As photographer-artists, we all strive to make beautiful photos. But how do we do it?
We edit our photos, to elevate[editus] them.
In the past, a photo-editor (for TIME) magazine was an individual who SELECTED your photos, and decided how to sequence/show your photos.
Now– when we say “edit” our photos, we mean to say “post-process” our photos (adjust contrast, black and white, cropping, etc).
But what does it really mean to edit a photo?
- The art of selecting your best photos (deciding which photos to keep or which photos to ditch)
- Post-editing (image-manipulation afterwards)
The purpose of editing is to elevate your photos — to make them stronger.
1. Choosing your best work
First of all, when you’re out shooting photos, you determine which scenes or people you want to photograph.
Then what you do is ‘work the scene‘ — shoot lots of photos of the same scene.
When you get home, you look at your ‘contact sheets‘, and determine the best version of the photo.
2. Determining the best composition
How do you know which photo is your best?
Deconstruct and analyze the photograph, in order to figure out *why* you like the picture.
For example, look how I analyze the composition of my photo below:
3. Figure to ground test
The next thing I like to do is to test the ‘figure to ground’ — to see whether there is clear separation between the subject and background.
A simple way to do this:
Increase the contrast and brightness to the max — to better see the separation.
You can also add ‘gaussian blur’ in photoshop– to better see the edges of your photo:
Then you can paint in the details — using Photoshop and the Polygonal lasso tool, and filling the colors:
Voila– you’ve made your own abstract Picasso.
4. Experiment with different color overlays
Try out using different color overlays; to re-vision your photos in new ways.
For example, a red color mask overlay (in Photoshop with the ‘darken’ overlay function in Layers):
Or just keep fucking around with the filters, until you get strange things like this:
5. The tyranny of photographers
Ultimately, the tyranny of photographers from the past is this:
They told us what we couldn’t do (what was ‘forbidden’ in the art of photography), and what we *should* do (according to their tyrannical philosophy).
For example, I love Henri Cartier-Bresson to death, but he was the ultimate tyrant. He made all the rules of photography (no crop, no color film, no wide-angle lenses or telephoto lens, no flash, etc). Yet at the end of his life, he renounced photography. and said something like:
Photography isn’t as legitimate as painting. Painting is the ultimate visual-art-form.
Thus for the rest of his life, Henri Cartier-Bresson just sketched, painted — work which paled to comparison to his magnificent photos.
Why did Henri Cartier-Bresson renounce photography? My theory: He was such a self-tyrant on himself, he didn’t allow himself to evolve and change (like his contemporary, Josef Koudelka).
There are no rules to editing. Do whatever you want.
Be fiercely aggressive in your experimenting. Know there are still so many new photos, compositions, and visual images which don’t yet exist!
If you need some inspiration in your street photography; here is some ideas I offer:
1. Why do you make photos?
The first question to ask yourself:
Why do I make photos?
And then after that,
Why do I like to shoot street photos?
For myself, I consider myself a visual sociologist. I like to use photography as a tool to better understand humans and society around myself. Thus, I consider street photography as an enjoyable, fun, challenging, and important approach/task in my life.
I also really like the aesthetics of street photography. I like how the street photos look! I like the dynamic energy of street photos, and even if I could never share my photos with others, I would still shoot them! Why? I like looking at my own street photographs, especially my old street photos!
2. Inspiration in street photography
I like the idea that you can find inspiration from your own photos! This means:
Look at your old street photographs, and re-inspire yourself by looking at your past work that you like!
This is my idea:
When a lot of time has elapsed, you often forget about your old photos. Thus, when you look at your old photos– you get pleasantly surprised and excited by your photos! You judge your photos more objectively; almost as if someone else shot them!
This is the test:
If you look at your photos (and imagine if someone else shot them) — would you still like it?
Let this be your inspiration!
3. External inspiration
Of course you can find inspiration from other photographers in history! My suggestion:
Study the masters from the past — especially the dead photographers whose work still resonates with us today.
This is the reason:
If their work has endured for a long time– it is because it is great!
To myself, the only way to determine whether certain artwork is great or not:
Whether the artwork can survive the ruthless jaws of time.
In Horace’s “Art of Poetry” (Ars Poetica), he says:
A poet is great if their work lasts at least 100 years.
Thus my practical suggestion:
Look at very old photographs — you will probably get more inspiration from the old and classic photos, than anything modern.
Not because modern is worse than classics; it is that modern things haven’t been tested yet. Thus, there is more noise in modern artwork and photography. There are a lot of modern photographers whose work will exist 100 years from now– but the problem is, we don’t yet know! (Nassim Taleb’s concept of the ‘Lindy Effect’).
Thus with music, artwork, films, cinema, poetry, literature, etc–
Best to study the classics.
4. My favorite masters from the past
My personal favorite street photographers to study:
This is who I consider my personal ‘trifecta’. I find deep inspiration from them, and I aspire to make great photos like them. And even more ambitiously; I seek to make BETTER photos than them!
Conclusion: Seek your own personal greatness
In life, when in doubt, be more ambitious! Seek to make photos that will exist 100+ years from now!
Our lives are short– but our artwork can live long.
Or as Seneca said:
Life is short, art is long. [Vita brevis, ars longa.]
NEVER STOP SHOOTING!
A simple idea:
There are no rights or wrongs in photography. Seek to make perfect photos for yourself. And never forget– there are no rules in photography!
Of course there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ photo — meaning, the ability to make a photograph that pleases 100% of your audience.
However I think it possible for you to seek to make perfect photos for yourself. For you to choose photography as your primary art-form, and the purpose of your life is this:
Seek to make perfect photos for yourself.
You are your own judge
This is the fun part:
You are the only judge of your pictures.
- Don’t desire to impress others with your photos (only seek to impress yourself with your pictures).
- Dictate what you consider a beautiful or perfect photo– then relentlessly seek to create those types of images.
- Generally speaking, a perfect photo is a picture when you look at it– you don’t find any faults with it. Not only that, but a perfect photo is a picture you personally love looking at! In other words, ask yourself: “If someone else took this photo, would I still love it?”
About a year+ ago, I deleted my Instagram. This has probably been the single best thing I’ve done (so far) in order to elevate myself, my artistic vision, and my photography.
Why Anti-Social Media?
The problem with social media:
You end up compromising your artistic vision.
Why? This is my rationale:
You start off uploading photos you like. But over time, you start to learn which photos get more likes than others. Thus, you end up starting to only upload photos to maximize your likes (rather than photos you personally like).
Because this is the truth:
If you are truly innovating in your photography, doing something really unique or interesting– of course the masses won’t ‘get’ it, or like it.
For example, if we used numbers to validate the legitimacy of something– then McDonalds would be the world’s best restaurant, then Starbucks would be the best coffee, and Kim Kardashian would be the most influential human being on planet Earth.
Don’t demand less from yourself
Simple questions for you:
- If you never uploaded photos online– would you still shoot photos? I hope so.
- If you never shared your photos with others, would you still be able to determine whether your photos are any good?
- If you didn’t know what others thought of your photos, would you still know whether you like your photos or not?
Seek to impress yourself
Seek a small perfection in yourself, for yourself. If you follow this principle; everything else in your photography will take care of itself!
What makes for a good photo? One of them is simple:
The ability of the human eye to detect the edges in a picture:
Download 100mb ZIP:
What makes a good black and white photo?
Some experiments I’ve been doing in Adobe Photoshop to better understand:
Why do some black and white photos work, and others don’t?
I take a successful picture (Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake), and deconstruct it:
Dust + Scratches:
Normal bump map
Chalk and Charcoal
To impress… literally means to IMPRESS (leave an indentation) upon someone else. I think what we are trying to do as photographers is to impress our viewers. Not necessarily to “show off”– but we are trying to make an impact on our viewers. Therefore it is essential for us to impress our viewers with our photos. But how do impress others with our pictures, and make a meaningful impact on our viewers? Some simple ideas:
Learn how to make more impressive photos at an ERIC KIM WORKSHOP >
1. Eye contact
To make more impactful or impressive photos, take photos in which the subject of your photo is looking directly at you (the photographer).
You can do this by taking lots of pictures and waiting until your subject perceives your presence, and then taking photos when that happens. Or interacting with your subject, and engaging them– and intentionally trying to get eye contact. For example like the photo below of my mom getting an eye examination — I just asked her to look directly at me (or into the lens):
Make photos that evoke some sort of stress or anxiety in your viewer. You can do this by taking pictures that show human emotion via hand-gestures or body language:
You can also make an impression on your viewer if you make a picture that is surreal — for example, a face without eyes. Or a body without a head:
This is why I like street photography; some of the most impressive street photos are surreal.
4. Unusual perspectives
To make an impression on your viewer, shoot from super-low angles, or super high angles. The human eye isn’t accustomed to seeing these novel views/perspectives.
I like shooting pictures that have distortion, like shooting with the 28mm RICOH GR II in macro mode with my subjects, with a flash– because it creates a distorted picture. The human world doesn’t see the world distorted. But distorted pictures are more interesting to look at.
Flash is also surreal, because flash creates surreal effects, which we don’t see in the world.
Therefore experiment shooting with a flash to create a stronger impression on your viewer.
Also, shoot through blurred surfaces to obscure your pictures. More obscurity is difficult to read– which means your viewer is more likely to spend more time trying to understand your pictures or what they’re looking at.
Often creating a photograph that is too interpretable is bad. A photo which is too obvious is boring to look at.
We don’t see see the world blurred. Thus it is more interesting to look at, and impressive.
9. Black and white
Monochrome is more impressive because we don’t see the world in black and white. Thus it is more surreal and interesting to look at.
10. Put yourself in the picture
By shooting your subject (and selfie) in the same picture, you “break the third wall”; it reminds the viewer that, “Oh yeah– a real photographer actually shot this!”
And it ain’t enough to just put yourself in the picture; embed your soul into your picture.
Conclusion: Just shoot it
You never know if you’ll shoot a good picture UNTIL you attempt and take a picture.
So when in doubt,
JUST SHOOT IT.
Then curate your portfolio later, and choose the pictures which are meaningful to you.
Download JPEG images:
Eric Kim PHOTOGRAPHY 2018
Download ZIP of pictures (very big at 480MB):