Jeremiah Rogers

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Making Your Own Luck

I’ve taken 18,000 photos with my camera and only consider about 100 good enough for publication. What’s become apparent in editing all of these images is that many of the best ones were not taken when I started an event planning to take great pictures. My best photos were taken when I just forced myself to pick up a camera and start shooting, even in an uninteresting environment.

Getting a good photo seems to come down to shooting a lot of pictures, shooting them well, and having luck about the outcome. Although good photography takes luck, I’ve found that I can maximize how lucky I am.

I carry my camera with me all the time but not always around my neck. If something interesting happens I can pull the camera out quickly1. Instead of even waiting for something amazing to happen I often follow Eric Kim’s advice to take one street every day. Once I take a single photo I often take ten or twenty more, which maximizes the luck of finding one good shot at the end of the month.

Similarly I’ve gotten much more writing done lately, not all of it shared. I used to wait until I had a good idea and then write it down when I got to my computer. Now I create a placeholder note for myself no matter where I am using Notational Acceleration. I write down the main ideas that I want to get across and then flesh them out into a full post later at a keyboard. By saving these ideas, even the bad ones, I have ten or more potential articles to write any time that I sit down at my computer. Many of these drafts get thrown away, but the process maximizes luck that one draft will turn into a good idea.

People tend to apply more weight to negative outcomes than to positive ones. I know that I do, look at my writing about taking portraits in Beijing. I was scared to ask to take pictures of people in the streets only because a few people had yelled at me when I asked. That’s dumb. Getting yelled by someone who is afraid to have their picture taken isn’t so bad. The payoff of getting a great collaborative portrait is much higher.

In the end I think that maximizing luck comes down to avoiding loss aversion. I try not to be afraid of what I might lose and focus instead on what I might gain. The cost of carrying a camera everywhere, writing a bad draft, or even getting rejected when asking for a picture is way lower than the positive reward of having a good turnout. So I maximize luck by trying many different things, staying ready for situations that will benefit me, and abandoning the ideas that don’t go anywhere.

  1. If something happens and I can’t get my full camera out, I just use my phone. Having a smart phone with a decent camera maximizes luck. You don’t need the best camera in the world: image quality is rarely about pixels, it’s about content. [return]