Why do I love street photography? For me — street photography is applied zen philosophy.
To find more zen in your street photography and life, join my upcoming Kyoto-Uji Zen Creative Photography Retreat (May 2-5, 2018).
How it feels to be in a zen street photography zone
For example, when I’m shooting street photography, I walk slower. I appreciate more of reality around myself.
I empty my mind. No more worries or stresses about life, family, finances. I get into a zen zone, and just shoot my immediate surroundings.
I disappear. My ego vanishes. I just become one with the camera. I keep my camera in program mode (p mode), “set it and forget it”. And in a sense, when I shoot street photography, I forget myself.
To me, I am the happiest when I am in a happy zen zone — in a creative spirit, empty, full of eager anticipation to create.
Like they say in Taoism,
The usefulness of a bowl is based on the empty space inside.
The usefulness of a house is based on the empty space inside.
In photography, your creative ability is based on how much you are able to empty your mind — and allow the photos to enter your consciousness.
Shoot in airplane mode
Practical tip: to empty your mind, shoot the streets with your phone off, or in airplane mode. Nothing to distract you in your street photography zen zone.
Shoot to music (or without music)
- Try to shoot street photography with headphones and your favorite music on, if it helps you get into a good groove and zone.
- Try to shoot street photography WITHOUT headphones on, so you can let the ambient noise enter your mind, to inspire you.
For some folks I know, they feel more zen when shooting to music. Others prefer no music.
Personally, I don’t like listening to music when shooting, because I like to hear the ambient sounds of my urban environment, and let my mind think. The less I listen to music, the more I can think. But of course, this is different to everybody.
I find a lot of zen and creative calm when photographing architecture. To me, there is something sublime about clean aesthetics in buildings.
To zen out in street photography, don’t just photograph people — photograph buildings. Look up.
Find humanity in man-made objects
I often find more humanity in man-made objects than (some) people.
Look for objects with character. Like a bent parking meter. Faces in objects.
Or, look for eyes:
Photograph things inside the house
You might not always have the opportunity to shoot in the streets. Instead, just photograph ordinary things at home, to keep your visual muscles strong. To do your daily visual pushups.
- Photograph the ceiling of your room, and practice your composition and diagonal lines.
- Photograph your partner or kids at home.
- Photograph objects at home (towels, coffee cups, your dining table, your desk)
There are good photo opportunities anywhere you look (even at home).
Consider all the painters of the past who did ‘still life’ paintings of just stuff– like bowls of fruit at their dining room table.
Keep it ordinary and simple.
Shoot at night
I think cities come alive at night. Go for a walk in the evening, before or after dinner — or just go out for dinner. Keep your camera around your neck (HENRI NECK STRAP) or on your wrist (HENRI WRIST STRAP).
See photo opportunities anywhere and everywhere.
I personally use a RICOH GR II, and use the integrated pop-up flash. I love doing this, because it draws out interesting textures, reflections, and effects. Also, try to intentionally blur your camera and lens, to add more emotion and movement to your pictures.
Don’t miss your chance to invest in an unforgettable experience:
- Jan 27-28: LONDON / Conquer Your Fears in Street Photography (December 31 deadline for early—bird registration)
- Feb 21-22: NYC / Conquer Your Fears in Street Photography – New
- Feb 24-25: NYC / Dynamic Street Photography Composition Workshop – New
- May 2-5: KYOTO-UJI / Zen Creative Photography Experience
- May 9-13: TOKYO / Travel Street Photography Experience
I know, I know — we are all bored of cheesy sunsets we see on Instagram. But still — I think there is something calming, zen, and therapeutic from shooting sunsets, and fading light.
Photography is simply ‘painting with light’. The more you can paint with different colors and hues with your camera, the better.
Simplify shapes and forms
To have a zen street photography experience, keep subtracting from the frame. Focus on capturing less and less, until only the essential shapes and forms remain:
Photograph your loved ones, while walking from place to place
By photographing your friends, family, or loved ones while moving around — you can get good practice for your street photography compositions, and framings. Especially, practice photographing your family members head-on, to practice layers in your street photography.
Then also, when you practice photographing your family members, you can easily get warmed up, and then start photographing strangers on the streets:
SAIGON SATCHEL: One of 18 in Existence.
Shoot street photos in fancy hotels
Another fun tip — take photos inside hotel lobbies. This is a good way to practice shooting street photography, especially when people are relaxed inside, and aren’t really paying attention.
The good thing about photographing in hotel lobbies: you just look like a tourist, and nobody will pay you any attention, or care.
Conclusion: Street photography is a way of life
The more I think about it, street photography is a way of life. The way we live our lives, the way we release stress, anxiety, and frustrations in our life, and learn how to live in the present moment. To shoot in the present moment.
Walk slowly my friend, and enjoy the journey.
It is a pleasure to share my new book “Zen Photography” with you.
Download PDF (3.2MB)
Download iBooks (28MB / to read on iPhone, iPad, Mac)
Download text (.txt)
Download iBooks Author File (78MB/ to edit, remix, and translate)
Less is better:
- Zen Photography
- Walking Meditation in Street Photography
- How to Be a Zen Street Photographer
- The Less You Have, the More You Have
- Prune Excess
- Prune in Order to Grow
- Zen in the Art of Street Photography
- The 7 Aesthetics of Zen Art For Photographers
- 15 (More) Lessons Taoism Has Taught Me About Street Photography
- How to Find Tranquility in Your Photography
- How to Find Zen in Street Photography
- Why Less is More in Street Photography (and Life)
- Why You Should Shoot with One Camera and One Lens
- 5 Essentialist Tips in Street Photography
- 10 Principles of Good Street Photography
- Deep Focus
- Follow Your Intuition
- Less, But Better
- Seek Emptiness
- Wonderment & Awe
Unleash your creative potential:
- November 28-29th, 2020: ERIC KIM MARKETING MASTER CLASS - NOW LIVE!
Be notified of when new workshops are live here.