Raise your hand if you don’t have enough time to make photos.
One of the biggest problems in photography is that we claim we never have enough time to take photos.
Frankly speaking— that is bullshit. The problem? We are suckered into thinking that we can only take photos if we travel to exotic places (India, Tokyo, NYC), if we have a super glamorous lifestyle (and drink cappuccinos everyday for breakfast), and if we have the latest cameras and fastest lenses.
All of this is just bullshit that the camera companies and advertising companies try to feed you, to breed discontent with your simple and humble life. They make you think that your life isn’t exciting enough, and you cannot make any good photos without traveling and spending thousands of dollars, or if you don’t have the newest greatest digital camera.
I got this quote from Araki— from my friend Bil Brown. Araki says:
“What if I took a photo of everything I’ve experienced?” – Araki
Araki is misunderstood— most people just think that he is some weird sexual sadist (who takes photos of naked Japanese girls in bondage positions). Well, he is kind of perverted— but if you look at his more personal projects (like “Sentimental Journey”— photographing the life of his wife, and of her death), you can see how personal his photography is.
So it got me thinking— what if I started to document every moment of my very boring and mundane life?
Contrary to popular belief— I live a pretty boring life. If I’m not traveling I have a basic life.
I wake up in the morning at 6:30am, I have a shot of espresso with my $3 espresso that Cindy’s mom bought at a garage sale, then I wake up Cindy (usually takes me about 3 times), do some pushups, read books, eat bacon and eggs (cook the eggs in the bacon grease), drink (more) espresso, write a little, jump on the bus and take Cindy to school, sit at a cafe and drink (yes even more) espressos, write a little more, meet friends for burgers for lunch, crash from all the caffeine and (attempt) to take a nap (for like 10 seconds), help Cindy carry her books, buy groceries, drink tea (I try to drink green tea after 3pm), feel anxious about all the emails I haven’t answered, read a little, cuddle in bed, and then sleep (after some insomnia at night from having too much caffeine during the day).
This is pretty much my simple and humble life.
One of my new favorite “projects” is to document my life, and the love between me and Cindy (#cindyproject).
I know this blog is focused on street photography, but street photography is just another genre and concept that can be more restrictive than liberating. If we let ourselves be trapped and enslaved by definitions, you close opportunities to shooting other stuff.
For example, because I was a “street photographer”, I didn’t know how to shoot anything that wasn’t “street photography.”
Now I am like fuck it— I’m just going to be a photographer. Better yet, I’m not even going to be a photographer. I’m going to be a coffee addict that happens to like to walk around with a camera, and takes photos of anything that interests me.
The last few months have been fantastic for me. I’ve taken myself “less seriously” in my photography, and it has been liberating. Now I don’t take photos and worry (as much) about how much likes I will get on Instagram or social media. I really try to take photos of anything that I find interesting, kind of like how I did it when I started off as a beginner with a point-and-shoot digital Canon powershot camera.
After our recent trip to Yosemite, Cindy said that she wanted a digital camera to take snapshots of our family and everyday moments. We agreed it was a good idea, and we ordered a new Ricoh GR II off Bhphoto (no sales tax for us Californians). It came in the mail the other day, and I’ve had fun just keeping it in “P” mode, center-point autofocus, and ISO 800, and shooting in color JPEG + RAW.
I have about 40 rolls of Kodak Portra 400 chilling waiting to get processed, and another 15 rolls of Kodak Tri-X 400 b/w film (pushed to 1600). I’m going to send it into the Berkely Photolab, and ask them to process it for me. I hopefully have some more photos for my “Suits” project in my color film, and I have some more Cindy project photos in black and white film.
But once I get all that film processed, I am going to see if I can transition all my work to digital.
I honestly feel so conflicted about film. I really don’t want to like it— it is expensive, cumbersome, and a pain to get processed then scanned. But it does bring me some happiness, and more “zen” to my life (I don’t chimp, and every time I get my photos processed I am excited— like a kid waiting for Christmas). Furthermore, shooting film helps me enjoy the process and be “in the moment” rather than concerning about the results.
But then again, I would rather take those thousands of dollars I have dropped into film to travel, buy more coffee, and not stress about paying my rent.
I re-locked my film Leica in my cupboard, and will try to let it sit as long as I can. I really want to stick with the Ricoh GR II— what I do believe is truly the perfect camera as a “bring-with-you-everywhere” camera that can help you document every moment of your (boring and mundane) life.
I have realized this thing about cameras:
The bigger your camera, the less likely you are to take it with everywhere with you, and the fewer photos you end up shooting.
Who gives a shit about “image quality” anymore? I mean— 99% of people look at photos on a 5-inch smartphone screen. And 99% of us photographers aren’t ever going to print our photos. Why do we need 40+ megapixels? Apparently even newspaper photographers are just shooting JPEG and submitting photos that are resized to 1500px wide.
Okay, if you are a fashion photographer or commercial photographer who is going to blow up photos for billboards (yes, pick up that digital medium-format camera)— but if you are like me (a hobbyist and amateur), you don’t “need” any digital camera with more than 8 megapixels.
And really— no matter how boring or mundane your life is, there is always something to photograph. Photograph a selfie of you brushing your teeth in the bathroom, take a photo of your feet when you’re standing on a weight scale, take a photo of your partner eating breakfast, take a photo of the magnets on your fridge, take a photo of your desk (and all your crap on it), take photos while you are commuting to work (on the bus or subway), photos out of the window while you’re driving (if you’re stuck in traffic, and please do this safely), of your colleagues at work, and try to sneak in some “street photography” during your lunch break and after work.
It isn’t that we don’t have enough “time” to shoot (we have a shitload of time everyday)— the problem is that we don’t feel “inspired” to shoot. Or we feel that our life isn’t “interesting” enough to document.
But you are the most interesting person in the universe. And there is nobody more important than you.
The irony is that we are selfish people who only care about ourselves— but why are we more interested in the lives of others instead of our own lives?
We are the directors of our lives. Sure, we might be stuck in some life situations which we cannot escape (shitty job, long commute, etc)— but I think the secret to being a great photographer is to treat your photography very seriously and document your everyday life as faithfully as possible.
Rather than trying to change our external circumstances, it is to find photographic opportunities within the life we already live.
- If you have a child you love, make that child your photographic project.
- If you have a long commute to work, take photos of that.
- If you have a partner you love, take photos of them.
- If you are sad and miserable with your life, photograph your self-anguish.
- If you love your life, photograph how much you love life.
- If you are a graphic artist, take photos that can help your artistic vision.
- If you love music, take photos of other musicians, or perhaps even make a photographic project that combines music with a photo slideshow.
- If you have nobody else to photograph, photograph self-portraits of yourself in the mirror, of your shadow, or shoot yourself with your camera in timer mode on a tripod.
I am guilty of all the ills that I mention. I constantly complain about my “first world problems”, and often when I’m not inspired to shoot, I wish I were in another city or country.
But home is where the heart is. My heart is here in Berkeley. I am currently sitting at the Paris Baguette in Downtown Berkeley, and it is full of “boring” undergrads. But that is just me making excuses, there are tons of great photo opportunities here— I just need to really open my eyes (instead of keeping my eyes glued to my smartphone).
When I’m on the bus, there are so many great photographic opportunities. But I am usually (once again) glued to my smartphone, or reading a book— which disconnects me from my environment. This is time I can use to shoot.
When I am at home with Cindy, instead of huddling up with my laptop, I should huddle up with Cindy, and take photos of her and both of us (selfies).
What photos are going to matter to you when you’re dead? My friend Josh White taught me that it is going to be photos of our loved ones, not strangers in the street. He brought up a good point:
“Why is it that we take photos of strangers with $1,000’s worth of camera equipment, but we photograph photos of our loved ones with an iPhone?”
The other day I looked back at old photos from the past, and the only ones that have been meaningful to me were either shot on a nice digital camera, or on film. All the photos I shot on my smartphone (sorry) look like crap. The moments are nice, but I regret not using a “real” camera to photograph these precious moments to me.
Now I am not disparaging shooting with a smartphone. In-fact, I think it is the best camera out there. But frankly speaking, if I really loved my loved ones, I would have no problem spending money on photographing them on film (putting my money where my mouth is).
Taken a step further— almost all the photos I shot of Cindy (that have survived) have been shot on film. The moment was precious enough to me that I was willing to spend money on it. And the look has been consistent over all these years.
Okay sorry I got a bit distracted (I think I might convince myself to start shooting film again)— but essentially the point is this: use your expensive camera equipment to photograph your loved ones and your everyday life.
So friend, look in the mirror. You are the best subject to photograph. Look at your friends and loved ones. Unfortunately they are all going to die one day (some of them before you)— so photograph them with as much heart, soul, love, and empathy as you can.
Make photos for your future grandchildren. Photograph your loved ones and try to convey the love you have for them in your photos. Then imagine yourself in your 80’s, sitting with your grand-children, showing them old photo albums (no, you will not show them photos on Instagram from your younger years) — and inspire them with these photos.
Nobody is going to be on their deathbed and wish they had more followers on Instagram, or more “likes” on social media. We are probably going to regret not taking more photos of our loved ones, and precious moments of our life.
Even if you have a bigass or heavy DSLR; try to bring that sucker with you everywhere you go. You never know when a precious moment will happen. If your camera is too big— take off that hand grip, buy a smaller prime lens, or “downgrade” to a Ricoh GR II camera, and take photos whenever you can.
And honestly at the end of the day, even an iPhone has a fantastic camera (and most modern smartphones). I think the secret is to print your work, as for me— all the photos I’ve shot on my smartphone die on my smartphone. However the photos I’ve shot on film or my other digital cameras have been more likely to make it to get printed. Better yet— buy an Instax instant film camera, and print your photos immediately (and scrapbook them).
So friend, what are you waiting for? Photograph your daily life like you won’t wake up tomorrow morning. Love life, love the moment, and love your lifestyle.
Be the author of your life, and make sure it is a damn good story.
Sunday, 1:53pm, Dec 6th, 2016.
BTW, super excited to share that some of my 2016 workshops are live:
- Jan 9-10: SF / Composition Street Photography Workshop – Open!
- Feb 5-12: Dubai / Gulf Photo Plus 2016
- March 19-20: NYC / Composition Street Photography Workshop – Open!
- March 26-27: NYC / “Conquer Your Fears in Street Photography” Workshop
- April 16-17: SF / “Conquer Your Fears in Street Photography” Workshop – Open!
- April 23-24: SF / Advanced Street Photography Workshop
- October 1-2: Melbourne / “Conquer Your Fears in Street Photography” Workshop
- October 8-9: Sydney / “Conquer Your Fears in Street Photography”
- November 5-6: Singapore / “Conquer Your Fears in Street Photography”
- November 12-13: Tokyo / Advanced Street Photography Workshop
- November 19-20: Kyoto / Composition Street Photography Workshop
I’m currently working with my manager Neil to get some new workshops live. I’ll keep you updated. Also if you have any questions regarding any of the upcoming workshops, email email@example.com