Istanbul Eric Kim glare stare street photography
Istanbul, 2013

What are the best settings for street photography?

Let me try to break it down for you.

Why Settings?

Tokyo, 2011
Tokyo, 2011

Ok, let’s get philosophical.

First of all, why are the Settings you use important in street photography?

Tokyo, 2011. Leica M9, flash, f16

Obviously, it is to capture the “decisive moment”— when you see a fleeting moment you want to record. It happens so quickly. Often we are too slow to capture it.

Tokyo, 2011. Film Leica M6, flash, f16

Therefore, like a wild western, we want to become faster. Quicker. More alert. More keen, like a sharp shooter in street photography.

What can we learn from Westerns?

I love western films. How do these gun slingers have their gun “Settings” to shoot quickly?

  1. Gun in holster: Always strapped to their leg, ready to draw at any moment. Lesson: always have your camera strapped to you somehow, ready to draw. Have it in your wrist (ERIC KIM STRAP) or always on your neck like a necklace (HENRI NECK STRAP).
  2. Turn off the safety: If you’re in a gun fight, you don’t want the safety on. Imagine, if the safety is on your gun… you might accidentally miss the shot. In photography, have your camera setup so you have it always ready to turn on quickly. If you shoot with your phone, know how to quickly access the camera. If you’re shooting with your camera, turn off the auto-sleep. Have it always ready to shoot.
  3. No hesitation: No fear. If you hesitate in a fun fight, you’re done. In street photography, you don’t want to hesitate. We need to kill hesitation, fear, and “paralysis by analysis”.

“Set it and forget it!”

He noticed me and said, “You need to for permission before taking my photo!” I then asked him for permission, and he said no. I got the shot anyways. Shot in P mode on Ricoh GR II.

I’ve experimented with so many ways to shoot street photography over the last 10 years.

Ultimately, I think “P” (program mode) is ideal for street photography.

I remember this commercial from my childhood, the Rotisserie Chicken Maker. You just “Set it and,,,forget it!” You threw the chicken in this machine, pushed a single button, and about 5 hours later, you’d have a juicy rotisserie chicken ready to eat. I think he’s sold millions.

DARK SKIES OVER TOKYO, 2015

Anyways, I learned from my buddy Bill Reeves that Magnum photographer Paulo shot in P mode. Same with Steve McCurry, he apparently just shoots in P mode now. My friend Neil Ta told me that Magnum photographer Moises Saman also shoots P mode. The internet wasn’t joking when they say that “P” mode stands for “Professional”. If the real pros can shoot in P mode, in war zones, why can’t we?

Tokyo Eric Kim rain umbrella
Tokyo. 2015. Shot with RICOH GR II in P MODE, with flash, through a translucent umbrella.

When I shoot on my digital Ricoh GR camera, I keep it in ISO 1600, P mode, center point autofocus. I just point and shoot.

If you shoot with your phone, just use the default camera app. Point and click.

Tokyo. 2016. Shot in P MODE with Ricoh GR II.
Tokyo. 2016. Shot in P MODE with Ricoh GR II.

Make your Settings as simple as humanly possible, while still being able to capture “the decisive moment.”

Zone focusing

Another way, if you’re shooting with a manual camera and lens: zone focusing.

Sample Settings:

  • Aperture: f8
  • Shutter speed: Aperture-priority or adjust manually (to capture sharp photos, you want your shutter speed to be at least 1/250th of a second)
  • ISO 1600 (yes, keep it high to have a fast shutter speed. This is what Garry Winogrand and Joel Meyerowitz did…pushing their black and white ISO 400 film to 1600).
  • Manual lens focus: by default, 1.2 meters (roughly two arm length away). I also recommend a wide angle lens like a 28mm lens, or a 35mm “full frame equivalent” lens.

For more insight on Zone focusing, read LEICA MANUAL and buy FILM NOTES.

How to NOT hesitate in street photography

Mumbai, 2011

My rule:

When I see something or a person that scares me, I must shoot it.

To me, FEAR will help STEER your street photography. Why? We’re often not clear what will be a good shot or not. But if we follow our emotions, and channel our FEAR to click, we will make more interesting photos.

Paris, 2015

In other words,

Scenes that scare us are photos we want to make.

For example, when I was in college, I would be scared by certain women, who I considered beautiful. Their beauty scared me. But it was because I secretly wanted to ask them on a date.

NYC, 2016

In street photography, I like to shoot STREET PORTRAITS with permission, especially with people who scare me. Why? People who are “scary” are actually interesting to me.

Hearts. Downtown la tattoo.
Downtown LA, 2011

Therefore a good assignment from STREET NOTES MOBILE EDITION: when you see someone who scares you, ask for permission to make their portrait. Intentionally try to get 10 people to reject you. This will help you overcome hesitation of fear of rejection.

The fear of rejection is often worse than the rejection itself.

Essentially, don’t be scared of being rejected. It isn’t that bad.

Conclusion

DARK SKIES OVER TOKYO, 2016. Shot on RICOH GR II and Program mode.
DARK SKIES OVER TOKYO, 2016. Shot on RICOH GR II and Program mode.

Every camera will have different quirks and settings.

Ultimately, experiment with the settings on your camera for street photography. Find the settings that work for YOU. There is no one way to shoot, or one set of ideal settings.

eric kim street photography tokyo eye contact sheet

For myself, with Leica rangefinders, I prefer zone focusing.

For digital cameras with autofocus, I prefer ISO 1600 and P (program) mode. I’d focus less on Settings and more on conquering my fears, getting closer to my subjects, and hustling in the streets.

For personal guidance to conquer your fears in street photography and master the decisive moment, join ERIC KIM EXPERIENCE >

Also share your passion for street photography in ERIC KIM FORUM.

BE STRONG,
ERIC


STREET PHOTOGRAPHY 101 by ERIC KIM

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