selfie Eric kim and SENECA

10 Tips How To Become A More Zen Photographer

Dear friends, a thought on my mind: perhaps the goal of our photography is to become more Zen. My personal ideal is becoming a more Zen photographer. Some quick thoughts:

1. Photography is zen training

I like this notion of Zen being a more active thing, than a passive thing. What I mean is that in order to become more Zen, we must consider Zen as an active practice.

For example, personally when I’m out and about, and I am making photos, the Zen aspect which is necessary is the ability to notice things around you, and be less distracted. Zen is supreme focus.

A very simple thought is via Negativa. When you’re out and about, silence your phone, turn off all notifications, and don’t listen to music and take out your AirPods. To notice the world around you is to build your visual acuity.

2. Finding the beautiful and the ugly and boring

Currently in the Southern California suburbs, it is more boring and more dull than a bag of rocks. I prefer a much more active city, like Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hanoi, Saigon, or Mexico City. But, I realize there are funny hidden surprises in the suburbs too. For example, my photography needed to adapt. Therefore, I shoot less photos of people, and more photos of worn down and ugly things, and my goal is to try to turn the ugly into the beautiful. This is my interest in rust, wear and tear, and beautiful decay.

Also my new focus in photographing the old, the weathered, and the dated.

Also, it is my personal ambition to make a really good suburban street photography project.

Therefore, rather than seeing the ugly and boring as a downside, see it as a hidden upside.

3. Zen zone

The best way to get into a Zen zone with your photography is assume you’re only photographing for two people: yourself, and your one ideal viewer/reader that is, your goal isn’t to accumulate millions of followers, but rather, make a deep and strong impact on that one person, and of course yourself.

For myself, my ideal reader or viewer is my 18 year old self. When I was first starting off in photography, very curious and impressionable.

Advice that I share on my blog, or even here is simply advice I wish I could have given to my younger self. That through my own personal experimentation, trials and tribulations, and confusion, that I may gain more focus and clarity. To avoid myths, and to just focus on my photography.

4. Digital Ricoh GR camera

Some people say the camera we use doesn’t matter, but that is false, the camera we use is very important. What I think people mean to say is that you do not need the worlds most expensive camera in order to find motivation and meaning in your photos.

I’ve actually found that the smallest possible camera is the best.

I say the best camera is the smallest most compact standalone digital camera. For example, that is currently the Ricoh GR 3, or it could be the Ricoh GR 2 if you’re trying to save money or if you prefer a flash.

A camera that you could either fit in your front right pocket, or you could wear around your neck all day with zero fatigue or noticing your camera. In the past I thought that was a digital Leica M rangefinder camera, but I soon discovered that Leica cameras are actually pretty heavy. Even the Leica Q camera, which is lighter, is still pretty big, and not that light.

The Fujifilm x100 series is a good camera because it is very light weight, and very comfortable to wear around your neck for long periods of time, yet it is not pocketable. A Fujifilm x100 camera cannot fit in your front pocket.

The iPhone is also a great camera, yet, I still find the ergonomically of a Ricoh GR 3 camera at least 1000 times better than shooting with an iPhone, whether it be an iPhone mini or an iPhone Pro. Also, the aesthetic enjoyment I get from my Ricoh GR three photos are at least 1000 times more than the aesthetic joy I get from iPhone photos.

One camera that I actually really enjoyed was the Pentax 645Z digital medium format camera, I really liked the JPEG positive film in camera preset. Yet the camera is so big and heavy, it gave me carpal tunnel in my elbow after using it for a full day.

I actually think that the new cool camera is the hasselblad XD 2 camera, as it is much more lightweight, and beautifully designed. 

5. Beyond film

It is undeniable that film photos are beautiful. Yet, I’ve been able to create photos with my digital Ricoh GR 3 camera with the high contrast black-and-white JPEG setting, which is as beautiful as my Black and white film photos, and even sometimes, more beautiful.

Also, I find the cross process color JPEG preset in the Ricoh GR 3 camera very beautiful, as beautiful, if not more beautiful than even color film Kodak portra 400.

I think a lot of people are interested in 35mm analog photography, or medium format analog photography because of the promise of it being a more zen experience. But in actuality, it just adds more frustration, complication, cost, and wasted time to your life.

I think it is the Greek philosopher Epicurus who once said—

Avoid things in life which are cumbersome, expensive, and time consuming.

That is film photography.

Digital photography is the future.

6. The joy of reviewing your photos

I think if we see and our approach our photography as a hassle, or another laborious thing we must do, this is bad. Photography should be our leisure, our recreation, and our joy.

For myself, I’ve tried to design the photo reviewing and editing portion with the most joy. That is, how can I best optimize the photography reviewing process to be a joyful one?

I’ve discovered that I actually really like using Apple photos over Adobe Lightroom, as Apple photos is a much more streamlined, fast, and integrated approach. Even small things that like is being able to favourite my photos using the Touch Bar on my MacBook Pro laptop, which has deep integration with Apple photos. Also, when I’m reviewing photos on my laptop, I could directly send the photos that I like to Cindy via iMessage, especially joyful photos of Seneca.

Also, the reason I like using Apple photos to organize my photos is that when I favorite my photos on my laptop, it is also synced with my iPhone. Deep integration is what makes Apple so great.

7. Reconnect with nature

I love cities, and I would prefer to live in the dynamic city over living in the countryside. Yet, there is a very rejuvenative experience of going to nature, and also photographing a nature. For example, Cindy and I have been going on hikes typically at least once or twice or three times a week. And, I’ve actually discovered that I shoot a lot of photos during hikes. Sometimes I actually shoot more photos during a hike, then in a downtown city. And this is what I discovered:

Any scenario or situation in which you make more photos, it is very good.

This is why labeling ourselves as “street photographers” can often be a downside, because we no longer allow ourselves to shoot nature photos. But actually if you want to become the most supreme Street photographer, my theory is that you must also conversely maximize your ability to shoot nature.

That is, if we consider nature and the city to be Antipodes, we must strengthen our nature photography ability to also strengthen our city photography.

This kind of goes to Nietzsche’s philosophy that in order to become more good, one must also become more evil. For in order to become more loving, one must also learn to become more cruel.

Moral of the story, go on more hikes.

8. Delete social media

And what robs us of our Zen and focus? Social media. Specifically, Instagram and Facebook. I say for an entire year, instead of uploading your photos to Facebook or Instagram, upload them to your own blog instead.

Also, if you want to become the most Supreme zen photographer, delete Instagram altogether. I deleted my Instagram in 2017, and it was the best thing I’ve done for my own personal self-confidence, and my self focus on my photography.

I no longer metricate myself based on the number of likes comments and followers I get, and also there is no more anxiety of losing followers. I actually think that the hidden trap of being social media successful is that at a certain point, you’re more afraid of losing followers, than gaining new ones. Therefore you become very risk averse, which you don’t do anything that you’re afraid of that might cause you to lose followers. Risk aversion is very anti-Zen.

For example, let us say you are famous for shooting minimalist black-and-white photos. But one day you want to create more complex color photos. You might be afraid to upload those photos, because it is not your style or brand. And therefore you are afraid that you might lose followers, because everyone is used to your old style, not your new one.

For example, let us say that the infamous chef Gordon Ramsay wants to be a nice guy. He cannot. Why? He is famous for being an asshole, and it is his personal brand. If he acted like a nice guy, he would probably lose his followers. It is not what people expect. same thing goes with Simon Cowell, he is famous for being an asshole, not a nice guy. For Simon Cowell to be nice is anti-Simon.

This is why I found Kanye West to be so brave, because when he went pro Trump, he probably lost more than half of his Fanbase. Also, when Kanye West went gospel. Yet, he continues to thrive. And in someways, Kanye West probably picked up some new followers, and also, he made his diehard fans, like myself, even more hard-core fans, because we were all inspired by how fearless he was.

9. Don’t be afraid of clichés, and also don’t be afraid of repeating yourself

The greatest fear that any artist can have is the fear of repeating him or herself. But, this is also us near in trap. What if you like repeating yourself?

For example, I really enjoy deadlifting. Should I stop deadlifting, because I am just repeating myself?

Or another example, I really love eating meat. Should I stop eating meat, because I’m just repeating myself?

Photography the same: a lot of photographers enjoy shooting certain things, and they don’t care doing it over and over again. Even with hiking, me and Cindy discovered this one really good trail, and we’ve been on the same hike at least 50 times. And I never born tired of it, because every time it is a little different. The weather is a little bit different, the terrain changes a little bit, and my body changes.

For example, I really love black and white photography. and I’ve also probably photographed the same thing 100 times, because I’m more homebound lately. But, I still enjoy it.

Also, I’ve probably photographed baby Seneca 1 trillion times, yet I love it. Even though I photographed the same scenario over and over again, it is always a little different. Perhaps the hidden zen message is learning that repeating yourself is not a big deal. In fact, even if you try to repeat yourself, it is always a little different.

10. The eternal return

If you were forced to live in the same house, the same neighborhood, without access to a car or any other sort of transportation, and you could never upgrade your camera devices, could you still thrive as a photographer? I think so. This is the ultimate Zen liberating thought.


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If this gave you any useful thoughts, feel free to forward to a friend!

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Clear mind ERIC KIM

Less is better:

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