"Man Reading" - Los Angeles
"Deep Thoughts" - Hollywood Street Photography by Eric Kim
"Deep Thoughts" - Hollywood

Recently one of my readers, Tim Agee, asked me if I could do an article on whether or not you should be “sneaky” when shooting street photography.

This is a very tricky subject, as you need a certain degree of stealthiness to get candid images. However, some of the best street photographers aren’t taken when you are being “sneaky.” Being sneaky infers that you are timid and you have some sort of malicious intent. I advocate for being brave and bold when shooting street photography, and the invisibility will follow.

What do I mean? As Markus Hartel wonderfully said, “Walk around at ease, be on the move and observe, shoot, nod confidently -or smile- .. and eventually it will become second nature, people care less than you think.” Read more to figure out why you shouldn’t be sneaky when shooting street photography.

1. You will end up looking even more sneaky

Street Photography by Eric Kim
"Man Reading" - Los Angeles

When you are trying to be sneaky when shooting street photography, all of your bodily and facial expressions will make you act sneaky. Therefore in trying to ask sneaky to prevent yourself from being seen– you will actually end up standing out more. Therefore when you are out shooting street photography, it is better to walk around casually and with confidence. As a street photographer, it is important to blend into the environment instead of sticking out like a sore thumb.

2. You won’t build up courage

"Girl in Red" - Santa Monica Street Photography by Eric Kim
"Girl in Red" - Santa Monica

A while back on my Facebook fan page I asked what is the most important characteristic of a street photographer, and the most of you overwhelmingly answered “Courage.”  I whole-heartedly agree. Through these years of shooting street photography, the courage I built up shooting strangers on the street is what I value the most. Now I notice that even in my everyday life, I have no problem approaching strangers and striking up conversations or asking them questions.

As Robert Capa said, “If your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Getting close to strangers takes a ton of courage, which develops over time. As I like to think, street photography is 80% balls and 20% skill.

3. Your images won’t be as memorable

Street Photography - "The Coke Way of Life" - Santa Monica
"The Coke Way of Life" - Santa Monica

The most memorable street photographs captured in history all reflect most of the same characteristics: they are shot up-close, the photographer is intimate with his/her subject, and they tell a story. If you roam the streets trying to capture images in a sneaky way, you will never build up a level of intimacy or understanding with your subjects. To get truly natural and candid street photographs, you mustn’t be sneaky.

4. You will think you’re doing something “wrong”

"The Scarf" - Eric Kim Street Photography
"The Scarf" - 3rd Street Promenade

Whenever I tell people that I shoot street photography, most of them look at me suspiciously and say something along the lines of, “Wait… so you take photos of strangers in public without their permission? Isn’t that illegal?” When people ask me those questions, they have this thought in their mind that there is something inherently “bad” about street photography.

Therefore when you are out shooting on the streets in a sneaky manner, you yourself are affirming that there is something “bad” about shooting street photographs. Whenever I am out on the streets shooting street photography, I tell myself something like, “I am trying to capture the beauty in the mundane. I am doing a good thing for society to see things that they usually don’t pay attention to.” By putting myself in that mindset, I become much more calm and relaxed, which makes those around me feel more comfortable.

5. You might get in trouble

"The Heist" - Eric Kim Street Photography
"The Heist" - Santa Monica

If you are trying to be sneaky while shooting street photography (shooting with a super-long and white telephoto lens or looking suspicious with a black trenchcoat) people are going to spot you. Not only does that make you look like a creep, but people may report you to the authorities. Although shooting street photography in public is totally legal (at least in the US), you don’t want to deal with law enforcement who may only know half-truths and may be out to get you.

So what do you think about acting “sneaky” when shooting street photography? How do you carry yourself in public without sticking out like a sore thumb? Leave a comment below!

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