How to Find Happiness in Your Photography

SF, 2016. Portrait by Luis Donoso
SF, 2016. Portrait by Luis Donoso

Dear friend,

I think if you’re like me— you want to be “happy” in life. You want to be happy with your photography, with your friends, relationships, and creative endeavors.

Why is it that photography often adds more stress, anxiety, frustration, desire, and misery to our lives? Shouldn’t it empower us?

1. Beware buying more gear

Berkeley, 2016 #cindyproject
Berkeley, 2016 #cindyproject

I think one of the biggest things that causes misery in our photographic lives is the lust for new gear. I’ve been through it, you’ve been through it, we’ve all been through it. It is partly unavoidable if you’re a beginner starting off in photography. We feel like our gear is never good enough, and that not having the best gear is what is holding us back (or at least that is what the camera companies and blogs want us to think).

Every sport, or creative activity falls victim to this. When I played tennis, the worst tennis players always blamed their rackets, and would spend hundreds of dollars on new rackets every single week (while never becoming better). The same happens to newbie cooks (they buy expensive knives, pots, pans) but their food never gets better. The same happens to gym-goers and yoga practitioners (they invest in buying lots of expensive Nike gear, LuLuLemon, and other superfluous things) and they never get fit.

Having a desire for a camera (that you don’t already own) is unhealthy. It makes us think that we can never achieve our fullest creative potential, because our camera isn’t good enough. That is what made me upgrade from a point and shoot digital camera to a crop-sensor DSLR, to a full-frame DSLR, to a digital Leica, to a film Leica, and to a medium-format film camera. Funny enough, I’m back at having a digital point and shoot camera— and I can attest, buying new gear has never helped me become a better photographer (it was learning more of the master photographers, perfecting my compositions, adding more layers, and ruthlessly editing).

I’ve been able to make consistent gains in the gym powerlifting, not by buying new clothes, shoes, or equipment— but by going to the gym every week, and always trying to push my limits. The best basketball players aren’t the ones with the most expensive shoes— they’re the ones that hit the courts the most often, and focus on “deliberate practice.”

So if you want happiness in photography, know that your gear is good enough. Of course we still need to upgrade our digital cameras every once in a while (a typical upgrade cycle is every 2-3 years or so). But never blame your camera on your lack of inspiration or creativity— otherwise we will always be miserable.

2. Don’t seek more followers on social media

NYC, 2016
NYC, 2016

Just because you have more followers on social media doesn’t mean you’re a better photographer. It just means that you have more followers.

I know personally, when I started photography, I wanted more likes, comments, and followers. I wanted external validation for my photography. I was so unsure about myself, that I never had confidence in my own photos. I wanted others to reaffirm me. I wanted praise, social media fame, and notoriety.

But the more social media followers I wanted, the more dissatisfied I was. Why? There was always someone out there with more followers than me. Even though I thought I was the better photographer— I would blame the world and say how “unfair it was.”

And the truth is we will never have more followers than Justin Bieber or that one Instagram star you know.

But that is okay. Photography should be a pursuit of inner-improvement, of achieving our creative limits, and of empowering us. It isn’t a competition to see how many more followers you have than others.

So if you want more happiness in your photography, disregard social media. Experiment; try taking a month off of social media. Don’t upload any photos— see if you find more inner-calm, tranquility, and satisfaction from your photos.

3. Always have a project you’re working on

Berkeley, 2016 #cindyproject
Berkeley, 2016 #cindyproject

I find happiness in my photography by always having something “in-progress.” By having a photography project that you’re actively working on, you always have something to look forward to.

Sometimes it can add frustration to our lives that our photography project isn’t complete. But remember, “the journey is the reward.” We’re the happiest when we’re in the middle of projects and actively working on them, rather than when we’re completed. Whenever I finish a photography project, I feel a bit listless and lost, and actually a bit sad.

Your photography project can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. The secret is to have something you look forward to photograph. Something that excites you, and gets you out of bed.

For me, I’m actively working on my “Cindy Project” — which will be my life-long project. Until death does me and Cindy apart, I know that I always have a loving subject to photograph.

For you, that can be photographing your friends, partner, kids, co-workers, pets, or whatever. That can mean photographing your local community, church, town, Downtown area, sports team, or workplace. Have something you’re passionate about, and continue to photograph it.

4. Be an active part of a community

Downtown LA, 2011
Downtown LA, 2011

As humans, we are social beings. The thing I’m most grateful of photography for is bringing me closer to other photographers and people.

At the end of my life, I’m going to be more grateful for the people that I’ve met through photography, instead of my own photos.

By having a community you’re part of, you have something to look forward to. You get honest feedback and critique on your work, you have someone to share your work with, and you also have other photographers you can help.

Furthermore, being a part of a community means you can do group exhibitions, group magazines or books, and be a part of a collective. There is no greater joy than to collaborate with other photographers, to share your creative inspiration, and to be part of something bigger than yourself.

It can be an online community, collective, or group — or in-person. Whatever works better for you.

If you don’t know any other photographers in your area, check out and see if there are any local photography groups for you to join. Or find other photographers on social media, email them, and build a connection.

See how you can collaborate with others, and I can guarantee it will bring you more happiness and joy in your photography.

5. Have faith in yourself

Melrose, 2016 #cindyproject
Melrose, 2016 #cindyproject

The last thing I would recommend to find happiness in your photography is to have faith in yourself. To have confidence in your own photography, and not needing the external validation of others.

To have faith in yourself means that you know you’re trying your hardest. You know that you’re constantly improving your work, increasing your knowledge, and making progress.

Always have faith in yourself, and appreciate the love and support of the community and those around you.


Photo by Cindy Nguyen. Vancouver, 2015
Photo by Cindy Nguyen. Vancouver, 2015

Happiness is within reach, without having a new camera, more social media followers, or anything external. Happiness is finding gratitude for what you have, the lifestyle you have, the friends and family you have, the camera you already own, and your God-given talents.

Never complain; just shoot, be happy, and share that joy with others.