Hanoi, 2016
Hanoi, 2016

Dear friend,

I wanted to share an idea with you — the importance of provoking people with your photography.

The worst thing you can do as a photographer

There is no “right” and “wrong” in photography — but I do believe that there is “boring” and “interesting” in photography.

Of course, this all comes down to personal preference — in terms of what is considered “boring” and “interesting.”

But a practical suggestion: make photos that interest you. Make photos that provoke your personal thinking. Make photos that you (hope) to provoke thoughts in your viewers.

Are your photos boring?

Think about the photos that you look at from other photographers. When you’re scrolling through photos on social media, do you ever spend more than a second, or half a second on an image?

I think we have succeeded as a photographer once a viewer looks at a photo of ours, and pauses. When a viewer pauses on your image, it provokes them to think. It provokes them to analyze. It provokes them to come up with their own story, or interpretation of the image, or the scene.

Provoke thought

I think the purpose of all art is to provoke the viewer. To provoke them to think differently. To provoke them to see the world in a novel way.

There is a human bias for the status quo. We like to keep things easy, simple, and with order. We have our preferences. We don’t like to switch things up.

But in order to advance, we need to shake up the status quo. We can’t just take what has been done in the past, and keep doing things the way they’ve always been done.

If Henry Ford didn’t create the model T, we might all still be in horse-and-carriages. The saying goes, if Henry Ford asked the people what they wanted, they would have said: “A faster horse!”


It would have been unthinkable 100 years ago that one day, we would have cameras on our mobile phones.

I’m sure 100 years from now, it would have seemed ridiculous that we didn’t have cameras embedded into our eyeballs or our brains.

One of the things I am obsessed about is innovation. How to make things better. How to make things more streamlined, more practical, more convenient, and better for humanity.

Innovate your own photography

I think a lot about photography — how we can personally innovate.

How can you personally innovate your photography? How can you shoot differently? How can you use new technologies, to make your photography more creative, and more streamlined? Does that mean for you to only shoot with your smartphone, or perhaps take a ‘blast to the past’ and start to shoot film again?

Does it mean to photograph yourself, instead of photographing others?

Does it mean to interact with your subjects, rather than just photographing them candidly?

Look at the past

For me, one of the best ways to inspire myself is to look into the past. Classic design never dies. Classic philosophy only gets more relevant over time. The old is generally superior to the new.

So try to find inspiration from the past. Study ancient philosophy. Study ancient design. Study ancient poetry. Study ancient paintings.

To innovate is to breathe new life into the old. Take the old, and the past, remix it, and make it better.

Ultimately, innovate for yourself. Make your life better, less stressful, and more full of purpose, energy, and excitement.

When you innovate for yourself, you will ultimately innovate for others.

Stay fresh,

Learn more: Creativity >