How to Level Up in Your Photography

eric kim street photography -sapa-0005957-2
Sapa, 2017

Dear friend,

I will share some thoughts on how to level up in your photography:

1. Increase challenges in your photography

The first step to leveling up in your photography is to increase your personal challenges in photography.

For me, that meant changing from a 35mm lens to a 28mm lens. After shooting 35mm for about 10 years, I decided I wanted more of a challenge. Shooting 28mm was a lot more difficult. I had more clutter on the edges of the frame, and more difficulty getting close to my subjects.

But whenever we challenge ourselves, we give ourselves the opportunity to grow.

In the gym, you would never get stronger if you lifted the same weight. You need to increase the challenge in the gym — you need to increase the weight, the repetitions, or the intensity.

You can increase challenges in your photography by trying to add more depth in your photos.

You can increase challenge in your photography by simplifying the scene more.

You can increase challenge in your photography by getting closer to your subjects, by interacting with your subjects, or doing anything that is outside of your comfort zone.

2. Make each photo a little better

I played a lot of video games as a kid. Often to level up, you had to “grind” by killing tons of monsters, for hours on end.

Each time you killed a new monster, you only received a small percentage of ‘experience points.’ Yet over time, these experience points added up— which helped you (eventually) level up.

So in your photography, consider whenever you go out and shoot, you are adding some ‘experience points’ to yourself. As for myself, I try to strive to make each photo a little better than the photos I’ve shot in the past. I try to do this by shooting with more emotion and soul, by trying to get more eye contact in my photos, more emotional hand-gestures, by having less clutter in the background, or adding more depth or layers in my photos.

Of course each time you click the shutter, you won’t make a good photo. But the more you swing your bat, the more likely you are to hit a home run.

Also another way you can think about this: whenever you upload a new photo online or publish an image, ask yourself— “Is this photo a little better than the previous photo I shared?” Remember: people judge you by your last photo.

3. Take more risks

In photography and life, the only way you can level up is by taking more risks.

In video games, you cannot level up by constantly fighting the same low-level monsters. You need to take a risk, and fight the bosses. You have a chance of dying. You have a chance of losing all your equipment. You have a chance of failing.

But the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward.

So if you want to take a risk in your photography, pursue a photography project that you are interested in — but what you perceive might be challenging or difficult.

Another risk you can take in your photography is by working in a new style that is totally foreign to you. If you’re used to shooting minimalist photos, try to shoot more complex photos with depth and layers. If you prefer using telephoto lenses, try to use wide-angle lenses.

Also publish and share photos which you think your audience won’t like (but you like). Don’t be afraid to re-invent yourself like Bob Dylan, Pablo Picasso, or Kanye West.

Also when you see photos you want to shoot, don’t think too much. Just shoot it. Take more risks in your photography by getting closer, by ‘working the scene’ more, or by approaching subjects that might scare you. Or photograph in a place that makes you feel uncomfortable (within reasonable bounds).

Level up

Push yourself— this is the only way you can take yourself to the next level.

Be strong,

Learn more: Motivation >