Hanoi, 2017 / I met this 92 year old woman who told me that she still works everyday. While speaking with her I took photos of her face and hands. This photograph tells a more open story about this beautiful woman and her life.
Hanoi, 2017 / I met this 92 year old woman who told me that she still works everyday. While speaking with her I took photos of her face and hands. This photograph tells a more open story about this beautiful woman and her life.

“Rather than catching people unaware, they show the face they want to show. Unposed, caught unaware, they might reveal ambiguous expressions, brows creased in vague internal contemplation, illegible, perhaps meaningless. Why not allow the subject the possibility of revealing his attitude toward life, his neighbor, even the photographer?” – William Klein

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Interact with your subjects

Interact with your subject // spread from MASTERS
Interact with your subject // spread from MASTERS

There is a myth of the “detached” and “objective” photographer. Many photographers think they can be stealthy, and not “influence” the scene.

William Klein / St Patrick’s
William Klein / St Patrick’s

However what makes photographs interesting is how you can influence the scene. How your presence changes the people. How people react to you. And what side of themselves your subject decide to show.

William Klein Kid with Gun / Gun 1, New York, 1955 (c) William Klein

William Klein was famous for being a director on the streets. Rather than shooting candid photos, he would put himself into his photos. He would provoke his subjects by saying certain words or phrases.

For example, in his most “Kid with gun” photograph, he told the kid, “Look tough!” This caused the kid to point his gun ferociously into Klein’s face. But doesn’t this mean the photograph is “inauthentic” because Klein provoked the boy? Absolutely not. The boy decided to show his inner self.

William Klein family, kid with gun.

Rather than trying to be the “fly on the wall” photographer — insert yourself into your images. Engage with your subjects. Learn about their lives and dreams.

William Klein women in bath.

Take photographs while your subject talks, or when they react to you. Before you start clicking, wait for eye contact, a hand-gesture, or a certain expression.

William Klein / Dancing kids.
William Klein / Dancing kids.

Why put yourself in the picture?

Amsterdam, 2015 / Homage to William Klein by ERIC KIM
Amsterdam, 2015 / Homage to William Klein by ERIC KIM

I think a good picture requires for you to put yourself, or your own soul in the picture.

What better way to do that, than to interact with your subjects?

This is why I like to shoot “street portraits”— it gives me the chance to interact with my subjects, hear their life story, and also make a compelling portrait of them:

Woman with thick glasses and green hat. BART, 2015
Woman with thick glasses and green hat. BART, 2015

Interact if you want to

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

If you don’t like interacting with strangers, don’t feel forced to do so. Only do it if you are genuinely interested in the life of your subject.

But at the same time, don’t feel that you “aren’t allowed” to interact with your subjects, like what a lot of street photographers say.

You can interact with your subjects however you like.

How to interact with your subject

Street Portrait Diptych / NYC x CHICAGO
Street Portrait Diptych / NYC x CHICAGO
  1. Ask open-ended questions, not simple yes or no questions.
  2. Make small talk, in order to ask deeper life questions. Ask about the weather, then ask them about their life dreams or goals.
  3. Ask them “What is your life story?”
  4. Give your subjects “tactful flattery” — compliment them without going overboard. For example, tell them: “I love your look! How would you describe your personal style?”
  5. Show genuine interest in them — don’t look at your phone, and listen attentively.
STREET PORTRAIT. Newport Beach, 2017
STREET PORTRAIT. Newport Beach, 2017
Newport Beach, 2017
Newport Beach contact sheet.
Newport Beach contact sheet.

Smile.

Smile. Downtown LA, 2016
Smile. Downtown LA, 2016

The best way to interact with people, regardless of their background, ethnicity, or culture —

Just Smile.

Downtown LA, 2016

A smile is a universal way to interact with your subject, which will bring out the best in them.

NYC, 2016

:)

ERIC

Learn how to interact with your subjects at ERIC KIM WORKSHOP >


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