Embracing FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) in Street Photography

Saigon, 2014
Saigon, 2014

I recently came across a funny phrase: “FOMO”. It stands for “fear of missing out”.

Nowadays, “FOMO” is ubiquitous in digital life. We always feel like we are missing out– that someone is doing something more interesting than us.

For example, your friends post snapshots of a party (you weren’t invited to) on Facebook– and they all look like they’re having a great time. You feel disappointed because you weren’t invited. You are sad that you “missed out”.

I think this is a reason why we are so addicted to social media– we are afraid of missing out. We need to check into Facebook everyday, to make sure we don’t “miss out” on being invited to a party. We check blogs and twitter constantly, making sure there is some “news” or “breaking announcement” we aren’t missing out on. We are constantly plugged into camera rumor sites, making sure we need to know about the new revolutionary camera that is supposed to come out.

I have a deep sense of “FOMO”. I always want to be “in the know”. I want to feel informed. I want to know what is “going on” – especially in the street photography scene. If I don’t know what is always going on, I start to get anxious. I check my email far too much– I am worried that if I don’t check my email all the time, something bad might happen.

But lately I’ve been working more on overcoming the fear of missing out. I’m starting to realize that no matter how many blogs I read, how many twitter streams I follow, and how many times I check my email– I will always be missing out on something.

I sometimes get stressed out with street photography in the same way. I have a film Leica camera, and a digital Fujifilm camera. I sometimes want to bring both, “just in case” I might want to shoot both film and digital.

I used to also carry around a lot of lenses, because I didn’t want to miss out on any opportunities. I would have my 28, 35, 50 because I needed the “optimal lens” for each scene.

Even before this, I had a 18–200 sigma lens on my Canon Rebel XT, because I didn’t want to miss out on any “photo opportunities”.

Embracing “FOMO”

But even with street photography, I feel that we shouldn’t have a fear of missing out. We will always be missing out, so we should learn how to embrace it.

For example, let’s say you are at a road– and it leads 2 ways: one street goes left, the other goes right. You can only choose one road.

The left road will have some photo opportunities you will see, but the right road will have other photo opportunities you can also see (which are different). It is impossible to go down both paths at the same time.

Similarly when you’re traveling, you can’t go to Tokyo and New York City at the same time. You will always be missing out.

Constraints and creativity

I feel creatively speaking, we need to miss out in order to be more creative. Less is more. Constraints force us to be more creative in our photography.

I’ve shot with a 35mm lens for the last 6 years, and at first I was frustrated because sometimes it didn’t feel wide enough, and other times it didn’t feel close enough. But I soon discovered my favorite tool: the “foot zoom”. If I was too close, I just took a step back. If I was too far, I took a step forward. And if there wasn’t any room to move, I’d just focus on just one part of a person to photograph (just their face, just their hands, just their feet).

Missing out in social media

Social media we are constantly plugged in because we don’t want to miss out.

But realize that 99.99% of what is happening on social media is just noise. I’ve personally found it better to check the blogs I follow once a week (and skim the headlines I want to read) rather than checking them everyday. I also do this with my favorite photographers on flickr– I just check their profiles once a month, to see the work they have been working on.

I feel there is a great benefit to disconnecting in social media and purposefully missing out.

First of all, you will increase your “signal to noise” ratio. A photographer doesn’t do something interesting everyday, but might do something interesting once a month.

Secondly, I found it makes me a lot happier. At first I was anxious not always checking social media, but now I feel more present. I focus on the present moment, savor and enjoy it– rather than feeling I could be doing something else that is “more interesting”.

Thirdly, you aren’t as distracted. You focus on what you want and need to do–rather than focus on the trivialities of other individuals.

Now I still do think there is a benefit to collaboration and communication via social media. However I think it comes best in small packages, at irregular times. And I feel there is a huge benefit to checking social media less frequently, as it helps you focus on your own photography and work.

FOMO on the streets

So when it comes to street photography, my current setup is this: my Leica MP and 35mm f/2 lens. It is the only camera I bring with me on the streets (besides my smartphone, which I use to take photos of my food, my espressos, and snapshots of my daily life). I stick with one film (Kodak Portra 400) and don’t shoot any other films with me.

When I am working on a different project (like my “Saifon diary” project) I only would bring one digital camera everyday at a time (either the x100s or XT–1) and leave my film Leica at home. I would also stick with the same focal length (35mm on the x100s and 27mm f/2.8 [40mm “full frame equivalent” on the XT–1]). This helped me remove any distractions for wanting to shoot both film and digital of the same time.

When I go out and bring my film Leica and a digital camera, I get stressed out. I first take the shot on film, then on digital “just in case”. But this was a pain in the ass: I would always have to lug around two camera (which added more weight and hurt my shoulders) and it would cause a split second delay (when deciding to shoot a scene on film or digital).

I’m not advocating to only own one camera and lens. I do believe if is important to have different tools for different jobs. For example, a chef owns many different pots, pans, and knives for different purposes.

But if you own more than one camera or lens, I just recommend this simple idea: Whenever you go out to shoot, just bring one camera and one lens. What you can also do is a this: *only use one camera, lens, and film (or post processing style) on a project you work on.

Missing out is good

So purposefully try to miss out. Know that you can never experience everything. You can’t be in two places at once.

So cherish the moment you are currently experiencing. Cherish the camera and lens you currently shoot with (rather than feeling that you’re “missing out” not having the newest digital Leica). Cherish the place you’re photographing (rather than wishing you lived in New York or Paris). Cherish the individuals in your life, your job, and your life situation (rather than wanting to be an “artist” and aimlessly traveling the world).

Miss out– it is okay. Purposefully choosing to miss out is one of the ways to set you free.

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