Marvel at Nobody But Yourself

Garden Grove, 2016 #cindyproject

I remember when I started off in photography, I would be marveled by all these great photographers, with their fancy cameras, and their fancy lifestyles.

Don’t marvel at famous photographers

But the more I researched them, the less glamorous I found their lifestyles. Many of these great photographers had horrible personal lives, screwed up family lives, and many of them were miserable. Not only that, but all these fancy and expensive cameras weren’t as great as I thought they would be.

The lesson I learned is this: don’t marvel at anyone else (but yourself). Find inspiration from others, but don’t put these “masters” on a pedestal. Treat the “masters” as your guide, but not your personal master.

Don’t marvel at fancy gear

Not only that, but don’t marvel at expensive or fancy cameras and gear.

I know for a long time, I lusted to buy a Leica. But once I got it, it just became any other camera, that eventually collected dust on the shelf.

Regardless of how expensive, exotic, or fancy your camera— you will eventually get used to it. Psychologists call this “hedonic adaptation” — the ability for you to adapt, no matter how good (or bad) something is.

The same goes for buying a big house. Eventually you will get used to it. The same goes for buying a fancy car — in about 2 weeks, the glamor will wear off. The same thing goes for living in a trendy neighborhood — eventually everything becomes normalized, boring, and the same.

My practical suggestion: buy a camera that is basic, affordable, and at your means (or below your means). That might mean using a cheap point and shoot camera (I am a big fan of the digital Ricoh GR II camera), or even using your iPhone/smartphone. Or just being content with the camera you already have, and not seeking for more.

Don’t marvel at exotic cities or countries

Another tip — don’t marvel at all these ‘exotic’ cities and countries. Honestly, they are great to visit for the first time, but eventually, it will lose its glamor. Not only that, but you won’t make good photos in exotic cities. They will be different and exotic, yes — but interesting, no.

My teacher Constantine Manos calls this being “suckered by the exotic.” Anyone can photograph a geisha in Kyoto, a man with a turban in India, or local Vietnamese with rice-patty hats. They will look “exotic” and “interesting” to foreigners — but what is exotic isn’t always a good photograph.

If anything, being a great photographer is making the most interesting photos in your own (boring) city or town. This is what makes the work of William Eggleston, Lee Friedlander, and Martin Parr so great. They are able to make the boring into something extraordinary.

When I travel, I often take boring photos of interesting things. I’ve found the best photos I’ve shot are what is personal to me (like photographing Cindy), or documenting my own city.

Only marvel at yourself

The last thing I want to leave you with is this — marvel at no other human; only marvel at yourself.

Marvel at the progress you’ve made in life. Marvel at your own photos. Find inspiration from others, but don’t think they’re any better than you.

Seek to improve yourself, your photography, and everything else in life will follow.


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