How to Make Good Photos on a Shitty Camera

Dear friend; if you have a shitty camera (or what you perceive a shitty camera) — yet want to make better photos, this is for you:

Introduction: I prefer cheaper, smaller, simpler cameras


First of all, I want to say that I was most creative when I had my first camera— a point and shoot digital Canon SD 600 camera. It was always with me. In my front pocket. I never took it too seriously.

I made photos of anything that interested me. My food, architecture, flowers, street scenes, people, etc. I loved the simplicity of the use. Just point and shoot.

Yet somewhere along the way; I wanted to ‘upgrade’ to a fancy-DSLR. Because I saw ‘bokeh’ (blurry background) photos; and was blown away by the ‘look.’ Also part of me, I wanted to be taken more ‘seriously’ as a photographer by having a bigger camera.

But the bigger my camera; the less I took it with me everywhere I went. I made fewer photos. I found less joy in photography, and life.

So below are some pieces of advice I would give you:

1. Underdog advantage

We all love movies with an underdog. Eminem’s 8 mile — hustling from nothing, to winning. We love sports teams which are under-dogs.

If you have a shitty camera; you are an under-dog. Your camera might be an old smartphone, or an older point and shoot. Or even an old DSLR.

But take that to your advantage. Have pride in your shitty stuff; and have pride in amazing others with your shitty gear.

For example, my dream car (was, and still is) a 1991 Sentra SE-R (b13). My first car was a 1991 Sentra XE-4 door (5 speed manual). When I first got the 1991 Sentra SE-R, I was amazed by it. It looks like a shitty car from outside; but inside, it has an incredible SR20DE engine (same they had on the S13 Silvia in Japan, but without turbo). It was the true ‘sleeper’ car — shitty on the outside, but packing power inside. I had a lot of pride upgrading my car (adding intake, exhaust, headers), stripping the interior, and spray-painting the rims bronze. It still looked shitty; but I loved it. Nobody else liked it, but I loved it.

Treat your camera the same. Your camera is a ‘sleeper’ — it is modest, common, yet you make beautiful photos with it.

I’ve shot with Leica’s, and now I just shoot with a $600 Ricoh GRII camera. When I show my Ricoh to people; they are amazed. They ask:

But I thought you were a professional photographer! Why don’t you have a big DSLR with a big lens?

I then joke and say people with big cameras have very small (ahem) something.

So have pride in your shitty camera.

2. Actually prefer a shittier camera

This is the biggest revelation I’ve had: it is actually preferable to have a shittier, less expensive, smaller, lighter camera.

I’ve shot with $7,000 Leica cameras. I’ve shot with $3,000 lenses. I’ve played with cameras that were worth $30,000 — and have played around with lenses worth $15,000.

In reality, I don’t see a difference.

Not only that, but I genuinely prefer a smaller, more compact, and less obtrusive camera. I genuinely prefer the Ricoh GR over the Leica.

I actually feel really bad for photographers with these massive DSLR’s and massive lenses. It hurts your neck, shoulders, and it isn’t fun to shoot.

The Leica is a cool camera, and I love it. But the problem is: it is heavier than you think it is. It doesn’t have a built-in flash. Sometimes using manual focus is annoying— especially if it is raining, or if you have a coffee in the other hand. Also, the minimum focusing distance is only .7 meters — whereas I can shoot with macro (up to .1 meters on the Ricoh).

Also the problem with having an expensive camera: you have anxiety. If you travel with a $10,000 camera and lens; you are stressed. What if you lose it? What if someone steals it?

With a cheap camera, you have no anxiety. If someone stole it, or if you lost it; you just buy another one.

I can say, traveling with a ‘cheap’ $600 Ricoh GR II is preferable to me, than with a $5,000 Leica MP and $3,000 Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron lens.

3. Use the limitations as a benefit

If your camera is shitty; use it to your advantage. They call this a ‘creative constraint.’

For example, a lot of my friends who shot with early iPhones (iPhone 2, 3, 4, 5) made phenomenal images. They used the small image sensor to their advantage.

Rather than relying on bokeh, they used depth to their benefit. They made beautiful photos with lots of layers, and complex compositions.

Hiding from the light, Market St, Sydney / by Oggsie
Hiding from the light, Market St, Sydney / by Oggsie / Shot on iPhone

Because the sensor sucked, they only photographed in good light. My friend Oggsie would stalk the light on his iPhone, in the streets of Sydney, and make beautiful photos during ‘golden hour’ (sunset). Same with my buddy Misho Baranovic, Aik Beng Chia, and Josh White.

So if you have a shitty camera; shoot in good light. Meaning, photograph your subjects against natural window light. Photograph during sunrise and sunset. Look for the golden light.

4. Shoot monochrome

Honestly; if your camera is shitty; it is probably better to shoot in black and white. Because having more grain, more noise actually looks better in monochrome.

So either shoot in color, and convert your photos afterwards into black and white, or just shoot in black and white mode on your camera. Embrace JPEG, or use RAW— whatever is better for you.

If you shoot RAW, use my free Eric Kim Monochrome 1600 preset. Or just shoot JPEG in black and white.

5. Make simpler photos (minimalism)

If you shoot with a shitty camera, old smartphone, whatever— aim for minimalism.

When you make photos; focus on the edges of the frame. Make the edges of your frame very clean. Also subtract any distractions from the background.

Easiest assignment: start with a white or black background. Then add your subject.

You can do this by shooting a self-portrait of yourself against a blank wall. Or photograph an object on a blank desk.

Study minimalism, and apply it to your photos.

6. Use the flash

If your camera has a flash; use it.

The flash will add more contrast and ‘figure to ground’ to your images.

Experiment using the flash during the day, at night, indoors, and in the shade.

We are taught using a flash is no good in photography. Disregard that; some of my best photos are shot with a flash.

7. Click the shutter, a lot.

The more photos you make; the more likely you are to hit a home run.

Embrace your shitty camera; and make beautiful photos that speak to your heart.

Learn how to ‘work the scene‘ and study contact sheets.

Conclusion: Why do you make photos?

Care less about image quality. Care about the emotional quality of your photo.

Care less about megapixels. Care more about putting your heart into your photos.

Care less about having a fancy camera, to show off to your friends. Care more about being low-key with your equipment, but amazing people with your images.

Probably the best compliment you can ever get on your photo is this:

Show your photo to your friend, and have them ask you, “What camera did you shoot that on?” Then show them your shitty camera. Watch their jaw drop.


Equipment >

Henri wrist strap by eric kim
Henri Wrist Strap by Eric Kim

There is no “perfect” camera. Don’t fall into GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) and falsely believe that buying a new camera will make you a better photographer.

If you’re not feeling inspired in your photography, I recommend you to buy books, not gear. Also check out these 75+ Inspirational Photo Books You Gotta Buy. You can also download my free books.

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Film Photography 101 >

Henri Neck Strap >


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Henri Wrist Strap
Henri Wrist Strap

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Hanoi, 2016 #cindyproject

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