HOW TO CONQUER BOREDOM IN PHOTOGRAPHY

Dear friend,

I don’t know about you, but I hate being bored. To me, boredom is worse than hell, or perhaps even death.

I. A BORING LIFE.

I’m not sure what it means to live a good life, but I know what it means to live a boring life.

A boring life: commuting to work, clocking in 40 hour work weeks, being a cubicle slave (even when you finish your work at 3pm, you have to stay there until 6:30pm or until your boss leaves), spending 4 hours a day on Reddit and Facebook, hoping to save enough money to buy that new camera, phone, outfit, car, watch, or designer bag.

Then going home, watching Netflix, maybe watching porn, ordering Thai takeout, smoking a joint, then going to sleep. Then repeat for another four days, until the weekend, when you can finally try out that new brunch restaurant, and pay $20 for eggs Benedict and a $7 almond milk cappuccino, to upload to Instagram.

I’m cynical, I know. But you were out on this planet for greatness. To do dope shit. To empower yourself, and empower others. To create beautiful art. Why live dormant, when you can die enormous? (Jay-Z)

II. Depression

I don’t know what depression is, but I know what boredom is.

I’m like a kid with ADHD, I can’t concentrate. I get bored easily. I like making art, playing and just screwing around. I’m a jokester, and like to prank. Even blogging, I treat it like playing. Instead of LEGO bricks, I have words to play with.

Photography is the same for me. Photography is a good way to relieve boredom in life. To find more meaning, and purpose in life. And elements in the real world are like my LEGO bricks. I can create my own visual masterpieces, by figuring out what pieces to put together, or which pieces not to use. And once I’m done making a LEGO masterpiece, I’m bored. I break it apart, and start making a new one.

In photography, my personal rule is this:

Avoid boring photos.

To me, I know what a boring photo is to me. I know looking at others photos– which photos of other people I find boring. So my only rule is this:

Don’t share boring photos.

A “boring” photo is only up to you. Not to what people on social media say.

If random folks on the internet say your photos are boring, just ignore them. If you find your own photos interesting and non-boring, you are on your way to greatness.

III. Novelty

If you ate the same meal everyday for the rest of your life, would you rejoice, or kill yourself?

Watch the movie “OLDBOY”– the prisoner is forced to eat the same dumplings for 10 years for a crime he committed (that he has no idea). I have a friend who works as a consultant, and even though he has a $50 stipend for food everyday, and eats at the nicest sushi restaurants– he eventually gets bored or sick of the food.

For myself, in photography I get bored easily. If I keep shooting the same subject matter, I feel sick. Like eating too much of the same food.

Some of you might know of my infamous “egg snacks”– after dinner, I usually cook 5-6 eggs to fill my stomach. But I always try to spice it differently– sometimes with salt and pepper, sometimes I cook it in coconut oil, sometimes I put in turmeric, sometimes garlic powder, and sometimes I eat it with spicy chili oil or with kimchi. I might eat the same eggs, but I always try to prepare them a little differently.

So let’s say you like to shoot street photography. Don’t be like Henri Cartier-Bresson and continually make the same shots over and over again. Be like Josef Koudelka— stick to black and white, but change your camera format, and change your subject matter.

For myself, I go through evolutions in my photography. I started shooting landscape photography, then evolved to shooting street photography, then street photos with a flash, then street portraits, then urban landscapes, then color street photography on film, then black and white film, then medium format film, then smartphone photography, then personal photography, and now self-portraits or “selfies”.

Every step of the way, I had fun. I was pushing my creative limits and abilities. Every time I had to evolve, it was out of boredom or frustration.

If you want to get strong, you cannot keep lifting the same 15 pound dumbbell. You need to increase the resistance, the weight, or intensity.

If you deadlifted 135 for the rest of your life, you would be bored as fuck. Rather, adding 5 pounds a week to your “one rep max” is fun. Over 10 years, I was able to raise my deadlift from 135 lbs to 410+ lbs. It was slow and gradual growth, but I never went backwards.

Lesson: Add variety to your photography. Try out film, medium format film, black and white, color, smartphone photography, or anything that is interesting to you. Shoot different subject matter. Try street photography, portraiture, urban landscapes, or even selfies.

IV. Walk more.

The best way to be less bored as a photographer is to walk more.

This is my theory: the human being evolved to have a big brain in order to coordinate our movement. Therefore, a lot of our “depression” comes from the fact that we don’t move anymore. A body that doesn’t move, has no need for a brain. Even in the animal kingdom, generally the only animals that need brains are the ones that need to move.

The greatest philosophers in history have gained great insights through walking (slowly, without headphones on). When I’m feeling restless or bored from the coffee shop, I go for a walk. I walk aimlessly for an hour or two, and bring my camera along. I don’t listen to music while walking. This helps me clear my mind, meditate, and shoot street photography.

Homework assignment: figure out ways to walk more in your everyday. That means, figure out how to drive your car less. Perhaps opt to take that 30 minute walk to the local grocery store, instead of driving. Or during your lunch break, go for a walk instead of just eating the office cafeteria food.

And treat street photography as an excuse to go on a walk with your camera.

Conclusion

To be a better photographer, be bored less.

Increase complexity and difficulty in your photography. Try shooting layers. Or go super minimalist. Get closer, or try shooting landscapes. Shoot film and buy FILM NOTES. Or try to take different walking routes when you shoot street photography — don’t always shoot in the same neighborhoods. Add variety.

Learn from Nassim Taleb and inject more randomness in your everyday life. Don’t always order the same food at the restaurant. Play your songs on “shuffle” mode. Order different coffees at the cafe. Hit the “read random article” feature in Wikipedia. Randomness, variety, is the spice of life.

Be strong,
Eric

To find assignments to be less bored in photography, buy FILM NOTES, STREET NOTES, and PHOTO JOURNAL.

PHOTOGRAPHY 101 >

Scroll to Top