Express Yourself

NYC, 2016
NYC, 2016

You are unique. You are special. Nobody sees the world the way you do.

One of the big problems we face as photographers is this: we seek to create “good” photographs rather than focusing on self-expression.


There is nobody out there who sees the way you see the world. And not only that, but you have your own emotional lens in which you frame things.

Why do you seek to make “good” photographs. Why do you value the opinion others have of you and your photography more than the opinion you have of yourself?

What do the photos you take say about yourself? Are you expressing yourself through your photography?

Self-expression is human

Why is self-expression important?

I think it is one of the most quintessential things about being a human being.

A lot of art is formed from us trying to express ourselves. We have this inner-genius that is hiding inside of our souls. And by creating art, we are allowing that inner-genius to sprout wings and fly—inspiring others.

Does your photography make you more human, free, and creative?

What do your photos say about you?

Berkeley, 2015
Berkeley, 2015

For me, I think my photos show that I am a social-critic of the world (slightly pessimistic at times, but overall quite optimistic about humanity).

Much of the photographic projects I have worked on the past are pretty dark and depressing. For those of you who know me in real life, I am a pretty positive, uppity, and optimistic, social person.

However having studied sociology— I see a lot of the dark side of human nature. I hate how technology is alienating us and our relationships, I hate how consumerism and advertising is making us miserable, and I hate how little of our time and free-will can be spent expressing ourselves creatively.

What is your reason for making photos (and living?)

If we cannot express ourselves (either verbally, photographically, artistically, or creatively)— I think we start to get depressed. We no longer feel like we have a reason to live and to go on.

Whenever we express ourselves, we feel like we matter. We feel like our opinion and perspective of the world is important. Not only that, but we self-express ourselves to show love and compassion for ourselves— but also to share that love with others.

Photography is self-therapy

NYC, 2016
NYC, 2016

Unfortunately many of us are stuck in jobs that we either hate or are not so happy about. We feel trapped. The golden handcuffs of our salaries are what keep us chained to the office cubicle— and we feel like we cannot escape. At least that is what I felt like when I had my typical tech 10-7 job.

However photography was my solace. It was my self-therapy. Especially street photography— I was able to shoot during lunch breaks and sometimes in the middle of the day (when I was overwhelmed with work and answering emails).

I felt that I was able to self-express myself through street photography by interacting with strangers, by being able to find geometry and beauty in the urban jungle, and by being able to share my images with others.

Whose opinion matters most?

Self-expression is pure. Self-expression is based on your personal ruler of yourself. Self-expression ignores the opinions of others.

Trying to be a “good” photographer is putting your own self-opinion in the hands of others. To try to be a “good” photographer is to become the slave of the opinions of others. To try to be “good” is going to lead you along a path of misery for the rest of your life.

Do you like your own photos?

Are you having fun?

A lot of kids with paintbrushes love to paint just for the hell of it. They have fun; they splash around the colors, mix them at their own free will, and try to express themselves through their paintbrushes.

Ask yourself when you’re taking photos: “Am I having fun?”

Feel comfortable on the other side

NYC, 2016
NYC, 2016

I know a lot of photographers who hate having their own photos taken.

If you hate having your own photograph taken— why is that? Do you hate the way you look? Are you insecure about some defect in your face? Do you have too many pimples? Do you have an extra chin that you’re not proud of? Is your face not as symmetrical as you would like it to be?

Be more self-compassionate; practice being comfortable being on the other side of the camera. Ask a friend to do a “portrait session with you” — and collaborate with them to make a photo of yourself that you like.

Or if you’d like, put your camera on a tripod and take photos of yourself in different lighting situations (either with a studio light, a pop-up flash, next to the window with natural light), and make yourself comfortable.

I personally love having my photos taken— but I often find it hard to have a photo made of me which I feel shows my personality and personal idiosyncrasies. I want my photos to show who I am as a person and my interests— not just how I look. And of course like many other people I am quite vain (but also self-conscious). But the more time I spend being on the other side of the camera, the more I learn what it feels like to be a subject. And taking those lessons — I try to make my subjects feel more comfortable.

Is photography vain?

Stockholm, 2015

Self-expression comes from within. Some might think that self-expression in photography is vain.

For me, I don’t think so. Calling someone “vain” is also a judgement call, which shows more of the negative nature of the “judger” than the person being judged.

Would you call someone who spends 2 hours on themselves meditating “vain” because they spend that time on themselves (and not on others?)

I think focusing more time for you to express yourself through photography is to be compassionate to yourself. I know many photographers who get depressed if they go a few days without taking a photograph. To be creative is to be alive. And without making art that pleases ourselves, we will feel empty and dead inside.

The more you feed your creative self, the more energy, positivity and love you will have to share with others.

Water your own lawn before you decide to water the lawn of others.

Take your time

If your primary concern of self-expression in photography is to express yourself; you don’t need to always upload your photos online.

As an experiment; try to upload fewer images online. And don’t always feel in a rush to upload your images to social media the same day you shoot them.

For me, it often takes me several days, several weeks, months, or even years before I truly know how I feel about an image and whether I like it or not.

Don’t rush the process.

When I shoot digital, I will edit and process my photos in Lightroom, then export them as a full-resolution JPEG to a random Dropbox folder on my laptop. I then go back to my folder every few days, and scan through my photos. For the photos that no longer have an emotional pull for me, I delete them. For the ones that I truly love, I keep them, and either upload them to my blog or share them on social media, or even print them out.

Are you being honest with yourself?

NYC, 2016 #cindyproject
NYC, 2016 #cindyproject

What exactly is it that draws you to photography? Why do you decide to self-express yourself with a camera, instead of using a pen, paper, or some other tool?

For me, I can’t draw or paint. So photography is a good way for me to be artistic without depending on the skill of my hands.

The more I photograph, the more I learn about myself.

I have discovered that in street photography, I actually prefer to interact with my subject instead of taking candid photos. Not only that, but over the years I have found that the genre of street photography I love most is “street portraiture” — approaching strangers, interacting with them, hearing their life stories, and asking to take their portrait. To me, this feels like a much more genuine exchange— instead of me just taking candid snaps.

But this is just my opinion. You might prefer to take candid photos— you might prefer not to interact with others. Which is totally fine. You don’t need to imitate any other photographer. Just be yourself. There is no one “right” or “wrong” way to make photos. Just like there is no “right” or “wrong” way to write poetry.

The only thing that matters in your photography is whether you are genuine or not. Do your photos feel authentic to yourself, or are you trying too hard to be someone else?

There is only one of you in the world. So “do you” — express yourself through your photography. Show your unique viewpoint with the rest of the world. Put your heart and soul into the images you make, and don’t fear having others judge you.

After all, if your photos please yourself, why do you care what others think of your work?

NYC, 6:53pm, March 21, Monday, 2016.