Author: Eric Kim
All the contents and images in this post were copyrighted by Eric Kim
1. Ditch the zoom and use a wide-angle prime
First of all, you will look even more conspicuous in public holding a huge zoom lens. Secondly, if you use a zoom lens you have to point it directly at somebody, which makes the person you are trying to capture feel as if they have a gun pointed to their head. Rather, try using a wide-angle prime lens. This will solve two of the forementioned problems. One, prime wide-angle lenses are often quite small and look much less threatening than the typical telephoto lens. Furthermore, by using a wide-angle lens, you can still capture your subjects without necessarily pointing your camera directly at them. Which brings me on to my next point…
2. Get close
When I say close, I mean GET CLOSE. Get so close so that when you are taking photos of people on the street that you can see the perspiration dripping from their forehead or the texture of their skin. By using a wide-angle prime lens (as mentioned in the before point), you will be forced to get close to your subjects. The advantage of this is that the wide-angle lens will give you a perspective which makes the viewer of your images feel as if they are a part of the scene, rather than just a voyeur looking in. Not only that, but when you are taking photos really close to people, they often think that you are taking a photo of something behind them. I recommend using either a 24, 28, or 35mm on a full-frame or crop camera.
3. Always carry your camera with you
You have heard this a million times and you know that you should, but you always seem to find excuses or reasons NOT to always carry your camera with yourself. “It’s too heavy, it’s annoying, it’s a hassle, it’s frustrating.” I’ll tell you what’s frustrating. Missing the perfect photo opportunity (the decisive moment) and regretting it for the rest of your life. I have to admit that is a bit dramatic, but it is true. If you always carry your camera with you, you will never miss those “Kodak moments” which always seem to happen at the most unexpected times. I have taken some of my best images at the most unexpected moments—images that would have been impossible to take if I did not have my camera by my side.
4. Disregard what other people think of you
To prime yourself better for your street photographer “role,” try doing something unusual in public. Lay on the ground for a minute and see how other people react around you, get up, and simply walk away like nothing happened. Go to a busy intersection and stand like a statue and see how people react (trust me, nobody notices. I had to do this as an experiment for one of my sociology classes). When you go into an elevator, stand the opposite way. The social world is full of false rules that constrict us. Break them, and shooting in the streets should become quite natural.
5. Smile often
It is funny how far a smile can go, especially when shooting in the streets. If you take a photo of somebody and they give you a weird look, simply tip your hat to them and show them two rows of your pearly white chompers. I would say that when smiling to strangers (even in the city of angels) I get over a 95% response rate. Even some of the most unapproachable people will smile back at you. By smiling often and to others, this will help you relax and lighten the atmosphere around yourself. People trust a street photographer who smiles, as they will simply disregard you as a hobbyist, rather than someone with malicious intent.
6. Ask for permission
Although many street photography purists say that the only true street photography is candid, I would highly disagree with them. Feel free to go up to strangers who you think look interesting, and ask to take a portrait of them. People love getting their photos taken, and as long as you act courteous and casual about it, most people will accept. Feel free to ask to take portraits of many mundane subjects of everyday life like the waitress at the diner, the bellboy of a hotel, or even a parking lot attendant.
7. Be respectful
This is one of the tricky grey lines when it comes to street photography. I personally try my best not to take photos of homeless people when they look too down on their luck. Although I do agree that there are tasteful images taken of homeless people which call people into helping these people, there are also many images that look like pure exploitation. Think of the cliché shot of a homeless person crouched over on the street, begging for money. Before you take these images, think about what message you are trying to convey. Are you shooting for the reason of building awareness of the atrocious situations that many homeless people live in? Or are you merely taking a photo of a homeless person for the sake of taking their photo? Nobody can be the judge—only you can decide.
8. Look for juxtaposition
9. Tell a story
10. Just do it
About the Author: Eric Kim is a street photographer based in Los Angeles. He is currently writing a book titled “Street Photography 101” which will be distributed to the world for free in a convenient PDF format.