“Be True to Yourself; Great Things Will Come”: Interview with Daniel Arnold

I’m very excited to share this recent interview I did with Daniel Arnold. You might have heard about Daniel and his work through the controversy of him getting kicked off Instagram for showing nudity on Gawker, his Forbes feature on how he made $15,000 in one day selling 4×6 prints for $150, or his profile on Wired (titled: “On the Prowl with Instagram’s Ultimate Street Photographer”).

Upon reading all these headlines, I knew that there was more to Daniel, both as a photographer and as a human being. I checked out more of his work on his website (where he now posts mostly film shots), and was blown away by the humanity, humor, but also the complex emotional images he captures in NYC.

In this hour and a half interview we delve deep. We talk about the process of shooting film (versus shooting digitally on an iPhone), his favorite photography books, how he overcame his fear of shooting street photography, thinking about life and death, and what ultimately brings him happiness in life (clue: it isn’t about the followers).

You can watch the video interview above, or listen to the podcast below (you can see all the episodes on my iTunes podcast channel):

Podcast links

Read more to see all the show notes, links, book recommendations, and quotes from the interview.

Show notes:

Recommended photography books/zines:



Quotes from the interview:



On happiness and life:

  • “Things that make me happy in life: overeating, buying presents for people I like, owning my time!”
  • “I want to be good, decent, honest, and productive. The purpose is to make this document of the world collectively as I saw it with a body of work that represents a story that only I was there for.”
  • “I live to mislead. I like giving people the wrong idea.”
  • “I am examining my life through photography; simple, modest, and loving.”
  • “I want to be remembered for someone who was ‘engaged with his life’. The only one who only cares about how I lived is myself.”

On building courage:


“It took a very long time, I moved in 2003 to NYC, and have always had a camera in his hand. It was only maybe in the past 3 years that I have been able to really put my camera in anybody’s face. I very rarely look through the viewfinder, which changes the story a bit. There is no time for people to react because they don’t see the camera. They react after the flash goes off.”

On shooting with a flash:


“The way I started to use a flash was to compensate for technical ignorance, hurry to get pictures that accurately represented what I had seen, and I was losing images to blur or to darkness or whatever. In the meantime while I refined my technique, it was a shortcut to get every inch of a scene and then work back from there.”

“It started as a crutch, now it is much more intentional as I understand the camera much better. It becomes a manipulation of mood, i have the instinct as I go.”

Reactions he gets in street photography:


“Reactions are mostly confusion. I get a lot of trailing ‘fuck you’s.’ Sometimes when people look confused, I will tell them: ‘I don’t mean to bother you, please take it as a compliment as you make this place look how it is supposed to look.’”


Recommended films:


Advice for photographers:


“Don’t worry: just do it everyday, as often as you can, don’t stop thinking about it ever! Tell the story that is your own story, even if familiar. Find the thing that is just for you and keep track of it, and if nobody looks at it, so what. Make something that is yours and be satisfied with that. I think if you do that truly, be true to yourself, great things will come.”

Thoughts on film versus digital:


“I’ve never found a digital camera I really like. Been trying the Sony a7s – like it but I can’t afford it now. Secondly, still not quite what I want. So far, nothing looks as good as film as I’m concerned.”

“More significantly, in the past few years, I got to this moment where shooting with a phone was a major breakthrough experience for me. It gave me access to proximity and made me really a spy. Get very close, and get people unaware, etc. Combined that with social media where I’m getting validation and encouragement and it quickly becomes an addiction. I was at a point 3 years ago when I stopped picking up cameras all together, because my phone did the job better.”

“Once I was aware of that, I found the volume of work I made was ridiculous. No reason I should be in a month with 400,000 photos. So I resolved to figure out how to take the pictures that meant something to me with a traditional camera, and to shoot film because there is something really educational and valuable about the limitations that it created.”

“First of all, very simply: the day ends. You run out of film. Also, using film really reinforces the best state of mind for the job (you stay in the world). You are not on the screen, thinking about what the photos look after you shoot them.”

“If I shoot film, I shoot 5-15 photos of a scene. In film it is 1 shot! there is something about the process that is just more present and energetic and intimate and it just feels more personal and more important and when you get something that you like— you get the film back 24 hours later, you have that successful recreation of what you felt. Forget about what you saw, what you felt! its so much more exciting and fulfilling than just lining up the viewfinder and trying it 3 different ways.”

“For me, it is a much more rewarding process

Advice for photographers:


  1. “Don’t try so hard: red flag. You can tell when someone is going out to reach for something superficial. Whether it is loading on hashtags, etc. I think #1 is to work for yourself. Show your life. Do something personal. Do something that honors yourself, elevates your point of view to something more meaningful.”
  2. “Do something that is yours and don’t worry about what happens to it. Good things will come.”

Photographer to check out:

Follow Daniel Arnold: