How to Be a BOLD Photographer

In photography and almost everything in life, BOLDNESS will elevate you from timidity to grandeur.

I think I’m a petty bold person. I’ll share my personal remedies to fight timidness, and how I built my personal confidence.

I. Street photography at age 18

When I started to shoot street photography at age 18, I was scared shitless.

Making eye contact with a stranger terrified me. But over a decade, I learned to not even flinch before shooting a street photograph without permission.

What helped me? I’m not sure, but let me try to think this through.

First of all, I learned how to ask for permission. The biggest misconception in street photography is that you must shoot your photos candidly, without permission. Wrong. You can ask for permission. Often, asking for permission is more scary than shooting without permission.

To ask for permission takes more guts than shooting candidly. Why? Because you put yourself on the line when you ask for permission. There is the risk that you will get rejected, or made to look stupid.

To be honest, Henri Cartier-Bresson (godfather of street photography) was a very timid man. He often pretended to sneeze when shooting street photographs, covering his Leica with a handkerchief. To be frank, he was damn sneaky. Kind of in a creepy way sometimes, I think.

The photographer I admire most is Bruce Gilden: for his boldness, unapologetic attitude, and his personal courage. But funny enough, even Gilden admits that he’s an introvert at heart.

II. Loving rejection.

Secondly, I learned how to love rejection. Rather than being afraid of rejection, I learned to expect it– and to actually rejoice when I got rejected.

For example, if I see someone with a face tattoo who scares me, and I have the courage to ask them for permission, and I still get rejected– I pat myself on the back and say:

Eric, I’m proud that you took a risk to ask. It is better that you asked for permission, and got rejected– than not even having a backbone to ask.

Lesson: when in doubt, ask for permission. It is better to get rejected, than to never ask in the first place.

III. Don’t use a zoom lens

The biggest deterrent to my street photography was using a zoom lens (18mm-200mm Sigma lens, on my Canon 350D). It was a crutch.

Rather, I started to shoot with a 35mm f/2 lens on my Canon 5D, and it forced me to push myself out of my comfort zone– to use “foot zoom” to get closer to my subjects, both physically and emotionally.

A good assignment I learned from my friend Satoki Nagata: the .7 meter challenge. You’re only allowed to make photos from .7 meters, which is roughly one arm length away. It is conveniently the minimum focusing distance on the Leica. So an easier way to become more bold, try it out.

I genuinely believe if all street photographers used a 28mm or 35mm prime (non zoom and non-telephoto) lens, you would force yourself to become more bold, take more risks, and build your personal confidence.

III. Be comfortable in your own skin.

A lot of us are afraid to shoot street photography and be bold because we assume (wrongly) that everyone else doesn’t like to have their photos taken– because we personally don’t like the way we look in photos.

I am a narcissist. I love photos of myself. I like shooting selfies of myself. I’m confident in my body image, my face, and how I look. So I have no personal qualms photographing others– because I (wrongly) assume that others like to have photos shot of themselves.

There is the SILVER RULE:

Don’t do unto others as you don’t want others to do unto you.

Therefore, if you don’t like others photographing you– you shouldn’t photograph others.

The only way to fix this is the following:

Learn how to like being photographed.

You can do this by changing your perception of your own body image. Study Stoic philosophy, Zen Buddhism, or just start doing deadlifts at the gym. Stop eating sugar, and stop drinking soda or fruit juice. If you lose body fat, you will probably feel better about your body image. Also building physical strength (yoga and push-ups and chin-ups) is a good way to boost your self confidence.

Just look at the mirror and ask yourself:

Do I like the way I look?

If not, ask yourself “why not?”

I can’t speak for you, because I don’t know you. But I can speak for myself:

I don’t like the way I look topless, when I have excess body fat.

Also,

I don’t like the way my head or face looks, when I haven’t cut my hair in a while.

Therefore, for my personal ego, I cut my hair often, I workout, and keep a lean body fat percentage (I can see my 6-pack, by not eating breakfast, or lunch– only a protein and veggie heavy dinner, followed by an “egg snack” of 5-6 eggs in the evening, including yolks).

Another assignment I learned from my friend Sara Lando: pay a professional photographer money to have your portrait made. Then figure out what makes you feel comfortable, and uncomfortable. Then learn how to treat others differently.

Conclusion

My right thumb is starting to hurt from all this typing, so I’m gonna wrap this up.

To become more bold, do the following:

  1. Learn to love rejection.
  2. Don’t make photos from a far distance.
  3. Learn to honor thy selfie.

To me, that is what it means to be BOLD.

If you learn how to be bold, you can turn any opportunity into gold. You can conquer your own personal fears, and build your own personal Rome. Sit on your throne with confidence and swag– throw all your insecurities into a bag.

Don’t lag. Work everyday to become more BOLD– Eric Kim always has your back.

Be strong,
Eric

To conquer your fears and meet new peers, attend an ERIC KIM WORKSHOP, or buy STREET NOTES for practical street photography assignments, designed to take your street photography (and confidence) to the next level.

STREET PHOTOGRAPHY 101 >

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