- It's better to have a deep understanding of how lighting works than to know about the latest lighting gadgets
- Lighting is very simple, it usually comes down to these five aspects: Intensity, Size, Direction, Quality, and Color.
- Put your work where the eyes go. Nowadays, that means you should probably be putting your work on Instagram, or even Snapchat. The printed portfolio is being phased out, and in a way, even the good old website portfolio is turning into just a "nice to have."
- That said, not putting your work where the eyes go is like putting out a fancy billboard in the middle of nowhere.
- If you want your main source of income to be from taking photos, you should probably know a thing or two about marketing. It's much simpler than you think. See: Stock and flow
- If you're discouraged about being a photographer because you're not getting as many likes / comments / followers as you'd like. You probably shouldn't be a photographer.
- It's beneficial to know a thing or two about casting.
- And make up, wardrobe, hair, and set design.
- That said, photography is more about the art of setting up and preparing for the shot. Taking the picture is the easy part. It's everything else that comes beforehand that's hard. (pre-production - training yourself, your eye)
- Great photographers are also great at seeing. In fact, seeing is way more important as it is the core of where photography comes from. The camera is merely a tool to capture what we already see.
- When you don't have a camera, don't fret, just enjoy seeing.
- Great photographs have something to say.
- Everybody should have a personal project. This is what defines who you are after all. That said, personal projects usually aren't the most popular, but if done right, it will be popular among the right people. - Not to mention, it will keep you grounded in your values and what truly matters to you - it will also keep you sane.
- If you want to "make it" in this industry, you need to be much more than a photographer. You need to be a marketer, a leader, a schmoozer, all kinds of things, but try not to be a snob. People tend to do that a lot in this industry... unfortunately.
- It helps to know a thing or two about post-processing. Photography is like harvesting your food from the fields. Post-processing is putting it together and cooking up a delicious meal. If you don't know how to post-process, you're just left with a bunch of raw ingredients without your personal spin on it.
- You can't manage what you don't understand. Being a photographer often means working with many different people from all different stages of photography. It helps to know a thing or two about the daily obstacles of the team you're managing (producer, assistant, etc) (well, you can, but whoever you are managing will probably hate you)
- There's a difference between photo-editing and photo-retouching. Most people say photo-editing when they really mean photo-retouching.
- Photo-retouching is a fine art. Don't knock it. Some of the greatest photographers in history don't print their own photographs.
- There's nothing wrong with using on-camera flash. Somehow, I feel like this whole notion about on-camera flash being bad is a gimmick lighting companies popularized to get you to buy their lights instead.
- Admit that being a photographer means sometimes stepping pass boundaries and being a little annoying at times. I find it is best to avoid any troubles by plainly acknowledging this fact and explaining your intentions, why you do what you do, and what it will ultimately be used for.
- If you're scared, you should probably take the photo. It will probably be the best photo you'll take.
- Most people love being photographed. Then again, most people are not used to receiving so much attention. Sometimes it takes a little bit to help them warm up.
- Much of the photographs we take are taken before we even pick up our cameras.
- There is usually only one way to take a photo that is true to who you are.
- You should probably triple back up your hard drives. Two copies in-studio in case something fails and you need it immediately. One copy off-site.
- If you're ever stuck, ask yourself, "What would ______ do?" Insert name of favorite photographer there.
- Gear is great and you should get the best gear that you can, but once that is set, you really should set your eyes back on photography. Remember, some of the greatest photographers used cameras much less advanced than yours.
- There are so many photographers nowadays. It can be a bit discouraging in terms of "making it" but consider it a blessing in disguise as it forces you to be your true self. Any other option is useless.
- Nobody wants to hear your excuses. If you took a bad shot, then you took a bad shot. Yeah, it sucks, but that's just how it goes. Deal with it and move on.
- Just because you worked really hard on a photo doesn't mean it's good.
- Get a second pair of eyes. We're terrible judges of our own work. It's very useful to have someone you trust help you identify your masterpieces and utter failures.
- I've noticed there has been a trend towards bright and colorful images. It's almost as if there's something wrong with darker images. I don't think there is. They can be quite beautiful, actually.
- Disposable cameras are fun. You should always keep one around you somewhere.
- Your portfolio should be like a menu that showcases the different recipes you're capable of putting together.
- Proudly exclude people from your work. You are defined as a photographer not just by who you let into your frame, but also by who you choose to leave out.
- Photography is great but more and more I realize that what I cherish even more is not the photographs I've taken but the relationships and the memories I've created because of photography. Something to think about as we continue our work.
- Keep a reference file. This is a folder of images you've taken that could work as jump-off points or inspiration for future projects. Most importantly, these reference files are pictures that you created yourself so they are uniquely yours, versus just a knock-off of somebody else's idea.
- Build strong relationships. Photography is a bit of a lonely endeavor. We're like lone wolves. But we're stronger together.
- Be incredibly clear about being compensated for your work. Because there are so many photographers and people with photographer friends who are willing to do things free of charge, there is a culture of people asking for photos without pay. Nothing wrong with that. But never sell yourself short. Because when you do, we all suffer.
- Every once in a while, go to the rental shop and spend a few days shooting with a camera you normally wouldn't shoot with. I love doing this, that was how I discovered the Contax 645. Such a great camera!
- Instagram is a great place to showcase your work, but Instagram isn't a really good place for inspiration. Most popular accounts are skewed towards photos that have perfect centered compositions. Often of food or landscapes. Photography is much more than that.
- Having said that, your phone is a great tool for photography. Lately, I've been obsessed with these add-on lenses for the iPhone made my Moment. This sounds like an ad, but it's not. I just really love these lenses, it literally turns my phone into a dSLR.
- Never equate the quality of your work with the dollar amount people are willing to pay for it. The market is saturated, so more likely than not, your work won't be worth much (unless you shoot weddings, headshots, corporate gigs, or on the rare occassion, land a huge commercial project). Thinking yourself as less of a photographer due to a lack of high paying gigs is a terrible standard to measure your art by. Basic supply and demand simply drives the price of photography services down. It's been doing so for years, and it will keep doing so.
- Find your muses and take as many photos of them as you can. Muses don't come often, but when they do, I try my best to develop a relationship with them. I love photographing these people. And I'll continue photographing them for the rest of my life.
- The most common question you will be faced with when photographing in the public is "What are you doing?" - Whenever you're given the chance, answer this question as soon as possible, in fact, answer it before they even ask, this is beneficial for alleviating any unnecessary tension.
- Make people look good. I know this might be stating the obvious but nobody likes to look bad. I know the more "artsy" photographers might not necessarily care for this, and you don't have to, really, but it goes a long way.
- Learning how to curate your own work is probably one of the greatest skills you can learn. It's incredibly difficult. I just figured it out this past year.
- Take selfies. No, not the kind where you use your front facing camera. Take it a little more seriously. I don't say this to be narcisstic, but I do find it a little sad that so many incredible photographers have so little photographs of themselves. In fact, I think one of the best ways of learning how to photograph people is to be photographed.
- Make prints. I spent A LOT of time making physical prints of my work during my early years. It's funny because I feel most people don't even notice the subtleties and maybe I'm just wasting my time, but I like knowing I have that ability, and I think all photographers will benefit from making and analyzing physical prints of their photographs rather than staring at digital screens all the time.
- Don't take it too seriously. I mean, take it seriously so you can create great work, but I notice when I take photography way too seriously, it's not fun anymore, and I like to have fun =)
The wonderful music video above is from Canadian artist, Homeshake, for his new single, "Every Single Thing". In case you didn't notice, Homeshake never appears in this music video. In fact, we aren't even in Canada. Instead, we are in Taiwan with my two incredibly talented friends, Wen hao Chang, and Ning Han.
The back story:
Wen hao Chang and Ning Han originally uploaded a dance video on their Instagram 4 months ago just as a way to remember what they practiced. And just for kicks, they hashtagged the artist #homeshake.
Here's the original video:
Well, Homeshake saw the video, loved it so much and decided to have the both of them create the official music video for his latest single, "Every Single Thing".
I love this.
It's a simple, yet inspiring example of the great things that can happen when you put yourself out there, and share your gifts with the world, regardless of imperfections.
Thank you, Wen hao Chang, and Ning Han—
For inspiring us to not just continue pursuing our passions, but to share it with the world as well.
"The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away." —Pablo Picasso
by Jason Lam
I’ve had conversations with colleagues of mine who talk about how they want to photograph celebrities. It’s like if they don’t have celebrities in their portfolio, then they are a failure. But I think that’s a waste of time.
Why not find your own celebrities?
All the people I photograph are people I admire. They aren’t celebrities in the traditional sense, but they are famous to me.
You don’t need to be photographing people everyone else is photographing.
You need to be photographing your people. The people you think are special. The people who are famous to you.
Make your own celebrities.
by Jason Lam
Keep a reference file.
In my Lightroom catalog, I keep a folder in my collections called “REFERENCE.” It’s a folder of images I’ve shot that I think are ideas that could be further improved or even turned into a new project. Most importantly, these are my photos. I shot them. They are my ideas.
This is completely different from looking on Pinterest or searching on Google for references from other photographers. Your reference folder is made up of images you created yourself. I’ve noticed this provides a confidence and inspiration boost, simply because you know you could come up with original ideas yourself without having to look out to see what everybody else is doing.
Instead, you can look in.
References photos are often the mistakes or throwaways. These photos are the ones where someone accidentally walked into the frame, where the lighting was off, or where the image was slightly off focus. Usually, happy accidents are the birthplaces for new ideas, projects, and series.
So, the next time you look back on your images, throw these accidents into your reference folder instead of the trash. Think of it as creating a compost pile. At first glance, your “bad photos” may seem like garbage but when put together, it could be fertile ground for greater work to emerge.
by Jason Lam
Finding your passion is hard work. People spend their entire lives doing so. I must admit, I find it a little annoying at times because people talk about it as if passion is out there hiding under a rock. Look hard enough, and one day, you’ll find it. Who are you kidding?
For many people, that day is never going to come because a lot of people don’t have just one burning desire. Most people just have a lot of interests, and that’s completely fine. There’s nothing wrong with you because you don’t have a burning desire. In fact, to believe that everybody must pursue their one burning desire is to neglect all the little things we enjoy no matter how big or small. Instead of pursuing your passion, I suggest pursuing micro-passions instead.
Micro-passion – noun – Something that you are interested in that may or may not align directly to your passion.
I set up a personal challenge for myself for the year of 2016, and that was to learn a new skill every month. This is what I did:
- January = Make videos
- February = Learn screen printing
- March = Write a book
- April = The Japanese art of decluttering and organizing
- May = Design an art book
- June = Learn to sing
- July = Learn to swim properly
- August = How to deadlift
- September = The discipline and confidence to go my own pace in life
- October = Photograph a ballet school
- November = How to change car oil
- December = Learn gyrotonic
Are any of these things my passions per say? No, but they are definitely things that I am interested in and find a lot of joy doing. By the end of the year, I will have learned 12 new skills. Instead of pursuing just one burning desire, by the end of the year I will have created for myself a multifaceted passion.
Have you been stuck trying to find your passion? Try doing the little things you enjoy instead, and see where it takes you. And if you’re up for it, join me and let’s tackle a micro-passion each and every month.
by Jason Lam
You can't do it like me.
Because there's only one me.
But I also can't do it like you.
Because there's only one you
by Jason Lam
I think it’s a beautiful thing to share your work with the world. To go out on a limb and create without inhibition. I know it’s scary. But I also think it’s worth the risk. Because you never know how your work can benefit others. In the worst case scenario you can be completely ignored. But in the best case scenario you could save a life, or the entire world. You need to keep going.
I need to keep going.
by Jason Lam
If you feel yourself evolving, it is in your best interest to let it happen and take you where it will. Be it a new hobby, a new hairstyle, moving to a new country, or simply buying new clothes. I say follow your evolution wherever it goes because no matter how odd, embarrassing, or out of the blue it may seem, this is your body exploring new lands and reaching beyond its comfort zone in order to grow into its highest potential.
Those who love us most may think the new horizons you’re exploring are too weird, out of the ordinary, or even irresponsible. They may feel compelled to stop you and keep you right where you are. Our environments act very much like the clothes you wear on a daily basis. They hold your identity in place, and remind you of who you are and the role you play in society. But when the time comes to shed your skin and evolve into who you must become next, you must have the courage to stay true to yourself, even if that means leaving the people that care about you most.
Take into account all the things you’ve collected throughout your journey and reassess whether or not those things still serve you. Often times you will find many of the things you hold onto have already achieved their purpose, and you are more than ready to let them go and move on. Like an old sweater, I encourage the disposing of old items, ways of thought, and surroundings to make room for things that better suit who you are now and who you are to become.
I have been feeling an immense change in myself. I realized I have been clinging onto negative thought patterns that have only served to hold me back. I was, in a way, addicted to my own self-loathing. I was never good enough, and therefore, not good enough for others as well. I didn’t love myself, and as a result, I also never allowed myself to be loved. I expected and accepted disappointment with open arms. Opportunities came my way, and I’d push them away. People came my way, and I wouldn’t let them in. Happiness was constantly beyond my grasp. I was convinced life never gave me a chance, when in reality I just never gave myself a chance.
These thoughts no longer serve me.
Nor do the physical manifestations of these thoughts.
In order to move on, I had to go through all the emotional baggage I collected in my life. I shone a light at all the problems I’ve been running away from, the terrible coping habits I’ve formed, to the dystopian world I built around it. I began breaking down these walls by forgiving those who hurt me in the past. I also forgave myself for the mistakes I made, along with the mistakes I will continue to make in the future. I let go of notions of having to be flawless and began acknowledging the possibility that despite all my imperfections, I am enough.
This wasn’t easy, but avoiding my anger, my damage, and my grief wasn’t getting me anywhere. I had to face them head on. I had to spend time in the dark. Alone. Asking questions I couldn’t find the answers to. Feeling helpless. But it was only by acknowledging the pain that I was then able to finally let go and move on. Perhaps you, too, will have to spend some time alone to make sense of all your disappointments and upsets in order for your metamorphosis to truly take shape.
Nobody else can do this for you.
When you sum up the courage to face your demons and let go of the things that no longer serve you, a new space will be created. And it is in this space where you will grow into the person you were always meant to become.
Your body will begin to react.
As I began growing into the greater version of myself, my body began to form a different relationship with the physical world around me. My clothes. My hair. My car. The conversations I was having. The weather. The food. The way I rolled out of bed. The way my feet hit the pavement. Everything began to feel different and that was because I was now operating in an environment associated with a world that had a sadder, more insecure and fearful me that no longer exists.
I was evolving.
I donated my old clothing, sold my furniture, and redesigned my entire living situation. With this new space I created for myself, I began taking photographs the way I wanted. I began dancing the way I wanted. I began wearing the clothes I wanted. Most importantly, I began allowing myself to be myself and live the way I’ve always wanted to live.
Letting go is not wasteful, nor is it neglect or giving up. Letting go can be a powerful act of acknowledging all the invaluable lessons you’ve learned from the people, places, and things that have come into your life. Let go with pride. Let go with confidence. Let go with the understanding and respect that though you may have outgrown certain things in your life, these very things, even the darker periods in your life, are what prepared you for this very moment to grow and prosper.
We are ever-changing and evolving in more ways than our physical manifestations can perhaps keep up. Evolution is not about finding a final resting place where we can finally sit back and relax, but about cultivating a habit of allowing oneself to change as our mind and bodies call for it. Sometimes these changes may feel difficult because we’re forced to face inner demons that we’d much rather avoid or it requires physical changes that might clash with our immediate environments. There is a reason why we fuss over little details like the color of our bathroom walls; it’s because deep down we know the greater impact our physical environment has further down the chain of events from mind, to body, to our entire lives.
Life takes so many twists and turns. Evolution can feel like a filthy mess. But when it comes to growing into our most authentic selves, I truly believe that deep down, our body already knows. We just have to listen to it.
by Jason Lam
You're missing out.
Every time you choose to look this way and not that way, you are missing out.
Every time you go here instead of there, you are missing out.
Any decisions you make in life, you are missing out on other opportunities waiting just around the corner.
What to do about it?
Deal with it.
You know what you came here for, so go out and get it.
Who cares about the missed opportunities? You don’t want them anyway.
The only other alternative would be to be so concerned with FOMO that you never make a decision in the first place.
You chose to be here.
Stop acting like you’re so surprised.
by Jason Lam
For me, the process of writing is very much like trying to capture a glimpse of a dragon. I’m patient, I allow it to reveal itself where it may, and then I follow its scales as far as I can see. But often times I lose sight of where it begins and where it ends. My thoughts and my words disappear as they soar into the mist and the clouds, and I am left to pick up the pieces. It’s all a little frustrating but exciting at the same time. It is the fact that I have never seen these dragons in its entirety that keeps me going.
by Jason Lam
Much of writing is like moving furniture into a new house. The open space excites you. You have a bunch of ideas, and you want to cram everything in. But we soon realize that no matter how great our ideas are, too much of a good thing can also be problematic.
I often try to put too much furniture in a given space – so much to the point where I end up having to waste even more time figuring out what to take out. But as I continue writing I realize this is not necessarily a problem, it is simply part of the process. It is a way of working in which you try to see how much you can get away with, – realizing you’ve gone too far, and then dialing it back a notch. It’s a practice and lesson in fearlessness in our work – to go farther – instead of doing less out of fear of making a mistake. Sure, moving all this furniture in and out can be a lot of work, but at least it’s an honest attempt at creating something that is uniquely yours versus taking half-steps and cheating yourself as an artist.
The left over ideas can be used for later – for other rooms perhaps – and the left overs from those can yet again be used for other rooms. Do this enough times, and eventually you will have created a brand new home with a collection of spaces unique to itself.
Some ideas will suck. Some will work but won’t necessarily fit the overall theme of what you’re going for. Some simply don’t fit through the door no matter how hard you try.
Some rooms are welcoming. For guests. Others are just for yourself.
Some are purely aesthetic. Others are more utilitarian. The best are a little bit of both.
Good writing is like a well-furnished home. There is just enough furniture to feel welcoming – no more, no less. Each room has a clear focal point, coupled with a neat balance of little accessories and trinkets to cushion your every step. The beginnings are clear, and so are the endings.
Bad writing can be like a cluttered house – there are so many things that you can’t even find the entrance, and even if you do, you get lost soon as you step through the door. Bad writing can also be like a barely furnished home – where there is not enough seating for everyone, or the transitions from room to room are jarring and harsh.
When writing a new piece, expect the clutter. Embrace the explosion of new ideas with open arms. Have the courage to plow through it all, yet practice, the discipline to keep only what you need. Do this, and you will build a home that comes with it a personal flare that is uniquely yours – all of which is only possible by first allowing yourself to go through the shaky beginnings of any new work of art.
by Jason Lam
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been feeling like I have to be more selective with the things I want to do and stopping myself from following my impulses. When I was younger, I had no inhibitions about uploading silly videos of myself onto the internet for the sake of sharing it with my friends and having a good laugh. Now? I have to consider all these things like, OMG, it’s going to be on the internet forever. How will this affect my professional career? Does it align with my current brand image? How will everybody think of me? Everybody’s going to judge me! And so what happens? I don’t let myself make spur-of-the-moment videos. I don’t let myself follow my intuition. I don’t let myself have any fun. But it’s all for a greater cause I say to myself. Because by not wasting time and energy on the inessential, I get to focus all my energy on one goal -- and I get to be that much more effective.
This is a rather widely accepted notion. Famous quotes like, “Jack of all trades, master of none” seems to run quite rampant in the motivational quotes arena, but I think there is something missing here. There's this idea that it’s bad to have multiple interests. Because someone is a jack-of-all-trades and master of none, we make the false assumption that this is all he will ever be -- at that very moment at least. We neglect the fact that this is precisely the path one takes when discovering mastery, and some people just take a little longer than others.
“All knowledge leads to self knowledge.”
- Bruce Lee
The more you get to explore, try new things and follow your curiosity, the more you know and the more capable you are of being fully equipped and ready to tackle that one thing in life. But if you pigeonhole yourself too early on, you end up learning less about the world and less about yourself.
Energy has the capability of feeding back into itself, but when you don’t allow yourself to flow, that energy is never used. It is not recycled or redirected toward your ultimate goal; it is simply sitting there, holding you back, and growing stale.
Let it all flow. Keep everything in play. Don’t cut anything out. This is how you live a rich life, and this is how you maintain your momentum, progress and growth.
“Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only
be changed from one form to another.”
Your interests, impulses and intuition manifest themselves in different forms. Energy can feed back into itself, get stronger, and eventually morph into something absolutely beautiful -- but not if your energy is blocked.
If you look at how rivers form, they do not start as giant streams. They start as a collection of tiny segments – a master of none, if you may – but if you look closely you will find that these seemingly tiny streams start to build momentum. The flow becomes stronger, bigger, faster, all the way until they naturally find their way together, raging with power and becoming a force to be reckoned with. This is made possible because the individual streams explored other avenues and strengthened on their own. By following through with each individual path, the collective whole of the river is made stronger when they finally join forces. Your interests are not as disconnected as you think.
You need to trust that all your seemingly disconnected interests will lead you to somewhere great. If not, believe that it will at least make you a better person with every step you take. Don’t cut anything out because when you do, you are cutting yourself out.
I make fun little videos, and I do it because I get a lot of joy out of them. I also take design classes, swimming lessons, and even started taking voice lessons recently. They do not align perfectly with who I am as a professional. Some of you might even think it’s a waste of time. I admit that it’s very much a sidetrack to what I’ve become known for – photography. It’s random. It’s unedited. It’s raw. If anything, it’s much closer to the real me.
These seemingly random hobbies feed into each other. It doesn’t take anything away. In fact, it makes me feel more alive. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to learn to trust all the pieces in play, and to let my interests take me where it will. I let myself be free. I believe that life has something far greater and brighter planned for me than anything I could ever imagine, but first I have to be open to it, and it starts by allowing myself to take these chances.
Stay curious. Keep looking. Keep changing. And let life flow through you.
by Jason Lam
I have this unnecessary burden – when I feel like what I’m doing isn’t bettering humanity in some way, I start to stress out. I feel like I’m not good enough and deal with many sleepless nights because of … Well, nothing, really.
It’s quite stupid when I think about it. You know, stressing over the fact that maybe the words I write aren’t good enough, or the YouTube videos I make aren’t funny enough, or the fact that I am just not a superhero despite my superhero intentions.
If I could, I would free all people from unhealthy relationships, make sure every child grows up with positive role models, and release the shackles of all those who slave their entire lives away in these obnoxious things we call cubicles. But I can’t. And it stresses me out because I can see the fatigue and loneliness in the faces of my peers. It pains me that I can only do a little, but maybe I should let up a little.
I watched Deadpool a couple months back (awesome movie). I was enlightened by the ending, when Deadpool finally has his archenemy, Ajax, in his hands and is ready to kill him for all of eternity … Until Colossus steps in with an incredibly insightful speech.
“Four or five moments. That’s all it takes to be a hero. Everybody thinks it’s a full-time job. Wake up a hero. Brush your teeth a hero. Go to work a hero. Not true.”
That struck a chord in me because I felt like I had to be good all the time. I felt like I had to do good all the time. I felt all these feelings of good intention, only to hate myself because I realize how much of a flawed human being I really am and, unfortunately, will probably always be.
But I realize there’s nothing wrong with that.
And when I accept how I will never be the superhero I’ve always wanted to be, I will finally get to be free and do simple things like go about the day not saving the world and not feel bad about it.
Because superheroes don’t have to be good, all of the time.
In fact, I’ve come to believe that this makes for a better superhero. One that allows an individual to give into one’s inherent vices every once in a while for the sake of doing better when he needs to. It’s a part of my journey that my inner perfectionist left out of the final screenplay of life, but I’ve now penciled it back in.
I stopped being so hard on myself.
Nowadays, when I wake up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror, I say to myself, “Relax, you don’t have to save the world… all of the time.”
by Jason Lam
The thing about insecurities is that we don’t ever grow up thinking there’s anything wrong with us. It’s not like we come out of the womb, look at ourselves in the mirror and then make a checklist of, “Things I should spend the rest of my lifetime worrying about.”
No. Insecurities are placed on us by other people and always without our consent. I, for example, never thought of myself as skinny, slow, or stupid. These were all things others have told me. But oddly enough, when harmful comments are repeated enough times, we somehow make them come true. There’s a false train of logic that says, “So and so has told me these things before, so they must be right.” We neglect the fact that we’ve also come across tons of other people who have never mentioned these aforementioned insecurities. I guess it’s easier to notice when people hurt us than to remember when someone simply accepts you for who you are.
And these things happen at such a young age, before we’ve had an opportunity to build up our mental defenses. We were vulnerable. And as we grow older, it’s almost as if these insecurities become embedded in our DNA. It becomes a part of our lives, like a checklist of things to do whenever we wake up in the morning. Take a shower, brush our teeth, worry about insecurities, overcompensate, and pray that nobody says anything about it. And when we try to deal with our insecurities, it gets even harder. It’s like trying to peel off an old sticker, only to find that it’s near impossible to do so without leaving some residue. No, Goo Gone doesn’t work on our emotions.
It sucks. There are days when my insecurities still manage to creep up past my defenses and make me feel absolutely pathetic. I guess we just have to deal with it. But that’s a little too somber for my tastes. If there’s anything we can do, it is to remind ourselves how silly it is to live in fear of who we are due to how other people see us. It’s such a waste of time. Instead, keep your head up high and keep marching forward regardless of the naysayers. If there’s anything to fear, it’s to fear allowing such meaningless comments become permanent excuses for why we are not living a life that is true to our authentic selves. Do not die with your song unsung.
by Jason Lam
When it comes to style, one should remember this piece of advice by Persian poet, Rumi:
“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
Executing a multitude of styles isn’t difficult. And now, with the internet and the ability to learn a new photographic technique with just a click of a button, being able to do multiple styles doesn’t differentiate you. It just makes you look unsure of yourself. And when you are unsure of yourself, others will be unsure of you.
Think of style as a friend. We want friends who are consistent. Why? Because consistency means reliability. However, if you’re constantly switching around, then you become unpredictable. You’re here one day, but you’re gone the next. We never know where to find you. We never know what to expect. We can’t trust you. Nobody wants a friend like that.
If we take a look back at the greatest photographers of all time, you’d be hard-pressed to find one who constantly changed his or her style. Daido Moriyama is known for his stark black and whites. William Eggleston for his color. Bruce Gilden for his flash. And Salgado for his epic landscapes.
What do people think of when your name is mentioned?
Maintaining a consistent style goes way beyond talent and skill. It’s about integrity. It’s about staying true to whom you are, believing in what you represent, and proudly showing up day after day and doing the work regardless of what others say.
Granted, as we grow as photographers, it is only natural that our styles will change. That’s normal, but eventually you’re going to have to make a decision and commit. This is not to say that you are incapable of doing more, or that you are any less of a human being because you choose to do less – it’s about standing for something you believe in, which, first and foremost, should always start with yourself. When you do so, you will find that others start to believe in you.
It’s not about doing more, nor is it about doing less; it’s simply about doing what is uniquely you.
by Jason Lam
I still don’t like the word “passion.” I still think it’s a loaded word, but everybody still seems bent on finding it, so here we go:
1) What conversations do you enjoy having? The types of conversations we want to have determine the types of friends we make, the work we do, and ultimately, the person we become and the contribution we make to the world. I particularly enjoy having conversations about why people do the things they do and how a greater understanding of the self can lead to a better life.
2) If you were stuck on Mars with 30 days left of food, what would you say to everyone? Funny how a life or death situation can remind ourselves what truly matters. What would you say? And how could you apply what you are saying to your own life?
3) What topic could you read 1,000 books on? Take a look at your bookshelf. Are there any reoccurring subjects? Maybe you’ve already read 1,000 books on a certain topic without even knowing it. What topics do you find yourself returning to and wanting to learn more about?
4) What’s the overarching theme between all the things you’ve been doing and all the goals you’ve been making? Take out a piece of paper. Write it down. Create a map. How does it all link back up to each other? Look back far enough and perhaps you’ll find it all connects to one overarching goal. Mine = Inspire Others.
5) What would you regret not pursuing when laying on your deathbed? I know. A little hard to imagine. This question is even a little borderline cliché but only because it’s very helpful. What would you regret? Maybe that’s precisely what you need to do.
6) What do you want your future self to look like? Take 10 minutes to fantasize what a day in your perfect life would look like. Start from the morning, and describe it in detail from the moment you wake up. Where are you? Who are you with? How are you spending your day? Now, read over what you wrote. How does this future self differ from who you are now? And what can you do today so this future self can one day become your present self?
7) What would you do for free? You may find that you’re already doing what you’re passionate about without even noticing it. This often happens because some of us might think that passion must be a burning desire you feel when you wake up every morning. It doesn’t have to be. It can just be something you enjoy, and that’s it. Maybe you really like baking, offering words of advice to friends in need, or telling stories. So ask yourself, are you already doing it?
8) What work were you doing the last time you forgot time altogether? In psychology, there is a term called “Flow.” Or in other words, “being in the zone;” a state of complete absorption in an activity where time flies. Right off the top of my head, it’s when I’m writing, performing and teaching. How about you?
9) How do you want to feel when you wake up in the morning? Much of how we feel in the present is determined by what we have in store for the future. What do you look forward to? What do you want to look forward to?
10) What do you miss? As we grow older, there are more and more things we let go of for the purpose of becoming an “adult.” Sometimes, this type of thinking forces us to let go of things we otherwise would have very much wanted to hold onto. I miss high school band. I miss playing music. I miss being part of a team. I miss the camaraderie. I miss having a coach. And I’ll share a secret, when I was a kid, my dream was to be a rock star.
If it makes you feel any better, whatever you’re searching for is also searching for you. Sometimes you just need to open yourself up to the things that are already trying to find a way into your life.
by Jason Lam
You got problems.
So do I.
And when we have problems wearing and tearing away at our lives, we may feel that we must add yet another layer of complexity to our lives. Another dietary supplement. Another workout regime. Another session with your therapist. But there’s no need for that.
Just stop what you’re doing.
Stop the self-deprecation. Stop the addictive habits. Stop repeating the same old mistakes. Stop “should-ing” all over yourself. Just stop.
When you realize you are on the wrong path, the only way to make any more progress is to stop.
Stopping is the gateway to changing.
When you stop, you end the process of deterioration and allow yourself to begin the process of healing.
I’ve been guilty of over-complicating my life as well. I’ve been going through physical rehab, working with a personal trainer and a chiropractor, asking a million questions, overthinking how the hundreds of muscles in my body should be working and not making any progress aside from just tiring myself out, losing sleep, and just becoming a very negative, down and dejected person. This lasted for 5 years. I had to stop.
We don’t begin to solve the many problems in our lives by adding more things to our “to-do” list. We begin by stopping, by saying no to habits that do not serve us, even if that means doing absolutely nothing.
Do nothing. But notice that you are still doing something. While it may not seem that way, it is a step toward changing your life for the better. When you stop what you’re doing, you are ending negative habits, ending negative cycles, and instead creating a resting space for your life.
Oftentimes we don’t know what got us here. We’re no longer sure what will satisfy us or what we are looking for. So we think by increasing the number of unnecessary possessions, burying ourselves both physically and mentally in more things will help, but most of the time these extra things just serve to throw us into further disarray. The best way to find out what we really need sometimes is to get rid of what we don’t.
Start by stopping.
Do an inventory check of your life and the things you’ve been doing, thinking about, or stressing over. Then ask yourself, “Does this contribute to my overall happiness? Or would I be better off by stopping what I’m doing?” Start throwing things out like you would an old sweater that is way past its time.
by Jason Lam
1) Research later. I’ve noticed in my attempts to write well, I would sometimes let my research get in the way of my actual writing. For example, I would come to a point where I don’t know enough about an example or analogy I want to use and stop everything to research for way too long. This often leads me to a point where I don’t even remember what I was even writing about. When writing, don’t worry too much about factual accuracy, just get it out there and keep moving. Focus on fixing the little bumps and grooves later, otherwise, you risk never even finishing your first draft.
2) Good writing is rewriting. This is not to say you need to overhaul your initial draft. I’ve noticed a complete overhaul often eliminates the original raw integrity most 1st drafts have to start with. Think of rewriting as a trimming your garden. Take out the fluff. Leave the essentials.
3) Show up. Keep on writing. Even though it may feel as if you’re writing complete garbage, it’s probably not as bad as you think. If anything, getting through the garbage is what’s required to get to the goodies in the first place. But you won’t know if you don’t show up.
4) Write for just one person. In my attempts to be as helpful as possible, I’ve tried to turn my writing into something that everybody can identify with, which not only weakens my work, it’s impossible. Sorry. Some people will just have to be left out. You’re not any worse of a writer or a person. It’s a simple understanding that watering everything down to the lowest common denominator leads to ineffective and mediocre work.
5) Don’t be afraid to abandon bad work. Sometimes your stuff really is crap. You may spend days and days on a piece and still can’t get it right. In fact, you might have rewritten it so many times to the point where it’s lost any element that appealed to why you wanted to write it in the first place. Sometimes success is knowing when to quit.
6) Creating and critiquing are two totally separate activities. Creating is letting your heart spill onto the page. And yes. It’s supposed to be messy. Critiquing is the slow process of combing the sand. Picking out little things and deciding if you want to either keep, improve, or throw it out completely. They both serve a very important function, but they work best when done separately. Don’t mix the two.
7) Take a break. Go out and enjoy the sunshine every once in while. As writers, we can easily turn into hermits and not go out for days on end, but eventually you’ll run out of things to write about! It’s essential that you set time aside to live your life. Consider it a chance for you to recharge your batteries and gain inspiration. In fact, most of my ideas when come when I’m out for a run or folding laundry.
8) Done is better than perfect. As a writer, your goal is to make sure you’re putting out content that is beneficial to your readers. Don’t let the fact that your grammar, syntax, or diction is less than perfect prevent you from spreading good ideas. Remember, you’re not writing for your teachers anymore.
9) Finish your pieces as soon as possible. Don’t let anything sit for too long because they will grow stale and at worst, neglected and unfinished. I admit I have many pieces that will never see the light of day because I left them alone for way too long. The moment you start a piece is when you should try your best to finish it, even if it’s an ugly first draft.
10) Be part of the solution. We’re all a little incomplete and broken in our own way. Try your best to benefit your readers with every word you write. Whether it’s an inspiring story that calls them to action or simply poking fun at the absurdities of life, strive to add to the human experience. Language is powerful. Your words make a difference.
by Jason Lam
I don’t know Marie Kondo, but she changed my life.
For those of you who don’t know, Marie Kondo is the author of, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” It’s a book about tidying up your living space, but little did I know, it would lead to a clear sense of self and my purpose in life.
How it works:
Discard anything that doesn’t spark joy.
Spark Joy = Basically boils down to whether or not something contributes to making you feel good.
If you feel nothing, or even worse, negative feelings, then you throw it away.
The process took a while, but I forced myself to dedicate an entire month to it and do it all in one go. She has a step-by-step process that goes a little bit like this:
- Miscellaneous items (CDs, electrical equipment, stationary)
- Sentimental items
Clothes was easy, I only wear a couple of pairs pants, shirts, and maybe two jackets. Everything else has just been collecting dust in my closet. Sadly, some of them still had their tags on them. I took out several garbage bags of old clothes and sold them to second-hand shops and donated the rest to Goodwill.
I did the same for my books.
The money I made from selling the used items were funneled back into tidying up my room. Fortunately, with her system, I didn’t have to spend much, as she encourages working with what you have.
I made my way slowly down the list throughout the month and eventually got to a point where I was stuck. My bedroom was empty at this point and I spent about two weeks in limbo trying to figure out what to do with the remainders. The main question = To keep? Or not to keep? Most of these things were old notebooks, pictures, and other sentimental items that were harder to let go.
Marie says to hold every item in your hands and notice how you feel with each item. If it doesn’t provide good feelings then perhaps it is time to let it go. This even applies to things that once made you feel good, but not anymore.
I kept the book on my couch the entire month, referring back to it several times throughout the process. What really helped me was the idea that many items in our lives may have already served its purpose, and if they have done so, then we must have the courage to let it go. Not only does this apply to the physical objects we keep, but it also applies to the relationships we sustain throughout a lifetime. We don’t have to hold onto all the things that come into our lives forever.
Realizing this, things picked up again and I was able to tidy everything up by the end of the month. What helped was finding items that I really loved. It’s easy once you feel that surge of happiness, because then you have a reference point of “joy” you can work off of. I discarded old gifts, postcards, pictures from the past, holding onto only a few items that really made me feel good… things I loved: My very first trophy when I played soccer as a little kid, foreign currency I have left over from my travels, and a handful of my favorite books.
As stated in the book, what I discovered is when you begin to tidy up, and free yourself of clutter, you begin to get a clear look at yourself. It was a bit daunting, because you clean up your living space expecting to feel 10x better after it’s all said and done, but there’s still a part of you that feels a bit cluttered, a part of you that still needs a little bit of tidying up… and you realize that it’s no longer about the space, it’s just about you.
For me it was an issue of being too much of a perfectionist. The two week limbo period made sense. I couldn’t figure out a way to put everything so my room would be perfect. It symbolized my life; and the detrimental effects of having unrealistic standards and being too hard on myself. It became a lesson in allowing my life to be a little bit messy, and to be okay with that. Funny how cleaning one’s room can help you make these personal discoveries.
The most powerful part of going through this process was not just having a tidier room, but noticing the things I missed. During the tidying process, I completely emptied my room. What was once a reflection of who I was suddenly became a blank canvas. And with that, I started noticing the things I wanted to bring back into my living space… back into my life. Reading. Writing. Photography. This blog. I wanted it back, and like a shining light at the end of the tunnel it all became so clear what it is that I must do. It’s simple really. Just keep pursuing the things that interest you and eventually you will have an entire life that sparks joy. My room is a reflection of that now, surrounded only by the things that I love, absent of the things that no longer serve me, and open space for the person that I am growing into.
If you have been going through some difficulties in your life, as odd as it may sound, perhaps tidying up your living space could be of help.
Thank you, Marie Kondo.
by Jason Lam