“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” – Robert Capa
Why get close to your subjects in street photography?
To start, why get closer?
Physical proximity is emotional proximity.
The closer you are physically, the more you can feel the emotions of your subject. The more emotions we can evoke in a picture, the more memorable and meaningful it will be to the viewer. And hopefully, our pictures can evoke joy, or change the thoughts or mood of our viewer.
1. Smaller is beautiful in street photography
Personally I’m shooting with a RICOH GR II and ERIC KIM STRAP. Why? The Ricoh is small, fits in my front pocket, and the 28mm fixed focal lens forces me to get close to my subjects, in order to fill the frame, to create a more dynamic and emotional picture.
RICOH GR II or your phone (or any small mirrorless camera)
When it comes to getting closer to your subjects, generally, the smaller your camera, the better. Shoot with RICOH GR II or your phone. I actually think that street photography is the best on a phone.
2. You’re a tourist
Pretend like you’re a tourist. Think like a tourist, and shoot like a tourist.
By acting like a tourist, you give yourself more freedom to photograph anything, while also “breaking social rules”. Because we all know, tourists are “allowed” to do dumb things.
3. Avoid eye contact
If you want to get very close candid street photos, avoid eye contact. Pretend like your shooting something behind your subject.
By not making eye contact, people aren’t going to assume you’re photographing them.
Also, humans are hard-wired to notice eye contact from other humans. Apparently you can notice someone making eye contact with you even from half a block away.
To be stealth, avoid eye contact.
4. Video camera technique
Pretend like you’re shooting a video, and hold your camera up to your eye or hold out the camera and look through the LCD screen. Then get very close to people, and click the shutter.
5. Fishing Technique
Find an interesting background or wall, and wait for your subject to enter the frame. Get very close, and crouch down, and shoot upwards. This can allow you to get very close to your subjects, without having them suspect that you took their photo.
6. Interact with your subjects
Sometimes what I do in Street photography is that I get very close to people (without permission), then start taking pictures, while saying, “You guys look so cool!” This Technique is a good way to disarm people, and have them start to laugh, and be part of the fun.
7. Ask for permission
There isn’t anything wrong with asking for permission (street portraits). If anything, it is more difficult to ask for permission, than to shoot candidly.
By asking for permission, you can get very close to your subjects. Why? They’ve given you their permission — so of course, you can get as close as you want.
8. Don’t think
If you see a good scene, don’t think — just start clicking.
Generally when I see a good street photography scene, I will do the following:
- Click (from my gut)
- Take a step forward
- Take a step forward
- Start composing better
- Keep clicking until the person notices me
This technique is good, because you can often provoke reactions from your subject.
9. Don’t drop the camera from your eye too quickly
Another tip: when you’re close (let’s say in a subway car), keep clicking pictures, and don’t drop the camera from your eye.
If you want to be more stealth, don’t quickly drop the camera after you’ve taken the shot. That is the ultimate giveaway that you’re taking their picture.
Rather, linger around, and keep clicking.
10. Shoot in a crowded area
When I’m stuck in a crowded bus, or metro, or public space, you’re forced to get close and shoot closely.
So go to crowded places. Go to city centers, or markets, or festivals to practice overcoming your fear of getting close to strangers in street photography.
11. Photograph people through glass
If you see someone on the other side of the glass of a restaurant, cafe, or building — get very close, and shoot them through the glass. They will assume you are photographing the shop, not them. Also, because they’re on the other side of the glass, they cannot run after you.
12. Shoot first, then start engaging your subject in conversation
When you see someone you want to photograph, get very close to them, start shooting, then ask them open-ended questions like:
- “How are you doing?”
- “Are you having a good day?”
Make sure to smile very big when you’re doing this, to make people not be afraid of you, and for people to trust you.
13. Crouch down very low
When you crouch low, you look more low-key, and are less threatening. Get close to your subjects, and crouch low.
14. Use macro mode / .7 meter challenge
As an assignment for you to get closer in street photography, you’re only allowed to shoot in macro (close up) mode for a month. Or try pre-focusing your lens to .7 meters (2-3 feet), and you’re only allowed to shoot at that distance for a month.
15. Assignments to get closer in street photography
- Be comfortable having someone take your picture very close. Book a portrait session with a pro photographer, or practice shooting selfies of yourself with the lens very close to your face. The more comfortable you are having a camera close to your face, the more comfortable you will to have your camera in someone else’s face.
- Only shoot 1-arm length distance away for a whole month (essentially this is the .7 meter challenge).
- Don’t use a zoom or telephoto lens for a year. Only shoot 28mm or 35mm (full frame equivalent).
- No cropping for a year — this will force you to get close to your subjects.
- Attend ERIC KIM WORKSHOP to conquer your fears in street photography, and learn all these techniques to get very close to people in real life. I will be your personal coach, pushing you outside of your comfort zone. One of the best ways to get closer in street photography is that extra push and encouragement.
Take your street photography to the next level:
- August 27 (Friday): SEATTLE MASTER STREET PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP - [NOW LIVE!]
- September 11 (Saturday): DOWNTOWN LA ADVANCED STREET PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP - [NEW!]
Be notified of when new workshops are live here.