Laughing lady. NYC, 2015

Street Portraits 101 by ERIC KIM

In street photography, there is a sub-genre of street photos called “STREET PORTRAITS”.

To be honest, I kind of hate the term “street portraits”, because a lot of snobby street photographers say:

Street portraits aren’t ‘real’ street photos.

Just ignore these folks.

Good street portrait photographers to study: Richard Avedon, Bruce Gilden, Diane Arbus, Anders Petersen, and Eric Kim.

1. Finding interesting faces

I love faces. To me, I studied sociology because I wanted to understand humanity.

I think faces are the most interesting things on human beings. Faces tell a story. Faces show emotion, soul, and personality.

If you are interested in human faces and “characters”, shooting street portraits are for you.

2. What makes an interesting face?

Just follow your gut. An interesting face to me, isn’t necessarily interesting to you.

For me, I love elderly folks. I love wrinkles. To me, it is their life story, shown through their faces.

I generally find the faces of young people boring.

I like faces when people have strong eyes. To me, eyes are the windows to the soul

3. Get close.

For street portraits, when in doubt, get closer.

I shoot street portraits on my Ricoh GR II camera, P (program) mode, iso 800 for color, in Raw, with Eric Kim presets, center point autofocus, and often with flash.

I like to shoot from a lower angle, and try to simplify the background when shooting. Often, the sky is the best simple background.

Or be like Richard Avedon: ask your subject to stand against a simple background. Find a plain white or black wall. Most people are willing to move a little, as long as you tell them that a more simple background will make a buyer photo.

Also pro tip: offer to email your subject their favorite photo. Let them look at the photos on the LCD screen, and help you select their favorite photo.

4. Make a portrait

If you ask someone to shoot a street portrait of them, say:

Excuse me, I love your look. Do you know if I made a portrait of you?

Don’t say:

Take a photo of you.

Make a portrait is more intentional, artistic, and less creepy.

Also, be honest. Share why you want to make a portrait of them. Is it their tattoo? Their clothing? Their eyes? Their attitude or look?

Don’t bullshit.


For street portraits, when in doubt, just ask for permission.

A good assignment from STREET NOTES: try to get 5 people to say yes when shooting a street portrait, and try to get 5 people to say no.

For an entire day keep asking strangers for permission. The more you get rejected, the more confidence you will build.

Or an easier way to build your confidence: attend an ERIC KIM WORKSHOP.

Be strong,


Tokyo, 2012

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Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos
Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

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