Unexamined Photos Aren’t Worth Shooting

Hand and selfie shadow. Blue and red. Marseille, 2017

This is a spin-off of the wise saying from Socrates: “The unexamined life isn’t worth living.”

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Gratitude in photography

Elegance. Woman with umbrella. Seoul, 2009

I’ve been reviewing my old pictures and been having a lot of fun.

My grandma, laughing. Seoul, 2017.

For me, it’s appreciation of how far I’ve come, and how I’m changing and evolving as a photographer.

Cherry blossom. Seoul, 2014

How have I evolved as a photographer?

Man with face mask in Seoul. Shot with flash at 1/15th of a second

For example in the beginning of my photographic pursuits, I was all about “the decisive moment”—shooting in the spirit of Henri Cartier-Bresson, then shooting with a flash like Bruce Gilden, and now, I see myself shooting more childlike abstract photos, in the spirit of Matisse or Rene Magritte.

Seoul, 2016. Flash with layers of Cindy and my mom.

I feel the problem in modern life is that we have too much action, no reflection.

What is happiness?

My mom and Cindy / Busan, 2017

For example, I think happiness in life is:

  1. Achievement
  2. Appreciation

To achieve is to satisfy some inner desire. Then appreciation is feeling gratitude and a sense of progress.

Soju for my grandfather, grave, busan, 2016

So looking at my old photos, I feel immense gratitude for the past teachers I’ve had, and the past experiences I’ve had. But also, it is a reminder to make NEW photos, and to gain NEW experiences —for me to keep evolving, experimentation, and learning.

Two girls in the rain. Seoul, 2009 / Canon 5D

Feel gratitude for the past

Seoul, 2014. Portrait by Josh White

I think in life, we often spend too much time living in the past, with nostalgia, and sadness or regret.

My suggestion:

Smile at the past, and be grateful — both for the good and the bad.

Seoul, 2012

Even for myself —my failures, regrets, scars, and pains has helped me become me.

How to learn from your failures in photography

Portrait of Josh White. Seoul, 2014

So friend, look back at your old pictures, and feel gratitude.

Also, examine your old photos —and ask yourself,

What can I learn from my past pictures, for myself to improve in my photos?

Seoul, 2012. Blur of woman in fur coat.

For example, I think we learn more from our failures as photographers than successes.

When I look at my photos that I feel disappointment in —I learn:

  1. What can I do differently next time? Should I adjust my focus differently — focusing on the background instead or foreground? Should I hesitate less next time when shooting? Should I “work the scene” more and shoot more photos of the same scene, to squeeze more juice from the lemon?
  2. Were my exposure or technical settings off? Should I use a flash next time, or lower my exposure compensation?
  3. Why are my pictures boring to me? Should I have been more patient, and waited for a more interesting decisive moment to occur?
Family selfie. Seoul, 2016
My mom and Cindy / My mom’s childhood home / Busan, 2017
My mom at her childhood home in Busan, 2014.
My grandfathers funeral. Busan, 2013.
Busan, 2013. Old portrait drawing of my grandfather.

Never stop learning, be bold, and remember — enjoy the process in photography.


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