How I Photograph

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Dear friend,

I want to share some practical tips on how I photograph:

1. Don’t listen to me

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Shot at a coffee shop in Hanoi, 2017

First of all, I am a pretty lazy photographer. I spend most of my time in coffee shops.

More time writing, less time photographing.

2. My personal philosophy on photography

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Playing chess with Cindy. East Lansing, Michigan, 2014

I try to make my photography fit my lifestyle; rather than making my lifestyle photography.

Which means, photography is my companion. My buddy. My Robin to my Batman.

I prefer to just walk around, meet friends, and have coffee. So whenever I just live my daily life, I have my camera in my hand, or in my front pocket. And whenever I see something interesting, I just take out my camera, and snap a few photos. I don’t think too much.

I generally don’t look at my photos until later. I will try to let my photos marinate a few days before really looking at them.

I shoot my photos on a Ricoh GR II camera, in P (program) mode, ISO 1600, high-contrast black and white preview, in RAW, and when I import my photos into Lightroom, I apply an ‘Eric Kim Monochrome 1600’ preset.

In terms of choosing my photos, I follow my gut. I only choose photos which makes my heart sing. Photos that are emotional, and personal to me.

I also choose photos based on composition. I try to choose photos with clean compositions. Clean edges. No distractions on the background, or the edges of the frame.

3. I try to make personally-meaningful photos

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When we first moved into our new apartment in Berkeley, 2015

When I see an interesting scene, I try to ‘work the scene’ and make a lot of photos. I experiment with different angles. I shoot from the left, right, down, and up. I use macro mode, the flash, and turn my camera different orientations (vertical, horizontal). I tilt my camera to exaggerate diagonal lines.

When I think I have a good photograph, I try to shoot 25% more than I think I need to.

4. What do I think of my own photos?

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Selfie with Cindy at the dollar store in Berkeley, 2015

Nowadays I care less about what others think of my photos. I try to focus to myself: “What do I think of my own photos?”

Now, I no longer upload or share any photos that I personally don’t believe in.

5. I don’t like looking at numbers

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Cindy in Umea, Sweden, 2015

When I upload photos, I don’t look at my follower numbers or likes, or comments. It confuses me. When I get more likes and followers, I feel happy and excited. When I get fewer likes than I think I ‘should’ — I feel a bit downcast.

Numbers are emotionally stirring to me. Therefore, I choose to avoid them.

6. I am just a curious person with a camera

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The Mission, SF, 2015

I used to be so hell-bent on branding myself as a ‘street photographer.’ Now, I don’t even see myself as a photographer. I just see myself as a curious person. A child with a camera, exploring the world, and having fun with the shutter.

I photograph everything now. Trees, plants, birds, insects, abstract images, shapes, forms, my loved ones, and myself. No more limits in terms of subject matter.

I prefer high contrast black and white for most photos— because I love the minimalism. It is also easier for me to judge composition, form, shapes, and shadows. I also think digitally, black and white just looks better than color. Or maybe because my presets aren’t good enough. I prefer shooting color on film, or ironically enough — my smartphone, and processing the images in VSCO (using the A3-A6 preset).

7. Photography is a meditation on death and life

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Cindy at our apartment in Berkeley, 2015

I try not to force my photography anymore. If I see a good scene and I get it; I get it. If I don’t get it; I no longer stress out about it.

I try to remind myself:

Living a good life is more important than being a good photographer.

I also consider photography as a tool for self-enlightenment. For self-joy. For appreciation in life. I photograph my loved ones, knowing that they will one day die. I photograph, knowing that one day I will die. I try to make as beautiful images as I can now — always reminding myself:

Eric, your time on earth is limited. Don’t waste a second of your day.

I feel photography is a great art form. But why limit ourselves in just photography? Make illustrations in Photoshop. Draw on a piece of paper. Write poetry or raps. Make music. Make coffee. Whatever stimulates your creative soul.

8. Soul photography

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Waking up in the morning of our hotel in Hanoi, 2017

When I photograph, I like to try to capture someone’s soul in a photograph. Which means, engaging with my subject, talking with them, getting to know them, and photographing with my heart.

With strangers, I prefer to talk to them before photographing them.

With my loved ones, I like to have them collaborate. Cindy is the best editor of the ‘Cindy Project’ photos. She tells me which photos she likes and what she doesn’t like. I also photograph her, trying to encapsulate my love for her in an image. And hopefully these images can inspire others to faithfully document their loved ones.

9. What is photography useful for?

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I’ve also taken photography less seriously. I see people all looking into their black mirrors (smartphones) all the time, and all these images are fleeting glimpses of blue light. Most people see photographs or images on a small 4-5 inch screen. And then after half a second, swipe it away.

I still feel photography has great power to emotionally move someone. But at the same time, you can do that with music, with poetry, with writing, with essays, with your words, or through a hug.

In terms of photography, I think the true purpose of photography is to document our personal lives. Photography is a tool that helps us find more purpose in our lives. And for some of us, photography can be our purpose in life.

But if photography is adding stress, anxiety, or frustration to your life — you’re doing something wrong. If you’re spending too much time looking at new cameras that you either can’t afford (or you don’t need), and you feel miserable — that isn’t good. If you are spending too much time worrying about your social media followers, and trying to get more for the sake of it, that feels kind of crappy. I know, because I am afflicted with it myself.

So use photography as a tool to reduce or remove or minimize stress, anxiety, and frustration from your life. Use photography as a tool to let your creative soul blossom, and to share that love with others.

10. Photography is finding personal meaning in your life

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All this advice I’m sharing can be summed up as this:

I photograph to find more personal meaning in my life.

My personal meaning: to help others find their personal meaning.

What is it for you?

Be strong,

Find more meaning in your photography with Photo Journal: Personal Photography Meditations.

Personal Photography >

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