This month michaels plays host to a FREE Lunchtime seminar and weekend workshop on Street Photography, presented by Eric Kim, an internationally acclaimed street photographer based in Los Angeles. Eric has shared some practical tips with us to help you get get more compelling images when out shooting on the streets. Rather than focusing on what to do, Eric makes clear what not to do!
Dont shoot standing up
One of the things I always advise people against when shooting street photography is shooting standing up. When you are shooting street photography, crouching allows you to get a more interesting and dynamic angle. This applies especially when you are taking photos of people either sitting down or photos of kids. You want your perspective to be at least eye-level with them, if not lower. The perspective of taking a photo of someone lower than you makes them look small and awkward. If you don’t crouch much when shooting on the streets, I highly encourage you to do so now! (your thighs will hate me though). Of course this depends on the situation. If you are shooting on the streets and want to focus more on people’s faces, don’t crouch down too low, or you will get an unnatural angle.
Don’t spend more time researching gear than shooting photos
In street photography we (like every other type of photographer out there) like to talk about gear. There is nothing wrong about that, but it is dangerous once you start spending more time researching and worrying about gear rather than shooting. For example, rather than deciding if you need a new 28mm or a 35mm to complement your 50mm, I would suggest for you to just go out and shoot with your 50mm and see what you can get! In addition, you don’t need a Leica camera to get compelling images. Learn how to get comfortable with your DSLR or point and shoot and capture life through your lens.
Don’t ask others what they like about your images
When you take a great photo, you know what you like about the image. For example, you might like the interesting subject you captured, the intensity of the light, the angle of the background, or the moment in which you clicked the shutter. It is easy to get blinded by our favorite images—that we can’t spot the imperfections in them. For example, your subject may have a pole sticking out of their head—the horizon might be crooked, or the background may be too busy. It is difficult to spot out imperfections on our own, so rather ask other people what they don’t like about your images—and how you can improve.
Sure it is nice to have people compliment your images and give you positive feedback and of course… get “fav’d” on Flickr. But all of that stuff doesn’t mean much in the end. I have a simple suggestion: when you post a photo and you want helpful/harsh critique, be very open and transparent about it. If you post a photo on Flickr, write in the caption that you would like people to give you a harsh critique, or state it when uploading to Facebook.
Don’t rush yourself
One of the traits that all street photographers (myself included) could benefit from is patience. If you see an interesting background, beam of light, or potential photo-opportunity, wait for the right person to enter your scene and capture the moment. In street photography, shooting in good light can make an ordinary scene magical. Some of my good street photographer friends such as Ibarionex Perello and Rinzi Ruiz will often wait up for an hour if they see the right light—and wait for the right person to enter the scene.
Good things happen to those who wait.
Don’t constantly change focal lengths
Less is more. Having more options just makes us frustrated and prevents us from focusing. Although I am a huge advocate for experimenting with different type of street photography styles, focal lengths, gear, and projects—there is a point in which you need some consistency.
Recently on a blog post I gave some advice that you should stick to one camera and one lens for a year until you get really comfortable with it—and then perhaps experiment with something else. However myself (being human and a hypocrite) went out and bought a 21mm to play around with my M9. I had always been fascinated with this concept of going wide—and a 35mm often felt too tight on my Leica.
However after experimenting with it for about a month—I am starting to realize it is too wide. The parallax error of a 21mm using an external viewfinder is really frustrating and having such a wide lens means that you have to be extra careful of your backgrounds when you are shooting (because it is easy to create a busy background).
Now whenever I am out shooting, I am always concerning myself in the back of my mind whether I should use my 21mm or my 35mm. When I only had one lens (the 35mm) on my M9, life was easy and less stressful. Now the constant battle of what lens to use simply frustrates me. I am still debating whether I should keep or sell off the lens.
So use myself as an example. Having too many cameras and lenses only inhibits your artistic creativity—by stressing you out. Feel free to experiment, but once you find what suits you the best don’t waver too much!
Also interesting tidbit: many of the well-known and established photographers shot with mostly one focal length for their entire careers: Henri Cartier Bresson and a 50mm, Bruce Gilden with a 28mm, Josef Koudelka + David Alan Harvey + Alex Webb with a 35mm.
Don’t shoot without knowing why you shoot
Whenever you go out on the streets, you should have a reason why you shoot. Whether it be for pleasure, whether it be for documenting humanity, whether it be a personal project, or something that drives you.
Street photography is often misunderstood as simply going outside and taking random photos of whatever. Although having the mindset of a flaneur (going outside and strolling aimlessly) is great—you still want some sort of concrete goal or plan when out shooting.
If you are currently struggling with your own street photography and trying to find your own voice, I suggest make a personal project for yourself. Focus on some theme that interests you. It can be as broad as the city you live in (ie. Los Angeles) or as narrow as only taking photos of a certain subgroup of people (ie. Salarymen in Tokyo). It doesn’t even have to be exotic—try even taking photos of signs in your neighborhood (Lee Friedlander did it!).
Don’t upload photos everyday
Less is more. Quality over quantity. Nowadays with online social media, we are constantly connected to the web. We feel this urge to always upload to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Google+, 500px, and more.
Show less of your work—only your best work. I have a suggestion to help keep your quality up, and I call it the “one week rule”: Never upload your photos without waiting at least a week (to determine if it is truly good or not) and upload only one photo a week. This will ensure that every time you upload something, it will be damn good.