On the importance of providing value and being open to receive

One of the biggest epiphanies I have had is the importance of giving value. I’m pretty sure that when I was younger I was constantly thinking about taking. How can I make life better for myself? Me, me, me, me, me!

I’ve tried to shift this to “what can I do to I give value to others?” type of mentality.

Value can be anything. It can be providing good emotions, a pleasant social interaction, connecting people, finding out what somebody needs and then finding a way to provide it to them, etc.

The concept of giving value or taking value becomes super apparent in social interaction. E.g. imagine you’re doing street photography and you see someone really cool on the street and ask if you can take a portrait of her. Now, even if I ask to take a photo of her – or him, I can either give value or take value.

On the surface, it might look as if I’m only taking, as in “I’m taking a photo of them”. I get something, and they don’t. However, I really try to avoid that. By no means do I want to leave anyone with the feeling that something was taken from them.

If I would just ask for their photo and then run away without saying anything, that’s probably taking. If I smile, compliment them, ask them a couple of questions and keep chatting even after “getting” the photo and therefore “make their day better”, that might be more like giving value.

It’s important to be able to receive in order to give. Some people think companies are bad and “this corporate” culture is evil. What they often fail to realize is that these companies (not all, of course, there surely are some rotten apples) make money in order to provide more value. They market their stuff > they sell > they make money > they put the money back into the company (create jobs, improve their products) > provide more value.

There’s a lot of organizations that have a really good cause but they block themselves off from receiving. They don’t market, they don’t ask for money and because they’re not opened to receive, they can’t really give out much. You can’t give, give, give and give indefinitely. You can’t keep generating value out of nothing, you have to receive as well.

Sure “these rich people” pocket a lot of the money by themselves. So what? Are they bad people because of that? In most cases they deserve it. They’ve provided tons of value, so is it a bad thing to have some for themselves?

Again, I am aware that there are some people who are not worried about giving and only want to take. I don’t believe they last very long.

So, it doesn’t work to just take and take and it doesn’t work to only give. I really believe it’s the law of the universe. If you take, you have to give and also vice versa.


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Everyone’s a photographer until M

I see a lot of these “Everyone’s a photographer until M” T-shirts on Instagram. For those of you who don’t know, M stands for manual mode in a camera. The slogan is implying that unless you know how to shoot in manual mode, you’re not a real photographer.

This gear-related mentality in the photography scene is enormous. I follow some photography related pages on Instagram and read some articles and some comments, and it’s all about gear. Everything is about models and pixels and technicalities.

It’s a disease.

There’s a famous Penn-Hemingway interaction that supposedly went something like this:

Ernest Hemingway to Irving Penn: “Your photos are really good. What camera do you use?” Irving Penn to Ernest Hemingway: “What typewriter do you use?”

People tend to think they can buy skills. If you buy this new camera, you will take better pictures, which is obviously not true. I know, I tried this. It doesn’t work at all.

Now, coming back to the “Everyone’s a photographer, until M.” It’s the same thing. As if, if you know how to shoot in manual mode, you’re more of a photographer than someone who doesn’t.

It’s irrelevant. A camera is a tool. Just because you know all the technical settings doesn’t make you a better artist. It should be fairly obvious, yet so many photographers refuse to get it.

E.g., for me, it doesn’t make any sense to shoot in manual mode. At all. I know how to do it, but I never do.

I get it; a lot of photographers take pride in it. Look, at the end of the day, no one cares if the photo was shot in manual mode, aperture priority, shutter priority, p-mode or whatever else mode. The result is what counts. Shooting in manual mode won’t make the photos any more valuable.

Besides, if you don’t have to spend time and energy on fiddling around with all the knobs, the more time you have to think about composition, perspective, lighting, etc.

One of the best photography wisdom I got from Eric Kim was to shoot in P-mode. Now, this is mostly only applicable to street photography where shooting in manual mode is quite tricky as the people move in different speeds, your lighting changes (as you might move from light to shadow) and all that — too many variables to keep in mind. You would constantly have to readjust and can’t focus on just shooting.

I set my ISO to 1600 on a bright sunny day and choose automatic aperture and automatic shutter speed. If it’s cloudy, I might amp the ISO up to 6400. Now, ISO 1600 sounds super high on a sunny day, but since it’s so high, the shutter speed will also be quite high. Usually around 1/500″ – 1/1000″ and above which makes sure the pictures will be sharp as there won’t be any motion blur.

This basically converts the camera into a point-and-shoot. This is all I do. I point and click the button. Super easy. I rather have some noise on my image than blur.

Of course, when I shoot landscapes or portraits or something that doesn’t act unpredictably, I can choose auto ISO as I won’t need high shutter speeds.

Manual mode doesn’t mean anything. It’s possible to take professional pictures without using manual mode. I mean, if you give a camera to a professional and tell him or her that he can’t use the manual mode, he or she would still produce great images. Then again, you can give the camera to some engineer who knows the camera inside out and calculates perfect ISO-shutter speed-aperture increments in his head while considering the light and white balance and he might not produce excellent images at all.

The simpler you can make things, the better. Usually. I still choose a manual gearbox over an automatic one any day, even though the latter is “easier.” But then again, knowing how to use a stick shift, doesn’t make one a better driver.


Photography: vertical vs horizontal, how to know?

Ever wondered why some photos are shot in horizontal (landscape mode) and others in vertical (portrait mode)? I know I have. In fact, I used to think it may be a random choice. If you want to fit a person from head to toe, then you choose vertical and if you make a photo of a sunset, then you choose horizontal.

I did a quick google, just to see what the top answer is. It’s this:

In photography, landscape format, when the image is wider than it is tall, is perfect for the majority of landscape photographs. However, portrait format creates a picture that is taller than it is wide. … You’ll automatically know which format, landscape or portrait, is best before you bring the camera to your eye.

Sure, the examples apply perfectly fine but sometimes the scene is not that straightforward. There’s couple of things to consider.

First thing is to look for the vertical and horizontal lines in the scene. E.g. strong horizontal lines give you the hint to shoot in horizontal and vice versa. Landscapes vs tall buildings.

Luxembourg, 2019

Second, ask yourself what do you want to emphasize. There might be a really strong horizontal line but if your subject forms a vertical line, then you might choose vertical instead. Because you want to emphasize or separate your subject.

Luxembourg, 2019

There is no rule. Yes, it can be a thing of a feeling, but there’s a bit more to that.

The point of this article was to simply show you the bigger picture. That it might not always be a matter of a feeling or a random choice.

For me it’s a matter of a feeling, but since I now know this, I might consciously search the vertical and horizontal lines before taking the picture. Better yet, it’s always a good idea to not only take as many photos of a scene as possible, but also change between landscape and portrait modes. Later you can pick the best one.

E.g. regarding the photo above. I think it maybe would’ve been even better had I shot it in portrait mode as there is a very strong vertical line between the two ladies. And instead including both of them, just include the lady on the right.

That’s that. Hopefully you got some ideas.