What do jazz musicians, improv artists, freestyle rappers, and street photographers have in common? We are all improvisers.
Freestyle rapping meets street photography
Growing up, I remember riding down the streets with my friend Justin, in the 1991 Sentra SE-R, and freestyle rapping for fun over some dope Nujabes beats.
To me, freestyle rapping was way cooler than “pre-scripted” rappers. Why? It took more skill, finesse, and bravado to freestyle something “off the dome” (off your head), than sitting down in a room, and writing rap lyrics.
Freestyle rapping took guts. If you were at a party, and freestyle rapped in front of a crowd, you risked failure and humiliation. I didn’t have big enough balls, so I always freestyle rapped in secret.
Great jazz musicians improvise on the spot. They feel the vibe of the other musicians, and jive off one another. They were the original hip hop artists.
Same for “improv” artists– who make up stories as they go. To improvise takes skill, and reading the mind of your partners. To me, improv shows are far more fun, exciting, and dangerous than pre-scripted comedy shows.
Dance in the streets with your camera
Street photography is improvisation in the streets. You don’t know what you want to photograph until you see it (kind of like pornography).
To love street photography is to walk the streets with your camera in hand, with no plan. You follow your nose, like a good street dog, and let your instincts, guts, and intuition lead you.
If you follow the same path in street photography, you leave less chance to randomness to enter your photos.
You decide what to focus on
Street photography is about taming randomness. We encounter random social encounters in our daily lives, and we try to derive meaning from it. We decide what to include in the frame, and what to exclude.
We are like magnifying glasses: we decide what to focus on, what to enhance, and what to highlight.
A bad street photographer photographs everything in a scene with a fisheye lens. A good street photographer magnifies what she finds interesting with her camera and lens.
If you don’t love randomness, serendipity, and chance, don’t be a street photographer. Why? Because you won’t love thinking on your toes, and having fun seeing and photographing random people, encounters, emotions, and happenings.
Street Photography is 80% confidence, 20% skills.
Improvisation is all about confidence. The confidence not to fear looking like an idiot.
This is what I do in my workshops, it is essentially confidence-building, not even about photography.
I try to encourage my students to get closer to people (physically and emotionally), to conquer their personal fears, and to make the photos that bring them joy.
A street photographer is a humanist– someone who loves and is interested in other human beings. I have never met a street photographer who is an asshole (every street photographer has a hidden warm heart inside themselves). Like Nassim Taleb says, “Every asshole is an angel somewhere, and every angel is an asshole somewhere.”
How to improvise in street photography
To improvise in street photography, some ideas:
- Keep your camera in P (program) mode, auto ISO, and use center auto focus. Photograph by reacting to reality. Whatever you find interesting to you, just photograph it. Don’t think when you’re shooting street photography. Only think when you get home, and choose your favorite photos from the day.
- When in doubt, take a step forward. This is what I learned while being a linebacker when playing high school football. The instinct is to take a step back, because we are fearful human beings. When you see a good street photography opportunity, take a step forward, and get closer.
- Fake it until you make it: I used to be scared shitless in street photography, but I faked confidence until I got it. You will never be 100% confident, so just imitate the body language of someone who you perceive as confident (Like Robert Downey Jr/ Tony Stark from Iron Man, or Bruce Wayne Batman, or James Bond 007.
And the last thing to build confidence, buy an ERIC KIM STRAP, and always remember these lessons. Imagine your own ERIC KIM whispering to you:
Take a step closer. Work the scene. Don’t hesitate, ask that person for permission. Just shoot it.
[Street Photography 101 >](https://erickimphotography.com/blog/street-photography-101/