eric kim street photography - tokyo-0000280

Why Shooting Street Photography Will Make You a Happier Person

eric kim street photography - tokyo-0000280

Dear friend,

I think street photography is better at bringing you happiness than taking medication or going on a fancy vacation — here is why:

1. Street photography gets you into the ZONE

First of all, I don’t believe in ‘happiness.’ Rather, I believe in joy. Feeling ‘in the zone’. Being in the ZONE— feeling 100% fully-engaged in whatever you do, and feeling elevated.

When you are in the “zone” — you lose a sense of time. You forget about all the bullshit, strife, and stress in your life. You are fully-engaged. You are using all of your creative spirit and abilities, to dance on the streets, to make photos, and to train your ‘trigger finger.’

eric kim street photography kyoto-0001308

Street photography requires 100% of your attention. You need to focus. You need to know how to become an expert in timing the ‘decisive moment.’ Street photography is like a first-person shooter video game — except instead of having a gun you have a camera.

Not to say we should be ‘shooting’ our subjects— but street photography requires a lot of ‘hand-eye coordination.’ You need to have a great skill to ‘twitch’ — to react quickly to good street photography moments. To anticipate the decisive moment before the moment presents itself to you.

eric kim street photography - tokyo-0000391

According to the philosopher/psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi— to be in the ‘zone’ or a state of ‘flow’ is the secret to ‘happiness’ (I recommend reading his book: “FLOW“). To be a ‘happy’ human is to be 100% focused in whatever you are passionate about— to grow, develop, evolve, and to be fully-creative.

For me, I get in the zone or into a creative ‘flow’ state from street photography. From talking to strangers. In the joy of making photographs— and exercising my composition muscles. In the joy of writing (like these lines). In the joy of talking in engaging conversations about the meaning of life and philosophy. In analyzing art, creating lessons, and teaching.

dark-skies-over-tokyo-silhouette-suit-2012-leica m9-21mm-eric kim street photograpy - black and white - Monochrome-4

Street photography will make you more engaged. More engaged with society. With folks in the streets. With strangers.

Street photography will help you exercise your creative muscles. Street photography will help you exercise your confidence, and give you an opportunity to overcome your personal fears.

2. How to shoot more street photography

Always have your camera in your front pocket, around your neck (like how rappers wear gold chains), or tied to your wrist (like a bracelet).

For me, I always have my Ricoh GR II with me. It is either in my backpack (I recommend the ThinkTank Perception 15), or better yet— in my front pocket, or strapped on my wrist.

To be frank, I don’t walk much. I am a lazy American. But when I do (rarely) walk, I always have my camera in my wrist. And when I see something I want to photograph, I just shoot it. I keep my Ricoh GR II in P (program) mode, ISO 1600, center point autofocus. I ‘set it and forget it’ — and just ‘point and click.’

If you want to shoot more street photography (to be happier in life), maybe you can just shoot with your smartphone. Or sell your big camera, and downgrade to a smaller camera (I highly recommend the Ricoh GR II which can be purchased for around ~$600 USD). It fits in your front pocket.

My biggest difficulty to shooting street photography is keeping my camera on my wrist. When your camera is on your wrist (or around your neck), you see more street photo opportunities. And you end up clicking more.

dark-skies-over-tokyo-dodge-leica-m9-2012eric kim street photograpy - black and white - Monochrome-5

Also by keeping the camera in P (program) mode, I no longer think of my technical settings. I just point and click.

And the more I click, the happier I am.

3. Street photography will make you a more confident human being

The braver you are, the happier you are.

To have more courage in life, build your courage and confidence in street photography.

Learn how to get comfortable with getting rejected. If someone gets angry at you, learn how to defuse the situation. Learn how to smile (to those who say ‘fuck you’ to you). Learn to not let your heart rate go up when you shoot street photography by smiling when you shoot, and by waving to your subjects.

Learn to approach strangers on the streets, and asking them:

Excuse me, I love your look. Do you mind if I made your portrait??

eric kim behind the scene maria MADRILES street portrait

By saying ‘make’ a portrait or ‘made’ your portrait — it sounds more artistic, less creepy, and people are more likely to say ‘yes.’

Try going to the streets and asking a bunch of people to make their portrait. Get 5 people to say yes, and 5 people to say no. To learn more, read “Street Portrait Manual.”

Also learn to ‘work the scene’ in street photography. For a day, whenever you see a good street photography scene, you have to take at least 10 photos of the scene. And while you’re shooting photos of your scene, you can either pretend to be shooting something else— or you can build your courage by smiling at your subjects and saying ‘you look great!’ (while you’re shooting this ‘candid’ street photo).

For more street photography assignments, pick up a copy of STREET NOTES or signup for an ERIC KIM WORKSHOP.

4. What if I live in a boring city?

eric kim street photography hanoi - old woman

We all live in boring cities— doesn’t matter if you live in NYC, Toronto, Melbourne, Tokyo, Sydney, Chicago, SF, LA, or Kyoto. I’ve been to all these places, and no matter what — you eventually get ‘bored’ of it. At least that is what my friends tell me.

Use your boring city to your advantage. Study William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, and Martin Parr— who have been able to make interesting photos of boring scenes. Find beauty in the mundane.

Detroit eric kim street photography7 out of order employment application

When I lived in Garden Grove (suburb of LA) it was boring as shit. But I took it to my advantage. I made ‘urban landscapes’ of the neighborhood suburban homes (actually quite interesting). I went to the mall, and shot ‘mall street photography.’ I made personal photos of Cindy at her home. Learn how to start your own Cindy Project.

When life gives you boredom, figure out ways to be creative to entertain yourself.

Never blame your city for not being a better street photographer. Only blame yourself.

Another tip if you live in an American suburb: do a Costco street photography project. Or do a street photography project by shooting urban landscapes (without people). Or do a mall street photography project, and do social commentary on consumerism and capitalism.


good things happen

You got this. You have a huge passion for street photography.

Never blame your camera. Never blame your city for not being a better street photographer.

Only blame yourself.

eric kim street photography - street portraits-6-sf yellow eyebrows

I blame myself all the time. I am pretty lazy, so I need to drink more coffee, and keep my Ricoh GR II strapped to my wrist more often. Try to always wear your camera as your necklace or bracelet.

If you want to wear your camera around more often, pick up an Henri Wrist Strap (doesn’t fit the Ricoh GR yet, but a new version is in development).

Or another street photography assignment: only shoot with your smartphone for a full year. Use VSCO or Snapseed to process your photos. I love the A3-A6 color preset in VSCO (looks like color Kodak Portra 400 film to me). My good friend Josh White has shot many incredible street photos on his smartphone, as well as my friend Aik Beng Chia, or my buddy Olly Lang (@OGGSIE). Check out this smartphone photography guide.

tokyo eric kim street photography-0000789

Another tip— just try to walk around more. Whenever you have an excuse to walk, walk. Walk to the grocery store. Take public transportation to work (if possible) and shoot street photographs on the bus, or in the subway. If you take the Google Bus to Google or the Facebook bus, turn off your laptop and shoot street photographs from the window (of your fellow commuters, stuck in their bubble-like cars).

If you have nobody to photograph, just shoot self-portraits of yourself. Lee Friedlander has done a great streetphotography-esque ‘Self portrait’ series, just like Vivian Maier.

So friend, let us make fewer excuses, and more photographs. I’m the first to admit I’m a lazy street photographer, but in writing this, I feel pretty pumped up to hustle harder.

Be strong,

Learn more: Street Photography 101 >