Stockholm, 2015
Stockholm, 2015. Film Leica shot on Tri-X pushed to 1600

Dear friend,

It is 7:20am in New Orleans, and I just downed a “Miss Tracy’s Addiction” (Double espresso, Cayenne pepper, Thai coconut milk) at Addiction Coffee and I’m feeling good. Had a nice chat with Dave, the barista here, and ready to do some writing to share with you some ideas.

Just as a random note, I was thinking about this article for the last day, and woke up super-early for you (6:30am after sleeping at 1am), because I felt it could be of use for you.

I’m currently staying at an Airbnb with my friend Todd and Neil, and Chris (new friend, who is also a workshop participant at my week-long street photography workshop here in New Orleans). All three of them have the new Sony A7RII (the 40+ megapixel monster), with Neil and Chris bringing both of them.

When the camera first got announced, there was so much hype around the camera. On paper it looked like the dream camera: 40+ megapixels (almost a “medium-format” digital camera), full-frame, small size, M-mount adapter, high-ISO capabilities, faster autofocus, and these other features. I remember thinking to myself, “This might be a better solution than getting a digital Leica M240.” I lusted after the camera for about a few days and daydreamed about getting one, and then I thought to myself: “No Eric, what are you thinking. Don’t waste money on a camera you don’t need. Be happy with your Ricoh GR, which is much lighter and convenient to use.” So I banished the thought from my mind.

Anyways, Todd and Chris have the Sony A7RII, and I had no real desire to use the camera. I thought to myself, “What would I do with all of these megapixels anyways?” I have gotten pretty big 12×18’’ prints off of 2-megapixel scans from my film camera, and they looked great.

The other day, we had coffee at Cafe Du Monde (the most famous beignet and coffee shop in New Orleans), and I hooked up my homie Simon who is attending the workshop with my Ricoh GR to test out. He brought a bulky DSLR and was thinking of trying a smaller camera, and I offered him my camera to test for the day. Long story short, he fell in love with it, and will be using it for the rest of the week.

I then needed a camera, so I asked Chris if I could borrow his Sony a7RII to shoot with for the day (he also has a Fujifilm x100T). I then walked around with them in the Frenchman market, and I took some street portraits of an amazing gentleman we met in the market.

The a7RII is a solid camera, and I think for the money, it is a much better value than the Leica M240. But honestly at the end of the day, I used it for about an hour, and was over the camera. Compared to the Ricoh GR, it felt like a brick, and I don’t think the photos look that different on the screen at the end of the day.

So I downloaded the RAW files at the end of the day, and processed the images. None of the shots I took that day were any good, but the thing that surprised me most was this: on my screen (zoomed out) I couldn’t tell any difference between the Sony A7RII and the Ricoh GR. Of course if you zoom in 100% you can see massive amounts of detail with the A7RII, but do you really need all of those megapixels? I think the A7RII is good for fashion photographers and landscape photographers who blow up their photos for billboards and whatnot, but for us street photographers, it is totally unnecessary. If anything, if you are interested in Sony, I would much recommend the Sony a7SII that is coming out (fewer megapixels, but insane high-ISO capabilities).

New Orleans, 2015. Sony a7RII and 40mm Voigtlander lens
New Orleans, 2015. Sony a7RII and 40mm Voigtlander lens

I then returned the Sony A7RII to Chris and thought to myself of this phrase:

“More megapixels, more problems.”

When I was working on the final draft of the free e-book: “Learn From the Masters of Street Photography” I needed a laptop. Believe it or not, all of the rough drafts were designed on an iPad air. I also wrote 90% of the book on Evernote on my smartphone. I haven’t owned a real “laptop” the last 2 months (ever since I got my laptop stolen in Paris), so I finally succumbed, took a trip to the Apple store, and picked up a 13’’ MacBook pro).

Even with this maxed-out specced MacBook pro (13’’ Retina, 16GB, 3.1 gHz i7 processor), processing the Sony A7RII files took quite a long time in Lightroom CC. Not only that, but the files are MASSSIVE. I thought to myself, if I ever owned a camera like this, I would have to waste money buying an (even) faster computer (probably a desktop), tons of hard drives, and other additional complications that happens with huge files.

Why do we need so many megapixels? Honestly 99.9% of us don’t (especially us street photographers). At the end of the day, it is a marketing ploy. We Americans love more. Big Starbucks coffees, big SUV’s, big-ass houses. More is more.

But honestly friend, at the end of the day, be happy with the camera and equipment you already own.

I recently gave away all of my cameras to friends who needed them more than me, and also donated them to people in need. I am not saying this to toot my own horn but to make this point: you can never shoot more than one camera at once.

I got this idea from some Roman philosopher I read who told the following story (I am paraphrasing):

“There was once a fabulously wealthy king with thousands of villas all around the kingdom. But one day he woke up with the frustration that no matter how rich he was, he could only ever sleep in one of his ivory-crusted and golden beds at once.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love my material possessions. I am a sucker for advertising, brand names, just like any other good American.

However, having more stuff in our lives creates more complications. More megapixels means more money spent on hardware (laptops, desktops, hard drives) and more headaches.

Kind of like how Biggie Smalls said:

“Mo money, mo problems.”

More money = more stress from dealing with how to invest your money. More money = worrying that your taxman or accountant is stealing your money. More money = family always asking you for money, and “friends” trying to kiss ass to get at your money. Just think about all the people who have won the lottery in the past whose lives have been absolutely ruined.

Being grateful for what you have

I am not grateful for what I have. I always want more.

Ironically enough, the key to happiness for me has been the avoidance of unhappiness, which has been accomplished by subtracting (not adding) things in my life.

One of the biggest takeaways I got for traveling in Europe for 3 months with just a tiny backpack (ThinkTank Perception 15) is that I don’t need a lot of physical possessions for me to be happy. Honestly at the end of the day, even a laptop is optional at this point. I was able to make do with just my smartphone, camera, 2 pairs of clothes (quick-drying ExOfficio boxers and UNIQLO Airism shirts), one pair of shoes, and one pair of quick-drying shorts. The fewer physical possessions I traveled with was less physical weight (meant I could walk around all-day without any strain and frustration), and more energy to spend time with my friends and loved ones.

Another thing: when we got back from Europe, Cindy’s younger sister Jennifer needed a car, so we gave her our car. So we have been car-less for about a month, and it has been the best thing in life. I have had a car since I was 16, and have always been a sucker for cars. But honestly after getting rid of our car, I have been walking more, taking more photos, shopping more locally, saving money (not buying tons of crap at Costco), and getting to know people in the neighborhood.

At first I was afraid: but how can I see my friends and loved ones? Ironically enough I have found that my “real” friends and loved ones will drive out to me in Berkeley to see me. So problem solved.

Sorry friend, I got a little distracted— but to get back to the point at hand, I think another secret to happiness is not to fulfill all of our desires, but to kill desire completely.

Which means not to desire things that we don’t have, but for us to desire the life (and camera) we already have.

Just try to remember how much you lusted for the camera you currently own, how many camera reviews you read, and how excited you were for the camera you just bought. Don’t forget that, re-live that experience. Re-read old camera reviews of your current camera, and re-inspire your love of your camera.

Not only that, but I feel another key to happiness is to not change our circumstances in life (like quitting our job and traveling the world), but to be happy in the life and circumstances we currently have. Which means: find the benefits of your day-job, and still find time to pursue your passion (photography). I don’t think we should just quit our jobs that we hate. Rather, we should be satisfied with the jobs we have, and find some time before work, during lunch-time, after work, weekends, to make time for our photography. I think for most people, it is better to have a secure full-time job (provides you security, rent money, money to travel, buy photo books, and experiences) while pursuing your photography as a passion (and not to prostitute the type of photography you love to make a living).

And at the end of the day, I’m not telling you to never buy anything. We need to be realistic and normal human beings need (some) possessions in life in modern society. Also it is foolish to keep any digital device for longer than 5 years for the sake of it. There are necessary times to upgrade your things in life.

But what I want to tell you is this: if you have an already-capable camera in photography, kill any sort of desire to upgrade your camera with more megapixels, more functions, more buttons— because it will just add more complications for your life.

If you have a 5-year old bulky ass DSLR and you want to reduce your weight, I recommend buying a Ricoh GR (not the new one which just has wifi added, but the older one) and using your saved money to buy experiences, travel, and education.

Money can buy you happiness only if you spend it on experiences, not stuff.

I also don’t say any of this to sound like I am on some high-horse. To be honest, I am still afflicted with GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). But whenever I desire a new camera, it is because I feel dissatisfied with my photography and creative abilities and I tell myself, “Eric, if you just bought that new camera, it would open up all these creative possibilities for you.”

But that is bullshit.

The true secret to creativity are constraints, or “creative constraints.” Having less is more. Having fewer options forces us to be hungry and creative for solutions.

Think about it: all of your friends who were fed with a silver-spoon and never suffered in their life— are any of them super-successful entrepreneurs? No, most of them are playing World of Warcraft and stuck in middle-management at boring corporations.

The real innovators are the ones who have had struggle in life, financial woes, restrictions and had to innovate out of necessity.

For me, I am glad that I grew up in “poverty” (not knowing if my mom would be able to pay the rent money because my Dad gambled it away). Growing up poor meant that I didn’t get everything I wanted, and I had to work hard and hustle to get what I wanted. I think this forced me to have a hunger and entrepreneurial drive. Not only that, but I am so grateful for all the mentors and guides I had in life (school teachers, Sunday school teachers, Boy Scouts leaders, my tennis coach, and all of my other adult mentors) who gave me to me. I am also grateful to the American government for providing me with a free public education, with scholarships and loans for college, and the ability to easily start my own business. So now I need to pay my society back by continuing to give away free open-source information to empower my fellow mankind.

Everyday is a struggle

Friend, everyday is a struggle in this battle of life. One nice quote I read from Seneca (Letters From a Stoic) is this:

“Life is more like wrestling than dancing.”

Not only that, but Epictetus (Of Human Freedom) tells us along the lines of:

“Like a good trainer, God matches us up with difficult opponents in life, not to give us a hard time, but to train us to become strong, so we can make it to the Olympics and win.”

So no matter how difficult your life’s circumstances, be strong. Know that it is the hard times, the struggles, the lack of money, the anxiety of paying the bills, the lack of free time, and stresses of life which make life worth it.

If it wasn’t for hunger, would we appreciate the taste of food? If it wasn’t for thirst, would we enjoy the taste of water? If it weren’t for moments of boredom, would we enjoy the moments of creativity?

I consider myself as a sick patient in a hospital just like you. So let me share some solutions and medications that have worked for me:

  1. Don’t look at gear-review sites (every time I visit one of these sites, I get an urge for a new camera I don’t need)
  2. Re-read old camera reviews of the camera you already own (and re-inspire a passion for the gear you already own)
  3. Think about what you can donate and subtract from your life, rather than adding things to your life (more stuff, more complications in life)
  4. Don’t waste money on stuff, but experiences (travel, photography classes and workshops, taking your loved ones out to dinner)
  5. “Memento mori”: remember you are going to die. Don’t live a life according the rules and standards of others, but follow your inner-voice (no matter how scary this might be)
  6. Shoot as if everyday were your last (if you went to bed tonight and knew you wouldn’t wake up the next morning, what would you take photos of, or what kind of creative pursuits would you continue to pursue?)
  7. Everyday when you wake up, scream out loud: “Thank God I am alive!”, have a double-shot of espresso, and do some creative work in the morning (and please please please, do not check your email first thing in the morning)
  8. Ask your local barista or server “What is your name?” and “How are you doing?” with a genuine smile. Treat them like humans, nobody ever does.
  9. Practice an “attitude of gratitude” (rather than desiring for things we don’t have, let us appreciate what we already have, like the love of our friends, family, and the comfortable life we already have)
  10. Everyday uninstall one app from your phone (until you are left with the essentials; this will help you be more present in your everyday life)

So let us stop at 10, because that is always convenient.

I am still struggling everyday to be a (less horrible) human being, and to be less frustrated as a creative person (writer, photographer, teacher).

But as long as we can make a little progress everyday (1% everyday) we are both on the right track.

So friend, stay strong and know that God (or the deity of your choice) is always watching over you and supporting you. Know that “everything happens for a reason” (even the shitty things in life), and whenever life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Also know that I will always be here for you; sharing some of the ideas that have helped me along the way. Know that your friends and loved ones are there for you. And at the end of the day know that you are there for yourself. There is nobody stronger than you, full of inspiration, creativity.

You are limitless; nothing can stop you but your own mental blocks.

So break past those mental blocks, and create the art that you were destined to.

Farewell friend.

Love always,

Eric

Wed, 8:04am, at “Addiction” coffee in New Orleans (seriously try out the “Miss Tracy’s Addiction” next time you are in town).

As a random note, I am super excited to start my workshop here in New Orleans. Amazingly friendly people (Southern hospitality is real), fantastic food (some of the best in America), and the only city in America that I feel like I am not in America (especially here in the French Quarters).

For my fellow Americans reading this, traveling in the states is seriously underrated. Before you travel to Europe, come visit New Orleans— you will NOT be disappointed.

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