Contact sheet from Henri Cartier-Bresson in Seville, Spain, 1933. © Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos
Contact sheet from Henri Cartier-Bresson in Seville, Spain, 1933. © Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

There are a lot of myths and secrets in street photography.

I will uncover some of the secrets/myths, and debunk them– to empower you to make better street pictures.


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Street Photography 101


1. The ‘decisive moment’ is a myth

We might have all heard the phrase ‘The Decisive Moment‘ from Henri Cartier-Bresson (the godfather of street photography).

I think a lot of people misunderstand the concept of ‘the decisive moment.’ A lot of street photographers think the decisive moment is just 1 moment– and you are only allowed to shoot 1 picture of the scene.

In reality– to capture the decisive moment, you must shoot many pictures. And in a scene, there might be many decisive moments.

Case Study 1: Henri Cartier-Bresson in Seville, Spain, 1933

Contact sheet from Henri Cartier-Bresson in Seville, Spain, 1933. © Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos
Contact sheet from Henri Cartier-Bresson in Seville, Spain, 1933. © Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

You don’t get a great street photograph by just shooting 1 picture. No, you must ‘work the scene’ to get a good street photograph.

final picture - Contact sheet from Henri Cartier-Bresson in Seville, Spain, 1933. © Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos
Final Picture – Contact sheet from Henri Cartier-Bresson in Seville, Spain, 1933. © Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos
Maybe picture - Contact sheet from Henri Cartier-Bresson in Seville, Spain, 1933. © Henri Cartier-Bresson : Magnum Photos
Maybe picture – Contact sheet from Henri Cartier-Bresson in Seville, Spain, 1933. © Henri Cartier-Bresson : Magnum Photos

Even as Henri Cartier-Bresson said:

“Sometimes you need to milk the cow a lot to get a little bit of cheese.”

DOWNLOAD PDF LECTURE: Why it is important to work the scene in street photography – eric kim

Lesson 1: ‘Work the scene’ and shoot many pictures of the same scene

LAUGHING LADY by Eric Kim Contact Sheets from MASTERS
LAUGHING LADY by Eric Kim Contact Sheets from LEARN FROM THE MASTERS BOOK

If you see a good scene in street photography, shoot MANY pictures of the same scene. Often your presence will evoke a good reaction out of the subject.

Laughing lady eric kim. NYC, 2015
Laughing lady. NYC, 2015

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2. There is no such thing as the ‘invisible’ street photographer

Your presence is what makes a good street photograph. Don’t try to be a ‘hidden observer’, or some sort of stealth street photography ninja.

Even Henri Cartier-Bresson (who preferred to stay more low-key) often interacted with his subjects.

Case Study 2: Alicante, Spain, 1933 by Henri Cartier-Bresson

For example, note this picture that HCB shot of three people. I love the composition of all of their hands connecting and making a nice diagonal through the frame, and the elegance of the expressions:

Henri Cartier-Bresson Alicante, Spain 1933
Henri Cartier-Bresson
Alicante, Spain
1933
Note the red diagonal, making the strong composition.
Note the red diagonal, making the strong composition.

Also note the triangle compositions:

Triangle compositions in red, blue, yellow

Anyways, one might have thought:

Henri Cartier-Bresson saw the scene, walked over, just shot 1 picture, and moved on.

In reality, he engaged and interacted with them:

Here it looks like they are dancing
Here it appears they are posing for him

Lesson 2: Engage with your subjects

Contact sheet Istanbul
Contact sheet. Istanbul, 2013.

Don’t try to be this ‘detached’ street photographer who doesn’t interact with their subjects.

A lot of street photographs are ‘lies.’ For example this picture I shot in Istanbul, the man looks angry at me. In reality, he first started off laughing, and then I told him to “look serious.”

Istanbul Eric Kim glare stare street photogrpahy
Istanbul, 2013

Assignment 2: Get your subjects to pose for you

Contact sheet. Tokyo eye, 2016.
Contact sheet. Tokyo eye, 2016.

When shooting street photography, try to engage with your subject to get a more interesting expression. Some ideas:

Eye. Tokyo, 2016
Eye contact of poster in background. Tokyo, 2016

Assignment A: Ask your subject to stand against an interesting background, or billboard.

Assignment B: Like William Klein did with his ‘kid with gun’ picture, tell the kid: ‘Look tough!’

William Klein Kid with Gun / Gun 1, New York, 1955 (c) William Klein
Contact sheet: William Klein kid with gun
Contact sheet: William Klein kid with gun

Assignment C: Tell your subject, “Pretend like I’m not here.”

Girl pinnochio nose-contact copy
Contact sheet: Pinnochio nose / Downtown La, 2015
Pinocchio nose. Downtown LA, 2015
Pinocchio nose. Downtown LA, 2015

CONQUER YOUR FEARS AND MEET NEW PEERS AT ERIC KIM WORKSHOP

For more tactics on how to engage with your subjects and be more stealth, read: 15 Street Photography Tips and Techniques.


HENRI WRIST STRAP

HENRI WRIST STRAP

HENRI WRIST STRAP: Never Miss the Decisive Moment.


HENRI CHROMA WRIST STRAP

HENRI WRIST STRAP CHROMA

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STREET NOTES: Mobile Edition

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HENRI NECK STRAP

ERIC KIM x HENRI NECK STRAP

ERIC KIM x HENRI NECK STRAP


ERIC KIM EXPERIENCE

Mad men. NYC, 2017. Pentax 645Z

Conquer your fears and meet new peers.


FILM NOTES: Introduction to Film Photography

FILM NOTES: Bring Back the Old School.


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ERIC KIM STRAP: JUST SHOOT IT.

For more inspiration when shooting on the streets, access the street photography visualizations below:

Street Photography Visualizations by ANNETTE KIM

Newest Visualization by Annette Kim available in the Haptic Shop

Don’t miss the newest free photography visualization “What to look for when shooting street photography” available now in the Haptic Shop.

To commission ANNETTE KIM to design a visualization for you, contact annettekimart@gmail.com

Ultimate Beginner’s Guide for Street Photography Series

HAPTIC presents the Ultimate Beginner’s Guide for Street Photography Series — visualizations of essential photography lessons and tips by ANNETTE KIM. Annette researched, synthesized, and visualized the key parts of this series to present to you a fun, easy to read VISUALIZATION of photography fundamentals.

Newest Photography Visualizations

For a limited time, download the following FREE visualizations designed by Annette Kim. Keep these guides on your phone, tablet, computer to read on your commute, as reminders when shooting on the streets, and for daily inspiration. Download both full resolution PDFs by processing your free ‘order’ here. Don’t forget to check back regularly to see what new resources and visualizations we add to the page.

  • “How to Overcome Fears of Photographing Strangers”(11/2/2o17)
  • “What to Look For When Shooting in the Streets” (11/8/2017) New!
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The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide for Street Photography

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Photocubist ANNETTE KIM by ERIC KIM
Photocubist ANNETTE KIM by ERIC KIM

Each VISUALIZATION is original artwork designed by Annette Kim, distilled from the ERIC KIM photography lessons and resources.

ANNETTE KIM: VITRUVIAN CAMERA ARTWEAR

HAPTIC presents VITRUVIAN CAMERA ARTWEAR by ANNETTE KIM.

VITRUVIAN CAMERA is an homage to Leonardo da Vinci, and his passion of combining technology and art. By wearing VITRUVIAN CAMERA proudly on your chest, it will reveal your passion for photography — ‘painting with light.’

VITRUVIAN CAMERA is ARTWEAR — to inspire yourself everyday, to pay homage to the artistic masters of the past, and to also pave your own path in photography.

100% of the proceeds directly supports the artist.

VITRUVIAN CAMERA is an original artwork hand sketched by Annette Kim. Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, Annette researched the history and science of camera design in order to produce this conceptual camera.

Leonardo da Vinci’a “Vitruvian Man.”
“VITRUVIAN CAMERA” by Annette Kim

The camera embodies the vision of the ‘ideal’ camera based on the rules of architecture and design:

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The Complete Works of Annette Kim

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STREET PHOTOGRAPHY 101

If you’re new to street photography, start here:

New Street Photography Articles

Mad men. NYC, 2017. Pentax 645Z