100 Lessons From the Masters of Street Photography
by Eric Kim
You never stopped believing in me, and you have helped me fulfill my personal maximum in my life.
I love you now and forever.
Berkeley, Dec 9, 2015.
Table of contents
· Fulfill your personal maximum
· Get closer
· Shoot 25% more than you think you should
· Shoot from the gut
· The “.7 Meter Challenge”
· “Marinate” your photos
· Don’t shoot from the hip
· Influence the scene
· Don’t crop
· Focus on the edges
· Emotionally detach yourself from your photos
· Create context in your frame
· Provoke your subjects
· “Can you do that again for me?”
· Don’t be a slave to your camera
· Cure yourself of “G.A.S.”
· Embrace “beginner’s mind”
· Shoot how you feel
· Limitations are freedom
· Document your own life
· Shoot with a “stream-of-consciousness”
· Shoot what it feels like
· Embrace failure
· Don’t be afraid to click the shutter
· Add “something more” to the frame
· Master your body language
· Tell convincing lies
· Kill your master
· Contradict a “rule”
· Follow your curiosity
· Don’t explain your photos
· “Open” vs “closed” photos
· Kill your ego
· Shoot what you love
· Don’t hesitate
· Don’t try to be someone else
· Don’t repeat yourself
· Ask for permission
· Try to get rejected
· Don’t stop your projects too soon
· Take shitty photos
· Chase the light
· Channel your personal emotions
· “All photographs are accurate, none of them is truth”
· Disturb your viewer
· Disregard technical settings
· Embrace “P” mode
· Enjoy the process
· Single photos can’t tell stories
· Don’t worry about marketing your work
· Subtract from the frame
· Make yourself vulnerable
· Forever be an “amateur”
· Stay hungry, stay foolish
· Don’t force it
· Don’t take easy photos
· Shoot what you’re afraid of
· Print your photos
· Don’t be “suckered by the exotic”
· Shoot in boring places
· Don’t take bad photos
· Make specific photos
· Compose intuitively
· Don’t have a “project”
· Improve 1% everyday
· Take 1 photo everyday
· Make something extraordinary from the ordinary
· Don’t see your photos as “art”
· Constantly question yourself
· Feel emotions in color
· Never leave home without your camera
· Make a book
· Pave your own path
· What do you want from your photography?
· Don’t constantly switch your equipment
· Learn where to stand
· Expect to be disappointed
· More megapixels, more problems
· Experiment with film
· Kill your babies
· Don’t look at your photos immediately
· Don’t shoot for others
· Photograph your own backyard
· Make images that stand on their own
· What counts is the result
· Abstract reality
· Capture your own personal “decisive moments”
· Rules will set you free
· Fuck fame
· Think long-term
· Create a relationship with your subjects
· Don’t bore your viewer
· Embrace your day job
· Count your blessings
· Don’t become married to your beliefs
· You’re only as good as your last photo
1. Fulfill your personal maximum
"What has interested me in taking photographs is the maximum — the maximum that exists in a situation and the maximum I can produce from it.” - Josef Koudelka
For the last ten years, I have tried to seek my own personal voice, style, and path in photography. This journey has led me through life in so many incredible ways. I have learned so many valuable lessons in photography (and life) which has transformed me as a human being.
My particular interest has been in street photography; capturing moments of everyday life in public settings. I have always been drawn to my fellow human beings, and street photography has helped me become a more empathetic human being.
Ultimately, photography is photography. I used to feel that I should only shoot “street photography,” but I have discovered in my path that it doesn’t matter what you shoot. What matters is how shooting makes you feel. What matters is whether photography pushes you outside of your comfort zone, and whether you are able to achieve your personal maximum.
I feel the purpose of my life is to produce knowledge, and to distill information and lessons I’ve learned about photography to the masses. I am certainly not a “master” myself; just a humble student dedicated to a life-long pursuit of learning. Everything I share in this book is a distillation of the lessons I’ve learned from the masters of photography.
Don’t take everything in this book as “truth.” Rather, see the masters of photography as your personal guides. Take these lessons with a pinch of salt; pick and choose which lessons resonate with you, and throw away the rest.
Ultimately to find your own personal vision and style in photography, you just need to know yourself as a human being. “Know thyself” is the greatest wisdom given to us by the ancient philosophers.
Find yourself through the book, and discover the photographer you are. Love, Eric (@ Blue Bottle on Broadway, Oakland, Tuesday 3:46pm, Nov 10, 2015)
2. Get Closer
“If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” - Robert Capa
One of the common mistakes that many beginning street photographers make is this: they don’t get close enough.
We have many fears and provide a lot of excuses for not getting close enough in our street photography. We are worried about pissing people off, we are worried about making other people feel uncomfortable, and we are worried that strangers might call the cops on us (or even worse, physically assault us).
Realize that this is all in your head. By getting closer to a stranger, you won’t die. In-fact, I have learned that in photography (and life), with physical proximity comes emotional proximity.
It isn’t enough to use a telephoto or zoom lens to get “close” to your subject. By using a telephoto lens, you compress your image, and visually your photo feels less intimate. It feels like you are more of a voyeur looking in; rather than you being an active participant of the scene.
In street photography I generally recommend using a 35mm lens (full-frame equivalent) for most photographers (Alex Webb, Constantine Manos, and Anders Petersen shoot with this focal length). The human eye sees the world in around a 40mm field-of-view, and I find that shooting with a 35mm lens gives you enough wiggle-room around the edges of the frame.
A 50mm is fine too (Henri Cartier-Bresson was famous for using it for nearly his entire life), but in today’s crowded world, I find it to be a bit too tight. A 28mm is fantastic too (William Klein, Bruce Gilden, and Garry Winogrand have used this focal length), but realize that you have to be close enough with this lens to fill the frame.
As a rule-of-thumb, I try to shoot with a 35mm at least two-arm-lengths away (or closer). 2 arm-lengths is 1.2 meters (around 4 feet). Therefore I always have my camera pre-focused to 1.2 meters, set at f/8, ISO 1600, and I simply go out to find moments to shoot.
3. Shoot 25% more than you think you should
If you see an amazing character once in your life, realize that you will never see them ever again. So live life without regrets and make the photograph.
For this photo, I saw this amazing woman in the streets of NYC and said to her, “Oh my God miss, you are the most incredible-looking woman I have seen all day. Do you mind if I made a few photographs of you?” She was quite humbled and said, “Of course!”
I got very close with her with a Ricoh GR digital camera, and shot on 28mm with the Macro mode in “P” (program) mode with ISO 400. To fill the frame with her face, I shot this photograph at around .3 meters (about 1 foot away). I took many photographs, shooting some with flash, some without. I asked her to look up, and to look down at me.
On the 19th frame, she started bursting out laughing and said, “You’re taking so many photos, you’re crazy!” and started laughing. On that frame, I captured the “decisive moment.”
After capturing the moment, I still wasn’t 100% sure whether I got an interesting photograph or not, so I kept clicking, around 10 more frames.
As a general rule-of-thumb, when I think I’ve got the photograph, I try to take 25% more photographs (because you never know if you might catch an even more interesting photograph after-the-fact).
Later she told me she was 82 years old. The reason the photograph is meaningful to me is because there are too many photos of death, destruction, and misery in the world.
It is one of the very few “happy” photos I’ve shot. Inspired by this image, I hope to make more photographs like this to spread positivity and love in the world.
4. Shoot from the gut
“My photography is not ‘brain photography’. I put my brain under the pillow when I shoot. I shoot with my heart and with my stomach.” - Anders Petersen
Anders Petersen is o