Abstract image, outlining the man (yellow), the background (blue) and the leading line (red)
Abstract image, outlining the man (yellow), the background (blue) and the leading line (red)

The secret to becoming a master photographer: the Kaizen (Japanese process of gradual self-improvement):


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Gradual growth

Tree. Sapa, Vietnam 2016
Tree. Sapa, Vietnam 2016

In photography and life– we need to grow gradually.

If you are great redwood tree, you start out from a tiny sapling. And over time, you gather nutrition, oxygen, water, and slowly sprout up. You start to grow gradually. You keep reaching your branches higher and higher into the air, and you dig your roots deeper into the earth.

You don’t grow to be a thousand feet overnight.

The same thing is if you want to master your photography — you cannot become a master over night. You must constantly refine your craft. You must constantly adjust your shooting style — to seek to make your pictures more simple, yet dynamic.

1% Growth

Consider, if you grow 1% every day, you will grow by a factor of 3,800% at the end of 365 days (compounded interest).

I’ve been considering this in my life:

  • What if I could grow 1% stronger everyday (do 1% more pushups/chinups everyday)
  • What if I could grow my audience/following by 1% everyday?
  • What if I could improve my visual acuity and artistry by 1% everyday?

I like 1% — because it seems manageable. Everyone can strive for 1% daily growth.

Man in silhouette. Sapa, Vietnam 2017
Man in silhouette. Sapa, Vietnam 2017

Do your best, every day.

Spiral. Hanoi, 2017
Spiral. Hanoi, 2017

I once read something like:

To live a perfect life, strive to make everyday a perfect pearl.

To make a good portfolio in your photos, make each photograph a perfect pearl.

That means, become a great photographer slowly — 1 picture, by 1 picture.

I personally strive to make individual great pictures that can stand on their own two legs. And whenever I make a great photograph, I gain confidence in myself. Then I take a second great photo. Then a third great photograph. Therefore, this little gradual feedback helps me stay motivated.

Leaves and skyscraper. Hanoi, 2017
Leaves and skyscraper. Hanoi, 2017

Photography assignments

To make small, gradual, incremental, but forward 1% progress in your photography, try out these assignments:

1. Study a new master of photography every day

LEARN FROM THE MASTERS BACK COVER
LEARN FROM THE MASTERS BACK COVER

Cindy and I created the book: “Learn From the Masters of Street Photography” as a distillation of all the lessons we’ve learned from the masters of photography.

Simple suggestion: Try to learn 1 new thing everyday, from a master photographer — and try to apply that 1 technique to your photography.

For example,

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2. Learn how to draw

CREATIVE EVERY DAY: Mobile Edition
CREATIVE EVERY DAY: Mobile Edition

Cindy, Annette, Jennifer, and I made the book: “CREATIVE EVERY DAY” to teach you how to draw.

Another idea: use your iPad, to trace your pictures– and deconstruct your compositions, and figure out why they work.

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You don’t need to draw professionally. You can just make sketches on a piece of printer paper, on your phone, on your laptop (with Photoshop or Illustrator), or you can do it on your iPad (like I do with the ProCreate app).

For inspiration, study:

Above all, just let yourself have fun — don’t treat your drawing as serious. Treat it like fun!

3. Start your own CINDY PROJECT

https://erickimphotography.com/blog/personal-photography/ / photographic memento mori— photograph your loved ones like they’re not gonna be around forever.

My mom at her childhood home. Bottom, same spot 2 years later with Cindy.
My mom at her childhood home. Bottom, same spot 2 years later with Cindy.
eric kim mom soul memento mori death
Me and my mom, were both gonna look like this one day.

Start your own Cindy Project — photograph your own loved ones (your partner, kids, parents) like you’re not gonna see them tomorrow:

Cindy hand touching mirror in wedding dress, 2016
Cindy hand touching mirror in wedding dress, 2016

To be honest, to practice being a better photographer, gradually, day-by-day — just photograph those who are accessible to you. That means, photograph those individuals you interact with on a daily basis.

Photograph of my leg, while lying in bed. Hotel Room. Saigon, 2017
Photograph of my leg, while lying in bed. Hotel Room. Saigon, 2017

If you have nobody to photograph, take self-portraits of yourself:

HONOR THY SELFIE.

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PHOTO JOURNAL: Discover your personal meaning in photography.


Conclusion

Selfie in the mirror with RICOH GR II. Saigon, 2017
Selfie in the mirror with RICOH GR II. Saigon, 2017

Treat your photography like a ZEN meditation — use your photography as a chance to appreciate the small things in everyday life.

Seek small, gradual, 1% growth everyday.

How great will you be by the end of the year, after 365 days?

BE CREATIVE EVERY DAY,
ERIC


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