Alex Coghe

(Above image “Untitled” by Christos Kapatos)

I just finished reading “The Black Swan” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, where he discusses many misconceptions and fallacies that we face as humans. He talks from a scientific-philosophical viewpoint, and has many fascinating insights.

One of them was about knowledge—and that it isn’t necessarily additive—rather something subtractive. For example, a good stock-broker won’t tell you what to do, but rather what not to do.

Therefore for this blog post I will share some of my insights and experiences in street photography in terms of what not to do. Hopefully this will help you get more compelling images when out on the streets!

1.Dont shoot standing up


One of the things I always advise people against when shooting street photography is shooting standing up. When you are shooting street photography, crouching allows you to get a more interesting and dynamic angle. This applies especially when you are taking photos of people either sitting down or photos of kids. You want your perspective to be at least eye-level with them, if not lower. The perspective of taking a photo of someone lower than you makes them look small and awkward. If you don’t crouch much when shooting on the streets, I highly encourage you to do so now! (your thighs will hate me though).

Of course this depends on the situation. If you are shooting on the streets and want to focus more on people’s faces, don’t crouch down too low, or you will get an unnatural angle.

2.Dont shoot street performers or the homeless

Nils Jorgensen

Shooting street performers or the homeless are easy targets. When I first started shooting street photography, they were the two subjects I naturally gravitated to. The logic to me at the time made sense—if I am shooting people on the streets why not these two people who are always on the streets anyways?

The reason I don’t like shooting street performers and the homeless are because it is rare you will get a compelling or unique image. Not only that, but it is too easy.

Street performers have their photo taken all the time, and aren’t challenging to take photos of. The homeless are a bit different—we try to highlight their suffering in order to make an interesting image.

Of course not everything in life is black and white. It is possible to make an interesting photo of a street performer of a homeless person—in a humane and righteous way. However I haven’t seen many photos done well, so if you are used to taking lots of photos of street performers or the homeless—I suggest you to steer away! I believe it is better to take an extraordinary photo of someone ordinary than take an ordinary photo of someone extraordinary.

3.Don’t spend more time researching gear than shooting photos

Alex Coghe

When I used to work as computer tech support in IT, I spent a ridiculous amount of time agonizing over the type of gear I needed. I was convinced that because I didn’t have the right lens, body, or equipment I wouldn’t be able to get the shots necessary.

In street photography we (like every other type of photographer out there) like to talk about gear. There is nothing wrong about that, but it is dangerous once you start spending more time researching and worrying about gear rather than shooting. For example, rather than deciding if you need a new 28mm or a 35mm to complement your 50mm, I would suggest for you to just go out and shoot with your 50mm and see what you can get! In addition, you don’t need a Leica camera to get compelling images. Learn how to get comfortable with your DSLR or point and shoot and capture life through your lens.

4.Don’t ask others what they like about your images

detroit, 2010
Andy Kochanowski

I used to be horrible at taking constructive critique, and still struggle with it myself. It is easy to ask others what they like about your photos, rather than what they don’t like about your images.

When you take a great photo, you know what you like about the image. For example, you might like the interesting subject you captured, the intensity of the light, the angle of the background, or the moment in which you clicked the shutter.

It is easy to get blinded by our favorite images—that we can’t spot the imperfections in them. For example, your subject may have a pole sticking out of their head—the horizon might be crooked, or the background may be too busy. It is difficult to spot out imperfections on our own, so rather ask other people what they don’t like about your images—and how you can improve.

Sure it is nice to have people compliment your images and give you positive feedback and of course… get “fav’d” on Flickr. But all of that stuff doesn’t mean much in the end.

I have a simple suggestion: when you post a photo and you want helpful/harsh critique, be very open and transparent about it. If you post a photo on Flickr, write in the caption that you would like people to give you a harsh critique, or state it when uploading to Facebook.

*The two best places I have found on the web for street photography critique is the Grit & Grain Group on Flickr as well as the Hardcore Street Photography Critique Thread. I owe a lot to the Grit & Grain Group, as when I was first starting off they gave me brutal & honest critique which helped me further develop as a street photographer. The guys at HCSP give helpful critique as well (thanks for the tip Charlie!). 

5.Don’t waste time focusing

Charlie Kirk

Life happens quickly, and often times manual focusing or autofocusing isn’t fast enough to capture the action in street photography.

Sure it is nice to get that lovely bokeh in the background by shooting wide open, but think about all the times you misfocused and thus missed the decisive moment?

Rather than wasting time on manual focusing or autofocus, simply use zone focusing. If you are unfamiliar with the technique, it is setting your camera to a pre-set focusing distance (ie 1 meter or 2 meters) and selecting a high f-stop with a large depth of field (ie f/11 or f/16). If you shoot consistently a certain distance away from your subject, this will ensure that your photo will always be reasonably sharp and in-focus. Don’t forget when you are doing this to keep your ISO high in cloudy or dim light (ie 1600, 3200 ISO) to keep your shutter speed fast enough (you want at least 320ths/second to prevent motion blur).

6.Don’t rush yourself

Raindrop's Point of View
Rinzi Ruiz

One of the traits that all street photographers (myself included) could benefit from is patience. If you see an interesting background, beam of light, or potential photo-opportunity, wait for the right person to enter your scene and capture the moment.

In street photography, shooting in good light can make an ordinary scene magical. Some of my good street photographer friends such as Ibarionex Perello and Rinzi Ruiz will often wait up for an hour if they see the right light—and wait for the right person to enter the scene.

Good things happen to those who wait.

7.Don’t constantly change focal lengths

Alex Webb

Less is more. Having more options just makes us frustrated and prevents us from focusing. Although I am a huge advocate for experimenting with different type of street photography styles, focal lengths, gear, and projects—there is a point in which you need some consistency.

Recently on a blog post I gave some advice that you should stick to one camera and one lens for a year until you get really comfortable with it—and then perhaps experiment with something else. However myself (being human and a hypocrite) went out and bought a 21mm to play around with my M9. I had always been fascinated with this concept of going wide—and a 35mm often felt too tight on my Leica.

However after experimenting with it for about a month—I am starting to realize it is too wide. The parallax error of a 21mm using an external viewfinder is really frustrating and having such a wide lens means that you have to be extra careful of your backgrounds when you are shooting (because it is easy to create a busy background).

Now whenever I am out shooting, I am always concerning myself in the back of my mind whether I should use my 21mm or my 35mm. When I only had one lens (the 35mm) on my M9, life was easy and less stressful. Now the constant battle of what lens to use simply frustrates me. I am still debating whether I should keep or sell off the lens.

So use myself as an example. Having too many cameras and lenses only inhibits your artistic creativity—by stressing you out. Feel free to experiment, but once you find what suits you the best don’t waver too much!

Also interesting tidbit: many of the well-known and established photographers shot with mostly one focal length for their entire careers: Henri Cartier Bresson and a 50mm, Bruce Gilden with a 28mm, Josef Koudelka + David Alan Harvey + Alex Webb with a 35mm.

8.Don’t shoot without knowing why you shoot

Dana Barsuhn

Whenever you go out on the streets, you should have a reason why you shoot. Whether it be for pleasure, whether it be for documenting humanity, whether it be a personal project, or something that drives you.

Street photography is often misunderstood as simply going outside and taking random photos of whatever. Although having the mindset of a flaneur (going outside and strolling aimlessly) is great—you still want some sort of concrete goal or plan when out shooting.

If you are currently struggling with your own street photography and trying to find your own voice, I suggest make a personal project for yourself. Focus on some theme that interests you. It can be as broad as the city you live in (ie. Los Angeles) or as narrow as only taking photos of a certain subgroup of people (ie. Salarymen in Tokyo). It doesn’t even have to be exotic—try even taking photos of signs in your neighborhood (Lee Friedlander did it!).

9.Don’t be slow when shooting

Joel Meyerowitz

When you are shooting on the streets, you need to be quick and athletic—almost like a boxer, as Joel Meyerowitz explains in his famous YouTube video.

If you are slow when shooting on the streets, you will often miss the decisive moment.

When you are out on the streets, learn to spot a potential photo-opportunity from a fair distance away, approach your subject, crouch (or not), snap the photo, smile, and go on.

What I often see beginner street photographers do is to spot a photo opportunity only a few feet away from them, fumble around with their camera, try to frame, and by then the person has either a) Looked away or b) Smiled/posed.

Be quick. Be comfortable with the settings on your camera and more importantly—learn how to visualize your shots before you take the photo, and be comfortable with the focal length you are doing (so you know exactly how to frame and compose your images).

10.Don’t upload photos everyday

Dirty Harrry

Less is more. Quality over quantity.

Nowadays with online social media, we are constantly connected to the web. We feel this urge to always upload to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Google+, 500px, and more.

Show less of your work—only your best work.

I have a suggestion to help keep your quality up, and I call it the “one week rule”: Never upload your photos without waiting at least a week (to determine if it is truly good or not) and upload only one photo a week. This will ensure that every time you upload something, it will be damn good.

What are some suggestions that you think street photographers should avoid? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


red selfie ERIC KIM eye flash

Invest in an unforgettable experience:


Be notified of when new workshops are live here.


Free Motivation for You >

Join the Conversation


  1. Great comment regarding pov, when shooting parades I actually lie in the gutter, makes for great shots of stilt walkers. I like my Sonys for their pivoting LCDs, none of my Nikons do that trick.

    I typically shoot low ISO, large aperture. I get better quality images with better subject isolation and my cameras do a great job of autofocusing when I use center or tracking focus. And I can frame a shot much faster with a zoom than a prime, my wrist is a lot faster than my feet ;-) I save primes for very low light or macro shots.

    1. Great article.

      #4 is very good. Most of the people care about critique too much and lost themselves.

      You take photograph to satisfied yourself, not others.

  2. Im glad I have no money – It forced me to shoot my D90 with a 28mm lens for over a year without even considering it as my only combo. I’ve really learnt that combo well, and I really dislike using any other lens or camera as it just feels unnatural. In terms of the one week rule, I’m finding shooting film really beneficial – I leave a contact sheet on my wall with some test prints and find every niggling thing with my images that need either removing or considering next time I shoot.

    Another really solid post Eric, loving your work as always!

  3. This is really an excellent article…perhaps the most practical and useful one I’ve EVER read on street photography. I got a lot to think about from it….thank you very much for posting!

  4. Great article.

    #4 is very good. Most of the people care about critique too much and lost themselves.

    You take photograph to satisfied yourself, not others.

  5. great post … but I think you missed out the one you kept reminding us all about, something about not looking at the little screen on the back of the digital camera !

      1. Just to add to this… I am terrible for chimping, but I’ve broken the habit by shooting film for a while. (I can’t chimp my little canonet) now when i go digital, I’m more confident in my shots and don’t feel the need to second guess myself by checking the screen. Besides all chimping is going to tell me is that I missed the moment.

  6. Good post Eric. All true and most of it I do myself. Keep up the good work.
    Maybe rule No. 11 would be. “Don’t teach, just shoot” if you want to become a good street photographer and not a workshop teacher. :-)
    Regards from Beirut, Lebanon, where it all started…

    1. Thank you for the comment Thomas! I actually love traveling and teaching workshops– as it has given me far MORE time to go out and shoot, rather than my old job where I only had lunch breaks.

      Also glad to hear you are in Lebanon! Where it all started indeed :) I need to go back with you soon too…

  7. Not sure I agree with all of this Eric.

    1. I think using “unnatural angles” is sometimes a good thing. It can lead to more interesting viewpoints or compositions. I’d say that people should generally shoot subjects at subject eye level, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Experimentation can be beneficial. In terms of children, I prefer to take pictures of them from my height. Children ARE small. So taking from my height shows them as they are. Little small things.

    2. Again, think you are being a bit prescriptive. While I generally agree, sometimes a homeless person or a street performer can complement a scene. But a simple picture of them would be dead boring.

    4. Aside from photo books, getting feedback from others is crucial. I would suggest that people use the HCSP image crit thread or form their own private crit groups on flickr.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Charlie.

      1. That is another great point to think about

      2. Thank you for adding that point. I don’t want to infer you should never take photos of street performers/homeless- but shy away from the practice for an easy shot

      4. Agree!

    2. I live and breath by odd angles…. but you need to keep in mind as Eric said your subject. when shooting people in the street you need to let them do the talking to the viewer but the angle in which you present it is how you see it and it must lead the viewer to what your subject matter is saying….

  8. Great article thanks. What are the rules if any when taking photos of people . Do they have the right to refuse you taking their picture? Could you be taken to court if the image is used in any form of advertising? We take these pics for our own satisfaction but at some point we would like to be able to pay the bills with them. If this not a short and sweet answer then maybe you could post another tip on the subject.



    1. Hey Jimmy – you can take photos as long as you are in public. You can’t take photos from private property, and you can’t use a person’s photo for a commercial.

  9. I find your blog interesting, but I am not really sure why your posts always have too be so prescriptive. Why do you always have to frame things as DO this or DON’T to that? Why not just say, I find this or that useful? If you did I wouldn’t find myself somewhat annoyed by so much of what you write.

    I find myself agreeing with many of your comments, but some of them are just a bit silly. Seriously, DON’T do street photography standing up?? Sure you’ve found it useful to crouch down to take photographs, but are you really saying no one can? Are you saying (say) Martin Parr’s technique is somehow inadequate? It’s just silly.

    1. Patrick, you are taking it too literally. Having a Do and Don’t list is a technique used by bloggers to make a post more interesting. It’s done to make a point and often you’ll find them contradictory to a previous post (intentionally). Does Eric mean you should never take a street photo standing up? Of course not. After reading “rule” #1 ,maybe you’ll more carefully consider your vertical perspective when you shoot.

      I read #3 and realized most of my shots of street performers are trite and boring. Then I read twocutedogs comments and will now see if I can incorporate street performers in the context of the scene. Now something I could have interpreted as a “rule” can be used to improve my photography.

    2. Dear Patrick,

      I try to write opinionated blog posts because they help give some people inspiration or guidance– and remember these are all just “tips”. None of them are stone-cut rules. Feel free to absorb what you enjoy, and disregard what doesn’t resonate with you.

      And no, I take a ton of photos standing up! But I find that a lot of street photographers can benefit from taking more photos crouching ;)

  10. All the people that advice me don’t wast my time searching a good gear have a very good gear. like you. Then, excuse me, but this advice is not valid to me. if not, try to practise with my camera a old Nikon and my plastic lenses D70 and after it we can talk about.

    1. Dear Osselin- I feel that because I now have the best gear money can afford (my Leica M9) I now understand even more that it doesn’t matter what gear you have– but whether you are comfortable with your gear or not. If you don’t like your Nikon, I suggest perhaps getting another camera. But having a more expensive camera doesn’t give me better photos, it is just easier to use!

      And when I started off, I used my Canon XT and 50mm. Helped me learn the fundamentals and took great images too :)

  11. I disagree with your @2 as Street performers are fun to shoot, easy targets for sure but fun. Homeless and down and outs must never be shot as fun but in a very responsible way, just as images of the scourge of all the natural disasters we have had this year the homeless problem must stay in front of all of us until it is wiped out. In this light I always give them a buck or two and I usually see a smile come forth.

    1. Sounds like a very touching story Richard. I feel if we spend the time to get to know these people instead of just snapping and moving along- it helps us better connect and understand what they are going through.


  12. Hi, Eric,

    About the point 2. : Homeless is not an easy subject. To make a good picture that shows a hard reality, that respects people in distress, is not easy. I think that to exclude homeless is for them a second exclusion, a photographic exclusion after a social exclusion. It means that we don’t want to see them anymore. But I agree that the homeless should not be an “exotic” subject by themselves, but an opportunity to denounce a social problem.

    Here : A homeless in Paris :

    Bernard Jolivalt

  13. This is on the button. as a newbie street fotog, I can see several of my weaknesses, but thankfully 3 or 4 things I am doing right. I started with a 50mm and shot 4 tours of my city. Each time going back to reshoot the mistakes. I bought a 28mm f1.8 did another tour using same technique. What a balls up. Halfway through, I was so fed up I switched to my Nikon coolpix point and shoot and got better results.
    I kicked myself all the way home. Next trip, I planned my shots before I left home, which lens, which shot. Much better, but when thing got busy I went back to old faithfull 50mm and relaxed and shot for 4 hours no probs and good results. Also, I dumped the camera bag, put on an old coat with baggy patch pockets to carry spare batteries, alternate lens, lens brush and cloth. Complete freedom of movement only one lens change, if reqd, Relaxed and shooting almost continuously.

    1. Honestly speaking, I took photo to satisfy myself as long as it doesn’t intrude or offend my subject. I think it’s called a hobby.

  14. (Google translation is our friend… or not ?) Je partage à peu près tous tes points de vue, Eric. Et je tiens tout particulièrement au # 8 : “Don’t shoot without knowing why you shoot”. Pour cette raison d’ailleurs, je tiens à commenter le point relatif aux sans-abris. Je crois qu’aborder le sujet des sans-abris sans une forte cohérence personnelle, sans but, est en effet une erreur et une indécence. Pour ma part, j’ai longuement travaillé avec les sans-abris, j’explique d’ailleurs ponctuellement sur mon blog comment j’en suis arrivé à les photographier, avec quelle méthode et dans quel but. Je crois sincèrement que la question centrale est la question de la cohérence et qu’elle sublime toutes les autres. Sinon, un très bon article encore. Et je pense me procurer sans tarder le livre de Nassim Nicholas Taleb qui te l’a inspiré.

  15. Useful post, Eric. Aside from the reasons you mentioned, I hardly ever photograph the homeless because it seems like an invasion of privacy. People on a public street have no expectation of privacy, but most have somewhere to go if they want to avoid the public. The homeless don’t have that. The street is the closest thing they have to a home. So I leave them alone.

    1. I know it’s an invasion of privacy, and that’s why in most of my pictures the homeless don’t have a face. However, to hide them from view is what makes their existence so hard in the first place. It’s easier to pretend they don’t exist.

  16. You’re definitely right about subtractive knowledge. What not to do was definitely more educational in this case.

    Regarding no.2, about the homeless and street musicians, you’re right, but it’s really hard to put it into practice. My first foray into street was by following the homeless of San Francisco around. I realize now that these shots are too easy, but these are the people who drove me into street (as I’m sure they did for countless others). It’s hard to let go…

    As for no.8, shooting while knowing why, I would only agree with you if the title was “things not to do as an ‘established’ street photographer.” I think that, for most of us halfway up the learning curve, it should actually be mandatory to be a flâneur. This is how and where we learn to react, to not be slow, and to not waste time focusing. Then it will be a natural progression, getting to the point (as I believe I’m getting there) where you become dissatisfied with the lack of a cohesive voice in the photos, as you say. When you reach this point, it’s definitely showtime for themes and projects.

  17. My only issue is with the last item. Share your photos til your hearts content. Sure not all go in your portfolio or you might not upload to 500px, but share somewhere. Everyone is so scared they aren’t as great as the next person and leave their photos on drives never to be seen.

    Yea, share the images that help build your brand / image and not junk. More signal and less noise but I think more than 1 image a week can easily be achieved. The signal can still stay strong.

  18. this is great. thank you so much for the tips. i am a newbie and so much interested with doing street photography and this would help.

    Would you mind if I put a link to your site from my blog?

  19. I don’t necessarily agree with point number two. Those who know my street cellphonography know that I focus almost exclusively on the homeless and the poor, and that the social and economic situation of Venezuela has allowed me to get pretty amazing images (if I’m allowed to blow off the fake modesty I am to have when speaking of my own work). Also, as a medium to denounce inequality and oppression, photography, or cellphonography, is the shit.
    For example:

  20. This is a great article! Thank you very much for posting it. I started a street photography group last year and I am going to ask them to read this before our next meet up!

  21. I have my own “10 Don’t’s Of Street Photography” that I would like to share:

    1. Do not think twice!
    2. Do not stop for too long!
    3. Do not make eye contact!
    4. Do not look back!
    5. Do not exclaim!
    6. Do not keep looking at your LCD!
    7. Do not use a big camera or lens!
    8. Do not shoot Manual!
    9. Do not be scared!
    10. Do not get into arguments!

    I have just mentioned the main idea here… If you wish to read on the entire post, then i’d love to welcome you to –

    And feel free to leave your feedback!!

  22. Yes I went out Friday and Saturday, in Liverpool to do some Street photograhy your comments help a lot. I only got one person a man who put up his hand at me, I just smile and looked at him he then walked on. The two days were great for taking Street photography. There was good light and shadows on the two days they are on Flickr now. The ones I like the best will not be going up yet maybe one a week like you said.

  23. Great tips…except for the one about shooting the homeless. I have obtained incredible and moving portraits of homeless people over the years–the catch is, you have to actually go up and talk to them; let them get more comfortable with you (and sometimes–most importantly–ask them if they would be comfortable with you taking a portrait or two) before aiming the camera at them. Of course it cannot be done with EVERY one of them (some of the temperaments you might encounter can be quite dangerous, and rightly so) , but I assure you that, if executed with care and discretion, some truly beautiful shots can be the end result (and, on another note–no, it most certainly is not “too easy” to do…sometimes it takes guts, along with keeping track of your surroundings).

  24. Great article, thanks!
    Unfortunately one of the images isn’t working anymore, maybe you want to fix it…?

  25. Ridiculously useful. Thanks friend. Reminds me of a quote from Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon…”don’t think….feel”.

  26. Pingback: black white
  27. Perhaps you have a more accommodating personality, but how do you suggest getting over the fear/inhibition of pointing a camera lens at someone (assuming you can’t always or don’t always want to do it surreptitiously) ? I’d be really interested to hear your answers. I’ve always steered away from human-interest photography (except for people I know) for this very reason. Maybe it’s just the curse of my own sensitivity, but I’d like to get more into this genre if possible.

  28. Pingback: BONE-DRY | Malate
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.