In Praise of Randomness in Street Photography

Dear friend,

I have a very simple theory on how to be a better photographer: move more, plan less, and allow more randomness and serendipity to enter your life.

To be happier, move more.

The Ancient Greek philosopher Democritus said that all matter in the universe is animated by the mind, and by movement.

Think about it in terms of photography. If we never moved, we would never see photo opportunities. Therefore, to see more photo opportunities, move more.

Walk slowly.

I know how it is sitting in an office chair all day. Even now, most of my time is sedentary at coffee shops.

But after sitting for an hour or two, I have an urge to move. And I go on pointless walks, like a “flaneur”– walking at a slow pace, with no destination in mind. I follow my gut and curiosity.

Generally, I try not to walk down the same path twice. I remember even when I drove in LA, I would try to drive different routes, just to alleviate some of my boredom.

We love novelty in photography and life.

The benefit of moving more, and walking down random streets: you will encounter more novelty, which will excite you to make more photos.

I do believe that novelty is what drives our curiosity in photography.

Don’t make appointments

Think about it: why do we live to travel to foreign places? Novelty.

Why do we like to gamble at a casino? Novelty, unpredictability, and randomness.

We love randomness as children. We like unexpected endings in movies.

Yet, why in modern times are we trying to suck out all randomness in life? Why have we become slaves to our Google Calendar, Yoga and gym classes, and pre-scheduled work and social events?

Practical photography ideas

I know this is all over the place, but here are some practical ideas:

  1. To be a better photographer: move more. The more you walk, the more photo opportunities you will see. The more you will photograph, and the happier you will be. Less time on the computer looking at gear reviews, more time walking and shooting. Just use your iPhone.
  2. To have more fun and excitement in life, plan less. Allow more randomness and unpredictability happen. Human enjoyment and curiosity is rooted in randomness, novelty, and serendipity.

I love serendipity!

Serendipity is fun.

I was walking down the streets of Saigon in the Japanese district, and came across “VCR” (Vietnamese coffee republic), totally by chance, when Cindy and I were looking for a Ramen restaurant.

It was so much cooler finding this cool coffee shop, by chance– randomly, instead of looking at some stupid TripAdvisor review.

So another life lesson: to have more fun while traveling, don’t use trip advisor or google maps. Allow yourself to get lost, and let serendipity lead your travels.

Would you want to know your future with 100% accuracy?

If today, you knew with 100% precision (hour to hour) for the rest of your life until your death, would you have a reason to live?

I think not.

We want to live with excitement and chance. So why do we try to suck out all the serendipity and randomness of life? My theory: this want to be more “productive” and “efficient” in life is sucking away our humanity.

So to be more human, be less productive and efficient.

Follow your curiosity (like a child)

Yet, on the other hand: let your curiosity run wild.

I’m a big kid. When I write, photograph, or make art– it is guided by curiosity. And to avoid boredom.

The funny thing: ever since I put no pressure on myself to be “productive”, I’ve actually become more productive. That and drinking a lot of coffee, not using email, and not having a phone.

Serendipity is sweet.

Don’t listen to me, because what works for me won’t work for you.

But my takeaway point is this:

Plan less, allow serendipity, chance, and randomness to enter your life.

Shoot photos without a tour group. Randomly wander the streets. Walk down different alley ways, and shoot street photography in different neighborhoods.

You will have more fun, and make better photos.

Be strong and walk long,

For further reading, I recommend “Fooled by randomness” and “Antifragile” by Nassim Taleb.


Tokyo, 2012

If you’re new to street photography, start here:

Street Photography Inspiration

Beginner Street Photography Articles


Get started in street photography:

Definitions in Street Photography

How to Shoot Street Photography

Street Photography Equipment

See all equipment articles >

How to Conquer Your Fears in Street Photography

See all articles to conquer your fears >

Intermediate Street Photography Articles


Take your street photography to the next level:

Advanced Street Photography Articles


Find deeper meaning in your street photography:

Street Photography Tips & Technique


Learn how to shoot on the streets:

See all street photography tips and techniques >

Street Photography Guides


In-depth guides on street photography:

Street Photography Equipment


The best equipment for street photography:

See all equipment articles >

Street Photography Editing and Workflow

How to Start a Street Photography Project

Learn From the Masters of Street Photography

Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos
Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

“He without a past has no future.”

If you want a distilled version, read the free ebook:  “100 Lessons From the Masters of Street Photography.”

Free Downloads

See all free downloads >

Free Street Photography Ebooks


Distilled information on street photography:

For more resources on photography, Start Here >