What Do You Want Out of Street Photography?


Many of us shoot street photography because it is challenging, fun, and brings us great joy. However one question I find that most people don’t ask themselves (myself included) is what we ultimately want out of photography.

I just finished an intense week-long street photography workshop in Saigon which was absolutely incredible– and one of my students Sascha Jung asked me what I ultimately wanted out of my photography, and whether I wanted to become a great photographer or a great teacher.

I feel that being a great photographer and a great teacher isn’t mutual exclusive; meaning I could be both. However upon reflection, I could care less about becoming a great photographer. I feel that my great purpose in this world is to become a great teacher– to share information, knowledge, and to continue my passion to contributing to some greater good.

Of course I would like to make some nice photographs in my lifetime. I want to constantly strive hard to compete against myself (and not others) and become the best photographer I personally can be.

However at the end of the day– I would say I am more passionate about education, philosophy, and sociology than photography. I feel that if anything– photography is simply a practical outlet in which I could express my views of the world. I see myself less of a street photographer, and more of sociologist with a camera.

Also on top of that, I’ve noticed that the greatest artists and photographers in history have often had horrible family and personal relationships. For me, my biggest priority is to my family, loved ones, and faith. I used to want to become rich, famous, and great– but over time I’ve relized these things pale in comparison to loving and being loved.

Another student, Sam, asked me what I had planned next– what was the next “big step” in my photography and blog.

I still have lots of articles I want to write for the blog, to build up more community-oriented street photography initiatives, and to make more videos. Sometimes I feel frustrated that I don’t have enough hours or energy in a day to do everything I wish I would like. But slowly, I’ve been trying to focus on the most important thing in which I create value: writing. And my best inspiration comes from reading, so I need to do more reading too.

So I challenge you to consider the same question: what do you ultimately want out of your photography? Do you want to become rich, famous, and the greatest photographer? Do you shoot for fun snapshots during your travels? Do you want to become the best photographer you possibly can?

I can’t answer that question for you, but please share what you want out of your photography in the comments below.

If you liked this article, you can read more on philosophy and street photography.


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  • MintChocs

    I like the peaceful, calmness that photography brings to me whilst I’m out there with the camera, the anticipation when I sit at the computer viewing the images, the buzz when there is a good image, the anti climax when it’s just not focused accurately enough or I haven’t quite framed it well enough, the pleasure I get looking at old photographs trying to remember the occasions.

    • Paul Holmes

      I’ll go with you, MintChocs. But would add I feel something more severe than an “anti-climax” when experiencing the negatives you describe. I also have an aim to record something of my life and times for those I follow when I have popped my clogs.

  • Vine

    Good question that made me think.

    My quick response is this: what I want to do with my photography is use it to REMEMBER the beauty of everything around me.

    Both obvious beauty (like landscape) and less obvious beauty (like light striking a child’s face on a busy street).

    Both dark emotions, that we’d rather keep hidden, and light ones (depending on how I’m feeling I look for either)… because both describe the human condition, and as such both have beauty.

  • Vedran Perse

    Probably three things; first one (and I struggle to find better word) is “spiritual” or sensual and it covers process of photographing. I have to quote Winogrand here because for him photography was “closest to non-existence” which for me is aim I have tried to reach (and probably never will). Second one is “artistic (as in art process)” or intellectual. Again quote form someone famous this time S Shore “I photograph to resolve photographic problems ” . And final one is the materiality goal I want to achieve and that is to produce a nice book, which I would be proud of. It doesn’t need to sell or be printed in too many copies, one maybe enough but that would be in a way trace of my existence.

  • Dipu Sampang Rai

    ohhh!!! Nice question!! I do shoot for my satisfaction and I have always said to my friends the same when they ask me what I want to do ultimately with my street photographers. Of course everyone wants to take one good photograph that will make him/her immortal and I do have that ambition but for now I am going with the flow :D…and Eric,please don’t strain yourself with overload of work that it may ruin your health. The pace that you are going with your blog is constant and good for reading so don’t stress. Rather keep contributing your blog till the end….

  • yuve
  • Guest

    I want to become famous and make a lot of money! ….. what? Atleast
    I am honest!

  • Brian Day

    Good post, E, and I appreciate your honest self-assessment regarding your personal photographic intentions, and agree that you contribute a useful education to the photographic community and inspire confidence in newbies and old heads to put forth the effort to try without worrying so much about imitating Webb/Gilden/Winogrand/Cartier-Bresson or being perceived negatively.

    It’s easy to spit out the well worn, rationalized answers (“I want to tell stories!” “I want to move people!” “I want to show the world what I saw/felt/imagined!”). In a world where we are thoroughly saturated with images – which seem more often than not to be designed to persuade and promote vs. simply to inform or educate – I start to wonder if there are “new” questions that we contemporary “street photographers” should be asking ourselves, ESPECIALLY those of us who wish to publicly share our work and insert it into the photographic continuum: “Do I [really] have something valuable to add to the genre?” Or, more philosophically, “What does photography want out of me?”

    In any case, perhaps the point is the same: introspection, assessment, and self-motivation are of much fuller value than simple imitation. Keep up the good work.


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

      Haha ahhh yeah need that don Hudson interview. Will follow up with him! Btw how is life in Detroit, missing you man. Hugs from Hanoi :)

  • Brett Bell

    As Blondie once said “a side walk social scientist”….

  • valzi

    What do you mean by “faith?” I can’t tell what you’re getting at there… I don’t want to start a religious debate/discussion, just curious what you’re talking about.

  • http://danielteolijr.tumblr.com/ Daniel D. Teoli Jr

    Why do I shoot?

    It can be summed up in the dedication of my artists’ book Twenty-Six Roadkills…

    “This book is dedicated to all the photographers that have been or will be; that are driven to record our world, but for why, they know not. They are driven to photograph without hope of recognition, fame,
    glory or riches. But they do know one thing. As long as they can keep pressing the button and freeze time, they feel better for it.”
    There are much easier ways to make money than taking photos…esp street photos. I’d tell anyone under the ‘riches and glory’ delusion of becoming a rich and famous photog to go be an actor or actress instead. You have a much more chances at becoming rich and famous in the acting field than you do as a photog…and you know how hard acting is!
    We photogs are like termites. just as termites must eat wood to live, we must freeze time to be complete. for those that are not truly infected, they can take it or leave it. But those suffering from the addiction must have their fix just like any other drug addict. they eat, sleep and dream about freezing time.

  • http://www.bobowen.co.uk/ Bob Owen

    definitely to become the best photographer I can be. To observe and see the world better and so work towards a style and approach that is mine alone.

  • valzi

    Another thought: I quite enjoy your blog’s _content_, but you are much better at photography than at writing, and I had always thought you cared more about it than you cared about writing, simply because you never seem to proofread or spend time polishing your writing. As a writer who is always surrounded by writers, I’ve never met anyone who cared about writing who didn’t proofread.

    Again though, your content is good (when you don’t accidentally self-contradict or leave unclear meaning due to lack of proofreading) and your photography is good. I’m just not convinced that writing is really your passion. Sometimes others can see us more clearly than we can see ourselves. It’s difficult to know oneself.

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

      Hi valzi you’re right. I need to spend more time editing my writing. Will work on that more moving forward!

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  • Thomas

    Quite simply: to have a good time. It is a tool for enjoying the world. It makes me see the world, see people in a different way, a (to me) more mindful way, than when without camera. Sometimes as a bonus I get some shots from it. Mostly I don’t – and that’s just fine too.

  • http://jo-gonzalez.artistwebsites.com/ Jo

    I want to enjoy what I love to do with out the fear of doing it. Yes I would LOVE to make money to pay off the bills I accrued in all of my photography equipment. But to just know how to deal with the fear of going out and shooting some one with my camera that I don’t know is my big thing.

  • https://www.flickr.com/photos/_mkhl/ Mikhail

    This world is an intimate place. Human interaction is vital and inevitable, be it verbally, visually or physically. And with street photography, I aspire to connect with the people around me with how I visualise my world through the viewfinder.

    Because some of us (including me many times) find it hard to blurt out our thoughts and emotions just like that. So I hope one day, when people see my work, some of the photos will hit them right at home.

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