To kick off STREET CLUB and STREET NOTES MOBILE EDITION, and VITRUVIAN CAMERA ARTWEAR, here is my gift to you: a new book on street photography. This time, more theoretical, yet practical. Less filler, more killer. And of course, the book is open-source.
Table of contents
Excited to have you friend. We’re gonna have fun :)
- Chapter 1. The Fundamentals of Street Photography
- Chapter 2. How to Conquer Your Fears of Shooting Street Photography
- Chapter 3. How to Take More Risks in Street Photography
- Chapter 4. How to Make More Dynamic Street Photography Compositions
- Chapter 5. How to Get into a Zen Street Photography Flow
- Chapter 6. How to Be More Aggressive in Street Photography
- Chapter 7. Art of the Street Photography Flaneur
- Chapter 8. Street Photography Stoicism
Let’s go in a fun street photography adventure: I wanna share some secrets, brutal truths, and honest advice on how to elevate yourself as a street photographer: to take your work to the next level, to conquer your fears, and fulfill your personal maximum.
This is not for the weak of heart.
If you’re easily offended, please don’t read this. Of course this is all my opinion.
Chapter 1. The Fundamentals of Street Photography
Now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s continue my friend.
Street Photography, Defined.
Okay my definition of street photography:
Sociology with a camera.
Street photographers seek to analyze, critique, and understand society by using the camera as a research tool.
So if you’re interested in street photography, you’re a street sociologist. Welcome aboard.
What is sociology? It’s a discipline that seeks to make order of our crazy social world. It’s seeking what makes us human.
Why I love street photography
Street photography is for everyone. It is democratic. You can shoot with your phone, or any device with a camera or lens.
You can shoot on a phone, film camera, tablet, or any device that can record light.
Definition of a Photographer
What is a photographer?
- Photo: light
- Grapher: writer
A photographer is a writer of light. Or a light writer.
Your camera is your pen. You can create reality however you see it. The best photos are the ones that are opinionated, exciting, fun, non-boring, dynamic, and tell a story.
If we think of writing and poetry, it goes back thousands or years. What makes good writing or poetry?
Writing: good story, good actors, good emotions, and good beginning and endings.
Poetry: the flow, cadence, and choice or words. Painting vivid imagery. Elevates the soul.
Do your photos do the same?
- Everyone who lives in a city and shoots photos is a street photographer. What makes living in a city different from living in the countryside?
- What do you love and hate about city living? Document that.
- Use the easiest camera for you to make photos on. Often your phone, or a point and shoot camera. A good writer doesn’t fuss over their pens. What matters is the quality of the words that comes out, not what the ink looks like.
- Shoot what interests you. If something is boring to you, don’t shoot it.
- Get close: physically, emotionally, and spirituality to your subjects. Put yourself in their shoes. Shoot with your heart, and when in doubt, take a step closer to your subject.
Boring street photography
OK, everyone is a street photographer. But most street photography is boring.
How do you make a non-boring or interesting street photograph? Some ideas:
- Don’t just shoot people walking by walls at touristy landmarks. More easy for others to replicate your photos.
- Don’t photograph during flat light; dramatic light during sunrise and sunset have more drama and excitement. A tip to know when the light is good: is your shadow longer or taller than you are?
- Avoid making a photo that can be replicated by Google maps or Google Street view.
Thank you Charlie.
So great street photographers don’t compromise. They stick to their own creative vision. They don’t settle for boring photos.
I am inspired by my friend Charlie Kirk. He was deeply inspired by Garry Winogrand, who made dynamic, multi layered, and exciting street photos.
When my friend Charlie shot on the streets, a lot of people didn’t like his aggressive style. But they loved his photos.
Charlie had a lot of courage to stand up to online haters. But to be frank, Charlie’s haters were just envious and jealous of his skill, bravado, and courage. Charlie inspired me to be more courageous and aggressive with my street photography.
Thank you Charlie, I consider you to be my photography teacher, mentor, guide, and friend. I owe you so much.
How to take your street photography to the next level
Tilt your camera. Make more dynamic and “edgy” street photographs by incorporating un-straight horizons. Study the work of Garry Winogrand and Charlie Kirk for inspiration.
Use a flash: Flash will add more drama, suspense, and sex to your photos. Study the work of Bruce Gilden, Weegee, Anders Petersen, Jacob Aue Sobol, Dirty Harrry, and Eric Kim.
Don’t overlap subjects: A simple way to make better photos: avoid overlapping subjects. Add space between your street photos.
Be unique in your street photography. Don’t let anyone make photos that can easily replicate yours.
The harder it is for you to make a street photograph, the less likely it can be replicated.
A hard street photograph isn’t necessarily a good one. Yet, it certainly is less boring to look at.
And the only cardinal sin as a street photographer: sharing boring photos.
You can make boring photos. Just don’t share them.
What is your street photography batting average?
In terms of my batting average, I make 1 street photograph I’m very proud of from every 1,000 photos. If I make one good street photograph a month I’m happy. If I make one great street photograph a year, I’m ecstatic.
Most master street photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Josef Koudelka have only admitted making 1 good photo a month.
The easy way to get more home runs in your street photography: swing your bat more.
That means, shoot more street photos to have a higher likelihood of you making a good photo.
Easy way to remember this:
JUST SHOOT IT.
To conclude this chapter, some things to consider:
You are a sociologist with a camera. That is what a street photographer is. How are you using your camera to analyze society, human beings, and yourself?
Avoid making boring street photos by adjusting emotion, drama, and soul into your photos. Capture hand gestures, eye contact, feelings of doom and gloom, war and peace. Be a poet with a camera.
What makes your street photography unique? Share your thoughts on ERIC KIM Forum
Also for inspiration on the go, buy STREET NOTES MOBILE EDITION: a Street Photography Workshop on Your Phone, for everyday inspiration — either at the coffee shop, your morning commute, or when you need assignment ideas when shooting on the streets.
Chapter 2. How to Conquer Your Fears in Street Photography
To continue, I cannot say I’m the best street photographer. Far from it. But I can say, I’m probably the best street photography educator and teacher. I’m also one of the most brave street photographers in the world.
How did ERIC KIM become so brave?
First of all, I wasn’t born this way.
I grew up, timid, getting bullied as a kid. I remember in Middle School, all the gang affiliated kids punked me around when I was around 13. They would call me “gay” and “fag”. I never stood up for myself.
One day, I was fed up. I knew that nobody was gonna defend me. I could only defend myself.
So what did I do? I started to work out. I started to save up lunch money to buy “cool” clothes to fit in. I pretended like I was self-confident. I bragged a lot, and loved to show off.
The truth is all my confidence was false bravado. It came from insecurity.
But it worked. By the 8th grade, I was more or less universally liked in school. I wasn’t one of the “popular” kids, but certainly nobody punked me around anymore.
In high school, I was quite self assured too. Of course, I went through my hormone changes, and of course was still an awkward, insecure teenager, who never had a girlfriend.
But once again, I realized I could “fake it until you make it.” I faked confidence. And while taking my confidence, I actually did become confident.
I also started to lift weights. I joined the (American) football team my Sophomore and Junior year. I built my strength and self confidence. I played linebacker (first outside, then inside) and I learned to not take shit from others.
During football, I learned to become more tolerant and open minded too. All my fellow teammates were either white, black, Latino, or Asian. We saw all one another as brothers. I became less racist after playing together with my fellow rainbow crew teammates.
Anyways, how does this apply to street photography? Simple:
Confidence and courage is something that can be taught, built, and developed.
I have a “growth” mentality. I think we’re born as “blank slates” as children. Like computer programs with 0 lines of code in them.
Rather, our programming is from our teachers, society, cultural customs, language, life experiences, books, information, movies, and we can shape our own destiny.
I believe in God and I’m a proud Catholic. Yet, I don’t believe that God has predestined or pre-planned our lives. I see God as our protector and guide. Yet we have free reign to do whatever we want. I also don’t believe in Heaven and Hell after death, I only believe in Heaven and Hell on earth, like Jesus said (The kingdom of God and heaven is within you, not after you die). I recommend reading the “Jefferson Bible” on the life of Jesus, without all the supernatural beliefs.
Anyways if you believe you can control your own destiny, you can develop infinitely. You have no limits.
You’re like a Lamborghini, with a double turbo charged V12 engine. You’re Apollo, with his flaming chariot, flying with the Sun behind you. You’re Iron Man, a normal human being but you have all these robots and tools to empower you (digital camera, smartphone, laptop, internet, etc.)
Talent doesn’t exist.
Another ERIC KIM belief: I don’t belive in “talent.”
Talent is bullshit. It’s all hard work.
If you don’t believe in talent, you have 100% control, agency, and freedom in your life.
Too many photographers say:
I’m too old, or want born talented. I’m just an engineer. I’m not good at drawing. I can never be a good photographer.
Fuck that shit. No more negative self-talk. Don’t tolerate it.
Rather take a book from the egocentric world of ERIC KIM:
I assume I can do anything. Impossible is nothing.
- If I want to learn how to code, I can.
- If I want to deadlift 500 pounds, I can (I already broke 410)
- If I want to be a millionaire, I can.
- If I want to be the most famous photographer, I can.
- If I want to become #1 in Google for street photography, I can (I believed this in 2012, and became #1 in 2017, only 5 years of hustling and 2,800 blog posts).
- I want financial independence and help support my family and Cindy’s family.
Anyways, the modern world sucks. Too much nay sayers.
In photography, just ignore everyone else.
If I can give you real encouraging advice, it would be:
- Don’t use Instagram
- Don’t use Facebook
- Make your own photography blog on 1and1.com and use wordpress.org, and the “Genesis theme” with the “Monochrome” child theme.
Social media fucks up our progress in photography. Why? You care too much what others will think of your photos, rather than making photos that please you.
Of course just ignore me.
A less radical idea:
Never upload or share a photo that you personally don’t like.
If you don’t like your own photos, who else will?
And if you’re not sure whether your photos are “good” or not, you need to learn what makes a good photograph by studying the master photographers.
Learn from the masters of street photography (read my book: “100 Lessons From the Masters or Street Photography”) and search in Google for my composition lessons. And buy a lot of photo books, not gear. Study great photography, and build a good taste for images. Then be a brutal self-editor and self-selector of your images.
To sum up:
Only share your best photos.
Don’t fear rejection.
The biggest problem: we fear the fear of rejection, than the rejection itself.
We are afraid of pissing people off by shooting a street photograph of them.
But when we do piss someone off in street photography, their reaction is often not that bad or scary.
I have a unique world view: I like to be photographed. I’m an attention whore. Therefore I (wrongly) believe that everyone else loves to have their photograph taken.
But ask yourself:
Do I like having my own photograph made?
The mistake: we assume the rest of the world sees the world like we do.
In fact, there are some of us who like to be photographed. Others don’t like to be photographed. Some people like to be photographed when they trust the other person.
So my practical advice: to build your confidence in street photography do the following:
- Become comfortable making self-portraits of yourself (honor thy selfie). Lose body fat, and feel comfortable to photograph yourself in a mirror. And be comfortable having others photograph you.
- Don’t photograph others how you wouldn’t want to be photographed (Silver Rule). If you don’t like people photographing you without permission, always ask others for permission. If you are okay with others photographing you candidly, then it is okay you do the same.
- When in doubt, ask for permission. Street photography doesn’t have to be candid. If you feel afraid or unsure, ask your subject to make their portrait. Then you empower your subject to say “yes” or “no.” Your conscience is clear.
Assignment to help build your confidence
- Do a set of pushups in a public place until you get tired. Then stand up, and go wash your hands.
- Write a blog post about about a “controversial” idea you have. Then share it with your friends via social media or email.
- Ask 100 strangers over the course of a year to make their portrait. Study Danny Santos who inspired me. After getting rejected 1,000 times, you will never be afraid to ask for permission in street photography.
Fear all exists in your mind. You can train your mind with Stoic philosophy (I love Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus). They taught me that fear is nothing.
Also, push yourself out of your comfort zone. To be honest, the quickest way to conquer your fears of shooting street photography is spend an entire day asking strangers permission to make their portrait. Keep asking until you get 5 people to say “yes” and 5 people to say “no.” Even easier, attend an ERIC KIM Experience
For more practical assignments how to conquer your fears in street photography, buy [STREET NOTES MOBILE EDITION] (http://erickimphotography.com/blog/product/street-notes-mobile/)
How have you conquered your fears in street photography, or what are some irrational fears you still have in street photography? Share your thoughts on ERIC KIM Forum
Chapter 3. How to Take More Risks in Street Photography
For this chapter, let’s continue our exploration into street photography via risk taking.
Why street photography is fun
So I think street photography is the best way to build your confidence in real life. Street photography is only fun because it is scary and risky.
Think about it, any video game that is too easy is not fun.
Let me tell you a story: when I was a kid, I only had fun playing Time Crisis (arcade shooting game) because I had “skin in the game”– I paid $1 as a 12 year old (a lot of money for a kid) for only 3 lives. I focused like my life depended on it. I wanted to go as far as I could with just one buck.
No risk, no fun.
Another time, I was able to play Time Crisis with unlimited lives. It was no longer fun. I was like God, dying had no consequences.
Which made me realize at age 12:
Unlimited lives makes things boring.
For example, my real human life is only fun because I have the risk of death, and also I know one day I will die. Even if I were given a magical pill to live forever, I would resolutely say “no”.
Street photography is fun because it is scary. I personally get an adrenaline rush whenever I shoot street photos that are scary and difficult.
Easy street photography no longer interests me. For example, I’m bored to photograph people walking by a billboard or poster. I’d rather shoot aggressive, head-on, with a flash and 28mm lens.
Now that does make ERIC KIM a bit of an asshole. How do I sleep at night? I shoot aggressively, but I also smile at folks, and usually give them a fist bump or high five after.
For those of you who know me in real life, I’m probably the nicest and most charming motherfucker out there. I can make people like me in less than a minute, because I don’t bullshit. I smile, shake hands, and make myself naked. I ask more questions than talking about my own opinion. I’m pretty much the most social, and socially-skilled person I know.
Even in my workshops, I’m just teaching social skills (they are skills that can be learned), and teaching my students how to build their personal confidence.
The secret to confidence in street photography: love taking risks.
Risk Taking in Street Photography and Real Life
Whenever you shoot a street photo, you’re taking a risk.
- Risk of pissing someone off
- Risk of not making a good photo
- Risk of getting punched in the face
How do we become less fearful of taking risks in street photography? Some ideas:
- Take icy cold showers: anyone can do this. This is Stoic training, to not become afraid of the cold. I started to start with really hot showers, and then ending icy cold. Now I just go straight cold. Your body will adjust.
- Deadlift. Men and women, anyone can deadlift. You will feel more like a beast after doing the “1 rep max” style of training. It is easy, I was able to deadlift more than 405 pounds by the following: deadlift once a week, and just add 2.5-5 pounds a week. I started at 135 pounds at age 18, now I can do over 410 pounds at age 29, after 11 years of training.
Therefore my solution is this: to build confidence in street photography, build your physical body and resistance to pain. Also, try to practice “intermittent fasting”– personally I don’t eat breakfast or lunch anymore. This has helped me lose body fat (I have a 6-pack) and has made me sharper, more keen, and more wild, like a hungry lion.
How to take more risks
Whenever you do anything in life, you’re taking a small risk.
For example, when you cross the road, you’re taking a small risk. You might get run over or die.
When you text and drive, you make a small risk of dying in a texting and driving incident.
When you ask someone on a date, you have a small risk of having the person say “no.”
I think in modern society, we have been made passive. Passive by Facebook, Netflix, weed, alcohol, and other things that make us passive consumers. Because it is scary to take risks in real life.
Other sad trends: I see games in the App Store which simulates being a “professional YouTuber”. This drove me crazy. I thought to myself, “Why would you play a fucking stupid ass YouTube simulation game? Why not just make your own YouTube channel, and upload real videos?”
I cannot blame the individual. I blame our modern entertainment driven culture. Like Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, we aren’t being oppressed by the government. Rather, were just made passive by pointless entertainment that distracts us.
To be happier, take more risks in your life.
Examples of risk taking:
- Take that job offer which forces you to move from home.
- Join the more risky startup instead of just getting a cozy job at Google or Facebook.
- Start your own company, if you have the chance.
- Ask someone on a date that you would like to with. Ask someone who you think is “beyond your league.”
- Take a risk when getting a new job, ask for a 25% raise.
- When charging for your photography services, charge 25% more than you think you should.
- With restaurants, take a risk and try out a new place, even though your old and tried restaurants are good.
- Take a risk, travel to somewhere that you haven’t been to before.
- Go to that party that you were invited to, if you’re scared that you might not know anyone there.
- Share an unpopular political belief of yours, either in real life, or on social media.
I do believe that if we do take smaller risks in our everyday life, we will become more fearless.
How to take more risks in street photography
Some risk taking assignments in street photography:
- When you’re not sure whether you should make a photo or not, JUST SHOOT IT.
- For a month only shoot street photography on your phone.
- When in doubt, take a step closer to your subject.
- Prefocus your lens to .7 meters or 3 feet, and only shoot at that distance for a month.
- Share or publish a street photograph of yours that you like, but you’re afraid others might not like.
- Intentionally try to get people to un-follow you on social media.
- Delete your Instagram (I did this, and I’ve been thriving more in my street photography since, because I shoot stuff that I like, instead of trying to please my followers).
Of course, these assignments are just suggestions. Do them or don’t do them. You have full control.
Everyday, do something that scares you a little bit. Your confidence will build, like a snowball.
For more confidence, buy STREET NOTES MOBILE EDITION to inspire and empower you on-the-go, or buy STREET NOTES (paper version, it fits in your back pocket, perfect during your morning commute, or enjoyed with a cup of coffee).
Chapter 4. How to Make Dynamic Street Photography Compositions
To continue, let’s talk some practical tips how to take your street photography composition to the next level.
A good street photograph has tension. Think of sexual pent-up tension. Imagine the drama between two people, and the eager build up to their encounter.
In a good street photograph, consider what kind of drama, tension, and pent up energy you have.
Are you about to have two people or more people collide?
Or, do you have dynamic opposites; people moving away from a central point in the frame?
Is there movement, hand gestures, or glaring stares from eye contact?
Does the photo make you feel uncomfortable by looking at it? If not, the photo is probably pretty boring.
The best way to ascertain whether your photograph has tension or not:
Does looking at your own photos make you feel nervous?
2. Clean edges
I’m kind of a perfectionist when it comes to street photography composition. A lesson I learned from my teacher Constantine Manos (Magnum Photographer) is: avoid tunnel vision in street photography. Which means, avoid focusing just in the center of the frame.
Rather while you’re shooting, make sure to focus on the edges of the frame.
The way I apply this compositional theory: I look at the edges of my frame when I’m shooting.
The benefit of using a camera with an electric viewfinder, lcd screen, or even using a DSLR – you can see the edges of your frame very clearly. Which means, when you’re shooting street photography, don’t look at the center of the frame. Just stick your subject somewhere in the middle of the frame, and focus on subtracting distracting elements from from the edges of your frame.
Another tip: try to get simple backgrounds in street photography. Avoid overlapping figures, and when in doubt, just start with a black canvas. Find a simple black wall, and wait until strangers walk by, and ask to make a portrait of them against the simple wall. If you get a “yes”, try to make at least 10 photos of them. And offer to email them your best photo.
3. Get closer
“If your photos aren’t good enough, your photos aren’t close enough.” – Robert Capa (co-founding member of Magnum Photos)
“You know you’re close enough in street photography when your lens no longer focuses.” – Thomas Leuthard
From my friend Thomas Leuthard, I learned how to shoot close. Uncomfortably close. Like .7 meters (one arm length close).
Now I get even closer. I’ll shoot photos from 30-50 centimeters away (around 2 feet). I can do this by using the “macro” or close-focus mode on my camera.
Why do close photos work?
My theory: it puts the viewer in your shoes, and makes the viewer feel like they’re “really there.”
For example, if you have a photo where the subject of your photo is staring straight at you, the photographer, it makes the viewer feel like the subject is looking straight at them.
Eye contact is uncomfortable. With eye contact, we are not sure whether the stranger is a friend or a foe.
The easiest way to defuse a potentially angry subject: after making a photo of them, just smile at them, wave, and say “thank you.” It has worked for me in over 12 countries.
Another nice thing I learned about human nature through street photography: people are nicer than they seem, everywhere in the world. Even though we have cultural differences, we all enjoy coffee, tea, laughing, eating good food, and appreciating time with friends and family. We all also appreciate smiles, and human warmth.
The saying to remember is this:
When in doubt, smile.
4. Layers, depth, and multiple subjects
A sign of a more advanced street photographer: having the skill and panache to move beyond single subject images, and to integrate more layers, depth, and multiple subjects to the frame.
The way to do this: focus on the subject furthest away from you, then then try to add a foreground subject, a middle-ground subject, and a background subject.
When shooting with a manual focusing lens, I usually prefocus to 5 meters, and try to fill the frame with close subjects. These subjects that are very close to your frame and out of focus are called foreground subjects.
The best way to integrate a subject into your foreground is to make their face or body parts obscure either the far left or the far right of the frame. They call this the “bookend” technique.
a. Bookend technique
For the “bookend” technique– make sure there is no negative space in the far left or far right of the frame. It is a bookend, because the elements on the far left and far right CENTER the energy into the middle of the frame, just like how two bookends on a shelf prevent the books from falling over. The two bookends (left and right) SQUEEZE the books together into the center. Try to do the same with your compositions.
And generally, when you think you’re close enough, you’re not. So get closer.
With bookend technique and layers I recommend using a relatively wide lens, like a 28mm or 35mm full frame equivalent. In my experience, most street photographers do best with a 35mm lens. 28mm is pretty damn hard, you have to be close enough to your subjects that you can see the color of their eyes.
I can shoot with a 28mm lens, and I find a 28mm lens works best on a point and shoot camera, like a digital Ricoh GR or even an iPhone (the default lens is roughly a 28mm “full frame” equivalent.
b. Don’t overlap subjects
Leave a little bit of white space between your subjects, and avoid overlapping figures. The best way to study this: look at Renaissance paintings and see how the subjects are usually very clearly separated from one another. Of course, separating subjects is far easier when painting, not making photos.
When trying to separate your subjects in your frame, do it consciously. You often have to shoot a lot to space your subjects apart. A lot of spacing in street photography is luck, especially when you have a lot of stuff going on in your scene.
So if you want to make a good multiple subject scene, my recommendation:
Try to shoot at least 300 photos of one scene, to get 1 half-decent layering, depth, and multiple subject street photo.
Of course there are a lot more street photography composition techniques, but these are my favorites, distilled over the 10 years of practicing in the streets.
Above all, just take more risks with your compositions.
Tilt your camera, shoot with your camera on the ground, lie on your stomach, move while shooting, use a flash, shoot from very high perspective looking down, and have fun– like a kid, exploring the world with their camera for the first time.
Chapter 5: How to Get into a Zen Street Photography Flow
Dear friend, let’s continue our conversation, now discussing how you can get into a good street photography flow.
The Zen of Street Photography
Street photography is also walking meditation for me. I love to go and enjoy my street photography walk, letting myself tune out the crazy world.
For me, street photography is the best way to overcome anxiety, depression, and boredom.
I remember when I was in my boring office job, I would enjoy walking around the block with my camera in hand, just for 15 minutes and I’d feel a lot less stressed (even with 200 emails waiting to be responded to).
Street photography is also good for our physical health. It gives us an excuse to walk more. And the more we walk the more street photos we shoot, and the more likely we are to make a good photo.
Why street photography?
For me it ain’t about making photos, it’s about making meaning in life.
Many of us lack a sense of purpose or direction in our lives. Photography helps give us that focus.
Consider: in photography, you have to “focus” on what to photograph. In life, you also need to “focus” on what is important to you.
For me, this is what is important in my life:
- Doing meaningful work that helps others
- Empowering my friends and family
- Supporting Cindy
For me, this is how street photography helps me focus on my life goals:
- Street photography is mental therapy for me. So I like to “preach the gospel” of street photography with others, keeping it open, free, and empowering.
- Street photography has helped me earn money and wealth. I share that with my friends and family. I’m also trying to teach entrepreneurship to teach others how to help themselves.
- Street photography has helped me build courage, so now I have the courage to fight societal norms and support Cindy.
What don’t you photograph?
I also think in street photography, knowing what not to photograph is more important than what to photograph.
For example, I personally don’t like to photograph homeless people. I still do it every once in a while, but I usually talk to them, or give them some money.
I typically don’t like to shoot candid photos of homeless because in my heart, it feels like exploitation. It’s like I’m taking their shitty position in life, to make my own selfish “artful critique of society.”
While I am a social critic, I wanna make change. So all of my photography has a social aim.
For my “Suits” project, it was about uncovering the bullshit of searching for money and wealth as a dead end for happiness.
For my “Only in America” series, it shows a general sense of malaise, of competency, lack of growth, and sadness.
Therefore, even though I’m an optimist at heart, my photos are fucking depressing.
Lately, I’ve been during to shoot more “positive photography”, photos that uplift the hearts and souls of my viewers. I’ve been photographing a lot of “laughing ladies” as a tool of empowerment.
How do you feel when shooting street photography?
Does street photography make you feel good, or stressed and anxious?
For me, shooting street photography gives me a calm sense of joy and elation. I walk slower, contemplate more thoughts, and talk to more strangers on the street. I generally feel happier and more joyful than when compared to reading news and getting angry over politics.
Street photography is also good for me, because it allows me to be creative everyday. Making photos is easy. Making street photos is accessible everywhere. I just take a step outside, and I can start shooting.
When I shoot in the streets, I don’t censor myself. I just photograph what interests me. I also try not to hesitate. Whenever I hesitate, I lose my mojo and zest for shooting a scene. I lose confidence and courage.
So my mantra when I shoot is:
When in doubt, click.
Also, street photography makes me more adventurous. Everyday life is like a vinyl record, with the same grooves that are etched into your brain. True innovation in photography and life is all about creating new grooves, or by paving a new path in life.
Street photography encourages me to go down that random alley and to “flaneur”, or wander down mysterious roads. It encourages spontaneity in my life, which is always fun and exciting. Life is too much like a prison. I want more danger, randomness, and unpredictability. Street photography helps me achieve that in a practical way.
Conclusion: Zen and Joy of Street Photography
Treat street photography as Zen training for your mind. Street photography to me is a way of being, of creating, and exploring. It’s my compass in life.
Street photography encourages me to be a little less timid, bored, or scared in everyday life. It empowers me to wander, explore my personal limits, with no glass ceiling or boundaries.
How has street photography helped you find more happiness and joy in life? Share your thoughts in ERIC KIM FORUM
Chapter 6. Friendly-Aggressive in Street Photography
Let’s continue by talking how by being more aggressive, you can make better photo and connections with your subjects.
I don’t want you to become an asshole like ERIC KIM, I just want you to overcome your own self imposed limits. I want you to get closee to your subjects in street photography.
I want you to become more aggressive, in a friendly way.
I can’t speak for you but I’ll tell you what has helped me in street photography.
Nowadays I shoot almost all of my photos within an arm length (.7 meters or 3 feet). Why? Photos shot from a close distance are generally more interesting.
Also I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie. When I was a kid, I liked to jump off stairs, and take risks. I would enjoy doing 360 jumps off a flight of stairs. If I were a kid today, I would probably do more “parkour”, treating the world like my own jungle gym.
The thing with adrenaline, once you get a small dose of it, you adjust your tolerance.
For example in street photography, most of it is boring to me. I used to shoot like Henri Cartier-Bresson, finding a nice background and waiting for someone to enter the frame. But this started to bore me. Rather, I started to shoot like Bruce Gilden, more aggressively. Thomas Leuthard and Charlie Kirk also inspired me to get closer to my subjects and not to be so scared.
It’s nice, I have my own style now:
Friendly aggressive in street photography.
Friendly aggressive in street photography, an oxymoron?
I smile a lot. I talk a lot. I get physically close to my friends. I like to shake everyone’s hand, or fist bump them as a form of affirmation or my way or saying “hello.”
Even when I get on the bus, I’ll give a hat tip to the driver and day: “How’s it going boss?” and fist bump him. It is a good way of bridging the gap with strangers, and honestly, 99% of people I interact like in this “friendly aggressive” way respond nicely and with joy.
Friendly-Aggressive Street photography tactics
So how can you apply this friendly aggressive attitude to street photography? Some ideas and tactics:
- Don’t ask for permission, and just make the photo. But afterwards, wait until the person notices. Then smile walk over, and show them the photo on the back of your LCD screen.
- Make a street photo of a stranger, and compliment them the second after you shoot them like: “Looking good, chief!”
- Smile while you’re shooting street photography, and get close. People will feel less creeped out or bothered by you.
The friendly street photographer.
Above all, just be more friendly and gregarious. I honestly think a lot of famous street photographers in history (including Henri Cartier-Bresson) were anti-social, and quite awkward people.
Cartier-Bresson, a great photographer, hated being photographed. Even in video interviews, he would refuse to have the camera show his face. A bit hypocritical for a guy who made his living photographing other people without their permission, no?
If you want to be a better street photographer, just be more comfortable around other people. Practice making small talk with your waiter, server, barista, or strangers in the elevator. I like it, because traditionally, most ancient societies were about hanging in the marketplace, just chatting with everyone about current politics, economics, and happenings in the neighborhood.
Nassim Taleb says, “Commerce is the road to all tolerance”- in the past Christians, Jewish folk, Muslim folks, and all would live in peaceful harmony, because everyone wanted to make a buck.
Conclusion: Give back in street photography
In street photography, let us also give back. Offer to email your subject the photo. Or as my friend Neil Ta does, he will go back to the same neighborhood days later, and give an old Cuban lady a portrait he made of her. You cannot imagine the look of the woman’s face (she was overjoyed, and in tears).
To conclude this chapter, remember this saying:
Don’t take photos, make photos.
Make meaning, make connections, and make a difference in society with your street photography.
Chapter 7. The Art of Being a Street Flaneur
Let’s continue STREET PHOTOGRAPHY MANUAL, and talk about the importance of wandering, following your curiosity, and being a “Flaneur.”
I love being a flaneur in street photography
First of all, what is a “flaneur”?
A flaneur (French word, flaner) is usually used in a bad connotation. A flaneur is typically defined as “Someone who lounges around and just idles.”
For me, I discovered the word from Nassim Taleb, the ultimate flaneur. He discourages the modern obsession of “productivity” and “efficiency”, and this foolish need to “always be doing something.” But the truth is: sometimes the best thing is to not do anything at all.
In investing, Warren Buffet encourages us to buy “value stocks” at low prices, and in theory, own them forever. Instead of just trading stocks like playing cards, like what many “day traders” (or minute traders) do.
In street photography, it is all about capturing the beauty of randomness and serendipity. As a street photographer, you are a professional flaneur. Someone with no road map. Someone who wanders and follows your nose, like a keen wolf or dog.
I see a flaneur as someone who walks 100% slower than the normal NYC businessman during rush hour. For myself when I’m shooting street photography, I try to walk 25% slower than I normally do, when I’m in a rush to go somewhere. I try to remind myself:
I try to feel the pavement under my feet. I try to feel the sensation of the concrete caressing the contours of my feet. I try to feel the nerves in my calves connecting with the ground and earth. To breathe in the (sometimes) fresh air, look up at the green trees, and be grateful to be alive, with fellow human beings, not stuck in some spaceship going to Mars.
To be a flaneur street photographer is to be an anti-tourist. You hate pre arranged travel trips, where you’re being shuttled on an air-conditioned (now with wifi) bus, just to take a few selfies to share on social media.
I’ve always hated touristy shit. I felt like a prisoner. I couldn’t go at my own pace. Sometimes certain things would interest me, and I’d love to linger. Other times, things would bore me. I’d want to move on.
Street photography is the ultimate freedom. You decide what you find interesting or boring. You decide when to stop, or when to continue to move on.
A good way to be more of a flaneur in your street photography: inject more randomness into your walking.
For example if you have a normal routine in street photography in terms of where you shoot, switch it up.
Shoot in a totally different part of town. Go down alleys you might be scared to. Shoot in a part of town that scares you. Often facing your fears is one of the best ways to build yourself as a human being, but also to take your photography to the next level.
Randomness in exercise
We’re told to go to the gym dutifully three times a week, always on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Yet, with too much predictability, our bodies never become stronger.
Rather, I believe in injecting randomness and unpredictability in your workouts. Train the same muscle two days in a row. Or go a week without working it out at all.
Randomness and creativity
The more you embrace randomness, the more curiosity and fun you have. And the more creative ideas you have.
For example, when I’m out walking the streets like a flaneur, I always enter stores I’m interested in. Sometimes a random encounter into going into a Bang & Olfusen Store has inspired how I see design, composition, and marketing. I sometimes feel intimidated to enter a store that I don’t plan on buying anything. Now my rule is:
If I see a store I’m interested in, I just go in. And when the workers look at me, I just say, “Oh do you mind if I just look around a bit?” 100% of workers always say (with a smile), “Of course!”
To be a street photography flaneur, see yourself opening random doors, just like a “free range” kid, without a leash. Imagine yourself like on a road trip with an old Ford Mustang, with no top on. Ultimate freedom to wander, and follow your personal curiosity and muse.
Randomness in photography
Some of my best ways to find good photographers is this: Go Into a photo book store, or art book store, and browse random photographers. Often through serendipity, I find great new photographers that inspire me.
For example, I discovered the work of Guy Bourdain, a fashion photographer, purely by chance. But his work has inspired how I see color photography more than any other photographer out there. His surrealism also has inspired my street photography.
Another good tip: ask for recommendations from photographers whose work you admire. I love the work of Pierre Balthasan in Marseille. I discovered his work through my friend Yvette Vernin, another great Marseille street photographer. Anyways, Pierre showed me a lot of photo books in his library, and I re-discovered my passion for Richard Avedon and his “In the American West” street portrait series, of strangers against simple white backdrops. I’m glad I asked Pierre for his recommendations.
So you can be a flaneur in your creative interests. Not just to be a slave to traditional tropes and styles in street photography.
Anti-definition in “Street Photography”
The ultimate street photographer is an “anti street photographer.”
For example, Garry Winogrand, the quintessential street photographer, hated being called a street photographer. He once said in an interview, “Call me a zoo photographer instead.”
Why did he hate the definition of street photography? It put him in a small box.
I say fuck boxes, like Justin Timberlake (dick in a box).
Don’t define yourself, your photography, or your street photography. Just follow your personal muse, and shoot whatever interests you, however you like to shoot.
So friend, to end this chapter, ask yourself,
How can I inject more randomness and serendipity into my street photography? How can I channel the heart of a flaneur into my street photography, and aimless walks?
Chapter 8. STREET STOICISM
In this chapter of STREET PHOTOGRAPHY MANUAL, let us talk about the theoretical framework of becoming a badass street photographer, aka, a STREET STOIC.
What is Stoicism?
Stoicism is a philosophy that pre dates Christianity. Stoicism has been around for longer than 2,000 years.
The stoic philosophers to know include Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.
During 2,000 years ago, life was uncertain. People died all the time, from war, famine, disease, and political upheaval. They needed a philosophy that addressed the difficulty of living with confidence in an uncertain world.
Fast forward to today. We live in a much more stable world. Yet, many of us still live in fear.
Street photography is fucking scary. When you make a photo of a stranger, you are taking a risk. You have the risk of pissing them off, getting punched, or who knows, even beat up.
So how can you build a stoic armor against your fears in street photography? Let me share what has worked for me.
1. Learn how to take a punch
Typical scene from the movie Fight Club: learning not to be afraid of physical pain and taking a punch.
Today, we are weak. We have no spine. We are afraid of pain. We are made weak and flabby by luxury and this lust for comfort.
I think everyone, men and women, should learn how to take a punch. Why? When you do get punched, it actually isn’t so painful. I used to box in my garage with my friends at age 16 for fun, and got punched a lot and even knocked unconscious. It wasn’t that bad. Actually, a bit fun.
Of course I still get scared when I shoot street photography. But I get a lot less scared now than I did in the past. Why? Because I learned and trained myself to take a punch. Take a mental punch. An insult. Empty threats from subjects saying they will call the cops on me.
To build confidence in street photography, signup for a boxing class. Get punched a few times. Rinse out your mouth with watery blood, and a few loose teeth. You will be ok.
2. Don’t fear rejection
To be a STREET STOIC, is to love to take risks. The more risks you take, the more strong you will become, and the less fear you will have.
Assignment one: learn to love rejection.
To do this, ask a bunch of strangers to make their portrait. You gotta keep asking until you get 10 people to say “no.” One you get 10 rejections, you will be a lot less afraid of rejection.
Fear of rejection is what holds back our potential in life. For example, fear of rejection from that potential date. Fear of rejection of asking for a raise. Fear of rejection of having your photos featured in a gallery.
It’s so simple. If you start to love to ask and don’t fear rejection (actually anticipate rejection), you will never feel disappointed.
To sum up, a STREET STOIC always expects to get rejected, but asks anyways. But when they get rejected, they don’t feel bitter or sad. They simply move “onto the next one” with a smile.
3. Focus on your actions not the results
A STREET STOIC says “fuck you” to fate. A STREET STOIC knows they have control over their fate.
But at the same time, a STREET STOIC will never feel disappointed, especially when things don’t go their way.
My suggestion for you in street photography: focus on the effort and hustle you out in, never the results.
For example, you can control whether you shoot for 8 hours on a Saturday, and work really hard. You cannot control whether you get a good shot or not.
As an entrepreneur, you can work 120 hour weeks. But whether your business takes off or not, isn’t 100% in your control.
But a good STREET STOIC knows, the harder you work, the more likely you will hit a home run. The more likely you will make a good photo, or have a good time.
So once again,
Focus on your effort in street photography, not the results.
A STREET STOIC is you. Never complain, or feel fear. You are stronger than you think. I believe in you.
So friend, put on your bronze STOIC STREET ARMOR, and know that the puny wooden arrows of fate cannot pierce or harm you.
Creative Destruction: Your New Beginning
Consider this your new fresh start in street photography. It don’t matter if you’re a newbie or experienced. Kill your past photo self, and guide yourself. Only define street photography according to your personal guidelines, and never stop exploring, and following your curiosity.
To sum up my advice for you in your street photography:
JUST SHOOT IT.
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