How to Become a Photography Hacker

When I was a kid, I loved to tinker.

To take things apart, and put them back together.

I remember building my first computer — mostly out of necessity. I wanted high performance parts (so I could get a higher ‘fps’ — frame rate, on my computer games, namely Counterstrike and Warcraft III) so I built my own computers. I loved experimenting, hacking things together, and building.

I have kept this philosophy all throughout my life. I spent a lot of time “modding” my first car— a beloved 1991 Nissan Sentra (5-speed manual). I spent a lot of time upgrading the components— the intake, header, exhaust, and stripping the parts. The same went with my (even more) beloved car— the 1991 Sentra SE-R (the ‘sports’ variant).

Anyways, I don’t think of the word “hacker” as a computer nerd who hacks into FBI databases. Rather, I see a “hacker” as a “tinkerer”. Someone who likes to test out things for themselves. Who likes to take things apart, and put things together. Someone who loves trial and error— and is okay with breaking a few things along the way.

Hacking in photography


There is a lot of different ways you can apply the “hacker” ethos to your photography. Some ideas:

  1. Hack together your own presets: Keep tinkering in Lightroom (or whatever editing software you use) to create a “look” or aesthetic you like. Keep making new versions, and make each version a little better.
  2. Experiment: When you’re starting off in photography, experiment as much as you can. Try shooting digital, film, with your smartphone, and different formats. Experiment with monochrome and color. Try out different focal lengths, and see what works best for you.
  3. Share: One of the biggest things from the hacker ethos is to share your information openly, and freely with others. If you have made a preset you like, share it with others. If you have made a great photograph (and people want to know how you made the photo) — share your secrets. If you care, share.

The last big thing I learned is to distrust authority. Don’t listen to the experts in photography. Through trial-and-error, discover the truth for yourself. Don’t just blindly follow “compositional rules” or theories in photography.

Experiment for yourself, and then create theories afterwards.

One step at a time


Dissect things, break them apart, and put them back together. Intake different information when it comes to photography, but just pick and choose what resonates with you.

Realize that in your photography, you are always in a state of “becoming.” There is no final perfection. Just hack yourself to make your photography a little better, every step of the way.


Learn more: Creativity >