Dear friend; here are some lessons that Socrates has taught me about photography — and can hopefully inspire you:
1. Never betray your artistic vision
It would be better for me; that multitudes of men should disagree with me, rather than I, being one, should be out of harmony with myself. – Socrates
First of all, trust yourself in photography. Let it be that ‘multitudes of men’ might disagree with you— while you agree with yourself.
Let your artistic vision be in ‘harmony with yourself’. Meaning, never do anything in your photography or art which is against your gut.
Never betray your own artistic vision.
In life, follow your gut. Follow your personal rule of ethics, and morals — even if everyone else will disagree with you.
2. See the world in wonderment
Wonder is the feeling of a philosopher; and philosophy begins in wonder. – Socrates
The best attribute to have as a photographer is to have a sense of wonderment. To be like a kid, and look around the world and say: “Wow!”
I remember when I started photography, I was so curious and in wonderment about photography and the world. The power of the digital camera amazed me. I remember when I used to wait a few days before developing my film at the lab, before seeing the images. Now with my first digital point and shoot camera, I could see the images instantly! It was like magic. I was amazed.
But now, I am jaded. I take the technology for granted. I also take the world for granted. Everything has become so boring and blase. I’m indifferent to the world.
Yet, if we want to be better photographers, let us dig deep into our sense of wonderment.
Treat yourself like a kid. If you gave your 10-year old self your camera, what would amaze you? What would be fun and exciting?
Be like a big kid with a camera.
3. Wisdom is knowing your ignorance
I am wise because I know I know nothing. – Socrates
For me, I know that my journey in photography is just beginning. I try to stay as humble and foolish as possible in photography. This is what keeps me hungry to keep learning, to keep improving.
If I think I know everything about photography, I stop learning. I become close-minded.
To keep learning and being wise in photography is to know your own ignorance.
So stay hungry, keep learning from the masters of photography, and keep learning from all artists. Sculptors, painters, dancers, and musicians. Study the present artists, and artists from the past like Leonardo da Vinci.
4. Keep improving your soul
I care to have the greatest improvement of my soul – Socrates
Let us be more soulful photographers; meaning, let us photograph more images which makes our heart sing. Photos that make us feel more alive. Photos that are personal to us.
Let us photograph our loved ones, friends, family, and those who matter to us.
Let us make meaningful photos.
Not only that, but let us keep improving the condition of our soul. Meaning, let us continue to pursue virtue and good deeds. To make photos that are kind, loving, and compassionate to our subjects and our viewers.
To do good deeds in photography— share your wisdom, lessons, tips, with others. To not keep it to yourself. Let it spread wide; like a blazing fire or light.
5. Keep your information open to all
I converse with all who pay and dont pay; let anyone whether he be rich or poor ask and answer me, and listen to my words. – Socrates
Back in the days of Socrates, philosophers (mostly) only talked and conversed with paying students.
Socrates was unique; he kept philosophical inquiry and discussion open to all.
I believe in ‘open source’ photography and information. To keep my presets, YouTube videos, ebooks, and articles for free. To let everyone have access— no matter how rich or poor.
I want to encourage others to look into themselves, and seek inner-wisdom from their photography. To use photography as a tool of inner-reflection, and photography as a tool for understanding who we are as human beings.
I want to give others the ‘greatest possible service’ in photography. To care less about my own needs; and devote myself to others.
So for you, I encourage you to keep more of your photography more open and free. You don’t need to be like me, giving away everything for free and openly. But I do encourage you to find more ways to be generous with other photographers.
Share the stories behind how you made your best photos. Share the names of photographers who have inspired you. Share your compositional tips, and how you make good photos.
Uplift the souls of other photographers with your guidance.
6. Always ask questions
Life without inquiry is not worth living for a human. – Socrates
Be like a kid — always ask, ‘Why?’
You want to live your life full of inquiry— full of questions, wonderment, and curiosity.
Never take any ‘truth’ at face value. Whenever you learn something, question it to death.
7. Stay true to yourself
I would rather die having spoken in my manner; than speak in your manner and live. – Socrates
Don’t aimlessly follow others. Follow your own sense of justice.
The difficulty, my friends, is not in avoiding death, but in avoiding unrighteousness; for that runs deeper than death.
8. You are a citizen of the world
Socrates once said: “I am a citizen of the world.”
He didn’t see himself as restrained to just his city or country. He knew that his lessons applied to all of humankind.
Think the same yourself— you are a citizen of the world. Especially with social media and the internet, your photos can spread to every corner of the globe. Your photos can touch and move people in Dubai, France, Nigeria, Malaysia, America, India, the Philippines, or Vietnam.
A practical lesson: make photos that are universal. What photos are universal? Emotional photographs about humanity are universal.
Could you show your photograph to anyone in the world— and have your photograph affect them emotionally?
9. Photograph so you may live
Others live that they may eat and drink; I eat and drink so I may live. – Socrates
A way I can interpret this in photography:
Others live that they may photograph; I photograph so I may live.
For me, photography is like breathing. Without photography, I would die.
Photography helps stimulate my creative urge. It helps me express myself. It helps me communicate ideas and feelings easily.
Don’t just live your life, in order to make more photos. Rather, realize that photography is a part of your soul. If you didn’t make photos; you would die spiritually, emotionally, and your soul would wither.
So keep making photos, and disregard what the rest of the world says.
10. Have no wants in your photography
“Having the fewest wants; I am nearest to the Gods.” – Socrates
One thing I learned from philosophy: the Gods were the same as humans; except they lived longer.
The Gods have no needs for material things. So if we want to be epic in life— we should not need or desire anything material.
So for example, you can become God-like in your photography by not desiring anything. Not desiring to get a lot of likes on social media, not desiring to get a lot of followers, not desiring to travel the world, not desiring that new camera or gear, or desiring fame, wealth, and power.
Another saying by Socrates:
Contentment is natural wealth; luxury, artificial poverty.
The easiest way to become wealthy is to be content. The quickest way to be poor or living in poverty is to want luxurious, superfluous things.
So let us find more contentment with the cameras and gear we already have. Know that you can make good photos on a shitty camera. Know that your smartphone is probably the best camera.
Conclusion: Photography is philosophy
To me, I see photography as a tool to make meaning in our lives— rather than just making photos.
So what is your personal photographic philosophy? How does photography make you a better person? How does photography question your beliefs? How does photography help you find more meaning and purpose in life?
As a simple assignment, write down on a piece of paper, or on your smartphone, or share your answer on social media:
Photography has made me a better person because ______________.
I would answer:
Photography has made me a better person because it helps me appreciate my loved ones more — while they are still alive.
Keep your photos personal.
For more guidance to make your photos more personal, I recommend picking up a copy of “Photo Journal: Personal Photography Reflections.”