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Dear friend,

A fun idea: realize that in reality (aka, the real world in which we are alive right now): there are no “limits” to what you can do. Nobody can prevent you from building a house, however you desire to design it. Nobody can control your time, effort, energy, or attention (unless you decide to get a 9-5 job, which constricts your day-to-day living). We all have the ultimate choice in life— to live however we desire, to make whatever we desire, and to give our attention to whatever we desire.


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PDF: You Have No Limits in the Real World! (all the “rules” are self-imposed)


Only the laws of physics can hold you back!

We are only limited by the laws of physics, and of course, to some extent we are limited by money (you do need some luck/right opportunities to earn real-world money). This is what I loved about the naive idealism of the internet: you can create/build/explore/do anything online, without being restricted by money! I still remember when I was a kid (logging into AOL 3.0 with my 28.8k modem), the internet was like the ocean! I felt like an adventurer— with no limits. And of course being a kid, you don’t have access to money. So in “real life” I couldn’t just buy anything I wanted or do anything I wanted (like play arcade games unlimited, or buy stuff I wanted). But this is why I loved the internet and video games— I could use my skills, my ingenuity, and my efforts to create, build, design, or do anything I desired! I was only limited by my mind; not my economic resources.

Photography is the ultimate “MMORPG” game!

This is the naive optimism which got me to paving the path for ‘open source photography’. I remember when I started off photography, it was like a fun game. But I felt like I was at a disadvantage, because I wasn’t rich enough (in real life) to buy the best equipment. In 2010-2011 when I was getting more seriously into photography, most “normal people” only had access to buy point and shoot digital cameras. DSLR’s which gave you much better image quality was pretty out of range for most people — a beginner DSLR cost $1,500 USD+, which to a lot of people who are barely paying rent— this is totally unaffordable! I grew up pretty poor; I still remember when my mom couldn’t pay $300 to get her brakes/tires replaced on our black 1995 Nissan Maxima, and therefore essentially was risking our lives driving on the freeway with such a dangerous car. But we literally didn’t have the money to replace the brakes and tires— so we just kept our fingers crossed and hoped that we wouldn’t get pulled over by cops.

Anyways fast-forward to 2018: we are living in a phenomenal time. Almost anyone has access to a good camera now— if you have a smartphone made from 2018 onwards, your image quality is damn good, and also in today’s world with free and fast ubiquitous wifi, you have equal-access to the internet. I still remember when I was 12 years old, some of the rich kids/families had “ISDN” (the fast version of the internet; faster than a traditional 56k modem). And when I got a little older, some of the other kids had access to cable internet/DSLR (which was of course, 100x faster than any dial-up internet).

You have infinite opportunities with modern technology!

Anyways what I mean to say is this: with the internet, cheaper digital technologies— essentially the playing field is much more leveled! You have SO much more opportunities in today’s day and age. Now, the deciding factor on whether you become “successful” in photography no longer depends on how rich you are, and whether you can afford to buy the most expensive gear. Why not? 99% of people who look at photos nowadays just look at photos on their 5-inch phones (on Instagram, blogs, websites, Facebook, Snapchat, etc) — and the difference for image quality between a high-end DSLR and a smartphone camera isn’t that much. And of course with high-quality and free filters/editing tools like VSCO/Snapseed/Adobe Lightroom, you can make any picture look aesthetically pleasing.

That means, your limit of making a good photograph is only limited to your imagination, your composition/framing skills, control over your background, timing (what time of day you decide to photograph, whether golden hour or mid-day), and basic stuff like lighting setup (if you want to use external flashes, external lighting solutions in a studio), and your subject (what does your subject look like, and what are they wearing?)

In the context of street photography, essentially if you want to make a good street photograph, you just need hard work, effort, luck, and skill. To get a good street photograph, you just need to walk a lot, walk around often, and put yourself in situations which has a higher likelihood of making interesting photographs/discovering interesting moments. For example, if you are shooting street photography in a dense downtown urban environment, your likelihood of seeing an interesting moment will be higher. But still, you can live in East Lansing, Michigan and still see interesting moments to photograph. Perhaps in East Lansing you won’t see the same types of “decisive moments” as you might see in Tokyo— but you can still make good photograph regardless of where you live.

You don’t need expensive tools

So my philosophy in street photography at least is this:

The only equipment you need is a digital RICOH GR, or a new phone.

You don’t even need the newest RICOH GR II (the newer version only has wifi, which I never use). The older RICOH GR is essentially the same camera, is cheaper (you can buy it super-cheap second-hand), has phenomenal image quality (APS-C sensor, with no anti-aliasing filter, which means the images are super sharp), of course it is digital so taking new photos doesn’t cost you anything (whereas with film, processing costs and buying the film can be expensive).

With phones, you have access to phenomenal phone cameras. For android, just buy a new OnePlus phone, a Google Pixel, or any of the Huawei/chinese phones. The Samsung phone cameras are good too (just make sure to process your photos with a VSCO filter). And of course you can just buy a new iPhone X or even use an older iPhone SE (costs only $400 USD, and has the same great camera as the iPhone 6S, which I think is good enough for 99% of people).

And if you want a more fancy camera, you can buy any full-frame DSLR for less than $1000! This is insane to me. You can probably get a full-frame DSLR for even cheaper if you buy it used.

What is our true limit?

Anyways, so with photography equipment, you’re not limited. You can get phenomenal image quality for very little money. So that shouldn’t be an excuse anymore.

The only limit: our own creative ingenuity, the effort we go out to make new photos, and the risks we are willing to take in photography to make good images.

How to make better photos

Now, if you want to make better photos, here are practical things you can work on:

  1. Understand what makes a good visual image by studying the masters of photography, by studying old-school painters and other visual artists, and also by studying composition, framing, color theory, and aesthetics. You can learn this all online for free.
  2. Shoot more often: The more often you go out and shoot, the more likely you are to see scenes or moments you will find interesting and will desire to photograph. Just consider, if you walked for 2 hours everyday, how can you not see at least 1 interesting photo-opportunity every single day?
  3. Take more risks: In street photography, every time you click the shutter, you’re taking a small risk. You’re taking a risk that the person might get angry at you, and might either physically or verbally threaten/attack you. You also take a risk of not capturing the moment you desire (but this is to be honest, a tiny risk that doesn’t matter).

“But my city is boring! I can’t make good photographs where I live!”

Now other considerations like, “The city I live in is boring, and isn’t good for making photos!” This doesn’t really make sense— because you can make good photographs regardless of where you live, regardless of your external environment, and regardless of what your city/background/backyard looks like. Of course as a photographer you’re limited by external reality— you can only photograph what exists in the real world (whereas painters can paint whatever is in their mind’s eye/in their imagination). So as a photographer, you are bounded by external reality.

However my simple suggestion is this:

Make the best photographs regardless of where you live, and regardless of what your lifestyle is.

For example, if you live in Tokyo, it will be more difficult to photograph nature/landscapes (although not impossible, you can visit the local park or Ueno park is my favorite). If you live in East Lansing, Michigan— there’s not that many people walking around, but you can shoot urban landscapes instead (what I ended up doing). If you live in the suburbs of America, it is also more difficult to shoot traditional people “street photography” (like photos you see of New York City). But you can do instead is to shoot more photographs of your family, friends, or even photographs in the park, photographs at Costco, or maybe at the nearby beach or downtown area.

But what if you’re in a situation where you really really want to shoot street photographs of people, in crowded downtown areas (like New York City or San Francisco)? Then — you have the choice of transiting to these areas more often to shoot, or even have the option of moving to these places (if you’re willing to make that trade-off).

For example, let’s say that you really love shooting street photography in Tokyo. There is nothing that is physically holding you back from doing it— your only restrictions might be your money, family commitments, your work, etc. But if you really really wanted to devote your life to shooting street photography in Tokyo, you can probably move into a tiny apartment there and pay less than $1,000 a month in rent, and probably pick up a job as an English teacher. But once again, life is all about trade-offs; what are you willing to trade, sacrifice, or give up in order to do what you really desire to do?

You don’t need as much money as you think you need (in order to do what you desire in life)

You can technically do almost anything in real life (besides what is illegal) — and you should never let things like money get in the way. Why? Because this is the truth:

What you desire to do or accomplish in life often doesn’t cost as much money as you think it does.

For example, my biggest eye-opening experience was moving to Hanoi and then Saigon in Vietnam. In Hanoi, I lived in a brand-new studio apartment for around $350 a month. Plus all my food expenses, coffee, and eating out all the time, for BOTH Cindy and I, we only spent $1,000 USD a month (combined, for the both of us). That means, we can live however we desire for only $12,000 USD a year — which is a fraction of the “basic” living expenses in the states which is usually at least $40,000 USD+ a year in expenses.

But what if you want to live in New York City? You can live in NYC for a lot cheaper as well, but you just have to make the trade-off/sacrifice of sharing a room with someone in the city, or living in a more “janky” neighborhood/apartment. To desire to live in New York City, shoot street photography all the time, be a “free spirit”, nomadically, but still own a BMW and an expensive apartment is ridiculous.

Why I became a digital nomad

I know for my own personal life, Cindy and I have chosen (for now) a nomadic lifestyle. We aren’t paying rent for anywhere else in the world, besides the place we are currently living in. Recently we spent around $770 USD for 20 days living in Kyoto. And for the next 2 weeks in Tokyo, we are spending around $60 a night living in a cheap APA businessman hotel (a month this would cost us around $1800 USD which isn’t cheap, but funny enough— still cheaper than living in SF-bay area).

Our “stuff” is parked at Cindy’s mom’s house in Los Angeles, and technically that is our “home base”— because there is where our family lives, and the only real connection we have. But besides that, we prefer our lifestyle of living on the road— moving from place to place (whether living 8 months in Hanoi, 2 months in Saigon, 3 months in Europe, or 2 months in Japan).

By living nomadically/on the road, there are certain tradeoffs. We don’t own a car, we don’t own a home, and we don’t have a “stable”/predictable life. Our work is self-directed: we don’t have anyone spurring us to do work, and we must hustle hard on a daily basis to make sure that we are earning income, and also creating new stuff.

This “digital nomad”/location-independent lifestyle is a lifestyle we prefer. It isn’t for everyone, nor do I believe that everyone would be happy living the same lifestyle. But there are some people out there who might like this lifestyle (you might like it too) — but you must be honest with yourself, by asking what you really desire in life, and which trade-offs you are willing to take.

You can live your life however you desire

Essentially the point of my long essay is this:

You can live your life however you desire. Just ask yourself, “What trade-offs or sacrifices am I willing to take?”

Not only that, but just ask yourself— what is it that you really fear? Fear of negative judgement from your friends, family, and peers? Fear of bankruptcy and losing all your money and stuff? Fear of shame or self-disappointment?

To me, the only fear I have is the fear of regret on my death-bed. I want to live my life to the fullest, and to die with nothing left on the table. I want to hustle hard, and put forth all of my psychic energy and physical strength to be the change I wish to see in the world, to spread positivity, optimism, joy, and to empower others to realize their potential, and to realize their potential (and even go BEYOND their “potential”).

A lot of what is keeping us prisoner from achieving epic shit in life is fear, distraction (distraction from social media, our phones, email, work, life, money, etc), and “paralysis by analysis” (we become paralyzed because there are too many options in life).

How to live a fuller life

My simple suggestions for living a fuller life is this:

  1. Ask yourself, “What do I really desire to achieve, do, or make in my life?” And then figure out what trade-offs you are willing to do so.
  2. Learn how to live fully with very little money: Personally, I can survive like a king just off eating eggs, pork belly, and coffee. I’ve trained myself to be able to sleep on hard floors and in sleeping bags. I don’t need any superfluous accessories to live life to the fullest— all I need is access to wifi/the internet. When you can live with very little money, you have more options in life. Because if you can live on very little money, then you will be able to save more of your income, which will allow you to continue to live however you desire to. Even now as I increase my income/earnings in life, I try to continue to LOWER my living expenses— to further build up my savings, to keep living this creative “digital nomadic” lifestyle, with less fear.
  3. Whenever you have a certain limitation (in terms of time, money, resources)— ask yourself, “How can I transform this downside into a positive?” or you can ask yourself, “What can I do instead?” For example if you want to start your own YouTube channel but you don’t have a video camera, realize you can just record it all on your phone! And not only that, but shooting on your phone will make it easier for you to quickly record and upload to YouTube directly from your phone (which can actually be a benefit). If your camera sucks, just shoot in RAW and use my free ERIC KIM MONOCHROME 1600 PRESETS, and make the gritty-low image quality/lo-fi aesthetic into a benefit.

Your life is unbounded, unlimited, and you have infinite opportunities. Never waste a moment of your life putting on self-imposed limitations on yourself.

Be bold, take more risks, and venture into new lands and only see potential and possibilities in life; no limitations!

ERIC


Photography Entrepreneurship 101

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