Wednesday, August 28, 2013

10 lessons Eric Kim has taught me about street photography

Marceille, France. 2012 © Eric Kim

Eric Kim was the first photographer I started following. He is also the reason that I started with street photography. Therefor I think it's appropriate to write my first article about him. This is going to be about the most important things Eric Kim has taught me, and my thoughts around it.

(My english is a bit bumpy, but bare with me)

1. Let your pictures marinate.
Hong Kong, China. 2013 © Eric Kim

"It takes about a year (or even longer) for me to decide whether I think a photo is good or not." - Eric Kim
Emotionally detach yourself from your pictures, and be able to be critical to your own work . After letting the picture sit for a while, its like looking at another persons work. 

"I often confuse the emotions of when I took a photo thinking it was good" - Winogrand
This is something that happens to me when I don't marinate my photos long enough: I pick a photo I'm satisfy with, show them to my friends. But the response is not what I was hoping for. They don't get the story, because they weren't there when the photo was taken. 
Sometimes it's the opposite way. When I look through some of my old work. Now that I see it with different eyes, I find some of them (Back then I didn't think of them as any good photos) to be quiet decent. Some of them I don't even remember shooting. A good tip from Eric: Never delete or throw away our old photos. 
Invest in a external hard disk, and/or file your negatives. Plus make a system so it's easy find to find what you're looking for in the future. 
"Less is more"
When editing a project, portfolio and so on. Don't go mad when it comes to number of photos to use. It's better to use 10-15 great pictures than 50 not so good ones. 

2. Work the scene.
Los Angeles, 2012 © Eric Kim

If you have the chance, and think the scene is worth working with, move around and shoot till you get the shot you want. But at the same time, don't overshoot.  
Take a look at the masters' contact sheets. Very often they took more than one shot of one scene. 
I'm not very good at this. And when I go to sleep, I start evaluating the day where I go through the situations mentally. Sometimes I get frustrated over the scenes I didn't work enough. In my case, this has often to do with fear of interrupting peoples life. I am working on it :) 

3. Shoot film.
Tokyo, Japan © Eric Kim 2013

Eric's article and videos about shooting with film is one of the reasons I got back to film. 
There are pros and cons when it comes to shooting with film. But for street photo, I think the benefits weighs heavier than the downsides  (of course if you are a sport photographer there is really no point in shooting film).

It makes me slow down. 
One reason is because film costs quiet a lot of money. I think: "is it worth it" before I actually press the shutter. Another good thing is that it prevents chimping after taking a photo, i.e. I am ready for the next shot without interruption. 
Analog cameras also makes me worry less about the gear. For instance ISO-performance, AF-speed and megapixels can be very distracting. 

Film forces me to let the picture marinate longer. 
When shooting digital, as soon as I got home from shooting, it was all about transferring the photos over to the computer, and browse through them. Often hundreds of photos taken in just one day. Sometimes I didn't bother go through all of them. It became overwhelming. 

Even with hundreds of photos, the amount of good or great shots is not higher compared to shooting film. Even the mass is much smaller. The success rate is therefore higher with film then digital. I use digital for some other work, and I think shooting with film helps me get better at shooting digital. 

4. Travel is good, but shooting in your own neighborhood is important.
Tokyo, Japan. 2011 © Eric Kim

Although traveling is important for meeting new people and cultures. It's really important to have a home to go to. When soothing away from home, places you've never been before, it's easy to get overwhelmed and shoot all over the place. It may be good pictures, but often not very interesting. When you know the place, and are personal connected to it, it's going to shine trough to your photos. You see details that people new to the place do not see. 
Every time I travel thinking; You have to travel to see how unique your home place is. This is something I think everyone that travels experience. For me, this is a good thing. There is always something interesting to photograph, you just have to look close enough.

5. Interact with people, don't be sneaky.
Tokyo, Japan. 2011 © Eric Kim

"When taking a photo of a stranger, a smile goes a long way." - Eric Kim

This is probably the the most important thing I've learned from Eric. Not just the theory behind it, but seeing the way he shoots on the street (following his youtube channel) has helped me a lot. To see how much a smile, a wave or a thank you can do is inspiring. 

The worst thing to do is being sneaky when taking photos of people on the street. Because if you then get "caught" taking someones photo, it's much worse than being open about it. They may think you are up to no good. When I say sneaky, I mean like using a tele lens, shoot from the hip, hiding behind a tree and so on. Most people doesn't see what lens you are using, so if you are standing far away, they may think you're using a tele even if you are using a 50mm. So get in the zone, smile and be confident about what you're doing. 

6. Equipment is not all. Be grateful for what you have.
Korea. 2012 © Eric Kim

It's not what you shoot with, its what you shoot that matters. Many of us are suffering for GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). I have been experienced this both as a musician and photographer. For a long time, I wanted a canon L lens. Thinking that if I just bought that lens, my shots was going to be much better, plus I was going to be more happy. I may get a bit more edge sharpness, faster AF and more durability, but is it worth the price? Will it make me a better photographer? Probably not. 

A little experiment Eric Kim is talking about in is blog, is to imagine loosing something. Like for instance your wallet. I think we've all been there, running through the house looking for it. Your heart start pumping, you start sweating. You would do anything to get it back, and saying to your self "I promise, I will never loose it again". When you find it again, you realize how important your wallet is to you. Same thing with your camera. 

Put things to perspective. We are fortunate just to have the opportunity to use a camera. People around the world are starving, and the last thing they would think about is more megapixels, faster AF. They'd be thrilled just to use a camera. I saw a documentary a while ago. Cant remember who the photographer was, but he was in this east europe prison, giving away disposable cameras to the prisoners. I don't think any of them had used a camera before, but they were in heaven that day. this may have made their life a bit more livable. At least for a little period. Think about it; we are lucky to do the thing we love. 

It's more important to know your gear, than to have the best gear.

7. Shoot for yourself.
Santa Monica. 2010 © Eric Kim

I think this has two sides. One of reasons I do street photography is to get out of the sofa, get fresh air, meet people, and collect memories. But I also shoot to make another person feel and learn something when he or she sees my photos. Photography has also helped me to understand humans better. The way they react to things, how they think and how they move. 

I feel more confident in public areas carrying a camera (I've herd other photographers saying the same). Though its hard, I try not to share too many photos on social media. I only pick out the ones that I find to be the best (often consulted by other photographers). 
Carrying a camera is also a good excuse to do small talk. Especially when using an old analog camera. I use it as an icebreaker. 

8.  Don't worry about the number of followers. Its the quality, not the quantity that counts.
Michigan. 2013 © Eric Kim

I'd rather have 10 people that are interested in my work than 1000 people that does not care about who they follow. 

Who sees your work is more important than the number of viewers. Do they actually care when they look at a photo. Do they reflect, feel something, and have a meaning about it? How long do they look at the photo? This is something that's far more interesting than how many followers you have.

9. Receive and give critiques.
                                                                            Tokyo, Japan. 2011 © Eric Kim

"A harsh critique is better than a pat on the back." - Eric Kim
In the beginning when I started sharing photos on the internet. This was before Facebook-time. I thought the people who gave harsh critiques were mean. It seemed like they gave critiques just to find something wrong about my photos (when I look at those photos today, they're not that good… So I see why they wrote what they did). However, after I began to learn how this was done, and started write critiques my self, I saw that I were exactly as "mean" as they were to me back then. Now that I know how to do it, I know how to appreciate it. I think that both giving and receiving harsh critique is a good way to become a better photographer. 
It's also important for the editing process.  

10. Street photography is 99,9% failure.
Santa Monica. 2010 © Eric Kim

"Street Photography is all about failure. 2-3 good shots a month, 1-2 great shots a year" - Eric Kim

This is something that is easy to forget from time to time. The keyword here is to be patient and don't get frustrated when having a period with crappy shots. Many of the great photographers are known for just 5, max 10 of their photos. There is a reason for that. Street photography is very hard, it takes a lot of skills and little bit of luck.
"The decisive moment" 
One moment everything lines up, if you don't press the shutter at the right time, the moment has passed, and never comes back. We can't control what people do, but we can anticipate what they will do. That, I think is the art of street photography, and separates the best from the good street photographers.

Feel free to leave a comment below :)


  1. great post.

    a reminder for the ever-forgetful unsatisfied me.

  2. Replies
    1. Well. Because this is an article about Eric, and what he has taught me. So I thought it was appropriate :)

  3. Very inspired by this post! filled with simple wisdom...