Shooting With “Abundance” or “Scarcity” – A Creative Choice

Shooting With “Abundance” or “Scarcity” – A Creative Choice

Do you shoot with an “abundance” mental approach? Or is your choice to shoot from a mental state of “scarcity”?

It makes a difference, you know. It makes a difference in how you approach your subject matter. It makes a difference in the way you see the world. It can have a dynamic effect on your imagery, and on the work that you do in post.

Scarcity breeds contempt and anger, while abundance nurtures awareness and action.

An example – and I will use the old me as the example, as I used to have a scarcity mentality. I looked at the glass of water and saw it as half empty. In fact, I wanted to know who stole the rest of the water that should have been in there so I could kick his ass.

Heading out for a shoot, I would think about what I didn’t have. What gear I wished I had that would of course make the shot way better. I didn’t have the time I needed to prepare, or do the proper scouting. I would find fault with every thing on the set, and be a taskmaster to create perfection. Anything less was not going to be good enough, and I didn’t achieve perfection – ever. No one who lacked as much as I did could ever come close to perfection.

Creative LIVE, April 5, 6, 7, 2012

Scarcity. A constant focus on what I did not have. Whether gear, or time, or money, or…


It only stands to reason, doesn’t it? I didn’t have the lens I “needed” or the lights I “needed” or the time or the prep or the models or the stylist or the portfolio or the…

So how damn good did I think I was? How good could I have ever thought I was lacking all the basic stuff the ‘other guys’ had.

If not having shit was an award, I was quickly running out of shelf space.

I would come home depressed because the shoot didn’t go the way I had planned on it going. I had fully developed that shoot in my mind and had everything set from the moment I got there till the moment we wrapped it. And, shockingly, the shoots usually didn’t go as I had so meticulously planned.

I lacked control.

Understand something: I was doing good work. With good equipment. With fabulous models and the best stylists in town. I wasn’t shooting crap. I just wasn’t shooting what I thought I should be shooting. I had great clients who loved my work (idiots) and a super team that seemed to like me (fakers).

I was in scarcityville. I lacked… well, everything.

It sucked.

And when you live in the sucky scarcityville, nothing will make it go away. Getting a brand new shiny Toyo 4×5 was not as thrilling as it should be… should have been a Horseman. And when it was a Horseman, it should have been a Sinar. Balcars? Bullshit… should have been Broncolors.

You see “scarcityville” is a state of mind that cannot be changed by reality. No amount of gear or cool lights or great clients would move my ass out of scarcityville… it was home. It was as comfortable as an easy chair. No responsibility for anything, scarcity was the problem. No worries, everything sucked anyway. Stuff goes wrong and it was eeezy peeezy to find someone or something to blame it on.

Scarcityville… Population? We don’t know, not enough to count… what about the term scarcity do you not understand?

Changing that way of looking at the world was hard. And it took time and a mentor or two that came along to kick my ass out of scarcityville. They were like mental realtors from hell. They foreclosed on my little dump in suck city, and made me get a sweet little condo over in “Abundance”.

It was different.

There was no one else to blame when things went awry, it was my responsibility. I didn’t lack anything, I made great use of what I had. And there was not a personal attack when shit happened, shit simply happened.


When working from an abundance mentality, you have everything you need to do what you need to do. That doesn’t mean you have everything you WANT, it means you have everything you need.

A scarcity mentality means looking for photographs that you cannot do. An abundance mentality means letting the images you can do reveal themselves to you.

A scarcity mentality means finding excuses for failure, when failure is not at hand. An abundance mentality means that there is no failure if what is achieved is excellent.

Scarcity means not letting go of what is wrong to find what is right. An abundance mentality means letting what is right guide you to the work you want.

Don’t have a 300MM f2.0 lens? I can think of a lot of shots that would require that lens to do them justice. I can also imagine there are about a gazillion and a half images that could be made without it. Which do you want to concentrate on; the ones you cannot do because you lack the lens, or the ones you can do with your nifty 100MM f2.8?

I read it on forums and I hear it in workshops. A constant drone of “I need to get” and “if only I had a ____”… in order to make photographs.

Bullshit. A camera and a lens is all you need to make photographs. We get so mired in what the other guy has to make his photographs, or the cool lens she has to do those amazing ‘bokeh’ images… (wtf is ‘bokeh’ anyway? I call it shallow depth of field), that we fail to make any images at all.

Here’s a clue, Sherlock… getting that lens will not solve the problem, it only alters the “need”. The problem is from thinking about what you do not have instead of being in tune with what you do have. And you will instantly find yourself ‘needing’ some other thing, the cool lens was not enough.

OK – sounds like I’m preaching here.

And well, I’m preaching here.

Develop an abundance mentality that allows what you do have to be more important than what you don’t have. Be aware of the limitations of course, but instead of letting that inhibit your creativity, let it be a catalyst for doing something extraordinary.

Take responsibility for all that surrounds you, and stop blaming your choices for getting in the way. If something is truly a problem, eliminate it. Start over. Trade it in.

Change what you can, and leave the rest to rust.

I think that the way we look at our work can influence the way we look at our lives and relationships and careers as well. An abundance mentality in those areas can be as equally important.

I learned to see the glass of water as not half full, or half empty. It was a glass of water that held as much as I poured into it. It was my choice on how much to fill it. It was my glass of water. It was perfect.

But I won’t go any further… I’m done preaching and I need a smoothie.

I would love to know how you think about your shooting. Do you see your self as working from an abundance mentality or a scarcity one? How do you plan on changing it… if you indeed plan on changing it?

Till next time…


Just before I was to hit the “publish” button, I got an email from Leslie Burns. She sent a link to one of the most poignantly written posts I have ever read.

“It turns out that my training and experience had equipped me perfectly for this epic act of self-deceit. This was my gig. My schtick. Constructing a compelling and convincing argument to buy, from the thinnest of evidence was what we did. “Don’t sell the sausage. Sell the sizzle” as we were taught at ad school.


Countless late nights and weekends, holidays, birthdays, school recitals and anniversary dinners were willingly sacrificed at the altar of some intangible but infinitely worthy higher cause. It would all be worth it in the long run.


This was the con. Convincing myself that there was nowhere I’d rather be was just a coping mechanism. I can see that now. It was’nt really important. Or of any consequence at all really. How could it be. We were just shifting product. Our product, and the clients. Just meeting the quota. Feeding the beast as I called it on my more cynical days.


So was it worth it?


Well of course not. It turns out it was just advertising. There was no higher calling. No ultimate prize. Just a lot of faded, yellowing newsprint, and old video cassettes in an obsolete format I can’t even play any more even if I was interested. Oh yes, and a lot of framed certificates and little gold statuettes. A shit-load of empty Prozac boxes, wine bottles, a lot of grey hair and a tumor of indeterminate dimensions.”

Read the whole thing here.

Then hug your family a little tighter, and take some time to live.

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  1. “Changing that way of looking at the world was hard. And it took time and a mentor or two that came along to kick my ass out of scarcityville. They were like mental realtors from hell. They foreclosed on my little dump in suck city, and made me get a sweet little condo over in “Abundance”.”

    This is exactly what you and our lovely P52 family have helped me do. :)

    • Good post.I think most start out in scarcity ville, something heavily promoted by all the mentality on the Internet and all the guys trying to sell you gadgets, the next cool camera, a workshop, a book, just about anything. Because as long as they keep you scarcity ville, you will be easy prey to buy stuff you really don’t need.

      Changing that mentality is indeed hard, but in my mind a critical step on the journey from amateur to pro. That’s when you switch your mind from being about gear, and switch towards making images with whatever you happen to have at hand. Sure you can make a living in scarcity ville and shoot great photos, so it’s not about going pro in terms of business, but going pro in terms of approach.

      I don’t remember when the switch flipped for me, it was more than 2 years ago, but I’ve definitely started enjoying what I’m doing a heck lot more. Actually it’s also when more of my own style emerged – because my style was more driven by what I had in my head, instead of whatever gizmo or blogpost I was chasing…

      Interestingly enough though, when I read the headline of your post, I was first thinking of another scarcity/abundance trajectory. Do you shoot when you have something visualized and make it happen, even if that means you only shoot every other day (scarcity), or do you shoot constantly everything around you that catches your eye, whether fits your mental game plan or not (abundance). The abundance is the iPhone/Best Camera approach, the scarcity is the traditional artist approach. No right/wrong, just an observation in approach (for another day).

  2. Many years ago, when laptop computers were first coming out, I knew a guy who wanted one. So he picked one out, and started saving his money.

    About the time he had enough money to get it, a new laptop came out that all sorts of fancier. He decided he had to have that one, instead. But it cost even more, so he started saving. About the time he had enough money, an even fancier one came out. Well, he had to have it, and since it cost even more money, he started saving.

    You can guess the rest — he never did get his laptop.

    The same thing can happen to photographers, too. We want, want, want, but for some reason , it’s out of reach, so instead of making do or changing our goals, we sit back and wait. And never shoot any photos.

    But it’s not just equipment. I was talking to a friend the other day who was bemoaning the fact that he and I live in a place that is not particularly picturesque. At least HE doesn’t think so, and many times, I agree with him. But that doesn’t stop me from going out and shooting. As a matter of fact, there is another photographer around these parts who just published his 17th coffee table book of landscape photos of this dreary, unphotogenic little state.

    17 photo books vs none. My first friend is blind to the abundant possibilities, and my second is blind to the limitations. It’s our choice.

  3. Whoa! That hits like a ton of bricks. I need to remember my own byline… “Love what you do. Do what you love”

    Life sweeps us by very quickly and we can miss the whole point. I do live in abundance. I have a wonderfully supportive wife and friends, a great online groups of friends and mentors at Project 52, and the desire to do what I do.

    Thanks for the post today Don!

  4. “An abundance mentality means letting the images you can do reveal themselves to you.” That really resonates with me. For a long time I felt that I did “good” work. But, nothing I created spoke to me. It was pretty girls and not much more. I censored myself based on what I thought others would like.

    I’m more than half-way through my first 365 and I’ve learned to let images reveal themselves to me and not to sensor myself by worrying what anyone else would think.

    All that matters is that my work means something to me; as long as I accomplish that nothing else matters.

    And, I absolutely love the lead image in this post; it’s images like that with a story waiting to be told that really push me forward.

  5. Life is more fun when you live from abundance.

  6. “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
    ? Roald Dahl

    I was born an old woman in a child’s body in Scarcityville, I spent many years believing I was ugly, stupid and worthless, and “If only I had better” whatever was my life’s theme waiting to be called out for the charlatan I was, fooling people into giving me whatever job I wanted yet it was never enough.

    Now I am a child in an almost old woman’s body living in Joy, a suburb of Abundance. I am aware of the shortness of life and the length of the things I want to do. I am reminded today that there are more important things. sometimes I forget.

    Thank you for the powerful words…I will bookmark it to read again or share as needed.

  7. This was a very timely post for me. I read it a few days ago, and I was glad it came back to me today.

    Recently, for various reasons, I sold all my “professional” photo gear. At the moment all I’ve got are a Micro Four Thirds camera and a few favorite lenses. Today, I was using this spartan kit for one of my pro-bono gigs: documentary shots of a ballet company rehearsal.

    There was a writer there from one of the weekly free newspapers, doing a feature about one of the dancers. He said casually: “Maybe you could set up a photo with her that we could submit for the cover.”

    Getting a chance at the cover would be great. But inwardly I was panicking: “I can’t do a cover shot! I sold my Nikon! I sold my 70-200/2.8! I don’t have any strobes! I don’t have any modifiers! I didn’t even bring a tripod!”

    Then I remembered Don’s article, and I realized I was thinking in terms of scarcity instead of abundance. I didn’t have all that stuff, but I did have everything I actually needed: a camera, a medium-tele lens, and an abundance of beautiful light coming in the studio windows — light I couldn’t have duplicated with every piece of strobe gear I had ever owned.

    So after the rehearsal I snaffled our dancer, put her in that light, and made some pictures. You can see the one I picked on Flickr [link below.] I don’t know if it will make the cover — but I liked it, and I was glad I remembered this post.