What Motivates You to Make Photos?


Dear friend,

I want to write you a letter about motivation, “inspiration”, and the drive that compels you to make photos.

Shooting for the sake of it?

365 day projects. Weekly projects. Instagram #hashtags. These are all the gimmicks we put forth to stay “motivated” in our photography.

But this is the big problem: we make photos for the sake of making photos, rather than making photos that are meaningful.

What is “motivation”?

Melbourne, 2013
Melbourne, 2013 #portra400

If you are a procrastinator (like me); congratulations— you are a normal human being. While a lot of modern society tries to tell you that procrastination is a “disease” that you need to counter— it is just our mind’s built-in algorithm that helps us stay focused on what is important, and ignore what isn’t important.

Therefore if you aren’t motivated to do something— it honestly probably isn’t very important. But if you are motivated to do something, it is either intrinsically-rewarding, urgent, or important to do.

A lot of people think that procrastination is “illogical” and “irrational” — but I see it as our God-given gift to help filter the B.S. of daily life.

As with photography— I don’t think you should take photos for the sake of taking photos. You should only take photos because there is some deeper personal meaning for you.

Whenever I see something that is truly important to me, I don’t need to “force” myself to take a photograph. The camera naturally floats towards my hand, and I take the photograph. There is no effort necessary— similar to the Taoist concept of “wu-wei” (action without action). I think this is what the kung-fu masters meant when the body-mind is connected as one, and you “disappear into the act.”

Don’t photograph what you’re not motivated to shoot

London, 2013
London, 2013 #portra400

I think to find your style in photography is all about knowing what not to photograph.

For example, I am not motivated to take photos of landscapes. It isn’t that I don’t appreciate or love nature (I used to be a Boy Scout); but there isn’t anything personally meaningful to me in a beautiful sunset. I can still appreciate the sunset or landscape for what it is— but I don’t need to make a photograph of it.

However when it comes to meeting fascinating strangers with unique faces, I feel compelled and intrinsically-motivated to make a photograph of them. I have this spirit within my gut which tells me, “Eric, you must make this photograph— or you are going to deeply regret it later.”

I think we need to follow our gut more when it comes to making photos. Don’t give too much credence to the “rational” part of your mind.

I also am intrinsically-motivated to document my loved ones, especially Cindy and my close friends and family. I also have tried to cultivate a sense of appreciation of the beauty of the moment, and I think to myself, “This is a wonderful moment. I might want to reflect and appreciate this moment in the future.” Then I take a photograph.

The 3-step process of photography:

Singapore, 2013 #portra400
Singapore, 2013 #portra400

Which brings me to my three-step process of photography:

  1. Notice
  2. Appreciate
  3. Document

To notice something is getting harder and harder in today’s society (we are constantly distracted with social media, our devices, blogs, text messages, emails, music, games).

To appreciate something is also getting more difficult— in today’s society where we are becoming so affluent. It is hard to appreciate the fact that we have a super-computer that fits in our palm and fits in our back pocket, that has access to the sum of all of human knowledge. It is hard for us to appreciate the loved ones in our lives, until we lose them. It is hard for us to appreciate all these wonderful strangers in society (it is easier to complain, than appreciate—a natural human bias).

To document is to record, capture, and make that impression immortal. To “document” we can use a camera, we can write down a note, we can make a sketch. There are many different ways to document a moment— but for us as photographers, to document is to make a photograph.

I feel the documenting part of photography is easy. To just click the shutter.

I feel the noticing part is a little more difficult— we are constantly distracted, and trust me; we are only going to get more distracted, as smartphones and technology becomes more ubiquitous.

I feel the appreciating part of life (and photography) is the most difficult— to me, appreciation is happiness. Even if we had a billion dollars, if we didn’t appreciate it— would it really bring us happiness? Similarly, we could have all of our close and loved ones in our life— but without appreciation, could we ever really be “happy”?

Only shoot what motivates you

Tokyo, 2013
Tokyo, 2013

Don’t get trapped in any photographic dogma, genre, or “style.” Sometimes I am motivated to shoot a photo of my beautiful cappuccino. Sometimes I want to do a selfie with a cute dog I see on the streets (and send it to Cindy and her younger sister). Sometimes I like photographing buildings, sometimes I like photographing my own shadow, sometimes I like to photograph my loved ones, and sometimes I like to photograph strangers.

I feel that true liberation and freedom in photography is to be free of any sort of labels or genres. You are a unique, idiosyncratic, and one-of-a-kind human being. The way you see the world is unlike anything else.

So why photograph what doesn’t motivate you? Follow your gut— and photograph what is personally-meaningful to you.

Away with these assignments which force you to make photos for the sake of it. At the end of a year, you might have 365 photos— but photos that are shot without intrinsic motivation won’t have any soul to them. And your viewer will tell that there isn’t any soul in the photos.

Do what makes you happy

But once again; there are no “right” or “wrong” opinions in photography. If you find these “shoot a photo a day” projects help inspire and motivate you (in a positive way)— go for it. But if you’re like me, and feel trapped by these lame assignments, then just “do you” and live the artistic and creative life that makes your soul fly.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016 @ Free Speech Movement Cafe at UC Berkeley — feeling tired as shit (haven’t slept well in a while, but feeling appreciative of my life, and have some good ideas brewing— sorry for the bad coffee pun, I need more espresso).

Random updates

Downtown LA, 2013 #portra400
Downtown LA, 2013 #portra400

After a brief hiatus from social media, I went back on Crackstagram (Instagram), and while I see a lot of value to that platform— I overall find it too restrictive. Can you really show your artistic creativity and vision in just a 5’’ screen?

I have personally found more creative meaningful activities in writing, and specifically putting together more free PDF e-books on photography.

I hope you enjoy my “Street Photography 102” (intermediate/advanced street photography book), and I am currently re-working my “Street Photography 101” book. I also hope on putting together a “Personal Photography” book. Lots of fun projects to keep me motivated, and drinking (lots) of coffee. I have terrible dark-rings and bags under my eyes at the moment (not enough sleep), but I love this shit— and I love doing this work for you.

Special thanks to Fan from my NYC workshop for hooking it up with some espresso beans (Gregory Coffee “Night Vision” blend). Good shit.

Also currently jamming to “The Life of Pablo” by Kanye West– sonically a fantastic album, I’ve had it on loop (while writing all my e-books).

I also have a few spots open for my last workshops in America (for possibly the next 2-3 years) — so don’t miss out, and invest in an experience that will help take your street photography to the next level:

Articles on motivation and photography

Singapore, 2013 #portra400
Singapore, 2013 #portra400
  1. Follow Your Intuition
  2. Have Creative Confidence in Yourself
  3. How To Find Your Unique Voice in Photography
  4. Beginner’s Mind
  5. There is No Wrong Way to Shoot Street Photography
  6. You Can’t Control the Results, Only Effort
  7. On Capturing Beauty in the Mundane
  8. On Searching For the Maximum
  9. The Beauty of “Creative Constraints”
  10. How to Stay Curious
  11. Enjoy the Process