How to Have More Creative Confidence in Your Photography

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Dear friend,

I want to write you some words of encouragement to have creative confidence in yourself:

1. You don’t need anyone’s approval

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First of all, you don’t need anyone’s approval to do your creative work.

You might not have as much freedom when it comes to your job, your work, or family situation— but you have 100% creative freedom in your free time.

Nobody needs to give you ‘approval’ to make art.

If you sit down, you can do whatever the hell you want. Paint the sky purple. You can flip your photos upside down. Add a red gradient. Have fun, don’t take it too seriously — be like a kid, with a blank sheet of paper, with some crayons or water colors.

Some of my favorite artists who created art on their own conditions.

Picasso started off making realistic paintings, yet later he evolved to creating cubist paintings. Why? He was interested in creating his own version of reality— rather than painting what was ‘real.’

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Even William Klein started his own radical form of photography— creating gritty, blurry, and out-of-focus photos. He experimented with different printing techniques, which made his photos soft and dreamy. He was criticized— yet eventually he inspired a generation of new photographers, such as Daido Moriyama, Anders Petersen, Jacob Aue Sobol, etc.

Create your own reality. And you don’t need nobody’s permission to create art however you want.

And if you need nobody’s approval to create your own art, in your own vision, you are free.

2. Walk down the road, armed with your own vision

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Ain’t nobody can tell you how to be creative.

You need to pave your own path. You’re only going to be led by your inner-spirit, your inner-voice, and your inner-vision.

Make the art you would like to see. Make photos that interest you. You have nothing else to support you. You won’t have anybody who will support your artistic vision.

Imagine yourself in a forest— with no paved roads. You need to create your own path.

3. Seek your own truth

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As an artist, you are trying to find your own truth. You are trying to find the truth of reality— what you find is important, real, and meaningful.

To figure out what your own truth is to figure out the purpose of your life.

For me, the ‘truth’ I believe in is this: information and education can empower people. Poor people often do not have access or money to these resources. Therefore, it is my duty to create information and education, keep it open and free, and share it with as many people as I can— in order to empower those in need.

Everyone has their own truth in life, their own goals, and what they believe in.

Just follow what you believe in, and call it your own truth.

4. Believe in your ego and self

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In modern society, we are told to be more humble, and to not have such a big ego. Eastern philosophy talks about killing your ego, and having a smaller ego.

But honestly, if you want to be an artist, to create your own version of reality, and to have the guts and courage to stand up for yourself— you need a healthy ego. You need an ego to push forward your ideas, to drive society forward.

I go in-between striving to have a powerful ego, versus killing my ego. I am often confused.

But what I think is this: detach your ego from yourself. Therefore, you still have an ego to help you drive your creative art into existence. Yet, when people insult your photos or your art, you don’t feel personally hurt by it.

So try to gain the maximum upside from your ego (confidence, self-worth, self-inspiration), yet having no downside from your ego (pride, fear, or self-doubt).

Follow your inner-spirit, your inner-courage, and your inner-soul.

Have enough courage and ego to have creative confidence. But don’t have so much that your ego destroys you.

5. Be self-sufficient

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You don’t need nobody to create your art. Be self-sufficient. Meaning, you don’t need to ‘collaborate’ with anybody to create your art.

I still think collaboration is great. Yet, if you are having a hard time collaborating with others (because it takes too long, or too many people flake out on you), just create art by yourself. Fly solo.

I love to collaborate. Yet, I am not a good collaborator. I have too strong artistic opinions. I don’t like to compromise my artistic vision.

I trust the opinion of a few people I love and trust. Yet, even them at times— try to water-down my own creative vision.

So friend, know that if you have a strong artistic vision, you need to become 100% sufficient on yourself. You already have all the tools you need to create your art.

Be self-sufficient, self-motivated, and generate your own inspiration. You don’t need anyone to push you — push yourself.

6. Selfish artistry for the greater good

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Be a selfish artist for the greater good.

Picasso was a selfish artist, who only focused on his art. He couldn’t be interrupted when making his art. He closed out the rest of the world.

He left us a great legacy— and his art inspires millions around the globe. He was a selfish artist, but that wasn’t a bad thing. It ended up being a good thing.

For me, I like to think of myself being a selfish person for the greater good.

The more you can be selfish in your art, the more loyal you will be to yourself. And the more loyal you are to yourself, the more likely you are to create genuine and authentic art— which will connect with a larger base of people. So by being selfish in your art, you will help a greater number of people.

7. Don’t ask for feedback

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If you want to build creative confidence in yourself, realize: you don’t need the feedback or opinions of anyone else.

Of course, getting feedback and the opinions of others (you trust) can help you improve your art. But, I still think it is better to be your own harshest critic. Don’t ask anyone for their feedback— just ask yourself for your own feedback.

Don’t ask yourself whether your photos are ‘good’ or ‘not’. Just ask yourself whether you like your own photos or not. And ask yourself whether you think you are making progress in your art. Ask yourself whether you think you are evolving, and driving yourself forward.

Then after getting your own opinion of yourself, then maybe you can ask the feedback from others.

8. To be creative is to create

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You cannot be an artist, creative, or photographer without creating.

You need to create. Create photos, create paintings, create drawings. Create digital things, create physical things, create mental ideas.

You need to create.

Create, create, create.

Never stop creating.

To create more, you need to have less fear to publish. Create things which are “80% good enough” in your eyes, and hit publish. Steve Jobs once said, “Real artists ship.” Ship as in publishing, or sharing.

You cannot be an artist just thinking on your butt, and thinking of ideas. Without creating something, you can never change the hearts, minds, or souls of your viewers.

9. Create your art for the sake of creating art

My mom and uncle, 2013

Don’t make photos, hoping to upload them and getting a bunch of likes and new followers. Don’t make art, hoping to sell it for a lot of money, and buying a lamborghini one day. Don’t make photos, hoping to have others praise you.

Make photos for the sake of making photos. Make art for the sake of making art.

Make photos, because it brings your heart joy and excitement. Make photos because it helps you connect with other human beings. Make photos because without photography, you would die creatively.

Make photos to scratch your own visual itch. Make photos because it is what you were designed to do.

Never make photos for any other reason.

10. Disagree with others

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My mom / Busan, 2014

Swim against the current. Don’t swim with all the other fish. Be that one fish that leaps up in the air, fighting the current.

Be the black sheep, amongst all the white sheep. Be the white swan, amongst all the black swans.

To have creative confidence is to not just make all those crappy photos you see online. That means to not care about what the masses think of your work.

I’m sorry to be an elitist, but most people don’t know good photography or good art. Most people love cat, dog, or cappuccino photos. I know for myself, whenever I Instagram a photo of a camera, I get 3x more likes than any of my ‘artistic’ photos.

That is reality— that is fine. But don’t prostitute your photography and art. Make photos that bring joy to your soul. Don’t make photos that will get you more likes or followers.

11. Have integrity

My mom at my Berkeley Apartment, 2014

Follow your own integrity as an artist. Never compromise. If someone tells you something that you don’t agree with, you have the freedom to not listen to their feedback.

Focus on achieving your singular vision as an artist. Respect the opinions of others; but don’t listen to others you don’t agree with.

Stick to your own integrity; strong like an iron beam.

Conclusion: Make yourself proud

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Never look at your loved ones, or your mom, and ask them whether they like your photos or your art. Make yourself proud. If you make yourself proud by your own photos, you have achieved the ultimate.

Be strong,

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