There Are No Good or Bad Photos

Saigon, 2017

Dear friend,

A pretty radical idea I have: I don’t think there are any objectively “good” or “bad” photos– it is all interpretation.

1. Why do you care what others think of your photos?

First of all, if you care what others think about your photos, you are a slave. A slave to the opinions of others.

Why do you care what others think of your photos? You should be the final arbiter and judge of your own photos.

Only you can decide what a good or bad photo is.

2. I hate sunset photos.

Saigon, 2017

Let me give you an example,

You can make a photo of the most beautiful sunset, and share it with Eric.

Eric (who hates sunset photos) will say:

I don’t like your photo.

Now, it doesn’t mean your photo is bad. That just means Eric has his own bias. He prefers urban, street photos. He doesn’t really like nature photos.

3. Not everyone likes street photography.

Saigon, 2017

Another example, you make an incredible street photograph.

You share it on a landscape or nature forum.

You might have folks who dislike your photo. Not because it is good or bad. But because they don’t like urban street photos.

Lesson: Know who your audience is.

4. Color vs black and white?

Saigon, 2017 #cindyproject

Another example: some people prefer color, others prefer black and white.

Therefore, even if you make the most beautiful color photo, yet your viewer doesn’t like color photos, they won’t like your photo.

Or let’s say, your viewer is color blind. Then they will never be able to appreciate your art.

5. Some people can’t taste all flavors.

Cooking example: some people don’t have a developed palette. Some people literally cannot taste certain sour tastes, sweet tastes, or bitter.

Therefore you can make the most incredible meal, yet if your customer doesn’t have a good sense of taste, they cannot appreciate the great food you cooked.

6. Some people are racist.

Saigon, 2017

Going back to photography, let’s say you make a beautiful portrait of a black person. But your viewer is a racist who hates black people. No matter how beautiful the photo is, your viewer won’t like it.

7. Only trust yourself

Saigon, 2017 #cindyproject

Okay, so I think we have established the fact that ultimately whether a photograph is judged “good” or “bad” is based on the taste of your viewer.

Some people like vanilla ice cream, others like chocolate. Some people don’t like ice cream at all.

So even realize, there are some people in the world who don’t even like photography. Some art critics don’t recognize photography as “art.”

My suggestion: ignore everyone else.

8. You can only please yourself.

Downtown LA, 2011

I still respect and admire the feedback of Cindy, and a few of my friends regarding my photography.

But ultimately, “good” or “bad” photos is just my personal judgement.

You can never make a photo that will get 100% admiration from all 7 billion people on the planet.

Hollywood, 2011

So if you’re seeking to please everyone with your photos, you will just end up making McDonald’s Images– easily consumable, cheap, and lacking vision.

Or another food analogy: you will make pizza photos. (Almost) everyone likes pizza. But then, you will still upset low-card and gluten-free folks like me.

9. Solution


So the solution is this:

Only judge your own photos as good or bad.

You will gain 100% freedom in your photography.

Downtown LA, 2016

To be honest, if you want maximum artistic freedom of your photos, don’t share on social media. Why? Let’s say you shoot nude photos, you cannot upload them directly to Facebook or Instagram, without black bars on genitals.

10. But how do I improve?

Downtown LA, 2016

For me, I still try to improve my photography. I seek to improve and get better.

But I only judge myself.

For example, some strategies that have helped me improve my photography:

  1. Avoid boredom: If my photos are boring me, it means I’m not growing. So seek to make harder photos, that are less boring to me.
  2. Make photos that scare me: I don’t know what a good or bad photo will be. But I know photos that scare me.
  3. Visual complexity: I’m trying more untraditional compositions, to as Cindy says, “fux wit it.” Meaning, avoiding boring symmetrical shots. To tilt the camera, and integrate more “Dutch Angles” and diagonals into my photos.

It also means increasing the intensity or difficulty. Like adding weight to your maximum deadlift. Or doing one-handed push-ups, or doing more chin-ups than you can do in the past.

11. Don’t quantify your photography progress

SF, 2015 the Mission

Another tip: don’t measure your progress in terms of numbers.

Avoid social media like numbers, comment numbers, and follower numbers to “quantify” your progress.

Only follow your gut.

Conclusion: Why do you make photos?


For more inspiration pick up PHOTO JOURNAL: to track your personal photography, to meditate on why you make photos.

Ultimately for me, photography is this Zen experience– where I find more appreciation in being alive. And to find more fun and curiosity in life.



Seoul, 2009

Dear friend,

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