What Kind of Street Photographer Are You? (Part 1)

1x1.trans What Kind of Street Photographer Are You? (Part 1)

(Above image © Garry Winogrand, from his book: “The Animals“)

I just read a book titled: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which was a book about introversion and the conflict they often encounter with extroverts in society. Reading the book as an extrovert, it gave me great insight on how introverts think, behave, and interact with the rest of the world from a psychological perspective.

Being an extrovert myself, I often have a difficult time how introverts think, behave, and see the world. My girlfriend Cindy is an introvert, and I initially read the book to understand her better. In the end of reading the book, it gave me great insights about street photography as well, through better understanding different personality types. After chatting with my buddy Brian Sparks about the idea, he thought it would be a great idea to share this idea (he is an introverted street photographer). So special thanks for him for giving me the inspiration to write this.

Interested to learn more? Read on.

Are you an introverted or extroverted street photographer?

1x1.trans What Kind of Street Photographer Are You? (Part 1)

(© Garry Winogrand)

In American society, it is often frowned upon to be an introvert. Starting from primary school, teachers generally force introverted children to participate (even though they may not want to) and treat being introspective as a ”problem”. If you think about the most successful people in America, they are often the extroverts– as they often make bold claims and are great at interacting with others. The problem is that extroverted leaders often screw up by being too bold, whereas introspective leaders often perform better by thinking problems out before addressing them.

The interesting thing to note is that this is different across cultures. For example, in China and many Asian countries it is actually considered a positive trait to be introverted and self-reflective. There is a famous Chinese proverb that says something along the lines of, “The nail that sticks out the most, must be hammered down the hardest”.

In street photography, it is not ”better” to be an introverted or extroverted street photographer. Both have different styles, and different approaches. These are some things i have noticed in terms of the differences:

Introverted street phographers

1x1.trans What Kind of Street Photographer Are You? (Part 1)

(Photograph © Andre Kertesz. Kertesz mentioned that when he took the photo, he was feeling quite depressed and broken just like the bent seat).

In my experience, introverted street photographers prefer to shoot alone and walk at a slower, more moderate pace. They prefer to approach the scene as a whole, often adding interesting juxtapositions and layers to their images. They don’t like to ”interrupt” or affect the scene, and take on more of the ”invisible photographer” approach.

Street photographers in history who had more introverted personalities include the following:

  • Henri cartier-Bresson
  • Robert Doisneau
  • Helen Levitt
  • Andre Kertesz
  • Diane Arbus
  • Walker Evans
  • Lee Friedlander
  • (please suggest more introverted street photographers in the comments below)

Extroverted street photographers

1x1.trans What Kind of Street Photographer Are You? (Part 1)

(Photograph © William Klein. Klein was both a badass and a huge extrovert)

Extroverted street photographers are always on the move, and can’t stand still. They prefer to go out and ”hunt” for the moment, rather than being patient and letting the moment come to them. They are generally more comfortable shooting in the streets, and are more courageous when shooting in the streets. They often have conversations with people in the street, and are good at getting people to pose for them as well.

The criticism that many extroverted street photographers get is focusing too much on ”street portraits”– which some street photographers argue isn’t ”street photography”. Due to their on-the-go feelings, their compositions are generally sloppier than introverted street photographers, but on an average tend to shoot more. Extroverted street photograhers also may appreciate shooting with a wide-angle lens, and getting close to the action.

Some famous extrovert street photographers in history include:

  • William Klein
  • Bruce Gilden
  • Weegee
  • Trent Parke
  • Garry Winogrand
  • Joel Meyerowitz
  • Jacques Henri Lartigue

Discovering your personality type

1x1.trans What Kind of Street Photographer Are You? (Part 1)

© Bruce Gilden / Magnum Photos. USA. Rochester, New York. 2012.

If you haven’t, I suggest trying out the Myers-Briggs personality test. While I don’t agree with the concept 100%, I think it is an interesting insight to understand your personality type.

But you might tell yourself, ”but I don’t want to be tied down and classified like a book. There is more to my personality than just definitions”. That is true– but recent psychological studies have suggested that children are shown to have different temperaments such as ”high sensitivity” vs ”low sensitivity” (which tend to become the identifying traits for introversion vs extroversion).

For example in the book “Quiet” – the author mentions a study in which ”high sensitive” children were more likely to cry if they heard a loud sound– as they were more keen on detecting changes in environment. These children generally grew up to be introverts. That’s why introverted children generally prefer to read books and be alone, as they have a difficult time interacting with large groups of other children (they become overwhelmed with the new external changes).

For the ”low sensitivity children”– they didn’t cry as much when subjected to loud noises. They physically were affected less by external changes, and ended up being more extroverted. this is why extrovert children usually do risky stuff on trees and stuff, as they need more stimulation through excitement and prefer to interact more with other children.

This also goes on when it comes to taste. Generally people who consider themselves more introverted rate the sourness of a lemon higher than extroverted people.

Okay so I know my personality type, now what?

1x1.trans What Kind of Street Photographer Are You? (Part 1)

© W Eugene Smith

I often see a huge problem amongst street photographers trying too hard to shoot a certain way they aren’t naturally conditioned to. For example, introverted street photographers want to use a wide-angle lens, get close to people, and even use a flash. Extroverted street photographers want to patient, wait around, and capture ”the decisive moment”, while creating complex compositions and layers.

Of course we can’t cut this black and white. There is always a lot of grey in-between. However, my advice to street photographers is to be true to yourself. Shoot what feels more natural to you, and what you feel that your personality type is.

However note that both personality types can learn from one another. As an extrovert, I am generally low on patience when shooting on the streets. I can learn more patience, while taking a step back and seeing more of the scene and compositions.

Introverts can also learn to be more courageous when shooting on the streets, get close to their subjects to create a strong composition and framing. Generally introverts are more perfectionists than extroverts, and take fewer shots, and may hesitate even when there is a nice moment about to happen. Introverted street photographers can learn to hesitate less.

Suggestions for photographers

Below is a generalization of personality types (I am still trying to flesh and refine the ideas), but you can consider this as a blueprint to help you.

Introverted street photographers

Strengths

  • Patience
  • More consideration for composition and framing
  • More selective

Things to improve

  • Courage
  • Quickness
  • Less hesitation

Extroverted street photographers

Strengths

  • Generally more courageous
  • Draw energy from interacting with people
  • Can (more) comfortably get close to the action

Things to improve

  • Take a step back and look more for the ”big picture”
  • Be more selective during the editing process after shooting
  • Go shoot with a concept or a project in mind (instead of shooting and figuring it out later)

Conclusion

1x1.trans What Kind of Street Photographer Are You? (Part 1)

© Diane Arbus

There is no one ”right way” to shoot street photography. Generally the history of street photography has been dominated by introverts (Henri Cartier-Bresson was a strong introvert) which caused a lot of these new extroverted street photographers to be quite controversial (think Bruce Gilden).

However it is important to know which way you lean (more introverted or extroverted) and have that as a guiding point on what your strengths and weaknesses may be as a street photographer.

Don’t consider yourself an introvert or extrovert, but something in-between? That is natural as well- but see which way you generally lean more toward. Also note that some introverted people act extroverted while shooting in public, while some extroverted people act more Introverted when shooting in public. There are always exceptions, but consider this article as a new way of thinking of the approach in street photography, according to personality types.

Further Research

This argument I am proposing on personality types is still in its infancy and has many flaws and shortcomings, but I plan on doing more research on the subject. I plan on reading more photographers’ biographies to better classify their personality types, and also try to better plan other personality traits.

For example, in this post I only mentioned introversion vs extroversion as personality types. According to the Myers-Briggs test, there are also 3 other dichotomies I haven’t mentioned (see list below):

1x1.trans What Kind of Street Photographer Are You? (Part 1)

Also if you are interested in learning more about introversion and extroversion, make sure to pick up a copy of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Escaping into Life: A Psycho Study of the Contemporary Street Photographer

1x1.trans What Kind of Street Photographer Are You? (Part 1)

Update (6/26/2012): Thanks to Blake Andrews for notifying me of a book that has been written on personality types and street photographers by Andrew Stark. I just downloaded the book and plan on reading it and writing a part two on this post.

Are you more of a introverted or extroverted street photographer? How do you see your personality affecting how you shoot in the streets? What are some of your personal strengths/weaknesses and what would you like to work on? share your thoughts (and disagreements)in the comments below!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1299327120 Arthur Bueno

    Interesting… hmmm….

  • BrianBS

    Good article Eric. I am a high I (introvert) but have recently started forcing myself to shoot more people. I am still being very stealth about it but I am getting closer. Getting a wide angle lens for my m4/3’s camera have forced me to get real close which is a very foreign yet interesting experience.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.danay Robert Q. Danay

    Interesting post, Eric. I just read Quiet as well and found it very thought provoking. I very much like your idea of applying the introvert/extrovert dichotomy to street photography style. Annoyingly, however, I found that I seem to have an almost 50-50 mix of extrovert characteristics. For example, I have no problem speaking out in groups (extrovert), but if left to my own devices I am usually happier on my own (introvert). I get overwhelmed at parties and often want to just to go out and do something with a couple of people (introvert), but I have a thrill seeking bent and have little problem taking risks (extrovert). I do, however, find that this mixed typology does seem to map onto my street photography style. I almost always shoot alone and in fact I like to wear headphones and listen to music or a podcast while shooting so as to deepen the sense of isolation (introvert). But I often shoot with a wide angle lens (e.g. Ricoh GRDIV) and often take very close shots of people in public (extrovert). But I do try to be patient and look for layers of compositional harmony whenever possible (introvert). I also like to have ongoing projects on different themes that I can go out and look to build upon (introvert). And so on…

  • rw

    Callahan is an introvert

  • Lucy

    This is an interesting subject I have read about for years..Read Dorothy Rowe’s books on the subject. Introversion and extroversion is not necessarily about obvious personality types. An introvert needs to accomplish a meaningful way of life not necessarily involving other people but an extrovert needs people, their idea of hell is that nobody will knock on their door. I am an introvert and i enjoy my own company but was brought up to believe that shyness is bad and I chat a lot sometimes. My boyfriend who is a shy extrovert is confident in his quietness but needs to interact with people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/aaronjsmith Aaron Smith

    I am very much an introvert. I prefer to shoot alone and interact with people as little as possible. It’s almost like meditation or entering a meditative state. Just something about the city moving around me and the sounds that come with it that does it to me. Since I shoot with a TLR, people occasionally want to talk to me about my camera and it takes me a moment to snap out of it.

    This whole introvert/extrovert discussion is obliviously going to vary between person to person… but I’d like to add that I don’t really have problems with courage. If I see a photograph taking shape, I’ll move in and take it. It’s the ones I’m hesitant about that probably weren’t worth wasting a negative on anyway.

    • andisudjana

      Agree!

  • Tobias W.

    I’m not sure on what facts you base your categorization of personalities of famous photographers like HCB and others. Your post is interesting but as precise as a three month weather forecast.

    For example, based on what is known of HCB he could just as well have been an extroverted individual. Showing up at his post-mortem exhibition after WW2 in New York to bust the show is certainly no introverted feat!

    You have many readers now and it kinds of disappoints when you get too sloppy. You need to step up your game Eric.

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      Thanks for the feedback Tobias. Yes, this idea is in its infancy and still needs some more research and teasing out.

      However I think that most people would agree based on his interviews and people who knew him would say he was a strong introvert. He never liked having his photo taken, didn’t like interviews very much, and mostly kept to himself.

      Of course him as well as many other introverted people need to act extroverted at times – when it may not be natural.

      Expect a part 2 in the future!

  • Tom

    I think Robert Frank and Weegee were extremely introverted personality types. I would also guess that Bruce Gilden is a private introverted person. Most introverted people can act extroverted, but it takes a lot of energy. The vast majority of character actors are introverts and so are the best comedians. Introverted people are natural students of human behavior and can read most extroverts like a newspaper. It doesn’t work the other way around. I don’t think extroverts can ever truly understand how well though out introverted people are.

    I’m EXTREMELY introverted, but you can’t tell by my photography because your an extrovert. Other introverted people can see that I’m introverted from looking at pictures. It’s weird.

    Do my pictures look introverted?
    http://www.captureminnesota.com/users/tdoty3

    Introverted people can make strong extroverted images.

    If you girlfriend is introverted than you’re lucky, don’t screw it up!

  • Janey

    Diane Arbus an Introvert ? Not so sure. She did suffer from depression so maybe she was very inward looking but a lot of her street portraits are posed. In fact many of the strangers she met she would go home with and photograph there, not really the behaviour of an introvert!

    • Rich

      Being an introvert does not mean that you cannot interact with people

  • Blake Andrews

    Andrew Stark actually conducted a semi-scientific study on Briggs/Meyers in relation to street photography. His resulting book Escaping Into Life can be found here: http://www.lulu.com/shop/andrew-stark/escaping-into-life-a-psycho-study-of-the-contemporary-street-photographer/ebook/product-16582890.html. I use the word semi-scientific because it’s not a classic research paper. It’s much more eccentric, interesting, and just plain bizarre than normal science. But it does touch on this issue.

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      Fascinating- thanks for the lookout Blake. Will take a look!

  • michael barkley

    I love this hole idea of the introvert-extrovert. The weird thing is I just took a course in Briggs Myers.

    ENTP.
    Cheers

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      ENFP is what I am :)

      • http://www.facebook.com/bmgillies Ben Gillies

        Same here, yet I tend to shoot in a more introverted style. It really does come down to the individual and their approach.
        Fascinating read :)

  • Philip Rice

    I find it a bit condescending to try and pigeon-hole people this way. How many of us fall somewhere between introvert and extrovert? I myself am introverted most of the time, but find street photography often takes me out of myself, and I find myself shooting in the “extrovert” style described above. “Introvert” and “extrovert” are generalizations, and, like many labels, don’t stick well to people.

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      You are right Phillip – it isn’t black and white. Almost everyone is in-between, however I would argue that most people lean more one way or the other way.

      • Philip Rice

        Well then, I guess I’m an introvert that loves people, and the camera is my ticket to being extroverted! I must take that MB test again, forget what I was! :)

  • Patricia

    The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is validated and well-accepted in the learning and devleopment organizations of most major corporations. The key is that despite what the instrument or “test” results may show, the individual decides whether or not it is accurate and independently decides which profile is the best fit. I really like how you correlate the MBTI with street photography styles and think it is for the most part, dead on. The only suggestion I might make is where you provide strengths and things to improve, I’d probably use the work bold/boldness instead of courage.

  • andisudjana

    Interesting post Eric, but how about Vivian Maier we will think that she was an introvert person as she kept her works for herself for her entire life but after you see the results of her street portraits you barely can understand how she approach people on the streets how people smile to her when she took the pictures of them, it means she also an extrovert right?

    • ohmygodareyouserious

      Are you stupid or just trolling?
      Being an introvert doesn’t mean you act autistic. Introverts can smile, they can look other people in the eye and they can hold conversations too

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      Introversion and Extroversion aren’t always static personality types. At times, an introvert can act more extroverted and vice-versa. So I would say that someone like Vivian Maier had to be more extroverted to shoot the way she did, but at the same time she did use a TLR Rolleiflex which made her less conspicuous when shooting.

      • http://twitter.com/Charlie_Martz Charlie Martz

        I think Vivian was just introverted to show her works, but probably not about the way she approached her subjects… like me, I don’t have so much problem to approach to strangers but I didn’t show most of my works

  • Marc

    Thanks, Eric. Interesting little essay, and I think it makes a lot of sense. (note to some commentors: MB is a tool, but by no means infallible. Also, it’s fuzzy (degrees of I/E), not binary (I or E).

    I think this also applies to other forms of photography. Personality will certainly influence the way people do a photo shoot of whatever genre (sports, photojournalism, portraits, macro, landscape, weddings, etc.) I’d also say some genres of photography favor different personality types, e.g. photojournalism extroverts, macro introverts (how it not be?), landscape introverts (though my impression of Peter Lik is an extrovert – thus his often bold and dramatic landscapes).

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Hankin/1037654521 Richard Hankin

    I am a fan of W.Eugene Smith though his obsession wit getting the perfect photo brought him to the edge of madness.
    His “Tomuko Uemura in her bath” is, in my estimation, his most powerful image,

  • RRRoy

    ( My comment need not be taken seriously)

    Garry Winogrand an extrovert ? ” Women are Beautiful ” possible by an extroverted personality?

    My addition to the list of introverts –
    William Eggleston
    Stephen Shore

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      Thanks for the additions!

  • tom

    Jeff Mermelstein is an introvert and so was Gary Winogrand.

  • http://www.facebook.com/keagan.oka Keagan Kage Oka

    I find that I’m generally an introverted person but my camera gives me the power to interact with people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/borgein Børge Indergaard

    Great article Eric! I am definitly a introverted photographer, but I try as much as I can to be more extroverted :-) It was kind of an eye-opener to read this article actually. Thanks again and have a great day.

    I guess my photos says it all: http://500px.com/borge
    I even like shots where there are no people in them at all.

  • Dylan Lim

    Hi Eric. This is an interesting post! I am a total introverted street
    photographer. I think the society also play a major part that cause a
    person to be introvert or extrovert. I live in a conservative society.
    When I got my first camera, I tried to be more extrovert, but the
    responses I got were dissapointing. The subjects will walk up to me and
    confront me, why i took their pictures. Sometimes they will even curse
    and swear.

    So ever since then I became a introverted street photographer. I feel more
    comfortable this way. Yes, I tend to think a lot when I am composing a
    shot and sometimes I miss the moment. (especially when i am using a zoom
    lens). To counter this problem, I use a fixed-focal lens, so I do not
    have to keep turning the zoom-ring to try to compose the shot. I will
    move myself to find the right angle. I like my subject to be themselves
    when I am taking the shots. I feel that this way, the shots will be more
    ‘rare’ as it will be impossible to have the identical moment again.
    Different people have different definition for ‘Street Photography’…to
    me, Street Photography is ‘freezing’ the interesting moments on the
    streets.

    BTW, I am trying to come up with a street photography project call
    Reflection, taking shots through reflection (Wet floor, glass
    window…etc). What do you think?? I need advices.

    Please give me your opinons and critques on my photos. http://www.digitalrev.com/2025905/photos

  • http://twitter.com/likebreathing LikeBreathing

    I know all too well I’m an introvert, and adapt my street shooting to match my style. I don’t like to get in peoples faces and change the scene so I tend to shoot from the hip or from somewhere I can’t be seen. Shooting from the hip in crowds means I tend to use a wide angle and can get some good but random shots, take a look: http://likebreathing.com/street/

    Although when I visited India this gave me a boost of confidence and I was a bit more bold with my shooting style. Maybe becuase attitudes are a little more relaxed than in the UK: http://likebreathing.com/india/

  • mike

    could i be an ambivert?

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  • Matias Hyde

    Loved it! I am naturally an introvert, but while shooting I’d say I’m more of an extrovert since I like getting close to where the action is unfolding, and to people. But halas, I don’t really like talking much to people. It drains my energy.
    Cheers from a Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Judging (INFJ)!

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  • minnich

    I am a strong INTJ, however I only use a 24mm on 35mm, a 75mm on 4×5 and a swc. I like getting in close and immersing myself into the scene. I exercise a lot of patience/restraint and typically won’t shoot unless it’s completely right, – probably why I like the one shot of 4×5 so much in the street. http://www.minnichphoto.com http://minnichphoto.blogspot.com/

  • jj

    So lets get this straight… Extroverted people shoot in an extroverted photography style while introverts shoot in an introverted photography style, but sometimes extroverts shoot introvertedly while introverts sometimes may shoot in an extroverted style.

    Thats some crazy insight! Btw its almost impossible to edit comments on a mobile phone on your site. Its all jacked.

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      Sorry about that- something to do with Disqus.

      In my experience it generally seems that the majority of introverts shoot in an introverted manner, while the majority of extroverts shoot in an extroverted manner.

      Of course there are the outliers who seem to do the exact opposite – but they seem to be the exception, not the norm.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Kinoz

    Jun Abe and Junku Nishimura might be a good example of Introverted street photographer. :)

    • http://erickimphotography.com/blog Eric Kim

      Thanks – good point! :)

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  • ghill77

    I’m certainly an introvert, but sometimes have the ability to bring out the extrovert hiding in me. I’ve noticed my mood plays a huge aspect of what personality I’m likely gonna allow to come out of hiding. Some days I go out with camera, walk around & fear overcomes me in such a way I just go home without pressing the shutter, depressed. If I have a good day I immediately overcome my fear & cop a what-the-hell attitude & it’s like Dr. Jeckel with a camera appears, then it’s on. I have a project in mind I really want to accomplish but it will take overcoming fear (not to mention a language barrier) but it’s something I really hope to do.

    • http://twitter.com/Charlie_Martz Charlie Martz

      I couldn’t explain it better!

  • Michael Ares

    I’m an introvert street photographer. Henri Cartier-Bresson (best photographer of all time) was an introvert…win!!!

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  • Brandon Campbell

    I’m a total introvert, and years ago in college I was the shy creepy one hiding behind the telephoto lens, but after studying your blog and videos and Thomas Leuthard’s e-books over the past year or so, I definitely want to try a more extroverted approach, forcing myself to get closer, be honest about what you’re doing, use a 50mm lens or wider, and smile more. Your videos where you go out with the GoPro on top of your Leica are so inspiring, keep them up!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jklphoto John Lockwood

    Great article Eric. Question, did you mean to say this?
    For example, introverted street photographers want to use a wide-angle lens, get close to people, and even use a flash. Extroverted street photographers want to patient, wait around, and capture ”the decisive moment”, while creating complex compositions and layers.
    Seems backwards to me.

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