(Pictured above: Leica M9-P Hermes Edition. Only $50,000)
We are always told that money doesn’t make us happy. Although I like the saying, it isn’t entirely true. Scientific studies do show that money buys us happiness- but only to a certain extent. For example, if you literally make only $10 a month, of course you will be miserable. However making $10,000 a month compared to $5,000 a month won’t make much of a difference. According to some study I read, money can only buy you happiness to the point that you make $70,000 a year. After that, it doens’t make much of a difference.
Money can make us happier in street photography. You also don’t have to be rich to reap these rewards. Curious on how money can buy you more happiness? Keep reading to find out.
I just read an article in Science Direct titled: “If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right“. I used to be the type of person that I always wanted more material things. Although I have a fun 1990 Mazda Miata Convertible (in Red) I would always want something newer, faster, and sexier. I would see my friends buying a new BMW or Mercedes, and of course turn green with envy.
Fortunately traveling has made me less materialistic. I try to pack light, so there is an extent to the stuff I can carry. In my messenger bag, all I carry is a laptop, computer, and one camera and one lens. By carrying more stuff, I actually enjoy my traveling less. After all, how enjoyable is it to check out places and go shooting when your gear weighs a ton?
So how can you use money to make you happier? I have taken some of the concepts from the article, and will apply them to street photography. I have also provided photographs of Ernst Haas‘ early b/w work to accompany the points (thanks to Iuri Kothe for telling me to check out these images!)
Principle 1: Buy experiences instead of things
The study showed that from an experiment, people reported enjoying experiences more than material things.
For example, think about the last time you wanted to buy a new camera. For myself, it was the Leica M9. I kept telling myself that it would be the pinnacle of modern technology, that I would keep it forever, and would be happy with it forever.
However after the first 3 months, the effect wore off. I got quite used to the camera, and didn’t appreciate it as much.
However let’s compare this to experiences.
Think about the last time that you had a certain experience, like traveling. I remember the first time that I went to Beirut, Lebanon. I went there having no idea what to expect, but left feeling like Beirut was my home. Random people in the streets would invite me in their house for coffee (and vodka), the kebabs and schwarma filled my stomach with glee (Bar-Bar!), and the people treated me like family (my host Mohammad’s mom said she could find me nice wife in Lebanon.
Therefore if you have money, don’t use that money to buy a new camera or a new lens. Use it instead to go on a vacation or travel. Take a photography workshop. Pay the entrance ticket to a photography museum, or buy photo books (you pay for the experience to see what’s in the books).
Principle 2: Help others instead of yourself
The study gave an example in which experimenters gave students money to either a) Use on themselves or b) Use on other people. They tested the students’ happiness before and after, and the results of the study showed that students that gave away their money felt much happier. Those who spent it on themselves didn’t feel any different.
Therefore if you have some money, donate it to other aspiring photographers via Kickstarter or Emphas.is. Support a photo project of a photojournalist who wants to travel and work on a project. Donate money to Kids with Cameras to support photography-related projects for disadvantaged children in India. Even give away your old point-and-shoot cameras or DSLR’s to photography programs at local high schools or colleges.
Principle 3: Buy many small pleasures instead of few big ones
In the study, they say that having many small pleasures is better than several large pleasures because of “diminishing marginal utility”. For example, eating one 12oz cookie isn’t twice as enjoyable as eating one 6oz cookie.
How to apply this to street photography? If you want to use your money to go on trips, it is a better idea to go on several small trips in a year, rather than one large trip.
For example, rather than blowing $10,000 on an epic trip to Paris for a month – perhaps it may be better go to on 10 trips (each of them being $1,000). Rather than spending $100 on one expensive photo book, it might be a better idea to buy ten $10 admissions to some photography/art museums. Rather than print out one huge canvas-print of your own work, it might be better to print out several 12×18’s and keep one for yourself and give the others to others.
Principle 4: Realize that we quickly adapt to new cameras & toys
Research shows that we quickly adapt to positive and negative situations in life. For example, research on lottery winners show that after a year, their self-reported happiness doesn’t change much from before they won the lottery. Another example is that people who lose all their limbs (quadrapalegics) report the same amount of happiness before and after their accident over a year.
Once again, realize that if you do decide to buy a new camera or lens – you will get used to it. The same goes with a new camera bag or a new strap.
Takeaway point: Be happy with what you already have.
Principle 5: Delay looking at your photographs
There was one study when students were faced with the choice of when to kiss their favorite celebrity, they were willing to pay more for the kiss to take place 3 days later rather than 3 hours later.
This study along with others suggests that there are emotional benefits for delaying pleasurable things.
For example, if you are stuck working in an office, sometimes the anticipation of going on an exotic trip to Hawaii is actually more pleasuable than going on the trip. As humans, we like having things to look forward- which keep us motivated, inspired, and happy.
For myself in my photography, I love the delayed gratification that shooting film gives me. Every time I am about to process my film at the end of every month, the anticipation of getting the film developed and seeing my shots is like a kid waiting for Christmas. I love waiting for “Christmas presents” every month.
If you don’t shoot film, you can do the same with digital (if you have enough self-control). Try not to see your photographs at the end of each day. First try every few days, then a week, then every few weeks. Experiment- and see if you enjoy the delayed gratification!
Principle 6: Realize that every camera and lens has its pros and cons
When you think about buying a new vacation home next to the beach, all you can imagine are the warm sunsets, the peaceful quiet, and the cool air. What you don’t think about is the pain of things breaking down, having to pay the large costs of it, and with the stinging mosquitos at night outside.
I have tested many different cameras out there. DSLR’s, micro 4/3rds, Leica’s, Point-and-shoots, iPhones, etc. There is no “perfect” camera out there- as they all have positives and negatives.
For example, I love my Leica to death. I love how it is fully-manual, the ergonomics, and the compact size and unintimidating look. What I don’t like at times is the lack of autofocus. I like taking snapshots, so when I am just out and about with my girlfriend or in the grocery store, I like to bring my Ricoh GR1s around as it is compact and has autofocus.
Full-frame DSLR’s are fantastic for high-iso, image quality, and responsiveness. But they are awful because they are big, heavy, and obtrusive.
Lenses with apertures with 1.4 or less are great for shooting low-light and nice bokeh, but they are often more expensive and heavier and larger- and annoying to carry around.
Every camera has its ups and downs. I encourage people to try out new cameras and experiment, but once you find a camera/lens combination that you like 80% well- I say just stick with it.
Principle 7: Buy another street photographer a beer
Spending too much time comparing different cameras and lenses is bad for your happiness (and wallet). You are better off spending time meeting other street photographers. Why? There was a study in which Harvard students were given the choice to compare different dormitories on campus. Some of them had really nice features like private bathrooms, private cooks, etc. Some of them didn’t include these features, but still promoted a great sense of commmunity & interaction.
The students expected that their happiness would come from having nicer material features of their dorms, but the truth was their happiness stemmed from the community-aspects of each dorm.
Therefore realize that you are more likely to be happier when spending time with other street photographers- sharing your favorite photo books, talking about photography, critiquing each others’ portfolios, and going out and shooting with one another.
Spend your money on buying beers & food for your other street photographers – or hosting some sort of party. Rent out a cafe, get a projector, and share your work!
Takeaway point: Spend less time in front of the computer thinking about what new camera/lens to buy – and more time trying to meet other people who share the passion of street photography.
Principle 8. Ask other photographers for their opinion
Research suggests that the best way to predict how much we will enjoy an experience is to ask for a second opinion. In one study, experimentors asked women how much they would enjoy a speed date with a particular man. Some of the women were shown the man’s photograph and autobiography, while the other women were shown ratings based on other womens’ impressions of their date. After the speed date occured, women reported having a more accurate representation of the man based on previous ratings – rather than their own first impression.
Therefore if you are thinking about traveling to an exotic location for street photography – ask others who have already been there for a second opinion. Of course their experience will not always accurately predict how you will feel going there, but it might give you a better sense.
For example, when I first was about to go to Paris – I expected that it would be the best city in the world for street photography. I imagined the old romatic streets – and the history of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, and many others. However when I arrived, I realized many parts were quite touristy, and it wasn’t as romantic as I expected. When talking with other street photographers who shoot there, they expressed similar thoughts.
The same goes for buying a new camera. Before you buy it, ask someone else (who is a street photographer with similar interests as you) for their thoughts. Although it won’t always be accurate, it will give you some insight to help you make a better decision.
Takeaway point: 17th century writer François de La Rochefoucauld was correct when he wrote: “Before we set our hearts too much upon anything, let us first examine how happy those are who already possess it.”
Money can buy us happiness, but only up to a certain point. Realize that money can buy us happiness when we spend it on traveling, reading photo books, meeting other street photographers, and going to photography museums. Realize that money won’t buy us happiness when we buy new cameras, new lenses, and excess equipment that we will eventually “get used to”.
You don’t need to be rich to become a great street photographer or enjoy it. Appreciate what gear you already have, and spend the rest of the money (and time) shooting street photography and meeting other passionate street photographers.
TLDR; Buy experiences, not gear