Opportunity costs

Eric Kim wrote about the opportunity costs in street photography. Having gone down the path of a minimalist philosophy to simplify my life, it was the kind of read I would enjoy. Moreover, it was written by a photographer in the context of street photography, so it was no surprise that the article resonated strongly with me.

What is opportunity costs? Dictionary.com defines it as: the money or other benefits lost when pursuing a particular course of action instead of a mutually exclusive alternative. In other words, opportunity costs is in general what you lose when you choose to do something. This is usually applied in economics to describe monetary losses but it can also be used to describe other situations.

Opportunity costs in photography

As a long time reader of Eric’s blog, I have seen his transformation into a photographer who is really passionate about giving back to the street photography community. He has simplified his gear and transitioned from DSLR to a digital rangefinder and finally a film rangefinder. He seems to have cured himself of his gear acquisition syndrome and found a set of gear that has become an extension of his body. They are mere tools that help him create his art, but ones that he has become attuned with.

The opportunity costs in photography would be the money spent on gear that might not necessary improve your craft. For beginners, I always recommend sticking with the kit lens and mastering it. Once you have enough photos, you will be able to slowly see the pattern in the types of shots you prefer and the focal length that you use more often. When you feel that you are ready, spend on a lens that would improve your photos based on what you shoot more of.

Find the gear that suits your style instead of getting caught up with lusting for the newest and best camera and lenses available. What you spend on gear can be better invested in photography books and travelling. By photography books, I refer to books that showcases the works of master photographers in the genres you shoot. Scrutinise their works and reflect upon how they worked to get the shot, and you will learn a lot more than you can from a photography book that merely teaches you the basics or the theories.

Of course, I assume you have a solid foundation on the principles of photography. I highly recommend reading free online articles to pick up the fundamentals. Save your money for the book of photos by your favourite photographer. If you prefer to shoot with your phone camera, that is even better since you save on the costs of the camera and lenses as well.

Opportunity costs in life

We can look in opportunity costs in non-monetary losses as well. One very common factor that many of us find ourselves short of is time. We are constantly bombarded by the media, social media and the internet. There are many tasks screaming out for our attention, such as checking your email, reading articles, watching videos online, playing games, browsing social media, watching television and movies, and attending social engagements. Yet our time is limited. We only have twenty-four hours per day and about a third of that is spent sleeping.

Before you look into opportunity costs in life, you have to decide what is your meaning of life. From what perspective do you view and judge the world around you? It is easier to make a proper analysis once you have a yardstick to measure against. So why do we need to consider opportunity costs? For every decision we make, there are trade-offs. For example, you can choose to work longer hours to earn a greater income, but your opportunity cost would be having less time to spend with your loved ones and on your hobbies.

If you choose to pursue a stable job, you get a steady income but you have less time for your activities that you truly enjoy. On the flip side, you can choose your passion as your work, with the downside being a getting paid less. In both scenarios, you have to make certain sacrifices. So the key is knowing what matters more to you. That is why you should know what is important to you in life.

Consuming content

It is important to cut out the noise and avoid the distractions. Time spent surfing the internet consuming content that contributes nothing to your personal development means that you have less time for consuming useful content or even creating content. While it is perfectly fine to indulge in entertainment once in a while, it is important to know your priorities and be able to get back to being productive when you should.

My girlfriend and I used to watch movies regularly. Due to our conflicting work schedules, we only have limited time to go dating. This made us appreciate that rather than spend two to three hours in the cinema, there are more engaging ways to spend our time together. Yes, there are good movies that would still make us catch a show occasionally, but we no longer chase after every blockbuster that is released. Likewise, we have also eliminated time spent watching television. Our video entertainment comes in the form of YouTube clips. These are usually shorter than a TV drama and are mostly standalone storylines, which means we won’t end up chasing a series like we would a drama.

When I tracked the time spent on content consumption, I was shocked by the amount of time it took up. That made me look into cutting whatever that doesn’t contribute to my personal growth. If there was only one way I could consume content, it would be reading. Reading triggers your imagination and spurs your mind to think and reflect, especially when you consume good quality writing.

Rather than lose myself in the articles while I check my RSS feeds, I pump articles that I want to read to Pocket for reading during allocated time slots. I prefer to read during my daily commute and while winding down after a day’s work. This shortened the time spent checking through my RSS feeds and provides me with a constant source of good reads during my reading hours.

Social media

I have deleted Facebook from my phone. Thus, I’m unable to check my news feed or react to notifications instantly. I allow myself to check Facebook only when I have finished my daily tasks. Since I’m able to easily create and share posts on Facebook through system actions in iOS and OS X, I can create content while avoiding being sucked into browsing my news feed.

Twitter has become a medium to share content more than a source of content. I used to browse Twitter with a completionist mindset. That meant that I wanted to read every single tweet that was in my news feed. Nowadays, I only sign into Twitter to tweet.

Emails and messages

I only allow myself to check my email once a day, unless I’m expecting an email response, and I limit myself to an hour spent on emails. This freed up a lot of time because I used to spend hours in my email and check every email as they came in. I use email filters to sieve out the unimportant emails so that only the important ones arrive in my inbox.

Text messages do not need to be replied immediately. They are a way for others to reach you but unlike phone calls, they do not need you to respond to them instantly. I was able to focus a lot more once I managed to train myself to check my messages only at the start and end of the day.

Simplifying workflows

My iPhone used to be full of apps. At one point, I had hundreds of photography apps. Now, I use only VSCO Cam for post processing and Instagram for sharing. By distilling my workflow, I’m able to focus on the creating of the image instead of being distracted by having to think about which app to use. Moreover, freeing the space means having more storage capacity to capture more photos and videos.

Minimise the choices that you need to make so that you can channel your energy to decisions and tasks that matter. Automate your workflow to eliminate repetitive tasks. I use IFTTT to trigger cross-platform actions. OS X comes with Automator. And even my photo editing workflow uses actions to batch process my images. For email, there are filters to sort your email and keep your inbox uncluttered. If you are on iOS, Launch Centre Pro lets you access your favourite actions easily.


Our resources are limited. Time, energy, and focus. Recognise what is important to you and what holds you back. Avoid things that hold you back from the benefits that you want. Make your resources available to tasks that would put you a step closer to your dreams and goals.

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