ERIC KIM

10 Dynamic Street Photography Tips

Man with hand over face. Tokyo, 2017

If you want to make more edgy and dynamic street photographs, here are some tips for you:


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1. Layers/depth

For a dynamic street photograph, get a lot of layers, faces, and eyes looking at you:

Elderly people in elevator. Tokyo, 2017

2. Shoot head-on

Head-on Street Photograph. Tokyo, 2017

Use a wide-angle lens like a 28mm lens or 35mm lens, and shoot HEAD-ON. Head-on street photographs are more dynamic, because they give you the feeling that your subject is going to collide with you:

3. Triangle composition

Look for figures in a triangle composition, which creates a balanced yet dynamic image:

Tilted street photograph in Tokyo, of a triangle composition (man in bottom left, man on top right, and advertisement in top left)

4. Decapitation technique

Eyes cut out. Akira Kurosawa film poster. Tokyo, 2017

Get super low, and cut off the heads of subjects or cut out their eyes. The reason this technique works is that it makes the subjects more mysterious. It also makes the picture more open-ended.

In the below example, see how I only photographed the girl and her holding the hands of her parents, yet cut off their heads:

One street photographer who incorporates the decapitation technique well is Mark Cohen.

As a tip, when photographing kids, crouch down very low, to get eye-to-eye level with them, to see the world from their perspective.

5. The ‘bookend’ technique

Two book ends holding together the energy of the books in the center.

To focus energy into the center of the frame, try out the ‘bookend technique’— having a subject fill the extreme left and extreme right of the frame, kind of how two book ends center the subjects in the frame:

Bookend technique with a flash, note how the figure on the far left and the far right frame the subject in the center of the frame. Tokyo, 2017

You don’t always need two book ends to make a dynamic street photograph, sometimes just on the left or right side of the frame:

Woman on the far left as a bookend, with her hand gesture leading to the right. Dynamic 3, multiple subject street photograph. Tokyo, 2017

6. The ‘Superman effect’ (Crouch down very low / dynamic low angle perspective)

When you crouch very low and shoot looking up, you create a ‘Superman effect’— making the subjects look larger than life:

Dynamic and aggressive composition, because shot from low angle, which emphasizes the diagonal lines pointing to this man. Orange of his face against blue background.

Generally the Superman effect works best with wide-angle lenses (28mm is good), because it exaggerates the low perspective and leading lines. Note how in this street photograph of this older lady, because she’s on the far right of the frame, she is drawn into the picture:

Woman with cell phone. Tokyo, 2017

Good cameras with wide-angle lenses (28mm on RICOH GR II, 35mm on Fujifilm x100F), or even a phone camera (default lens on iPhone is around 28mm).

7. Escalators (at the mall)

For dynamic street photographs, shoot street photographs on escalators. Don’t center your subject. Have them off to the side:

The reason why escalators are good for street photography is because you can get tons of diagonal lines, which make for more dynamic street photography.

8. Umbrellas

Tokyo flash. Woman with umbrella. Ginza, 2017

Shoot street photography when it is raining, and try to get umbrellas. Shoot through clear and plastic umbrellas (in Japan/Tokyo) or just photograph people with umbrellas. Umbrellas are also good because they fill the frame.

One pro tip: shoot with a flash through a clear umbrella, to create a surreal and dynamic rainy effect. Below was shot with RICOH GR II in P (program mode) with the popup flash, in RAW, processed with ERIC KIM MONOCHROME 1600 preset:

DARK SKIES OVER TOKYO / Man with umbrella.

9. Eye-contact

“Eyes are windows to the soul.”

Tokyo eye. DARK SKIES OVER TOKYO

Look for eyes in street photography. Either make eye contact with other humans, or look for eyes in posters or billboards. When you see an eye in the background, focus on the eye in the background (not on your subject who is closest to you):

Contact sheet. Tokyo eye, 2016.

Other dynamic street photographs with eye contact:

Street portrait of man with one white eye, looking directly at viewer/photographer with eye contact.
Woman making eye contact in nyc.

Pro-tip: To make eye contact more compelling, center the eye:

Also, to get eye contact in street photography, shoot a lot of pictures. Keep shooting, until they notice your presence:

I kept clicking until he looked at me.

10. Flash street photography

Man shot with flash in mall, with two people behind him, making triangle. Shibuya, Tokyo, 2017

Shoot with a flash, for more dynamism, energy, sex, danger, contrast, and to separate the subject from the background.

Flash umbrella street photograph with red and blue. Kyoto, 2017

When shooting street photography with flash, I recommend using P (program mode) and the automatic ‘TTL’ settings on your flash whenever possible. For example on the RICOH GR II, I just use the integrated popup flash. Same on the Fujifilm x100 camera.

Street photograph of woman and mannequins with flash. Kyoto, 2017.

On my film Leica MP camera, I use the Leica SF 24D or the Leica SF 20 (no diffuser). I use ISO 400 film, adjust the flash power to 1/8th. For aperture, I shoot at around f8 when the subject is 1.2 meters away, f16 when the subject is .7 meters away, and f5.6 when the subject is around 2 meters away.

Leica MP and 35mm f/2 Summicron + SF 20 flash
Shooting street photography in Downtown LA with the Leica M9, 35mm lens, and off-camera flash. Photo by Rinzi Ruiz

Below are some photos shot with flash with these Manual settings, on the film Leica MP. The reason I use manual settings is because the Leica MP has no automatic TTL flash settings:

Paris, 2015
Shot in a restaurant with flash in Michigan, Lansing.
Suit Istanbul, 2013
Flash street photograph in Istanbul, 2014. I just took one shot, and didn’t think too much before shooting.
London, 2013

Conclusion

Ultimately, my favorite street photographs are simple and dynamic.

Simple: no distractions in background.

Dynamic: full of energy, dynamism, movement, emotion, soul, diagonal lines, and tension in composition.

BE DYNAMIC,
ERIC

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