Kyoto, 2017.
Kyoto, 2017.

Dear friend,

If I started street photography all over again, this is advice I would have given myself:

1. Shoot in P (program) mode

Night time in Kyoto. P mode, iso 1600, 2017.
Night time in Kyoto. P mode, iso 1600, 2017.

Just stick to P (program) mode and keep your ISO at 1600. Why? You are less likely to miss the “decisive moment.”

Legs and silhouette. P mode (program) mode. Kyoto, 2017.
Legs and silhouette. P mode (program) mode. Kyoto, 2017.

Honestly, over the years I’ve experimented with all the street photography techniques and technical settings.

2. Zone focusing for slow autofocus cameras

Zone focusing scale example from FILM NOTES
Zone focusing scale example from FILM NOTES

If your camera has autofocus and it is quite reliable, just use center point autofocus. If your autofocus is very slow and unreliable, use “zone focusing”, which is pre-focusing to a certain distance, and consistently shooting at that distance at a relatively small aperture like f8-f16.

Zone focusing at f/16 (notice the range of focus at f/16) When lens is pre focused to around 1 meter. .7 meters to 1.5 meters are in focus.
Zone focusing at f/16 (notice the range of focus at f/16) When lens is pre focused to around 1 meter. .7 meters to 1.5 meters are in focus.

3. What camera should I use for street photography?

Stylish woman outside of department store. Kyoto, 2017.
Stylish woman outside of department store. Kyoto, 2017. RICOH GR II with P mode and flash.

Just use the simplest, smallest, and most convenient camera for you. That might just be shooting with a phone.

4. Don’t just take 1-2 photos and run away. Take a few shots and linger.

If you see a good street photography moment, take a few shots, and hang around and LINGER for a while, and keep shooting. The biggest mistake we make in Street Photography is to run away after just one or two shots.

My practical suggestion:

When in doubt, shoot 25% more pictures.

Sweat. Downtown LA, 2016.
Sweat. Downtown LA, 2016.

Why? It will force you to push yourself forward, and push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Often, the more you shoot, the more your subject will notice you. Therefore, you are more likely to get eye contact, or some interaction with your subject, which often makes a more interesting image.

Downtown LA sweat contact sheet. 2016
Downtown LA sweat contact sheet. 2016

5. Integrate yourself into the crowd

I like shooting street pictures of many people. When doing this, I try to integrate myself in the crowd, and get lost in the sea of people.

Strangely enough, the closer I am to people, the more relaxed I am. I feel one with the people.

6. The closer you are, the less creepy you are

This is a strange lesson I learned:

The closer you are to your subject in street photography, the less creepy you will be perceived. And the less creepy you will feel.

Why? If you’re shooting at a close distance, you’re signaling to your subject and yourself that you’re not doing anything wrong. And you’re not.

So when in doubt, use a wide-angle lens, like a 28mm lens, and get VERY CLOSE to your subjects, around 1 meter (two arm lengths away or closer). Also get close to your subjects not just physically, but EMOTIONALLY.

Black headless man with beer. Kyoto, 2017
Black headless man with beer. Kyoto, 2017

My saying:

With physical proximity comes emotional proximity.

7. Ask for permission

Woman with self-portrait of herself. Downtown LA, 2011.
Woman with self-portrait of herself. Downtown LA, 2011.

A good lesson from STREET NOTES:

When in doubt, ask for permission.

Why permission? You empower your subject. You give them the option to say “yes” or “no.”

Often, you also get interesting interactions. Sometimes you chat with them, and learn more about their life.

Japanese man. Kyoto street portrait, 2017.
Japanese man. Kyoto street portrait, 2017. Shot with Ricoh GR II and 28mm

For me, I prefer the conversation with a stranger over the picture. I use the picture-taking as an excuse to interact with strangers.

Laughing lady. NYC, 2016
Laughing lady. NYC, 2016
LAUGHING LADY by Eric Kim Contact Sheets

When asking for permission, tell your subject why you want to photograph them. Tell them that you think they look beautiful. That you like their fashion, look, or how they carry themselves. Or that you like their face.

Girl laughing with blue sunglasss. Kyoto, 2017.
Girl laughing with blue sunglasss. Kyoto, 2017.

Contact sheet. Girl laughing with blue sunglasss. Kyoto, 2017.

8. Direct your subject

Melbourne, 2016 street portrait.
Melbourne, 2016 street portrait.

If you see an interesting subject, you can direct them. Ask them to look straight into the lens, up, down, left, or right. Shoot some pictures with flash, and some without.

01-melbourne-up- eric kim - contact sheet

Melbourne, 3016
Melbourne, 2016

9. Silhouette

Melbourne, 2016

To shoot a silhouette of your subject in street photography, use P mode, and use -1 or -2 exposure compensation, and shoot them against the sun, to get dramatic silhouettes.

Kyoto Silhouette, 2017.
Kyoto Silhouette, 2017.

Or shoot at night, through windows.

10. Just shoot

Kyoto, 2017.
Kyoto, 2017.

Don’t think about composition when you’re out shooting street photography, if you’re just starting off. Just shoot.

Kid playing with red ball at night in Uji, Kyoto 2017.
Kid playing with red ball at night in Uji, Kyoto 2017.

Often I hesitate too much before shooting, because I want to get the “perfect” composition.

My tip:

Better to capture the moment and have an imperfect composition, than to never capture it in the first place.

Just follow your instincts and guts. Just click.

11. Tilt your camera

Tilted Dutch angle composition. Kyoto, 2017.
Tilted Dutch angle composition. Kyoto, 2017.

Another tip: for more dynamic compositions, tilt your camera, or try to integrate diagonals into your compositions. They call this a “Dutch angle”.

Tilted camera composition. Shot inside sushi restaurant with flash. Kyoto, 2017.
Tilted camera composition. Shot inside sushi restaurant with flash. Kyoto, 2017.

Conclusion

Portrait of ERIC KIM by CINDY NGUYEN. Kyoto, 2017
Portrait of ERIC KIM by CINDY NGUYEN. Kyoto, 2017

Define street photography for yourself. Have fun. Don’t take this too seriously.

Ignore the definitions people give “Street Photography” online. Define it for yourself.

eric kim melbourne benjamin thompson
ERIC KIM x HENRI NECK STRAP

Experiment, try out new compositions, approaches, and innovate. DRIVE THE GENRE OF STREET PHOTOGRAPHY FORWARD!

BE STRONG,
ERIC

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Red cowboy, 2012 by ERIC KIM.
Red cowboy, 2012 by ERIC KIM.

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  1. PHOTOGRAPHY ENTREPRENEURSHIP MANUAL by ERIC KIM
  2. STREET PHOTOGRAPHY MANUAL by ERIC KIM
  3. THE PHOTOGRAPHER by ERIC KIM
  4. The Photography Manual
  5. The Art of Street Photography
  6. 100 Lessons From the Masters of Street Photography
  7. The Art of Photography
  8. Zen Photography
  9. Photography by Eric Kim
  10. Street Photography by Eric Kim
  11. Personal Photography Manual
  12. Street Photography Contact Sheets Volume II
  13. Street Photography Contact Sheets Volume I
  14. Street Photography Composition Manual
  15. Street Portrait Manual
  16. How to Shoot Street Photography
  17. Street Photography 101
  18. Street Photography 102
  19. Color Manual
  20. Monochrome Manual
  21. 31 Days to Overcome Your Fear in Street Photography
  22. Letters From a Street Photographer
  23. Street Photography Aphorisms, Heuristics, and Sayings

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