5 Things I Learned From Eric Kim's Street Photography Workshop

When I received an email from Eric Kim explaining that he was going to be live on Twitch teaching a street photography workshop I was rather excited. Not because Eric Kim is the greatest of all time, but because he's living proof that you can make a living doing what you love, even if it is the unpopular route. I know the general public hate him, but I for one enjoys what he has to say. I think everyone's upset because he's successful while others feel as though they are more talented and perhaps that's the case... But we all know photography isn't solely based on skill.

The workshop was 3 hours and for those that couldn't make Day 1 Eric announced he would be back again today for the 2nd course, he also stated that both workshops would eventually be uploaded on YouTube, so be on the lookout for that. The workshop was informative, but if I must be honest it was rather unstructured, so I decided to make a list of everything I learned and share it with those who weren't as tuned in.

1. Ask Permission

I can name a million times when I saw a solid photo only to get close to the subject and their entire expression changes. Many of you just walk away after this happens... I'll never understand that. I get that we all have this idea that street photography is candid, but that just isn't true. It's perfectly fine to get one's permission, just be sure to get the photo you envisioned when you ask them. 

I think most people aren't so much against the idea of posed photographs, but actually afraid to approach the subject and work the scene. The truth is that you shouldn't be, according to Eric, the majority of people in the world want to be photographed, especially if what attracted you to them was very loud.

Eric's example in the workshop was a guy in a bright suit. He stated that he was bright for a reason... Mainly because he wanted to be noticed, so to assume that someone who seeks attention or wants to be noticed doesn't want their photograph taken makes no sense. People want to be photographed, they're just waiting for you to ask.

Related: How To Approach Strangers in Street Photography

2. Be A Tourist

This one is simple. How many of you have traveled and taken street pictures? 

You ever notice how much confidence you gain in another city. When I first went to Chicago I photographed everything and everyone... There were no rules, there was no fear. I was there for 3 days and as a tourist, I had the right to document my vacation. Think about if you visited Tokyo... You wouldn't be shy or timid. Treat your city the same way.

Now, I know Eric just wrote a blog post about how you shouldn't be a tourist, but I think this rule of thumb is in a different context. I'm not telling you to go photographt trendy ruin porn or graffiti when you visist Detroit, but to simply shoot as if your on vacation. Your confidence should be strongest in your own backyard.

3. Avoid Confrontation

The odds of someone yelling at you because you took their photograph is rare... But it does happen. Initially, you may want to retaliate, but it's best to just walk away. You'll gain no benefit by arguing with people. I know we have the right to photograph strangers in a public space, but you have to understand that not everyone wants to be photographed... If you stay in the area and preach how you have rights then that's up to you, but if you expect them to look at you and say "Oh, wow, you're right, have a nice day" then your crazy.

Some of my practices to avoid confrontations are wearing headphones while shooting. I recommend you don't listen to music as you want to be aware of your surroundings, but if you do have it on make sure it's at a low volume. Another tip is to simply say thank you after shooting and then keep it pushing.

Eric even went as far as saying he uses race to his advantage. Every now and then he may hit you with an accent and act as if he is totally oblivious to what you're saying... He could have been joking when he said this, but hey, if you can use it to your advantage.

Related: How to React to Confrontations in Street Photography


4. Convert Fear Into Excitement

This tip is quite difficult, but it's so necessary. It's a mentality play. Whenever you go to take a photograph and a sense of fear overcomes you then it's easy to walk away. You think about the consequences... This guy may hit me, or yell at me... You don't want to be publicly embarrassed. It's also easy to think about your equipment. What if he damages your camera? Yeah, you'll just photograph him next time.

What you're doing is letting fear ruin your shot. Eric's advice was to turn it into excitement. Think less about the consequences and more about the positive outcome. Chances are you're afraid because you know it's a good photograph, surely it's worth capturing otherwise you wouldn't be scared to do so. You have to get excited about this moment, think about likes, clout, consistency... I know we act like those things don't matter, but they do. It's what keeps you going. Capturing a good photograph makes your day or week seem like a success... When you think about the benefits of capturing this photo then chances are you'll likely be more excited to go for it.

Related: How To Overcome Fear When Shooting Street Portraits

5. Good Photographs Tell Lies

This was the key factor of the workshop. Good photographs don't tell the truth... I'm definitely going to steal this phrase. What he meant was that the moment that you captured doesn't always have to be the moment that the audience sees. The photo above, for example, shows a lady who to some, may appear to have an attitude. Many may look at this and think that I upset her, or that for some reason she was angry, but in reality, none of those things were true. She was pretty friendly and went on to tell me that she wasn't photogenic, but there was no issue with me taking her photograph.

By not attaching a story to this photograph it's considered "open", which means it's open to the viewers interpretation. This is going to make your image stronger as it's going to relate to several people because they're attaching their own story to the image.