HOW TO MAKE BETTER PHOTOS

Dear friend,

Here are some distilled ideas on how to make better photos, after about 10 years of distilled information/knowledge (from age 18–29).

1. Don’t zoom

Using a zoom lens will make you lazy. Rather, use ‘foot zoom’. Which means, if you want to get closer to your subject, move your feet, ‘work the scene’ by making photos from different angles. Crouch down. Tippy-toe. Take a step to the left and the right.

But what if my subject is really far away, and there is a lake or river in front of me?

Simple: use that disadvantage to your benefit.

Frame the scene differently. Frame the scene by pointing the camera lower, or point it higher. Shoot it vertically instead of horizontally. Or tilt your camera. Or lower your exposure-compensation, or make it brighter.

Use the limitation in a creative way.

Rather than complaining why you can’t make a good photo — ask yourself:

How can I use this negative constraint in a positive way, to make a more creative photo?

So don’t buy an iPhone with a zoom lens, or buy a camera with a zoom lens.

Instead, I recommend using a camera (with roughly a 28mm-35mm ‘full-frame equivalent’ lens). The default iPhone and most smartphone camera is around 28mm — ideal to be creative.

I have generally found using any lens longer than 50mm makes you lazier, and less creative with your compositions.

2. Don’t just take 1–2 photos

If you want to make a good photo — you need to make many photos of the same scene.

The difference between a bad photographer and a great photographer is simple:

A bad photographer will only make 1–2 photos of a scene. A great photographer will make 100–200 photos of the same scene.

If you shoot digital, you have no excuses. We live in a world where unlimited storage of your digital images is free.

So if you see a good scene, ‘shoot the shit out of it.’ (Trent Parke)

Many of my best photos required me to make at least 100+ photos of it. And the more photos I made of a scene, the more likely I was to hit a home run.

3. Just aim to make one good photo before you die

Pablo Picasso made 1–2 art pieces a day in his entire life. We only remember a few of them. I can only think of three off the top of my head (his Korean-War mural, his cubist portrait in blue, and his huge red sculpture in Chicago).

With Henri Cartier-Bresson, I only remember his jumping puddle photo, his bicycle photo, and the photo in Spain of a bullfighter.

With Josef Koudelka, I only remember his black silhouette devil-dog photo, his watch-photo in Prague, and a photo from his ‘Gypsies’ project of a grandma holding the face of her dead child.

With Andy Warhol, I only remember his Mao, Marilyn Monroe, and Campbell Soup cans.

With Kanye West, I only remember STRONGER, ALL DAY, and BLACK SKINHEAD.

With Jay-Z, I only remember ‘Church in the wild.’ With Lupe Fiasco, I only remember ‘Kick, push.’ With Nujabes I only remember ‘Arurian Dance.’

With my friend Junku Nishimura, I only remember his ‘HUG’ photo. I only remember the Horse at the beach photo of Josh White. With Charlie Kirk, I only remember his beautiful women with flash photos in Tokyo.

With Cindy A. Nguyen, I only remember her ‘Liberation Time’ poem.

With Eric Kim, I only remember his ‘Laughing lady’ photo in NYC, and his photo of the man sun baking in the sun in Marseille.

Lesson: If you can make 1–3 memorable pieces of art in your lifetime, you’ve done your job as a photographer/artist.

Conclusion

These are probably the three top distilled ideas I’ve learned from photography over the last decade. I hope to gain some new insights in the next decade.

Also to leave you off — don’t call yourself a photographer. Call yourself an artist. Better yet, consider yourself like a curious child, who likes to play.

Build sand castles, even though the sea might wipe it away.

Be strong,

Eric

Learn more: ART >

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