eric kim street photography hanoi-0001828-1

How to Tinker in Your Photography

eric kim street photography hanoi-0001828-1
Hanoi, 2016

I’m a huge fan of “tinkering” — just playing around, figuring out how things work, breaking things, and learning along the way.

How to become a tinkerer

When I was a kid, I tinkered for fun. I remember building my first computers, just for fun. Part of it was that I couldn’t afford a good computer— so I tried to figure out how to upgrade my graphics card, my memory, hard drive, and computer to play computer games (Counterstrike, Warcraft III, etc).

Part of being a tinkerer is having a sense of freedom. Control. To “upgrade” your destiny. To not be spoon-fed what is given to you — but learning how to improve things. To make things better.

The Japanese have a method called “kaizen” — constant, incremental, improvement.

I love this idea — it strives for 1% daily improvement. It is like natural growth — everything in nature grows steadily, slowly. Consider a redwood tree — how it grows steadily over time, but reaches great heights.

How can we teach ourselves to ‘tinker’ more in our photography, and life?

1. Experiment

The first tip is to experiment. Discover the truth for yourself.

Everything you read about photography is a suggestion. Nothing is truth. There is no “right” or wrong.

Experiment with different filters, and post-processing methods in your photography.

Experiment with your framing. Tilt your camera, get closer, take a step back. Learn how to “work the scene”, and take many different photos.

Don’t read too much photo theory from others when you’re starting off. Rather, just have fun with your camera, and discover what works for you. Then create your own theories, based on your experiences.

2. There is no “failure”; only feedback

Secondly, be comfortable failing. Whenever you tinker, learning is all about “trial and error.” Don’t see an error as a failure. Rather, see it as a growth, and learning opportunity.

If you’re tinkering with a car, trying to figure out how to turn it on (or off)— you learn through constant feedback. If you unplug your spark plugs, your car won’t start. If you plug things in, unplug things — just figure out what it does.

Similarly in your photography — figure out what technical settings work for you. Try to shoot in P mode, manual-mode, Av mode, Tv mode — learn the technical settings that best work for you through trial-and error.

Play with the ISO. Play with your focusing (autofocus vs manual). Play with your exposure-compensation.

Experiment shooting different subject-matter, at different times of the day, in different ways.

Consider yourself as a mad scientist — except you have your camera as your own tool.

3. Tinker for the sake of it

Lastly, have fun.

If you’re a tinkerer— you tinker for the sake of it. You don’t tinker to make money, to gain critical acclaim, or to impress your peers.

You tinker because it is in your soul. You tinker because you want to figure out how things work. You are intrinsically-driven; rather than extrinsically-driven.

So tinker in your photography by just having fun. Imagine like you’re a kid, with the camera for the first time. What rules would you throw out of the window? Would you really care about social media, or what others think?

No — you would only photograph what was fun for you.

Trial and error is king

So friend, how are some other things you can experiment with and tinker in your life? Whether that be with your car, with your body, with your diet, your photography, your lifestyle, or your personal philosophy.

Trial and error is freedom — and there is no right and wrong.


Learn more: Creativity >