Woman on phone, with billboard in background. Shot with a flash. I love the tension here. London Street Photograph by ERIC KIM, 2014.

The Psychology of Street Photography

Woman on phone, with billboard in background. Shot with a flash. I love the tension here. London Street Photograph by ERIC KIM, 2014.
London, 2013

I think street photography is 90% psychology — if you can master your own mental psychology, then you will be able to achieve your personal maximum in your photography and life.


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What is fear?

Woman with fur and crossed arms. London, 2015
Woman with fur and crossed arms. London, 2015

For example, let’s take fear for example.

Fear: a physiological response to doing something you want to do.

For example, you will feel fear in street photography because you want to take a picture of that person or scene, but you’re afraid of the negative consequences. You’re afraid of getting yelled at, physically attached, or perhaps being called a “pervert” or “pedophile”.

However, realize fear is all in your head, and your brain.

Therefore, if you can re-wire your brain and mental faculties, then you should be able to re-channel your use of fear in street photography.

Reducing your stress response from street photography takes time, and repeated exposures

London man with French fry.
Suit with French fry. London, 2012.

Also consider, fear is a physiological response, that you feel manifested in your muscles, your breathing rate, your sweat response.

But you can de-escalate your sensitivity to fear and pain through training.

For example, one of the best ways to build a resistance to pain is through cold shower training. I’ve taken cold showers religiously the last five years, and I still feel the pain of the cold, but I’m less afraid of the pain, and I feel the pain less.

In street photography, the more you practice it, and the more risks you take, the less afraid you will become.

Seek to get rejected

Red hair on red background. Kodak Portra 400 with flash. London, 2014.
Red hair on red background. Kodak Portra 400 with flash. London, 2014.

So the first step is trying to ‘de-escalate’ your fear response.

My suggestion:

Learn to love rejection.

The first assignment in street photography is the ‘10 No Challenge’— approach a bunch of strangers and ask to make their portrait, and TRY to intentionally get rejected by 10 strangers (more assignments in STREET NOTES).

Psychologically, this re-wires your brain, because you no longer fear rejection. Rather, you CRAVE rejection — because this is part of the assignment.

What if you did everything you feared in life?

London, 2015

If you think about this principle in life — imagine if you lived a life where you no longer feared rejection? How would this help your business life, entrepreneurship life, romantic life, or just life in general?

You wouldn’t fear rejected asking out someone on a date, you wouldn’t fear sending a business proposal to a prospective client, or the risk of starting your own company.

Woman in pink and Red Bull. London, 2011. Eric Kim
Woman in pink and Red Bull. London, 2011. Eric Kim

I don’t know what success in life is, but I certainly know you cannot succeed by not taking any risks. And the less you fear rejection, the more risks you will take.

Therefore, to succeed more, fear rejection less.

On Guilt

London, 2014. The second photo. I pretended like I was shooting the sign behind her.
London, 2014. The second photo. I pretended like I was shooting the sign behind her.

Another strange psychological problem we face as street photographers and human beings:

We feel guilty for taking photos of strangers.

But why do we feel guilt?

We feel guilt because we think,

If you take a picture of a stranger without their permission, you are somehow ‘stealing their soul’ and that is somehow ‘morally evil’

Do you like to be photographed?

Another idea:

Some of us don’t like to have our own picture taken, and therefore we assume that everyone else doesn’t like to have their picture taken.

This is false. I love to have my picture taken.

Woman flexing bicep in red bikini

So this is funny, that according to the mental psychology of ERIC KIM,

Because I like to have my picture taken, I assume everyone else likes having their picture taken.

Now obviously, not everyone is like me.

But this is the psychological bias we all fell victim to:

We assume that everyone else thinks like us. (Which isn’t true)

But— what if you had the mental mindset that everyone liked having their picture taken? I bet you would have more confidence in your street photography.

You are blessing people with your camera

A mental shift:

Whoever you decide to photograph, you are blessing them.

Consider, there are billions of people in the world. If you decide to choose 1 person to photograph, you are telling them:

You are special and unique, that is why I want to photograph you.

Photography is your duty

Another psychological shift:

It is your purpose and duty to make photographs.

Your photography is bigger than you.

For example, as a street photographer you are a visual artist, you are a historian, you are a social critic, and you’re making images that will inspire, motivate, and inform people. You will help empower and inform the current world of humanity, and also future generations.

Leica MP + Leica Summicron 35mm f2 ASPH + Kodak Portra 400

Therefore to psychologically shift your mind, realize you are DOING A GOOD THING FOR HUMANITY in shooting street photography.

Street photography as self-therapy

Also consider, street photography should REMOVE STRESS and anxiety from your life. You should ENJOY the process of street photography, and shooting street photography should bring you joy.

Street photography would be boring without fear

Also realize, ultimately — fear is what makes street photography enjoyable. Every pleasure in life is mixed with a bit of pain.

Anything fun and enjoyable in life is hard or difficult. But the thing is — you need to have the right degree of difficulty to enjoy the process.

Kaizen process of self-confidence

A practical suggestion:

Every day you shoot street photography, try to be 1% braver.

This is the ‘kaizen’ approach of building your confidence in street photography. Slow, gradual, but indefinite. Imagine, if you got 1% more confident everyday, compounded over a year, you would become 3000%+ more confident by the end of the year.

Do what you’re afraid of

Fear is a good guide in life.

  1. If you shot a street photograph of everything you feared, you would make very good street photographs.
  2. If you pursued everything in your life that scared you, you would live a much more interesting life.

So friend, lean forward into the fear.

Cindy eric hand. Madison, Wisconsin

The more you do what scares you, the braver, bolder, and stronger you will become.

Last assignment:

Do 1 thing everyday which scares you.




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