Follow Your Gut in Photography and Life

Downtown LA, 2016
Downtown LA, 2016

I’m sure you had this experience before— you’re in class, taking a multiple-choice test. You think the answer is “C”, and you circle it in. Then a second later, you second-guess yourself, and circle “B”. You get the test back in a few days, and you find out the correct answer was “C”. You kick yourself in the butt, and you swear that you will always go by your gut-intuition next time.

Intuition vs “logic”

SF, 2016
SF, 2016

In the west, we put too much emphasis on “rationality”, “logic”, and “thinking things through.” While this is a fantastic mode of thinking for mathematics, science, and a lot of the hard-sciences, I don’t think it works as well in arts and humanities.

I’ve discovered that for 99% of the things in my life— following my gut has been the best action.

For example, when I was in college and studying biology (to make my parents/family happy to become a doctor), I knew in my gut I hated it and wanted to switch to something else. Therefore I ended up following my gut and switching to Sociology (even though everyone told me that I was crazy) — and it has been one of the best life decisions I made. It helped me learn more about society, how people interact, and also helped me question the social norms imposed on me by society. It helped me be more creative, to challenge authority, and to trust myself (rather than the “system”).

Also when I got laid off my job, my gut told me that it would be the perfect time for me to pursue “street photography” as a full-time living. Once again, everyone thought I was crazy — but by following my gut, I’ve been able to turn my passion into a living, and I’ve grown so much as a human being and creatively.

Following your gut in the streets

Downtown LA, 2016
Downtown LA, 2016

When it comes to your photography— I also recommend you to follow your gut (and less your brain). Shoot on the streets from the gut. Whenever you see a scene you find interesting, just take a photograph. If you don’t like it, you can just delete it later.

Too often this happens to me: I see an interesting scene I want to photograph. But my brain tells me, “Oh no Eric— don’t photograph that. That is cliche. It will never work.” When I tell my brain to “f*ck you” and take the photograph, I have fewer regrets than when I trust my brain.

Of course there are certain things in life we should use logic and rational-thinking (doing your taxes, administrative duties, etc) — but for most other things in your life, try your best to follow your gut.

I do believe that our gut and intuition has a hidden sense of intelligence— which we don’t give enough credence to. Our gut is a culmination of our entire life experiences, and our conscience has a strong sense of morals and ethics.

Before you share something on the internet — ask yourself, “Does my gut tell me this is the right or wrong thing to do?” Even when it comes to choosing my photos, I trust my gut to tell me whether it is good or not. And then afterwards if I want some feedback, I will choose 10 photos I like (based on my gut) and then ask my friends or people I trust for their feedback. I listen to their feedback, and integrate it into my decision-making process, but ultimately I trust my gut in terms of what the “right” thing to do is.

Avoid regret


There have been a lot of decisions I’ve made in life that I didn’t trust my gut. And almost always— I’ve regretted those decisions. Every time I’ve went against my gut intuition— I’ve made decisions which I felt were against my sense of morals or ethics.

You want your personal philosophy in life and your actions to correspond with one another. I personally get a lot of “cognitive dissonance” when I don’t “practice what I preach” (happens a lot) — and everyday I endeavor to be more consistent with my actions and thoughts.

Take more risks


The reason we don’t like to follow our gut is because it tends to be more risky. We want to start a business— and our gut tells us it is a good idea. Yet everyone else tells us not to, because it involves “risk.”

My suggestion: do risky things, but pre-determine what your risk threshold is.

For example, if you want to start a new business, see what your ultimate downside is. Pre-establish the fact that if you failed 100%, you would only lose $5,000. Then ask yourself, “Am I willing to risk losing $5,000 on this experiment?” If the answer is, “Yes” — go for it. If not, don’t go for it.

Therefore I do believe that rationality and following your gut can go hand-in-hand.

Adding rationality to your gut


Having back-up options is a good way to protect you. For example, let’s say your gut tells you to become a full-time photographer. I say trust your gut and pursue getting paid clients, doing weddings, commercial work, teaching photography workshops, or offering paid critiques. However, still use your rational side to stay at your 9-5 job to pay the bills. When you start earning enough with your side-income from photography to pay the bills, then follow your gut and quit your full-time job.

When it comes to street photography, follow your gut and photograph whatever you find interesting. Even if you’re scared— follow your gut and go for the photograph. But realize that the worst-case scenario is having someone yell at you, threatening to break your camera, perhaps getting physical, or calling the cops on you. For me, I take tons of risks in street photography— rationally accepting the fact that it might lead to negative consequences. But often, the fear of shooting street photography is worst than the actual negative consequences.

Can you look at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day?


So friend, treat this essay as an encouragement that it is okay to follow your gut and intuition. Steve Jobs is one of my heroes who followed his gut when it came to design, business, life, marketing, and the products he made. Of course a lot of times he was wrong, but for the major breakthroughs in technology— he was right. And I knew that he could go to bed at night and look at himself in the mirror— knowing the authenticity he had for following his gut and his heart.

Don’t fear following your heart, and what intuition tells you is right. Even if the entire world tells you you’re crazy. Otherwise, how would we innovate in society and make breakthroughs? What else will drive the human race forward?

Be bold, be fearless, follow your gut, and be the person and photographer you want to be. Take action — what is the worst that can happen?