How to Master Photography


To start, I don’t consider myself a master. But, I have mastered myself, and I have mastered photography for myself.


Henri Cartier-Bresson: the original master of photography we must surpass and overcome.

1. Shoot yourself!

Saigon, 2017

I’ve studied the masters of photography for a long time, and there is no formula.

All wisdom in photography:

Know Yourself.

Or a better way to think:

Shoot Yourself!

That means, know who you are as a person. Know your personal preferences. Know what you like to shoot and what you don’t like to shoot.

Saigon, 2017

For me, I know:

  1. I like to photograph human beings.
  2. I know my life is limited, therefore I will only focus on photographing personally-meaningful moments to me.
  3. I see myself as a street sociologist. I shoot street photography to understand cities, urban architecture, human interactions, and to document the human soul.

What are your preferences in photography? Why do you shoot photos? This is the first step to self-knowledge in photography.

2. Master your tools

Saigon, 2017 #ricohmafia

The two cameras I have mastered is the Leica and Ricoh GR.

Why master a camera? You don’t think before shooting. You shoot from the gut, and you focus on composition, emotion, and soul.

Stick with one camera, one lens for at least a year. Then when you are ready to graduate and move on, then pick up a new camera system.

Don’t move onto a new camera setup, until you’ve mastered the gear you (already) have.

3. Exploit your opportunities

Laughing lady. NYC, 2016
Laughing lady. NYC, 2016

We are all given decisive moments in life. It is our power to seize those opportunities, or not.

In photography, it is rare you see a good moment. You can’t control that.

But, you can control how many photos you shoot of a scene. You can control how hard to “work a scene.” To learn more, study CONTACT SHEETS.

The best way to understand how to make better photos: learn how to NOT waste good photo opportunities.

Work the scene by:

  1. Shooting both horizontal and verticals of the scene.
  2. Trying to shoot as many photos as possible: I try to shoot 30, 40, 50 photos of a scene if possible.
  3. 25% principle: When in doubt, shoot 25% more than you think you should.

My favorite photo book: MAGNUM CONTACT SHEETS. To debunk the myth that great photographers only get the shot in one photo.

4. Copy the masters, then kill them.

Gordon Parks

Learn from the masters of photography and copy them. But once you’re done with your apprenticeship, kill them.

Whoever says they have never been influenced or inspired by other photographers or artists are talking bullshit. Even Henri Cartier-Bresson was inspired by his masters, like Matisse, and a lot of other surrealists during his time.

Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika. The photo that inspired Cartier-Bresson.
Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika. The photo that inspired Cartier-Bresson.

Pro tip: to find better sources of inspiration, study who YOUR masters studied under.

Who did Picasso copy and study? Who did Leonardo da Vinci find inspiration from? Who did Steve Jobs look up to?

All art ultimately imitates nature (study FRACTALS).

My suggestion:

  1. Find inspiration from the masters, and collect data, information, techniques, style, and mood. Then when you have collected enough pollen of inspiration, create your own unique honey.
  2. Blatantly steal from others, but give credit where credit is due.
  3. Aim to be GOOD, not original. (Bauhaus concept)

5. Never stop shooting or publishing

Innovation and growth. From the book: SCALE

If you’re not growing, you’re dying.

Never stop learning from all of art. Never be satisfied. Seek more artistic wisdom, ideas, and power. Steal liberally, but REMIX the art you consume.


Like a human stomach, you ingest diffeeent foods, and you turn that food into fuel….to power your body and metabolism. If you go 100 days without eating, you will certainly die.

If you go 100 days without consuming great art, how can you stay creatively alive?

For me, I consume all art. No boundaries.


Study Bauhaus, Cubism, Renaissance art, modern architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright), and other geniuses who married the humanities with technology. Good books to study: Einstein, and Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.

Find inspiration from those who dream big. Walt Disney, Elon Musk, Howard Hughes, all the great titans.

No boundaries, no limits. Only mental, intellectual, physical, and artistic growth.


Let’s master photography together: JOIN ERIC KIM FORUM.

Learn From the Masters of Photography


“He without a past has no future.”

Start here:

  1. Why Study the Masters of Photography? 
  2. Great Female Master Photographers
  3. Cheat Sheet of the Masters of Photography
  4. 100 Lessons From the Masters of Street Photography
  5. Beginner’s Guide to the Masters of Street Photography

The Masters of Photography

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

Download all articles as an ePub/PDF >

Photography 101 by Eric Kim

Seoul, 2009

Dear friend,

If you’re new to photography, start here:

  1. Free Photography Bootcamp
  2. The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Photography
  3. 100 Photography Tips for Beginners

Photography Inspiration

The Fundamentals of Photography

Photography Equipment »

How to Take Better Photos »

Composition Lessons »

Photography Assignments »

Contact Sheets »

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Editing (Image Selection) »

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Creativity »

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Motivation »

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How to Create a Body of Work

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Technical Photography Settings

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