I wanted to write you a letter on patience– how to be patient in our photography, our personal lives, and how we approach growth and self-compassion.
To start off, I am not a patient person. I’m the guy who gets pissed off when Google Maps takes longer than a second (or two) to load, I’m the guy who wants his coffee immediately (that’s why I prefer espresso over pour-overs or drip coffee), and I can get easily frustrated when others around me (especially Cindy) take too long to make a decision (which I think is easy and obvious).
The socality lifestyle
Being down here in SoCal (Southern California, specially garden grove, Orange County) has taught me that life doesn’t need to be so rushed. I’ve been working hard to practice patience while I’m down here.
For example, Cindy and I joke that everything in Orange County is a 20 minute drive away. And it’s true. From our yoga classes, to the grocery store, and to the coffee shops.
We spend a lot of time in our car now (oh the joys of suburban living), yet I try to use that opportunity to practice my patience. I typically like to distract myself (always listening to music or podcasts while in the car), but now I’m trying to just enjoy the peace and the quiet during my commuting. And it’s been wonderful. The less noise means the more I’m actually able to listen to Cindy. The fewer distractions I have, the more I’m able to pay attention.
To take this to photography, we are always trying to rush the photographic process. Certainly digital photography and social media hasn’t helped. We go out and take photos, get something we think we like, and immediately process and upload it online. But a week or so later, we realize the photograph wasn’t as good as we thought it was.
I’ve been spending a lot more time barbecuing with Cindy and her family– and it certainly is true that the longer you marinate meat, the better it tastes (especially when you slow-cook it over a charcoal grille…yum).
Going back to cooking, Cindy and I have also been doing a lot more “braising” our meats by cooking pork on the stove with a really low temperature, or by cooking it with a “crockpot” for 5-6 hours. Cindy has been also making her own Pho (Vietnamese soup) in which she stews the bones in the broth for 2-3 days. Generally the longer we let it stew, the more flavor comes out, the richer it tastes, and the happier our stomachs.
The same goes with our photography. The ultimate counselor we have in our photography is time. The longer we sit on our photos and “marinate” them– the more insight and better judgement we have on our photos.
I’ve also found that sometimes I need years before I’m able to gain some sort of appreciation for certain photos. Not only that, but sometimes it also takes years to make me realize whether I really like a photograph or not. I find that certain photos I like more as time goes on, and there are certain photos I like less as time goes on. These are the photos you want to keep.
Nature is patient
Modern life is all about speed, efficiency, and optimization. But nothing in nature is like that.
A great redwood tree takes thousands of years to reach its heights. If you raise a child, you know how long it takes before they are able to function on their own. I’m interested in diet and fitness, and it takes a long time (slow and gradual) to lose weight and put on muscle. It isn’t something that happens overnight, or even in a week. It takes months and years.
When it comes to fruit and vegetables, you don’t want to pick them before they are ripe. If you pick them too soon, they will taste bitter. You can’t “force” fruits and veggies to grow any faster (unless of course, you use some unnatural growth hormones, which always have negative side effects).
Another thing to think about– when it comes to working out, you need to rest and relax your muscles. Your body doesn’t get stronger as you lift weights; it gets stronger when your body is resting and rebuilding its muscles.
So in your photography, your growth doesn’t happen as you’re taking photos. Rather, your growth in photography happens as you relax, let your photos marinate, and give yourself time to reflect and meditate upon your images.
I’ve found the most personal growth in my photography is when I reflect on my photography lifestyle and the reason why I take photos. By taking a break from social media, and not just mindlessly uploading photographs for the sake of it, I’ve discovered that I’m interested most in interacting with strangers (which leads me to shooting “street portraits”) and I value the love I have with my close friends and family (which leads me to shoot “personal photographs”– which often have more meaning than my street photographs).
Trust the process
So whenever people ask me to give feedback on their photos– the suggestion I give is “How do you feel about your photos?” I also recommend people to keep working on a project, to follow their gut (whether to continue it or kill it), and for them to get personal meaning from it.
Above all, to enjoy the process of photo making. I’ve found that I’m always the happiest while I’m in the process of working on a photography project. When I’m done with the project, I’m no longer happy– the effort, struggle, and work I put into the project is what is meaningful.
Also remember to be self-compassionate towards yourself. You probably have a full time job, a family to take care of, and other personal obligations. Know that photography is just one part of your life– not your entire life. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Just because you don’t become the worlds best photographer, a million followers on social media, doesn’t mean you haven’t become “successful” as a photographer. Success is always your own self-judgement of yourself.
Be patient with your photographic process, take your time, and enjoy the ride.