Getting By With Less

Marseille, 2012
Marseille, 2012

Apparently in the Marines they take great pride in having the “shittiest equipment” with the least amount of support. They pride themselves in being able to get by with less. They make up for their lack of equipment through their hustle, determination, creativity, and hard work.

What if we could do the same in our photography— to pride ourselves in the fact that we might not have the best camera, lens, or equipment. What if we can achieve our creative greatness with “less”?

In my personal experience I’ve found that having more equipment only leads to more stress, more headaches, more complications— which ends up me having less enjoyment in my photography, less creativity, and less hustle.

I think the key of photography (and life) is to have the least amount of equipment possible, but nothing less.

For example, as a photographer we of course need a camera and a lens and a laptop is preferable. But besides that, do we really need the “best”?

By priding yourself in getting by with less, and not having the “best” — you force yourself to be more creative. By limiting your options, you force yourself to be creative with what you have.

For example, I’m really into physical fitness, and I’ve always been the slave of a gym. I’m quite into powerlifting, so I’ve always thought I “needed” a squat rack, a barbell for deadlifts, and a bench press. But recently (not having a gym membership), I’m trying to see how much I can do without a gym. This has helped me be creative. Instead of doing bench press I just do lots of different push-up variations (normal, incline, on my fists, one handed, clapping, diamond). Instead of deadlift I’m just doing a lot of chin-ups (I go to the park to use the chin-up bar, or use whatever horizontal surface I can find). Instead of squats, I do bodyweight squats and 1-legged “pistol” squats.

Of course at the end of the day I would still prefer to have a gym— I’ve found out I can do with less.

Berkeley, 2015 #cindyproject
Berkeley, 2015 #cindyproject

For those of you who read this blog, you know that I’m a bit of a coffee fanatic. Living so long in the Bay Area has spoiled me— I prefer single-origin espressos from small-batch roasters. But being at Cindy’s family house, I’m relying more on “mass-market” coffee. At first I was frustrated— but I came to realize that I don’t need the “best” coffee. Because honestly, the most important thing in coffee is the caffeine, not the taste (although I like having good taste).

So what if we apply this principle to other parts of our life? Instead of having the most expensive BMW, we can get by with having “less” — a simple Toyota or Honda. Instead of having the best camera (Leica), we can just have a simple compact camera (like a Ricoh GR or Fujifilm). Instead of having the biggest and most expensive house, we can have a simple 1-bedroom apartment with affordable rent. Whatever we lack in resources, we make up with our own human ingenuity, creativeness, and resourcefulness.

If you live in a “boring” place— and we don’t live in the most “interesting” place like NYC, Tokyo, or Hong Kong— perhaps we can photograph what we do have in front of our eyes. Even now, as I live in Garden Grove, Orange County (suburb central); I’m shifting my photography focus from street photography to “personal photography” — documenting Cindy and my loved ones.

Let’s say that your camera sucks. It can’t shoot high-ISO, has a slow lag, and other downsides. Perhaps that can be a benefit— you can start using a flash, you can imagine the slow lag like shooting an old film camera (which helps you be more intentional when shooting), and the poor image quality can give your images a more gritty and visceral feel.

London, 2014
London, 2014

Let’s say you don’t have a lot of money to print or exhibit your work. Then make the best out of social media to publish and promote your work.

Let’s say that you don’t have all the connection in the photography world, or access to curators, or other “influential” bloggers, etc. Then leverage the contacts you already have— know that having a few strong connections with people who are meaningful to you is often better than having a weak connection with lots of random people.

Trust me— I’m not perfect either. I always want the best. I hate “settling” with second-best.

But the problem of seeking the “best” is that there is no objective “best.” Rather, we should seek for “satisfactory” or “good enough.” Or we can even pride ourselves in having worse or shittier stuff than other people.

So given your constraints in life (your job, salary, age, mobility, family situation, kids, creative potential, equipment, etc) — how can you best make beautiful art, and a meaningful contribution to the world?

You got this.