Whisper. Woman cop in Mumbai, 2011
Mumbai, 2011

Secrets which I wish someone told me about street photography, if I started all over again:

1. Use an external flash to make surreal images

Glasses. Mumbai, 2011
Mumbai, 2011

One technique I learned from Bruce Gilden and my friends Charlie Kirk and Dirty Harrry is to shoot with an off-camera flash, attached with a cord or wireless trigger.

You can make dynamic street photographs by putting the flash below the face of your subject, to make them look “spooky”.

Leica M9, Canon 430ex Flash, GoPro HD 960
My old setup from 2011. Leica M9, Canon 430ex Flash, GoPro HD 960. My street photography flash setup (for recording).

2. Direct your subjects and ask them, “Can you do that again?”

Another practical tip, you can “cheat” in Street Photography by asking your subject to replay their hand gestures or things they did.

For example, I saw this man blowing his nose, then he stopped. I asked him to blow his nose again, then I made this picture:

Sneeze with tissue. Los Angeles, 2011.
Man blowing nose. Los Angeles, 2011

3. Get low

Downtown LA, 2011. Lowrider. Leica M9. Lowrider
Downtown LA, 2011. Lowrider. Leica M9. Lowrider

To make more dynamic, edgy pictures, crouch down… very low.

Shooting street photography in Downtown LA with the Leica M9, 35mm lens, and off-camera flash. Photo by Rinzi Ruiz
Shooting street photography in Downtown LA with the Leica M9, 35mm lens, and off-camera flash. Photo by Rinzi Ruiz

This way, you make your subjects look “larger than life”, and also, your subjects are LESS INTIMIDATED by you when you crouch down. Why? You seem smaller, and less intimidating.

Anything you can do to make yourself less intimidating is good in Street Photography.

4. Compliment people, and call them “badass”

Downtown LA, 2015.
Downtown LA, 2015.

Whenever I see tough looking folks, I always compliment why I think they look cool or tough.

contact sheet side tattoo eric kim
Note how I worked the scene, to get the man to have the dramatic light on his face.

Usually I will say,

”Excuse me sir, you look pretty fucking badass. Do you mind if I make a portrait of you?”

I’ve never been rejected.

Downtown LA, 2011 (shot with the Leica M9 and a 35mm lens and flash)
Head tattoo.
Head tattoo.
Photographing a man with tattoos in Downtown La
I was teaching a street photography workshop in Venice with Adam Marelli– and a couple of us were having drinks and dinner at a bar there. I saw this tough looking guy sitting at the end of the bar, and I thought he would make a great subject. I approached him (a bit tipsy) and asked if I could take a few portraits of him as he looked great. At first he started laughing and he refused, but I persisted. I then started to snap a few photos, and saw he had an interesting tattoo under his shirt. I asked him to show me the tattoo, and to my surprise– he started to take off his watch and started to unbotton his shirt. I then took a few photos, and this one being the most interesting to me.

5. Turn lemons into lemonade

If you want to photograph someone, and they get angry at you, or reject you… turn that negative opportunity into a positive one.

For example, I was shooting a woman and she got upset. I then suggested, “Can I photograph your nails instead?” She was flattered and said, “Yes.”

Fingernails. Downtown LA, 2012. Leica M9 and flash.
Downtown LA, 2012. Leica M9 and flash.

6. Be aggressive

If you want to make more interesting street pictures, you gotta be aggressive. Why? If you’re meek and shoot from too far away, use telephoto lenses, or try to zoom… your pictures will never have energy, danger, and intimacy.

dark-skies-over-tokyo-dodge-leica-m9-2012eric kim street photograpy - black and white - Monochrome-5
Tokyo, 2012. Leica M9, flash, f16

7. Shoot with a flash through transparent materials

Experiment with a flash through different materials.

For example, use a flash through a see-through umbrella, like this picture in Tokyo:

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

This will add more texture, surrealism, and interest to your pictures.

8. Pretend like you’re shooting the background behind your subject.

Man with red tie. Suits.
SF, 2015

Don’t make eye contact if you want to get close and shoot layers.

Layers in London.
London, 2015. Layers.
Downtown LA, 2015

9. Cut in front of people when shooting them

If you shoot with a wide-angle lens, let’s say a 28mm lens, don’t shoot from the side. Get close, and shoot head-on.

To do this, when you’re walking on a sidewalk, cut in front of the person, and click… close to them, almost bumping into them:

eric kim street photography head on reflection sunglasses nyc new york
Shooting head-on / NYC, 2015 / Ricoh GR II

10. Provoke a reaction

Another tip, provoke a reaction by keep on photographing a scene, until your subject notices you, and looks at you:

Downtown LA, 2015
Contact sheet Downtown LA. Fingers.
Contact sheet.

11. The best photographers are the best liars

As Calvin says, what you don’t include in a frame gives you a false view of reality.

Calvin says that people think that the camera is a dispassionate, “objective” viewer of reality.

Tucson, 2014. Lady with red hair and yellow shirt.
Tucson, 2014. Lady with red hair and yellow shirt.

Truth: all pictures are subjective views of reality, through the opinion, perspective, and lens of the photographer.

tucson-contact-jpeg red lady hair
People think this picture is a candid photo. It is not.

12. Conclusion: There is no “street photography”

Shot at Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi.

We all somehow follow this unwritten rule by Henri Cartier-Bresson in Street Photography, that we cannot interact with our subjects, pose our subjects, etc.

Yet, HCB never called himself a “street photographer”. And several of his pictures were posed.

Not only that, but other giants of street photography (Garry Winogrand for example), HATED the term “street photography.”

Long story short, never let anyone define street photography for you, or superimpose their definition on you.

Also, never let anybody else tell you how to shoot street photography, and how NOT to shoot street photography, including ERIC KIM. Because all photographers are egotistical and think that their way of shooting is the “best” and the “right” way.

Define street photography for yourself. Or better yet, just have fun, shoot, and don’t define your photography.

So friend, SHOOT STRONG, live long, and prosper visually as an artist, THRIVE as a human being, and never stop shooting!

Sapa, 2017

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