on old hard drives are no longer important. In fact, I’ve been having the guts to actually go back and delete photos from the past.
For example, I have a 6 Terabyte hard drive filled with my archives from 2009-2017. For some reason, I was hoarding these images. Perhaps it was my fear that if I lost these photos, I would somehow be losing my memories and therefore losing a piece of myself. A piece of my identity. Even the androids from Blade Runner cherish photographs of their “memories”.
I realized recently that photography is all about life and death. It is a meditation that we are going to die. It is a philosophical tool of us trying to come to grips that unfortunately one day we will die.
We think we can prevent death with photography. But the sad truth is that no matter how many photos we make, or how good they are– we will die, and our loved ones will die.
Henri Cartier-Bresson was one of the greatest photographers of all time, and he made some good photos over 30 years. Then he gave it up, to pick up painting and drawing. And then he died. And his wife Martine Franck (probably better than HCB) died. We still love his images, but he is dead and will not come back. So his photos are immortal, but he is mortal.
I think as photographers, we are seeking immortality through our photos. And I think that is fine.
But it is our duty to die as human beings so we shouldn’t be vain enough to think that we should live forever. So don’t be one of those folks who want to live forever like Peter Thiel. If anything, death is what makes life delicious. If I lived forever, I would have no value for my life and would rather commit suicide after 1,000 years of boredom. If you’re alive long enough, you’re gonna see everything on earth. And you will get bored.
Honestly at this point, I’m pretty bored with photography and life. I feel like I’ve seen everything. I’ve been to all the big cities in the world I’ve wanted to. I bought a Leica. I accrued more than $100,000 in my savings account. I have achieved #2 ranking on Google for street photography. What am I gonna do with my life when I am #1 for photography on the internet, and I’m making $100,000,000 a year? What am I gonna do once I’ve eaten at all the $$$$ restaurants in San Francisco? What am I gonna do when I’ve been to every corner of the globe?
The secret for me is this: I’ve found greater joy, happiness, and curiosity and inspiration in seeking to serve other photographers.
So now, my purpose in life is to empower as many photographers on planet earth (all 7 billion+) during my short tenure here on earth. If I’m lucky, I might live to 92 years old (when my grandpa died). If I’m not lucky, I will get Schizophrenia or some degenerative mental disease at age 50 (happened to my dad).
So I’m age 29 now, and I got 21 good years left. Like Benjamin Button, I’ve crossed (beyond) the half way mark in life, and I’m just slowly dying now.
So friend the lesson is this: realize that you will die, so don’t waste time in your photography.
If you knew that you only had 10 days left to live, would you spend 5 of those days daydreaming about that new camera or lens you wanna buy? Or day dream about shooting street photography in Paris? Or would you just appreciate your time with your loved ones, and to photograph your partner, kids, friends, and yourself?
Homework assignment: Imagine you will die in 10 days:
Photograph the last 10 days of your life, and at the end of those 10 days, publish those 10 photos and call it your “Memento Mori” project, and share it on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter or Tumblr with the #personalphotography hashtag. Print them out, and share the with your loved ones.
And have your family keep those photos to use at your funeral.
2. Use a shittier camera than you can afford
To me, it is cool that Warren Buffet is a billionaire and lives in a humble home with a humble car.
To me, it is cool that Eminem (worth hundreds of millions) wears a Casio G-Shock instead of a Rolex.
To me, it is cool that Kendrick Lamar drives an anonymous Red Corvette instead of a quarter of a million dollar McLaren.
So I think it is cooler to use a camera that is intentionally shittier than you can afford.
For example, I’m lucky that now I’m rich, I can afford any digital camera I want. I can technically go out and buy a $50,000 digital hasselblad, a $15,000 digital Leica, but I prefer to shoot with a cheap $600 Ricoh GR II camera. Why? Because I genuinely prefer that it is smaller and fits in my front pocket. I hesitate less before making photos, and it fits my lifestyle better.
And the best feeling is that I no longer need to feel like I need to boost up my self esteem with the camera I shoot with. I don’t need to show off my lack of self confidence by the camera. I used to wear the Leica around my neck to make my dick size feel bigger (my penis size is probably smaller than average).
I also genuinely feel that most photographers would be a lot happier if they bought and shot with a camera below their means.
So if you’re really rich, you don’t need to shoot with a $30,000 camera. Maybe a $5,000 camera can suit you.
If you’re middle class, instead of a $2,000 camera, shoot with a $600 Ricoh GR II camera and join the #RICOHMAFIA
Or if you’re poor, just shoot with a shitty smartphone. Just use your iPhone. Or buy a used iPhone. Get a used iPhone 6s, or buy a new iPhone SE ($400 unlocked, and has the same camera as the iPhone 6s).
So friend, have pride that you don’t need the best equipment. Shoot with a camera below your means, and let your photos speak for themselves.
Funny random note: most of my best recent photos are all shot on this $600 Ricoh GR II, compared to the photos shot on my $5,000 Leica.
And if I could have given my 18 year old self advice in photography I would have said:
Eric, just use your iPhone, and use the rest of the money to travel the world, have unique experiences, invest in photo books and not gear, to attend photography workshops, and to impress others that you can make good photos on an iPhone.
Funny enough, I just gave away my MacBook Pro laptop to my friend and I’m typing all this on IA writer on my old iPad Air. So I need to make fewer excuses about my equipment not being “good enough.”
I must only blame myself, never my equipment.
3. Make photos that impress yourself
The only way to know whether you are a good photographer or not is this: look at your own photos and ask yourself:
Do I like my own photos?
If the answer is “yes”, you are a good photographer.
If the answer is “no”, you need to work harder to become a good photographer.
Never crowd source your self esteem on social media. Meaning, never upload a photo to Instagram that you don’t like, hoping that others will like it.
Because what if you uploaded a photo that got 1,000 likes but you didn’t like it? Would you feel real to yourself?
Ultimately, you should be your own ultimate judge and arbiter.
I’m not speaking false modesty when I tell you that I don’t really care about what others like my photos or not. If they like them, I am very happy. If they don’t like my photos, I am still very happy.
I only seek to make myself happy with my photos, and disregard the “opinions” of others.
So the rule is this:
Only upload photos that you like.
This is the top three distillations I have in photography principles.
What are your photography principles? Write them on a piece of paper, or your smartphone notes app. Write the top three photography principles you follow in your life, and ask yourself:
- Do I like my own photos?
- Why do I make photos?
- What do I want my legacy as a photographer or artist to be after I die?
Be strong and shoot for a long ass time.