eric kim street photography - the city of angels - black and white-4-street-portrait-hearts-tattoo-downtown-la
Hearts. Downtown LA, 2011. Street portrait with flash and permission.

Dear friend,

If you’re interested in street photography, yet — you have hesitations or fears in street photography, this advice is for you.


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CONQUER YOUR FEARS AND MEET NEW PEERS

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Street photography is 80% guts

Street portrait with -1 2/3 exposure compensation. To make his face more dramatic and pop from the background. By using minus exposure compensation, the background turns totally black.
Street portrait with -1 2/3 exposure compensation. To make his face more dramatic and pop from the background. By using minus exposure compensation, the background turns totally black.

To be frank, I think 80% of street photography is just having guts. To have the guts to click the shutter. 20% is skill, and everything else.

I think that street photography is enjoyable because it is so damn hard and scary. If street photography wasn’t scary or difficult, I don’t think it would be enjoyable.

Pinnochio nose. Downtown LA, 2015
Pinnochio nose. Downtown LA, 2015

To start off, realize that it is the difficulty and scariness of street photography what makes it so enjoyable. If street photography wasn’t so hard, we would all just be shooting pretty landscape or flower photos.

AMERICA - ERIC KIM16 eric kim woman popsicle
Downtown LA, 2011. Shot from below the curb, looking up. Making her look more powerful. Shot with a Canon 5D and 24mm lens.

So first and foremost, recognize that street photography is difficult and scary. And that is OK. Realize that if you feel any fear in Street photography that is a good thing — it means you are human.

And this is my theory: Fear is a good thing — it tells us what to shoot in street photography.

What do you really want to photograph?

Downtown LA, 2016

For example,

Let’s say you see a scene you want to photograph, but you feel nervous. Your fear or nervousness is a sign that YOU MUST SHOOT THE SCENE. Why? You find the scene fascinating, and the only reason you feel fear is because you desire and want to shoot it.

Sweat. Downtown LA, 2016.
Sweat. Downtown LA, 2016.

Think about it: if you didn’t want to photograph the scene, you wouldn’t feel fear.

Therefore, realize that fear is a good thing in Street photography. It guides us, and tells us what to photograph.

Yet, the only problem with fear is when it prevents you from shooting the scene.


Channel the fear

Broadway street, Downtown LA 2015 // ERIC KIM

For example, nowadays, I still feel afraid photographing certain scenes in Street photography. I still get that adrenaline rush, and that chest bumping feeling.

Yet, the secret is to feel the fear of shooting street photography, but still shoot it anyways.

Therefore, always keep that fear with you, but channel it, and use your fear as a guide. What you just want is this:

Don’t let your fear prevent you from hitting the shutter.

Once again to say this more clearly: feel fear, but shoot it anyways.


7 practical tips to conquer your fear of shooting street photography

eric kim street photography - the city of angels - black and white-6-eye-shadow-downtown-la

Okay so now some practical tips on how to conquer your fears in street photography.

1. Jam out to some good beats

downtown la hands fingernails

I know some of my friends who like to listen to music while shooting street photography.

I generally think this is a good strategy, if you want to overcome your fears and hesitations in Street photography. But the downside of this strategy is that you might get hit by a car if you’re not paying attention, and also you lose the ability to overhear interesting conversations which might lead to good photo opportunities.

eric kim street photography downtown la
Downtown LA, 2011

But still, try it out if you’re hesitant in Street photography. Put on some headphones, and listen to some techno, hip hop, jazz music, or whatever gets you in the zone.

For techno/electronic music, Geseffelstein is great (listen to “Viol” or “Hellifornia”.

For hip hop, some good pump it up music is “New Level” From ASAP FERG, or “Rap God” by Eminem.

Jazz music: of course, Miles Davis.

eric kim street photography finger
Downtown LA, 2016

So this is the assignment: find an album or playlist you like, and shoot street photography for about an hour listening to that album or playlist. See how this affects your fear levels in Street photography.

2. Pretend like you’re shooting something behind your subject

Downtown LA, 2011

Avoid eye contact and pretend you’re shooting something behind your subject, or pretend you’re photographing something else.

3. Smile

Downtown LA, 2016

This is a basic one: a smile goes a long way, regardless of what country you’re in.

This is one aphorism I recommend:

When in doubt, smile.

When you’re shooting, smile. This way you will feel less self-conscious.

Downtown LA, 2016

The assignment: for an entire hour, smile at everyone you photograph, and say “thank you”.

You can practice smiling in different ways:

  • Smile first, then shoot.
  • Shoot while smiling.
  • Shoot, then smile afterwards.
Downtown LA, 2012

A smile works regardless of what country you’re in. Smiling is the universal language.

4. Set your camera to P (program mode), center point autofocus, and ISO 1600

Downtown LA, 2016

This is ERIC KIM’s patented “set it and forget it” settings. Set your camera to P (program mode), center point autofocus, and ISO 1600.

Honestly, these settings will work 90% of the time in Street photography. And why these settings?

The less you think about your settings in Street photography, the less hesitation you will have before you shoot Street photography.

Hesitation is the enemy in street photography.

Avoid ‘Paralysis by analysis’

Downtown LA, 2011

Our brain only has so much processing power. It is a waste of energy to think of your technical settings and trying to conquer your fears in street photography.

If you have to always think about your technical settings, you fall into “paralysis by analysis” — you become paralyzed, because you analyze your settings too much.

Face tattoo man, Downtown LA
Face tattoo man, Downtown LA

Try shooting with your camera in P (program mode), center point autofocus, and ISO 1600 for an entire day, and see how it works for you.

5. Use an LCD screen

Bus stop. Marseille, 2017
Bus stop. Marseille, 2017

This is another practical tip: use a point and shoot camera (like RICOH GR II), or just use the LCD screen in your camera for street photography. The problem of using a viewfinder is that it screams “photographer!” too loud, and will draw unwanted attention towards you.

Boy and mother. Marseille, 2017
Boy and mother. Marseille, 2017

I find shooting with a point and shoot camera makes me more stealth, and makes me look more like a tourist. Anything that can make you look more like a tourist is a good thing. Oh yeah, it also helps that I am Asian (unless I’m shooting in Asia).

Contact sheet 1, Boy with mother, marseille, 2017
Contact sheet 1, Boy with mother, marseille, 2017
Contact sheet 2, Boy with mother, marseille, 2017
Contact sheet 2, Boy with mother, marseille, 2017

This is an unrelated note — but experiment shooting with touristy clothes (fanny pack and tourist t-shirts) when you’re on the streets, and see if people ignore you more.

6. Don’t drop your camera immediately after taking a photo

The biggest tip: don’t drop your camera after taking a photo.

Rather, hold your camera up, shoot, click, and PAUSE.

Golden hour, boy in orange jacket by water. Marseille, 2017
Golden hour, boy in orange jacket by water. Marseille, 2017

The mistake we make is that after we take a photo, we immediately drop our camera and move on — which is a dead giveaway that we have taken someone’s photo.

If you want to be more stealth, shoot, click, and pause. This pause confuses people.

Man and shadow. Marseille. 2017
Man and shadow. Marseille. 2017

Then after you pause, keep clicking. I’ve found in my personal experience: the pause after I shoot street photography is what often leads to more interesting photos. Because I keep shooting, and squeeze more out of the lemon. And for me, the best photos I shoot are generally towards the end.

7. Realize you’re not doing anything wrong

Girl with nails.
Girl with nails. Texas.

Ask yourself a question,

Do I like having my own photograph taken?

If not, learn how to be comfortable being photographed by others. Because the mistake we make is,

If we don’t like being photographed, we assume others don’t like being photographed.

In reality, there are vain people (like ERIC KIM) who love being photographed.

If you don’t like being photographed, you will assume others don’t like being photographed — and therefore you will feel some sort of guilt when shooting Street photography.

But, you’re not doing anything wrong when shooting street photography.

You’re capturing the beauty of everyday life; and sharing that joy with others — you are doing a GOOD THING for society!

Conclusion

Street photography is hard and scary — yet, that is what makes street photography fun and enjoyable.

My suggestion: seek to hesitate a little less in your street photography everyday.

Also applied to life — what if we had fewer fears, hesitations — how much more could we achieve in life?

BE BOLD,
ERIC

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