Play the Cards You Are Dealt in Life and Photography

Los Angeles, 2014
Los Angeles, 2014

I have been re-reading a lot of stoic philosophy recently, especially “Letters from a Stoic” and “On the Shortness of Life” by Seneca, and “The Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius.

One of the biggest things that I have re-learned is that for true happiness, we should focus on appreciating what we currently have, rather than what we don’t have. Seneca says the following:

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”

By focusing on making the best of what we have in life is the key to happiness.

Playing the cards we are dealt

In poker there is a saying that the best players don’t depend on getting the best cards. Rather, they try to make the best out of the cards they’ve been dealt. Even though they may be dealt a bad set of cards, they can still do amazing things with them.

In life we have all been dealt different hands. Some of us have been dealt “pocket rockets” (two aces, the best hand in Texas hold em poker). Some of us have been dealt an off-suit 2 and 10 (one of the worst hands in poker).

Some of us are born rich, with the money, time, and freedom to do whatever the hell we want. Some of us were born into poverty, barely able to pay the rent every month, with little financial or time freedom.

It makes no sense to complain about our external circumstances. Rather, we should make the best of what we have.

Limitations with gear

Some of us can’t afford to have the camera and lens, or the gear / equipment we want in our photography.

But rather than lamenting about the gear we don’t have, let us make the best out of the gear we already own.

How can we best make the best out of the limitations we may have with our gear? And perhaps those limitations are actually advantages.

Perhaps our camera is old and has show autofocus. So perhaps rather than trying to shoot moving subjects, we can try to photograph more stationary subjects. We might focus on shooting more “street portraits”, which will help us connect with strangers in the streets and build our confidence.

If our camera has poor high ISO capabilities, perhaps rather than wishing our camera could shoot ISO 128,000, we can learn how to shoot in good light at ISO 400. This can lead us to having better photos.

Perhaps you only own one lens. Rather than wishing you had different lenses, just learn to master that one focal length you already have. The advantage of only shooting with one lens is that it will help you master that one focal length, and give your body of work a sense of consistency.

Wishing you lived somewhere else

We can’t control where we live. We might be bound by family, by finances, or by work.

Rather than wishing you lived in NYC or Tokyo, how can you make the best possible photos in your own neighborhood or city?

Wishing you had more time

How can having a little amount of free time help you be more intentional when you’re shooting on the streets? I actually think having too much free time hurts our creativity.

There is a saying: “Pressure makes diamonds.” How can having time pressure help make your photos into diamonds?

Focus on what we can control

We can’t control our external circumstances, but we can always control our attitude and outlook in life.

So ultimately you control your own fate as a photographer. You can control how good you want to be, and how much effort you put into your photography. You can control how courageous you are when you’re on the streets, and how concentrated and focused you are when you actually do have time to shoot in the streets.

Life is too short to make excuses. Blame nobody else for your lack of creativity in your photography. You have ask the control in your hands.

Now go forth and create beautiful art that spiritually fulfills you. You can do it, I believe in you!

Philosophy and street photography

If you want to learn more about philosophy and street photography, you might like to read these articles:

  1. How Many “Likes” Is Enough?
  2. How to Be Grateful For What You Have
  3. On Criticism and Street Photography
  4. On Friendship and Street Photography
  5. On Jealousy and Street Photography
  6. On Legacy and Street Photography
  7. On Social Media and Street Photography
  8. On Travel and Street Photography
  9. The Tao of Street Photography
  10. Zen in the Art of Street Photography