eric kim street photography new york city1

How to Never Miss The Decisive Moment in Street Photography

eric kim street photography new york city1

Dear friend,

In life and street photography— we are given decisive moments. It is our choice whether to seize it or not.

Here are some ways you can avoid missing any decisive moments in your photography:

1. Wear your camera like a bracelet or necklace

1 eric kim street photography - street portraits-1-laughing-lady-nyc

Rappers wear heavy gold chains. People like to wear diamond-studded bracelets.

Why don’t we do the same with our cameras?henri wrist strap

For me, I wear my Ricoh GR II with the Henri wrist strap. For the film Leica MP I have in America, I wear the Henri Neck Strap at chest-level, so I can access my camera quicker (to not miss the decisive moment).

The benefit of a wrist-strap (for a compact camera) is that the weight in your hand reminds you to look for street photography moments.

I know when I am out walking with my camera (strapped on my wrist), I actually see more decisive moments in street photography.

I also have a practice: when I leave my apartment, I always put my camera either in my front pocket, or strap it around my wrist.

If you use a larger camera, I recommend adjusting your neck strap to sit at your chest-level. That means, less distance between your chest and your eye. I don’t recommend street photographers to wear their cameras across their shoulder, or over their shoulder, because it slows them down a little bit (especially if their goal is to shoot the decisive moment in street photography). Of course, this ‘rule’ can be broken when drinking coffee.

So think of yourself like a street photography rapper. Let your neck run heavy with your camera. Let your wrist have the weight of your camera, strapped around your wrist.

The more you feel the weight of your camera— although uncomfortable, you will see more photo opportunities. I know when I have my camera in my backpack, I don’t see nothing.

2. Shoot in P (program) mode / “Set it and forget it”

black and white tokyo street photography by eric kim8
Tokyo, 2015 / Ricoh GR II in P mode

For the Ricoh GR II, I always keep it in “P” (program) mode, ISO 1600, high-contrast black and white preview, center-point autofocus.

It is always ready for action.

I am a forgetful photographer. If I change the settings, I forget. And I end up missing a lot of good street photography opportunities.

Just like the American Infomercial (for Rotisserie chicken), you want to:


Honestly, “P” (program) mode, ISO 1600, and center-point autofocus isn’t the perfect setup. However, it is 90% ‘good enough’ for most of my street photography. All of the street photos I’ve ever shot and captured with the Ricoh GR II are with those settings.

3. Zone focusing (pre-focus, f/8, ISO 1600)

eric kim street photography - Only in America-13
Downtown LA, 2013 / Leica MP + 35mm + Kodak Portra 400 (shot with zone-focusing at f8, ISO 400, 1/500th shutter speed)

Another tip, this is for you Leica/rangefinder/manual focusing shooters: use zone-focusing in street photography.

Zone focusing is pre-focusing your lens (preferably a 35mm or 28mm lens) to a certain distance (I recommend 1.2 meters, or two-arm lengths away), shooting with a high f-stop (f/8-f/16 to have more depth of field), and using a high ISO (ISO 1600-3200). These settings (at least with a Leica), you should never miss ‘the decisive moment.’ And if your camera has Aperture-priority (A/Av mode) — use it.

Unfortunately I find zone focusing doesn’t work too well on Fujifilm X100-series cameras. This is because the ‘fly by wire’ focusing is too slow. You need a ‘real’ manual focusing tab, embedded on the lens.

You can buy a Leica lens (I recommend Leica 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit or Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron), a Voigtlander lens (The Voigtlander 28mm f/2 is great, as well as the Voigtlander 35mm f/2.5), with a focusing tab on it. I don’t recommend Zeiss lenses, because it doesn’t have a comfortable focusing tab. However, I heard you can also buy focusing tab add-ons on eBay or Amazon.

eric kim street photography - suits - color - kodak portra 400-2
London, 2012 / Leica M6 + 35mm + flash on Kodak Portra 400 at f/8

In other words, don’t shoot wide-open at f/1.8 or f/2 and try to get ‘bokeh’ in your street photography. You have the chance of missing the decisive moment, because you might miss your focus.

If you shoot with a high f-stop (f/8-f/16), with a reasonably wide lens (28mm-35mm) everything will more or less be in focus. It is better to get a in-focus photo, than an out-of-focus street photo. Unless it is your intention to have out-of-focus street photos.

black and white tokyo street photography by eric kim7
Tokyo, 2011 / Leica M9 + 21mm, f/16, pre-focus at 1 meter

Also, the benefit of using a high ISO (1600-3200) is that you will have a faster shutter-speed. In street photography, you want your shutter-speed to be at least 1/250th of a second to have a sharp photo (of someone walking). If you want to photograph someone sharp who is running, you want at least 1/1000th of a second. It is better to have a sharp photo than a blurry photo in street photography. If you’re concerned about noise with a high-ISO, realize that you can remove noise in post-processing. However, you cannot un-blur a photo with post-processing.

If you shoot with a Leica or rangefinder, or film camera, check out “Leica Manual” and “Film Street Photography Manual.”

4. Don’t hesitate

eric kim street photography - suits - color - kodak portra 400-5

If you hesitate in street photography, you’re going to miss the decisive moment.

My rule is this: photograph what scares the shit out of you.

Whenever I see a street photograph I want to photograph, but I’m scared, I must hit the shutter.

Often, the photos that are difficult to shoot (photos that are scary to photograph) are the best photos.

Not only that, but this is also a good practice for me to build my courage in ‘real life.’

The more courageous I’m in street photography, the more courage I have in real life. The more courage I have to share my work, and not worry about ‘haters.’ The more courage I have to do business deals. The more courage I have to confront my personal, deepest, darkest fears.

As a practical tip, I say before you go out and shoot street photography drink a caffeinated beverage— I recommend black coffee or espresso, or green tea is good too. I find that when my heart level is pumped up before I shoot, I hesitate less in shooting street photography.

Also, it takes me about an hour to ‘warm up’ before shooting street photography. If you’re afraid or hesitate too much in street photography, take an hour and allow yourself to take ‘shitty’ photos. Take 100 photos of random stuff, just to “unstick” your trigger finger.

Another street photography tip (this one also from Street Notes) is the “1,000 photo challenge.” If you hesitate in street photography, for an entire day, you must take at least 1,000 street photos. None of them need to be good. The purpose is to overcome your hesitation and fears.

5. Conclusion: How not to miss decisive moments in real life

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These are just some basic tips how to not miss the decisive moment in street photography.

Applied in real life, you don’t want to miss the decisive moment either. Some ideas:

  1. If you have a good business opportunity, don’t hesitate. Just do it.
  2. If you have a good opportunity to go on a date, or get married to someone, go for it.
  3. Always be ready (I’m a Boy Scouts Eagle Scout, this is my mantra). That means, be prepared for lucky opportunities.
  4. The more risks you take, the luckier you get.
  5. Realize there are a billion potential ‘decisive moments’ in street photography and life. If you miss a moment, make your own luck — go out, hustle harder, and shoot more.

Be strong,

For more guidance, inspiration, and practical assignments in street photography, pick up a copy of “STREET NOTES

Also learn more: Street Photography 101 >