Laughing lady eric kim. NYC, 2015

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” – Robert Capa

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Why get close to your subjects in street photography?

To start, why get closer?

Physical proximity is emotional proximity.

The closer you are physically, the more you can feel the emotions of your subject. The more emotions we can evoke in a picture, the more memorable and meaningful it will be to the viewer. And hopefully, our pictures can evoke joy, or change the thoughts or mood of our viewer.

1. Smaller is beautiful in street photography

Small is beautiful: RICOH GR II — my favorite street photography travel camera.
Small is beautiful: RICOH GR II — my favorite street photography travel camera.

Visualization: What is the Best Camera For Street Photography?

Happy Ricoh.
Happy Ricoh!

Personally I’m shooting with a RICOH GR II and ERIC KIM STRAP. Why? The Ricoh is small, fits in my front pocket, and the 28mm fixed focal lens forces me to get close to my subjects, in order to fill the frame, to create a more dynamic and emotional picture.

RICOH GR II x SAIGON SATCHEL
RICOH GR II x SAIGON SATCHEL

RICOH GR II or your phone (or any small mirrorless camera)

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

When it comes to getting closer to your subjects, generally, the smaller your camera, the better. Shoot with RICOH GR II or your phone. I actually think that street photography is the best on a phone.

2. You’re a tourist

Man with face mask and billboard, shot with flash on RICOH GR II. Kyoto, 2017.
Man with face mask and billboard, shot with flash on RICOH GR II. Kyoto, 2017.

Pretend like you’re a tourist. Think like a tourist, and shoot like a tourist.

New Orleans, 2015 #RICOHGRII
New Orleans, 2015 #RICOHGRII. I was able to get more of his hands and face in focus, with the crop sensor.

By acting like a tourist, you give yourself more freedom to photograph anything, while also “breaking social rules”. Because we all know, tourists are “allowed” to do dumb things.

3. Avoid eye contact

London Street Photograph . Woman and cell phone and poster
London, 2014

If you want to get very close candid street photos, avoid eye contact. Pretend like your shooting something behind your subject.

By not making eye contact, people aren’t going to assume you’re photographing them.

Also, humans are hard-wired to notice eye contact from other humans. Apparently you can notice someone making eye contact with you even from half a block away.

To be stealth, avoid eye contact.


Visualization: How to Overcome Your Fear of Photographing Strangers

Visualization how to overcome your fear of photographing strangers


4. Video camera technique

Pretend like you’re shooting a video, and hold your camera up to your eye or hold out the camera and look through the LCD screen. Then get very close to people, and click the shutter.

5. Fishing Technique

Tokyo Eric Kim street photography black and white.

Find an interesting background or wall, and wait for your subject to enter the frame. Get very close, and crouch down, and shoot upwards. This can allow you to get very close to your subjects, without having them suspect that you took their photo.

Fishing technique in Amsterdam. I pretended like I was photographing the billboard behind.
Fishing technique in Amsterdam. I pretended like I was photographing the billboard behind.

6. Interact with your subjects

Girls laughing. Amsterdam, 2017
Girls laughing. Amsterdam, 2017

Sometimes what I do in Street photography is that I get very close to people (without permission), then start taking pictures, while saying, “You guys look so cool!” This Technique is a good way to disarm people, and have them start to laugh, and be part of the fun.

7. Ask for permission

Golden triangle analysis for Downtown LA, side face tattoo.
Golden rectangle analysis for Downtown LA, side face tattoo.

There isn’t anything wrong with asking for permission (street portraits). If anything, it is more difficult to ask for permission, than to shoot candidly.

By asking for permission, you can get very close to your subjects. Why? They’ve given you their permission — so of course, you can get as close as you want.

contact sheet side tattoo eric kim
Note how I worked the scene, to get the man to have the dramatic light on his face.
Street portrait of man with one white eye, looking directly at viewer/photographer with eye contact. Shot with RICOH GR II in macro mode

eric kim eye contact street portrait

Eye. Tokyo, 2016
Eye contact of poster in background. Tokyo, 2016
Contact sheet. Tokyo eye, 2016.
Contact sheet. Tokyo eye, 2016.

8. Don’t think

Contact sheet Downtown LA. Fingers.
Contact sheet of Downtown LA man. He didn’t notice me taking pictures until the end.

If you see a good scene, don’t think — just start clicking.

Generally when I see a good street photography scene, I will do the following:

  1. Click (from my gut)
  2. Take a step forward
  3. Click
  4. Take a step forward
  5. Click
  6. Start composing better
  7. Click
  8. Keep clicking until the person notices me

This technique is good, because you can often provoke reactions from your subject.

eric kim street photography finger
Downtown LA, 2016
Woman making eye contact in nyc. I saw her, kept clicking until she noticed me.
Woman making eye contact in nyc. I saw her, kept clicking until she noticed me.

9. Don’t drop the camera from your eye too quickly

Woman with Star of David. NYC subway, 2017
Woman in New York Metro who is looking directly at me with eye contact. The dynamic tension of, “What is she going to do, or say next?”

Another tip: when you’re close (let’s say in a subway car), keep clicking pictures, and don’t drop the camera from your eye.

If you want to be more stealth, don’t quickly drop the camera after you’ve taken the shot. That is the ultimate giveaway that you’re taking their picture.

Rather, linger around, and keep clicking.

Contact sheet. Kyoto man mask.
Contact sheet of shooting with a flash, and keep shooting until he noticed me.

10. Shoot in a crowded area

Contact sheet Istanbul
Contact sheet. Istanbul, 2015.

When I’m stuck in a crowded bus, or metro, or public space, you’re forced to get close and shoot closely.

Istanbul Eric Kim glare stare street photogrpahy
Istanbul, 2013

So go to crowded places. Go to city centers, or markets, or festivals to practice overcoming your fear of getting close to strangers in street photography.

Flash street photograph in Istanbul, 2014 // Eric Kim
Flash street photograph in Istanbul, 2014. I just took one shot, and didn’t think too much before shooting.
Moving men. Istanbul, 2014. Street Photo by Eric Kim
Moving men. Istanbul, 2014. Street Photo by Eric Kim

11. Photograph people through glass

Suit Istanbul, 2013
Suit Istanbul, 2013. Shooting with a flash through the glass.

If you see someone on the other side of the glass of a restaurant, cafe, or building — get very close, and shoot them through the glass. They will assume you are photographing the shop, not them. Also, because they’re on the other side of the glass, they cannot run after you.

London man with French fry.
Suit with French fry. London, 2012.
amsterdam__eric kim street photography girl doll window
Girl through window. Amsterdam, 2015

12. Shoot first, then start engaging your subject in conversation

Man in window. Berlin, 2017
Man in window. Berlin, 2017

When you see someone you want to photograph, get very close to them, start shooting, then ask them open-ended questions like:

  • “How are you doing?”
  • “Are you having a good day?”

Make sure to smile very big when you’re doing this, to make people not be afraid of you, and for people to trust you.

13. Crouch down very low

When you crouch low, you look more low-key, and are less threatening. Get close to your subjects, and crouch low.

Downtown LA, 2011 / Photo by Rinzi Ruiz
Downtown LA, 2011 / Photo by Rinzi Ruiz
eric kim street photography downtown la
Photo by Rinzi Ruiz // night in Downtown LA
Jazz Hands. Hollywood, 2011 by ERIC KIM
Jazz Hands. Hollywood, 2011 by ERIC KIM
Eric Kim shooting Jazz hands. Action photo.
Eric Kim shooting Jazz hands. Behind the scenes photo.

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14. Use macro mode / .7 meter challenge

As an assignment for you to get closer in street photography, you’re only allowed to shoot in macro (close up) mode for a month. Or try pre-focusing your lens to .7 meters (2-3 feet), and you’re only allowed to shoot at that distance for a month.

Red lip stick. Street portrait, NYC, 2015
Red lip stick. Street portrait, NYC, 2015
Philly. Portra 400 and flash. Red hair against green background.
The fluorescent green of the woman’s hat and the green-blue of her clothes complements her orange skin and red lips.
The fluorescent green of the woman’s hat and the green-blue of her clothes complements her orange skin and red lips. Shot in macro mode, RICOH GR II, Program mode, flash.

15. Assignments to get closer in street photography

Hand tattoo. Amsterdam, 2017
Hand tattoo. Amsterdam, 2017
  1. Be comfortable having someone take your picture very close. Book a portrait session with a pro photographer, or practice shooting selfies of yourself with the lens very close to your face. The more comfortable you are having a camera close to your face, the more comfortable you will to have your camera in someone else’s face.
  2. Only shoot 1-arm length distance away for a whole month (essentially this is the .7 meter challenge).
  3. Don’t use a zoom or telephoto lens for a year. Only shoot 28mm or 35mm (full frame equivalent).
  4. No cropping for a year — this will force you to get close to your subjects.
  5. Attend ERIC KIM WORKSHOP to conquer your fears in street photography, and learn all these techniques to get very close to people in real life. I will be your personal coach, pushing you outside of your comfort zone. One of the best ways to get closer in street photography is that extra push and encouragement.

BE BOLD,
ERIC

STREET PHOTOGRAPHY 101