5 Creative Lessons Rick Rubin Can Teach You About Photography

paris 2015 eric kim street photography
Paris, 2015 #trix1600

I always like cross-pollinating creative ideas. For example, I am inspired by the zen-like philosophy of Rick Rubin, who sees himself (not) as a music producer, but a music reducer:

Some inspirational ideas from the music producer Rick Rubin:

1. Reduce

stockholm eric kim street photography
Stockholm, 2015 #trix1600

When Rick Rubin was collaborating with Kanye West to make his ‘Yeezus’ album, he told the story of taking songs away from the album:

“There was so much material we could really pick which direction it was going to go. The idea of making it edgy and minimal and hard was Kanye’s. I’d say, “This song is not so good. Should I start messing with it? Can I make it better?” And he’d say, “Yes, but instead of adding stuff, try taking stuff away.” – Rick Rubin

The lesson I learned is this: learn how to cut away the superfluous. Learn how to reduce.

When we’re making photos in the streets, learn how to reduce from the scene. To reduce a scene to the essence.

With composition, reduce to the essential forms.

When you’re working on a photo project, reduce the number of photos.


2. On minimalism

eric kim photography film trix 1600 kodak portugal
Portugal, 2015 #trix1600

“We talked a lot about minimalism. My house is basically an empty white box. When he walked in, he was like, “My house is an empty white box, too!”” – Rick Rubin

The more empty our homes, our minds, and our souls — the more we can let in creativity, ideas, and innovation.

Let us spend less time on social media, and looking at less ‘junk images.’ Let us empty ourselves, day after day. Like the Zen Buddhists, or the Taoists.

Reduce, reduce, reduce, subtract, subtract, subtract — let us seek stillness, and emptiness. Then let us start to fill our creative cores.

3. 10 songs

eric kim street photography - europe - 2015- trix1600 - leica - 35mm - black and white-0940
London, 2015 #trix1600

“Initially, he thought there were going to be 16 songs on the album. But that first day, before he even asked me to work on it, I said, “Maybe you should make it more concise. Maybe this is two albums. Maybe this is just the first half.” That was one of the first breakthroughs. Kanye was like, “That’s what I came here today to hear! It could be 10 songs!”” – Rick Rubin

I feel we can do the same in our photography and art– make our photo projects more concise. Rather than 16 photos in a project, let us aim for less — 10 photos.

Or we can also think: “Maybe this project is two projects.” You can release it in two ‘albums.’

How else can you limit yourself to 10 photos in your photography? If you could sum up your entire life as a photographer in 10 images, which images would they be?

For example, here are my favorite 10 photos.

  • Assignment: Put together a new portfolio of your 10 best photos

4. Just try out new ideas

eric kim street photography - kodak tri-x 1600-1494 cindy project
Berkeley, 2015 #cindyproject

When you have an idea for an art project, just try it out. You will never know until you try:

“I never decide if an idea is good or bad until I try it. So much of what gets in the way of things being good is thinking that we know. And the more that we can remove any baggage we’re carrying with us, and just be in the moment, use our ears, and pay attention to what’s happening, and just listen to the inner voice that directs us, the better. But it’s not the voice in your head. It’s a different voice. It’s not intellect. It’s not a brain function. It’s a body function, like running from a tiger.” – Rick Rubin

Don’t ask for feedback on ideas. Just do it. Experiment, tinker, and figure it out along the way.

5. Follow your intuition

eric kim street photography - kodak tri-x 1600-1321
Vancouver, 2015 #cindyproject

Rick Rubin shares the importance of following our intuition in art:

“Being open to using your instincts instead of going, “Oh, that’s not going to work.” Or listening to the part of your brain that goes, “Oh, that’s out of tune.” Or the part of your brain that says, “That’s too loud.” You have to shut off all of those voices and look for these special moments—these moments that you accept you have no control over. So much of my job is to not think—to be open to what’s there, and then use my intuition to see where it takes me.” – Rick Rubin

Rick Rubin shares his thoughts on following our instincts, and not telling ourselves “Oh, that’s not going to work.” We need to shut off part of our brains, and “…you have to shut off all of those voices.”

Not only that, but our job is to be open-minded, and to follow our intuition, and see where it takes us.

Follow your gut and intuition in photography. Just shoot whatever interests you, and when choosing your best photos, follow your intuition. Disregard that inner-critic in your head.

3 Creative Photography Assignments For You

eric kim street photography - kodak tri-x 1600-1149
Berkeley, 2015 #trix1600

Some assignments to help respire your creativity:

  1. Subtract from your photos: Don’t think of what to add, but what to *remove*
  2. Try out new ideas: Don’t ask for opinions on your ideas or feedback. Just try it out and see where your ideas take you.
  3. Empty yourself: Less social media, fewer sources of inspiration, more creating, and more doing.

For more assignments and creative ideas, pick up a copy of ‘Street Notes‘ or ‘Photo Journal

Re-inspire your photography:

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