We often have tons of excuses in life. We don’t have enough time. We don’t have enough money. We don’t have the opportunities to do what we love.
I always make tons of excuses in my street photography. When I am traveling on the road, I have tons of opportunities to shoot and always feel inspired. However, when I’m back home— I don’t feel the same inspiration. I fall into the same boring routines of my everyday life.
I currently live in Berkeley, California (home of the hippies) and live right across the bridge from San Francisco. I always tell myself: “Man, I wish I lived in SF— this would give me the chance to make incredible photos, be around other inspirational people, and create great work.”
But the grass is always greener on the other side. I have some friends in SF who are bored of shooting there, and would prefer NYC. I have friends in NYC who are bored of shooting there, and would prefer Paris. My friends in Paris are bored of Paris— and would prefer SF. The cycle continues.
I think it is hard to be inspired to make photographs in your own backyard. I know I do. I make tons of excuses why I can’t make interesting photographs in my neighborhood (there aren’t any people walking around, no exciting action, boring scenery).
But one of the photographers who I gain great admiration from is William Eggleston. He lives in quite possibly one of the most boring places in the US— but doesn’t make excuses. He just goes out and shoots his own town— and has done this for several decades. He doesn’t have an interest to be in NYC, Paris, Tokyo— or any of these other ‘exotic’ locations.
Some of the excuses that come to my mind in my photography (and some rebuttals)
1. I don’t have enough free time
This is bullshit. I can always make time for what is important to me (if I prioritize it). I have 24 hours a day (like every other human being out there) — but I often get distracted by social media, finances, errands, emails, etc.
I have found that it is hard to “make” time to do what I love, but it is easy to “kill time-wasters”.
So for me, I’ve started to try to cut out unnecessary things from my life. Some things which I don’t do:
- Watch TV
- Play games
- Check social media more than once a week
- Spend too much time in my email inbox
- Dealing with negative people
I’ve also made it a point to uninstall one app from my smartphone once a day— further culling away my distractions.
By killing these distractions from my life— I am left with the following:
- Time to blog
- Time to photograph
- Time to spend time with close friends and family
- Time to read books
The above list is the really important things in my life— everything else is a distraction and unnecessary.
So my excuse of “not having enough time” isn’t valid. Rather, my problem used to be having too many distractions. By killing my distractions from my daily life, I have enough time and energy to focus on what really matters.
No excuses Mr. Kim.
2. My neighborhood is boring
A few months ago, my friend (and manager) Neil Ta came to visit me in Berkeley. One day when I asked him what he wanted to do— he told me he wanted to take a walk around my neighborhood.
I responded: “Why do you want to walk around here? It’s so boring.”
He said— “Let’s see…”
We then took a walk around the block, and he busted out his camera and started to take tons of photographs. Photographs of things I always pass everyday (and ignore).
I then realized that there were so many interesting things to photograph in my neighborhood. But it just took for an outsider (or tourist) to notice it.
I often find the same happens when I stay with my friends in foreign places. I see their neighborhood as an outsider and find it absolutely fascinating. They of course— find it mundane and boring, and don’t have inspiration to shoot.
So my excuse of not having an “interesting enough” neighborhood to photograph is bullshit. I just have adapted to my neighborhood to find it boring.
I have therefore made a new approach: Approaching my neighborhood as if I were a tourist. I imagine myself as an alien, seeing my neighborhood as if I saw it for the first time.
Once I start seeing my neighborhood as an outsider, I start to see interesting things. I start photographing interesting signs, urban landscapes, colors, and people.
Not having anything to photograph is an excuse. We always have things to photograph. We can photograph self-portraits of ourselves, our family members, our friends, the signs and buildings in our neighborhood, our co-workers at work, or interesting people we meet at the supermarket or at the store.
When you think there is nothing to photograph— dig deep. There are photo opportunities everywhere.
3. I don’t feel inspired
“Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will – through work – bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art [idea].’ And the belief that process, in a sense, is liberating and that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. Today, you know what you’ll do, you could be doing what you were doing yesterday, and tomorrow you are gonna do what you [did] today, and at least for a certain period of time you can just work. If you hang in there, you will get somewhere.” – Chuck Close
Finding inspiration (or waiting for it) before photographing is a lose-lose situation. I rarely feel huge bursts of inspiration before going out and shooting. Rather, I go out (feeling uninspired) and after walking around — I find inspiration.
I also find inspiration in many different places (outside of photography). I find inspiration through philosophy, psychology, cognitive science, business, fine art, music (rap and classical), conversations with friends, conversations with old ladies over 80 years old, and through a hit of strong caffeine (double espressos followed by a soy cappuccino).
Even with this blog post, I didn’t feel “inspired” before I started writing it. I sat down at this cafe (at a suburb in Melbourne), ordered a double-espresso, opened up my 11’’ Macbook air, plugged in some Mozart into my headphones via Spotify, and started to put my fingers to the keyboard. And now, like magic, my fingers are flying across my keys and typing this article.
If I waited for inspiration for writing this article, I would have never started.
Based on the research I have done on creativity and “inspiration” – It kind of works like this: You incubate an idea for a long time in your brain (via the books, photos, and conversations you have), and once you relax (walking slowly, taking a warm shower, or sitting quietly)— all these ideas connect and you suddenly get a “a-ha” moment.
Therefore you can’t force creativity and inspiration. You need to fill your mind with sources of ideas (books, magazines, music, art, painting, photos, etc) — and then give yourself the time to relax (drinking tea, walking around your neighborhood with your camera, or writing) to have creative breakthroughs.
So whenever I don’t feel inspired— I know I am making an excuse.
Therefore on a practical sense this is what I try to do in my photography:
- I always make time to go out and just go on a walk with my camera (around my neck), and photograph whatever I find remotely interesting. I don’t wait until I feel “inspired” before I go out and shoot.
- When I’m not shooting, I’m filling myself with sources of inspiration by reading photography books, writing articles on photography (like this one), and reading philosophy (some of the best ideas I have for blog posts are from stoic philosophers [Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Publilius Syrus]). I’ve even written how these stoic philosophers have helped me gain more tranquility in my street photography.
We all have excuses when it comes to our photography. But remember, it is our lack of resources and constraints that help us be more creative. If we don’t have enough free time— then when we finally do have free time to shoot (we make it count). If we don’t have enough money for fancy cameras, we just shoot with our smartphones and end up making photos. If our neighborhood is boring, we try to find what is interesting (and end up creating more unique work).
So leave the excuses at the door, and just go out and shoot.
Don’t make excuses, make photos.