How to Minimize Friction in Your Photography (and Life)

Garden Grove, 2016 #cindyproject
Garden Grove, 2016 #cindyproject

In Silicon Valley, one of the main obsessions a lot of entrepreneurs are having is to eliminate “friction” in user-experiences; whether that be apps, websites, or businesses.

What is “friction”?

In the context of tech, “friction” is any sort of resistance when it comes to conducting an action.

For example, if you want to purchase something on a website, having to put in your credit card information is “friction.”

When you’re navigating a website and it is hard to find certain information (or having to click too much) is “friction.”

What are some examples of “friction-less” experiences?

Uber is a great example. They have all your credit card information stored, and it is easy to “seamlessly” call an Uber through your smartphone. For me, whenever I look for directions via Google Maps, choosing Uber is an option (less “friction” than having to open the Lyft app, and select my destination).

Amazon “1 click buy-it-now” is also another example of a “friction-less” experience. Amazon also has all your credit card information stored (as well as your address). So if you want to buy something instantly, you just click one button, and it gets delivered to your door (2 days for free if you have a “Prime” membership).

Snapchat also allows for a “friction-less” experience. You open up the app, and it instantly allows you to take a photograph or video (without having to click anything additionally). This promotes quicker, easier, and more convenient sharing of images/video.

What are some examples of “friction” in photography and life?

For me, anything that makes me “think too much” is friction in photography (and life). Of course you want to “think” — but thinking too much (paralysis by analysis) is what hurts me.

For example, if I see a scene that I find might be memorable (and I want to make a photograph), having to think about my aperture, shutter-speed, or ISO is examples of “friction.” Having to take a camera out of my bag is “friction.” Wondering whether I should shoot a photograph in color or black and white is “friction.” Having a negative self-critic in my mind which asks me, “Eric, you don’t want to take a photo of that— it is boring and cliche” is an example of “friction.”

When it comes to “working out” — having to get into a car and drive to a gym is an example of “friction.” A “friction-less” workout experience is simply going down on the floor and doing a few pushups.

When it comes to nutrition, a lot of people think of cooking as “friction” — having to buy the groceries, chop up the veggies, defrosting the meat, and having to cook (and clean-up afterwards) is “friction.” To most people, a “friction-less” experience is to eat a bag of chips, go to a drive-through, or nowadays order food via a smartphone app.

When it comes to making coffee, having to grind your coffee, tamp it, and wait for it to brew is “friction.” People prefer the convenience of Nespresso or Keurig “capsules” in which you can just pop in a coffee capsule, press 1 button, and enjoy a cup of coffee in 30 seconds.

Is friction “good” or “bad”?

A philosophical debate I have with myself is: is friction “good” or “bad”?

Time and attention are the two most valuable assets we have. Once we consume our time, we can never “gain” extra time. Furthermore, when we start the day, we only have a limited “attention span” — and once we use our attention, we can’t add extra attention.

As an American, I am a slave to convenience. I hate things that take a long time, or things that are “inconvenient.” For example, I hate going to the post office and mailing stuff (having to pack stuff, write addresses, wait in line, and deal with a grumpy post office worker). There is a lot of “friction” necessary to mail stuff in the mail.

Furthermore, I hate doing anything government-related (renewing my driver’s license, getting any other governmental-related paperwork) because there is too much friction involved. The process of processing forms with the US government is like getting a tooth pulled (without anesthesia). The process is convoluted, confusing, time-consuming, and full of friction.

However at the same time, a lot of what people consider “friction” (buying food and cooking it) can actually be enjoyable to many people.

For example, I actually enjoy going to the grocery store, picking up fresh fruits and veggies, talking to my butcher and asking about different cuts of meat, planning what kind of meal I am going to make that meal, and experiment with my cast-iron (how to cook my meal). I feel that by having “friction” (shopping and cooking is difficult) is what makes the process and final meal more enjoyable. I always appreciate the food I cook more than food I just get at a restaurant or fast-food joint.

Furthermore, I know a lot of photographers who find shooting film to be a pain in the ass (myself being one of them). Film is expensive, takes up a lot of space, and requires you to get the film processed, scanned, organized, etc. But at the same time, I appreciate shooting film more than I do shooting digital. Because shooting film is a pain in the ass, the friction adds meaning to the photography process.

Finding a balance

The problem with western-society is that we try to over-optimize, over-efficiencize, and overy-productify things. We cram our calendars full of appointments, we constantly check email, and feel like we always need to do “more.”

But being a human being and living a meaningful life is all about making trade-offs between activities that include “friction” (while minimizing friction in un-enjoyable aspects of our life).

For example, is playing with your kids too much work or “friction” in your life? Would you prefer to “out-source” your child-rearing to a nanny, a parent, or a domestic worker? Or do you find playing with your kids and raising them (hands-on) an enjoyable and pleasurable experience— that you prefer to do yourself?

In photography, do you prefer using a camera that makes the photo-making process as frictionless as possible?

For me, I prefer using a Ricoh GR compact camera, which I always keep in “P” mode— which I just point-and-shoot. I have it defaulted to black-and-white; so I have fewer variables to worry about when it comes to capturing “the moment.”

If you think about it, a smartphone camera is the ultimate “friction-less” camera. Why? You always have it with you, you just point-and-click, and it is easy to upload and share with your friends and family. Compare this to a standard digital camera— you take a photograph, download it to your laptop, post-process it, save it, then you have to upload it.

For me, I try to minimize friction with activities or things I dislike doing— which means I have more time, energy, and attention to do what I love.

The less time I waste having to go to the post office or go to the store to buy office supplies means more time to read, do research, and write.

In photography, the less I worry about my camera, lens, and technical settings— the more energy I have to focus on composing my scene, and easily take photos that are meaningful to me.

“Set it and forget it!”

If you’re an American, you will definitely know the “set it and forget it!” advertisement for a rotisserie chicken maker.

The concept: you take a whole chicken, stick it into this chicken-maker, and press a single button, and it automatically makes a delicious and juicy rotisserie chicken.

So in photography, I also love this “set it and forget it” concept— set your camera to “P” (program mode, where your camera automatically chooses the aperture/shutter-speed), set the ISO to 1600 (to minimize your chance of blurry photos), set the autofocus point to the center (generally more accurate and quicker), and just take photos.

I also personally find that by having fewer cameras, I have less “friction” when I want to make a photograph.

In the past, when I had too many different cameras, I would always hesitate before taking a photograph— because I’d have to wonder, “What camera or lens should I use for this scene?”

Eliminating friction from your photography is about removing variables, removing (unnecessary) decisions— to simplify your photography process.

I also used to carry both a digital camera and film camera— and having to decide whether to shoot a scene on digital or film added unnecessary friction to my photography.

When I shot film, using different types of film added too much friction to my shooting process— I would stress out whether I should shoot black-and-white or color.

With digital photography, having to post-process each photograph from scratch is a lot of unnecessary friction. I prefer to apply a certain preset (Eric Kim Tri-X 1600 preset) upon importing them in Lightroom, which means a standard black-and-white preset is applied to all of my RAW images. Using presets is less friction in the post-processing phase. Less friction with post-processing means more focus you have in editing (choosing your best images).


Another way you can remove friction from your photo-making lifestyle is this: stick to defaults.

For example, it might mean always going to the same default area in town to shoot street photography.

Or it means having a “default” camera for street photography. Only one camera and one lens for your street work.

Or adding a default to whether you shoot color or black and white.

Having a default reduces friction— because it is one less decision we need to make.

Companies and governments also use defaults in savvy ways— whether they prompt you to “opt-in” or “opt-out.”

If you sign up for a company, some of them automatically “opt you in” to save money for a retirement plan. Then if you don’t want to have money added to your retirement plan, you need to “opt out”. This is a genius plan— because most people are often too lazy to “opt in” for a retirement plan — it is too much friction. And honestly, most of us aren’t responsible enough to save on our own.

Certain countries also have much higher organ donation rates because they are automatically set to donating their organs. They need to face “friction” if they want to “opt out” of this program.

Also whenever you sign up for a website, sometimes you have to check a button to receive emails from them (opt in) whereas other times you have to un-check a button to not receive emails from a company (opt out).

With physical exercise, sometimes we fall into “paralysis by analysis” because there are too many types of exercises to do. Then we end up doing nothing.

An easier option: set a default to your workout. It can be as easy: when you wake up, do 20 pushups. Or setting a “default” workout schedule (Monday is squats, Wednesday is bench-press, Friday is deadlifts).

If you want to lose weight, having to decide what “healthy” meals is a lot of “friction.” So if you want to really save time, energy, and money— just create one default “healthy meal” and eat it everyday (this is what Tim Ferriss recommends in his “4 Hour Body” book. My default “healthy meal” is 3 eggs and an avocado — easy to cook, cleanup, and keeps me slim.

Adding friction

If there are ever any negative habits you want to eliminate— add friction to these activities.

For example, if you waste too much time on email, social media, or blogs— install a website-blocker extension (which will limit the amount of time you spend on these sites, or restrict your use of these websites to certain hours in the day). “StayFocusd” is a good and free plugin you can use for Chrome.

Or if you stay up too late at night looking at your smartphone, charge your phone in a separate room from your bedroom. This will “add” friction for you having to check your smartphone (the friction of moving from one room to another).

If you have snacks in the house which tempt you easily, perhaps place them to a really high shelf, which will add friction (more difficulty) for you to eat them.

For me, I spend too much time on apps on my smartphone— so I intentionally bury them in my “apps drawer” (instead of having them on my smartphone home screen). I do the same for my laptop— I have to use the “spotlight” tool in Mac to open an app (instead of having them easily accessible in the app shortcut bar).

I also used to be addicted to checking email and social media on my phone, so I uninstalled email and social media from my phone. Now I only check email and social media on my laptop (adding more friction).

Where else do I love friction?

I love friction with “inefficient” activities like calling friends (instead of texting them), writing with a pen-and-pad in a journal (instead of a journaling app), walking (instead of driving), and making my own coffee at home (instead of instant coffee or using a Nespresso machine).

With certain activities with “friction” which take a lot of time and effort— you appreciate the simple process of the activity in itself. Because these activities take more time and more effort, I am able to fall into a “zen-like” meditative mood (anyone who makes their coffee pour-overs at home talk about this when hand-girding their own beans, and pouring the water over the beans). The same goes for processing film — a lot of people love the process of “zenning out” — listening to music, hand-processing their film, and spending hours in the darkroom while time flies by.

Friction in your life

I know this essay on “friction”, photography, and life is a bit all-over-the-place. Forgive my rambling (too much coffee in my system right now—and it is a concept that fascinates me).

But to sum up, consider the role of friction in your life. Consider how friction adds pain, inconvenience, and dissatisfaction from your life. But then again realize that some friction is positive for life.

After all, the “friction” of hiking up a mountain for hours on end makes enjoying the view so much more enjoyable.

A businessman who spends a lot of time, effort, and difficulty (friction) to get a deal, enjoys the outcome of a positive deal (than if it were too easy to obtain).

Often the “friction” of dating (people who play “hard to get”) makes getting a suitable life partner a lot more enjoyable.

If we never felt pain, death, sorrow— would we appreciate happiness, joy, and life?

If street photography wasn’t so damn scary and difficult, would we really enjoy a great photo that took a lot of effort?

Maximize what you love, minimize what you hate.


@ Ink & Bean / Anaheim, CA / 2:21pm. Thursday, May 19, 2016.