The .7 Meter Challenge

1x1.trans The .7 Meter Challenge

Photograph by Satoki Nagata from his Cabrini–Green project.

I recently conducted a video interview with Satoki Nagata, a talented street photographer based in Chicago about his photography and approach.

One of the questions I asked Satoki was regarding his Cabrini–Green Housing, a documentary he did with people in the Cabrini–Green area of Chicago (known to be a dangerous area full of gang-activity with low-income housing). Satoki was drawn to the area, and he was able to take some incredible portraits of the people in the community. My biggest question for him was: “How did you conquer your fear of photographing strangers you didn’t know, especially in a dangerous area?”

His answer was that he photographed a month shooting at his Leica’s minimum focusing distance: .7 meters (2.3 feet).

Satoki said that by shooting for .7 meters for an entire month, it forced him not only get physically close to people, but also emotionally close to them. He often spoke to the people he photographed and got to know them more personally.

Many of us have hesitations when it comes to photographing strangers — especially getting close to them. If you want to build your confidence when shooting on the street, I highly recommend you trying out the “.7 meter challenge” for a month. Of course it doesn’t have to be .7 meters (every camera and lens combination is different).

Some additional points/suggestions:

1. The photos don’t need to be candid

1x1.trans The .7 Meter Challenge

Photograph by Satoki Nagata from his Cabrini–Green project.

Talk to strangers on the street, get to know them better, and perhaps ask them for a portrait. The shots you take at .7 meters don’t necessarily need to be candid. I actually find it more difficult to ask people permission to take photographs than taking photos candidly.

When you ask people for permission, you step outside of your comfort zone and make yourself open and vulnerable to the other person you are photographing. Shooting candidly takes guts, but the connection you have with your subjects is very shallow.

2. Use the viewfinder

1x1.trans The .7 Meter Challenge

Photograph by Satoki Nagata from his Cabrini–Green project.

If your camera has a viewfinder, use it. Satoki discourages “shooting from the hip” as it can be a barrier to overcoming your fear of photographing strangers and from connecting with people. Of course if you only have an LCD screen you should use that, but if you have a viewfinder try to use it.

3. The photos don’t have to be just portraits

1x1.trans The .7 Meter Challenge

Photograph by Satoki Nagata from his Cabrini–Green project.

One of the things I loved most about Satoki’s Canrini-Green project is that he photographed both portraits and “detail shots”. Not only did he focus on faces, but he also photographed chests, hands, and more.

Conclusion

I can guarantee that if you stick to this challenge for a month, your confidence of shooting in the streets will go up and you will be much better at communicating with people.

If you would like to take part of the “.7 meter challenge”, upload your photos to my Facebook Fan Page and write “.7 meter challenge” as the caption. At the end of February I will share my favorite photos on my blog and Facebook!

Make sure to check out Satoki Nagata’s work on his website and also see the interview I did with him on the Leica blog

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  • Tristan

    Is use the micro four thirds voigtlander lenses… Do you think 0.17m might be a little intimidating ;-)

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

      I say try it out ;)

  • http://fo2oz.com/ Waleed Alzuhair

    It is indeed challenging to walk around with expensive gear in less fortunate neighborhoods. Still, one needs to use common sense when it comes to invading other people’s personal space regardless of the neighborhood :)

    Oh, thanks for sharing the information of photographer Satoki Nagata.. Brilliant work

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

      Definitely – that is why I respect how Satoki was able to connect with the people in the area, and you can see how much they trust him!

  • Darran Roper

    That is a proposition and a half! For the first time this week I have been confronted by members of the public. In one scenario a 6ft 2″ man held my camera strap and demanded I give him my camera or he would break it. The thing is my working distance is 3 to 6 feet. Probably think about doing this in the future, but I think certain situations would dictate if I had the nerve to take the picture or not.
    I will be writting about the incident very soon because it had a very shocking and unexpected ending.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ropaz

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

      Definitely is tough, because you will never know peoples’ reactions. Sorry to hear your story, maybe another idea is to also ask for permission at times if you want to get closer!

      • Darran Roper

        Thanks for your reply. I am not put off by the experience in the least, and I really wouldn’t want to ask permission. I do need to have some stock answers when situations occur, and perhaps a printed card to reassure them that I am not completely anonymous. I will be getting closer for sure. But not this week.

  • Brian Soko

    I was shooting with Satoki last week. He’s one of the most talented guys’ I know….

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

      Satoki also said you were incredibly talented too, you guys should hang out more ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/armand.salmon Armand Salmon

    Good read and challenge.
    FYI, it’s ‘Cabrini–Green’

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

      Thanks for the correction Armand!

      • Update

        FYI, it was “Cabrini-Green”…

  • Black and White Street . com

    Love It, hey Eric, when are you going to guest post on my Website?

  • The Viewfinder | Kevin v Diest

    Hi Eric, interesting post.
    I’ve been shooting people from up close, really approaching them, for a almost month now. So not the candid stuff, but shooting after asking permission. So my fear is kinda gone …although shooting groups of young guys(hanging around) isn’t something I do. Now I can handle rejections even better.

    Greetz,
    Kevin
    http://theviewfinder.nl

  • http://www.facebook.com/GaryRWagstaffII Gary Wagstaff

    When I first read the headline I seemed to have dropped the “.” and read it as 7 meter… I still thought, “What? I have to get within 25ft of a total stranger!” LOL Outstanding post…and a whole new perspective for me. Well done.

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