Tommy Ku Photography

Choose your Own Adventure

GAS and spamming shots for gratification are bad for me, especially nowadays when film price have reached a new height and my available storage space for gears have reached a new low.

In 2021 and for the most of 2022 I used to blast through rolls of film on my newly acquired camera trying to get the shots developed as soon as possible for that slightly delayed gratification. Ever since I stopped my daily posting to Instagram, I have yet to find a better way to fuel my interest in photography.

Quick solution? Get more gears. Olympus 35RC/DC, Olympus XA2, a bunch of cheap Minolta SLRs and lenses, even an CCD from the heyday of digital cameras.

That, however, like other forms of addictions, quickly became expensive and ineffective when the rate and intensity of applying the "fix" remain unchanged.

Apparently gears helped sparking new interest in photography by introducing new challenges. Except that this challenge is to how to use the gear to produce pleasant photos, instead of trying to push my photography to the next level.

Film price has been raised to a ridiculous level from the time when I jokingly posted about Panorama: spamming the last few shots in 2021. Between 2021 and 2022 the film price has doubled and I have seen a 30% raise in film processing fee as well.

I feel guilty for spamming the last couple shots of a roll such that I can drop the film at a lab and see the photos, maybe then post them on Instagram for some quick likes on the same day.

All these factors combined has led me to one conclusion: there must be a better way to further my interest and improve my photography.

One of my earliest film shots taken using the Fujifilm QuickSnap SimpleAce

Learning from others

Luckily throughout 2022 I had been reading. There existed a lot of publications by seasoned photographers and experienced people focusing on sharing their thoughts and experience instead of talking about gears or film choice.

These books and posts were not written for quick likes or trying to sell something, they rarely even know how their works will be received in form of likes or comments, they are genuinely trying to share, and I found them the most valuable.

From which I learned a couple lessons I want to revisit here.

如果你买一件东西是因为喜欢它,那么不管它多贵,只要你负担得起,你都没有亏;但是如果一件东西你只是因为它便宜而买它,那么花再少的钱都是亏的。 (translated)
—《把力气花在你想要的生活上》 朱宏

From my experience in buying the Olympus 35RC, I have learned that there are many cameras out there that deserve love but not necessarily from myself, especially when I already have a camera of similar parameters that does the job better than the 35RC.

In the case of the Minolta SLRs, the bunch of kit lenses and the α 303si Super though, the total cost of the whole batch sums up to quite a big amount. So much so I could have use that money to buy the camera or lens that I actually want.

Now that I own them I can see merits in them. The α Sweet served me particularly well and I love it. However I only bought the later batch of Minolta cameras/lenses because they were bought simply because they were cheap. They can't seem to fulfill any more of my needs, now that my collection is more or less complete. As such, they feel like a waste to be owned by me instead of someone who'd use them to their full potential.

Public housing
Mamiya Press Super 23 was a camera I regret the most as it's very bulky and hard to use

一门心思钻到局部、枝叶细节里,甚至器材、器物之美的玩味里去,看上去好像成了精,事实上仍在地面或者说还在一个坑里徘徊。武术中有一句话叫“花拳入门,错了一生”,一辈子没有摸到纯朴、实用的主脉,以致“周旋左右、满片花草”,这个一生的错,代价似乎太大了一点。 (translated)

I feel fortunate to have found my cure for GAS before I go on to buy more expensive gears and waste yet more money. At this point I am happy with what I have and the focus may be shifted towards producing photos that please me with these gears.

The oldest camera in my possession, the Fujifilm XT-20 with its kit Fujinon XF 18-55mm F2.8 lens have never stopped amazing me as I kept pushing the system to its limit and finding new ways to use it in different situations. That's how it should be with the rest of my gears—shoot them enough times that I feel comfortable using any of them in any situation.

Picnic people in inspiration lake
A lot of time was wasted subjecting a new camera to typical shooting situation to see how it performs

好东西都不费劲。连通着思想的快门,本来就是一扇正常之门。 (translated)

There are times when I am out shooting, and I was almost all ready to take the shot until a sudden hesitation hits. Should I just go ahead with just taking the shot, at the cost of potentially better shots in the future, or should I skip this one and go look for a better shot, knowing that I will be left with one unsatisfying shot.

I have shot tens of thousands of photos and I can reliably tell that the good ones shock my emotion the moment they are taken, and the mediocre ones quickly fill me with a level of regrets. Moreover, the most regretful ones are usually those that I took while aimlessly wandering trying to finish the roll.

While it's natural to feel the urge to take home some trophy (photos), the regrets just won't go away once they have been materialized on the film.

Take the camera home, finish the roll next time. Save some money and regrets.

Crappy shot in a tunnel
Crappy last few shots of the roll that I regretted dearly

他說,很多時候人們從同一點出發,有人會勉強自己做一些事,有了第一次還有第二次;而有人一開始就彆扭,堅持初心,有了第一次,也會有第二次,時間一長,必然越走越遠。 (translated)

Don't just do trendy stuff. If something is really popular, I tend to think: back off. I tell myself and my students to go with your own aesthetics, what you think is important. Don't do what you think other people think you want to do, but what you really want to do yourself. That's been a guiding heuristic for me all the way through.
—Donald Knuth

Analogue photography itself became a trendy stuff when the influencers flocked social media with their gears and film reviews, forming the phenomenon so-called "Analogue Revival". Look, all they talk about are what are the best gears and film stocks to use.

No, I didn't get into film photography because it seemed trendy at the time. Hell, I wouldn't have gotten the Ansco Memar had I read at least one camera review.

I stopped doing what Instagram wanted me to do (produce content). And I avoided the most "popular" camera (fully mechanical SLRs/Leica-like RF/TLRs) like a plague because they are what the influencers wanted me to want, and I don't really want them.

To be able to stand firm on what oneself wanted is very difficult. There are times when what I wanted is also what's heavily advertised. Take the example of the crappy Ektar H35 vs Olympus PEN EE2, I followed my heart and chose the less "trendy" Olympus PEN EE2 and I'd never regret that.

I am not saying that doing stuff that are deemed "trendy" is a bad thing, if that's what you want. There is a simple test to tell what's trendy. If people who had nothing to do with the subject began doing that and remained at the "entry level" they are probably doing them for the sake of looking trendy.

Peng Chau junk pile
Junk pile in Peng Chau begging people to photograph and post to Instagram in attract more visitors

Enjoy the process of whatever you're doing — you'll be happier, and much more likely to practice, which leads to better outcomes.
—Brian Timar

Think of all the knowledge that isn't shared because people think that all their best ideas have been written down before and they have nothing new to contribute
—David Perell

One of the most important learning is "try to have fun". Sometimes not being able to create photos that I like annoys me and ruining the mood in a photoshoot. Recently I have been able to control myself and reset after a short break after I have realized that my mood is affected.

In my trip to Shek Lung Kung I learned that the process is as important as the final outcome.

To top it all, being able to share the experience adds an additional layer to the fun one can have from any given shoot.

Flower shot in good light that pleases me

Continuing photography

Adulthood, especially in modern life, demands so much from every individual. The many "success criteria" that were imposed upon us by tradition, family, peers and the society demand us to be rich, healthy, passionate, impactful, multi-skilled, and happy.

Shying away or denying any of these criteria makes oneself doubtful of one's worth. Am I a loser by giving up to achieve any of these?

People say it's OK to just be one's true self. However when one's true self is revealed, it may not match the society's expectation. Why is the one's true self always seems worthless when it is not popularly received?

All the stress come from this lack of freedom, the freedom to choose one's own adventure, and to deny any other adventures others expect us to participate in.

I choose photography as my pursuit, in my own way, for my own pleasure. That's how I think I can continue my work, and continue to exist as a personal with individuality.

Yes, I am blaming everyone buy myself for my current suffering. The expectations I thought people had to me, and the opinions on my work that I thought are unjust. Let me try it my way, and once I have ran out of things to blame, I will come to blame myself, to critically see myself and my work as I should.

Let's see.