Make Your Own Rules in Photography and Life

Hanoi, 2017

Dear friend,

Have you ever felt frustrated in your photography, because there are all these bullshit “rules” you gotta follow?

To start off, ignore everyonephotography. Follow your own vision and pave your own path. And yes, that includes me.

There are no “rules” in photography, only suggestions.


Think about it: if you listened to all of the “rules” made by other tyrannical photographers on how to shoot, how could you ever innovate in your photography?

The real pioneers and innovators in street photography go opposite. They went against what “conventional wisdom”.

For example, William Klein shot high contrast, grainy, blurry images when everyone was shooting clean and flawless medium format film images. William Klein also innovated and experimented a lot with darkroom printing, fudging around the enlarger while making his prints, making theae weird blurry effects, which ended looking pretty cool.

I often hate on HDR, but it has been good for photography. Now my mom can make a nice sunset photo on her phone, because there are new algorithms on smartphone cameras which simulate the look of an image to what we see in real life.

Innovate with your post-processing

Even with your post processing, experiment. Fuck around. Do what makes you happy.

A good innovative chef doesn’t follow old recipes. They try new things for fun.

I’m not a good chef, but I experimented. I added cinnamon one day on my pork belly, and found it to be divine.

I also added truffle oil to my eggs, which was divine. Same goes with cumin and turmeric and paprika on eggs (Eric Kim’s personal recipe).

Ignore conventional wisdom

Follow your gut and take risks.

For example, I always thought it was dumb to wear a belt, or “lifting shoes” for Squats or Deadlift. I didn’t buy into the dumb internet hype for them.

I deadlifted 410 pounds at a bodyweight of around 145, with no belt. My back is fine.

In street photography, I was told it was “against the rules” to ask for permission. At first, I just listened to the online forum masters. Then, one day I was like:

Fuck this. I’m going to shoot street photography however I want. I’m gonna make my own definition for “street photography”.

Of course I ruffled a lot of feathers. I drove the definition of street photography to be more open, democratic, and inclusive. Even today, there are a lot of street photography zealots who want to superimpose their personal definition of street photography onto you. That’s an asshole move.

Define things for yourself.

With photography and everything in life, it is all about trial and error, and experimentation.

As Nassim Taleb says,

There is no “failure”, only feedback.

What kind of feedback can you learn in photography?

Experiment with different technical settings. See the “feedback” of how the digital sensor renders the image to you.

Experiment with different filters and post processing techniques. See the “feedback” of the contrast, colors, grain, noise, or other factors.

Feedback from the crowd?

Honestly, here I’m harsh. I ignore the feedback of the crowd, both good and bad.

I listen to the feedback of my loved ones and those I trust. I trust Cindy and my mom, and myself. But I don’t always follow the feedback from Cindy.

Therefore remember this:

Listen to the feedback of the 3 people you trust. But you don’t have to follow their feedback.

Also to be honest, I always listen to the feedback or critique from others in real life. But whether I decide to act upon their feedback is only for me to decide.

Make your own manual.

Make your own manual in photography and book. Don’t expect others to follow it, just follow it yourself.

For example, some rules I have made for myself:

  1. When I go out and shoot, only bring 1 camera and 1 lens.
  2. Don’t only make 1-2 photos of the scene. Try to shoot as much of the scene as possible.
  3. When in doubt, shoot 25% more.
  5. When in doubt, ask for permission.

Of course I don’t always follow my own advice. But whenever I’m shooting street photography, I always imagine like my students are watching me. And then I have to make sure to force myself to eat my own cooking.

Why are photographers so tyrannical?

Honestly, if you’re a photography teacher, your job is to “teach” (superimpose) your view on photography to students. Otherwise, how could you legitimize your own job?

For me, I often give advice which is a detriment to myself. For example, I’m telling you to not listen to other photographers. But why listen to ERIC KIM?

First of all, you should ignore most of what I say. I only speak from my perspective, which probably won’t work for you. But it might. That’s why I write and share.

Above all, I want to empower you. I feel you deserve the truth. Why? Because I felt frustrated being talked down to in my photography. To be honest, a lot of these bullies on the online photography world did get to me, and prevent me from flying.

Why? Because they saw me as a threat. ERIC KIM was saying all this shit that they didn’t agree with. Of course he’s a threat.

ERIC KIM says you don’t need an expensive Leica camera to make good photos. Of course Leica shooters are gonna hate him.

ERIC KIM says buy books, not gear. Of course people with a lot of camera gear (and camera companies) are going to dislike him.

ERIC KIM blogs too much and is over saturating the internet. Don’t people realize they can just unfollow him?

Anyways, I’m mostly wrong about photography and life. But my promise to you:

I’ll never bullshit you, and I’ll always keep it 100% honest and truthful to you.

I’ll try to keep learning the secrets of photography, and what works for me. And I’ll share as much of that information and knowledge with you.

But I want you to share your experiences and wisdom with the community. Join ERIC KIM FORUM and help empower others.



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