50 Things I Try to Avoid in Street Photography

50 Things I Try to Avoid in Street Photography



I am a huge proponent of negative learning, that you can learn more by taking on the opposite approach. Philosopher Nassim Taleb calls this “via negativa”. It is the idea that the best way to gain “happiness” in life isn’t chasing what makes us happy, but by vehemently avoiding what makes us unhappy (a long commute to work, a horrible micro-managing boss, poisonous and negative “friends”, and an expensive house mortgage).

I also believe strongly that one should never listen to “rules” of anything in life (especially street photography). However, below is a list of things (which has personally helped me) I avoid in street photography . Pick and choose what resonates with you, and leave the rest:

50 Things I Try to Avoid in Street Photography

  1. “Chimping” (checking the LCD screen) after taking photos on the streets
  2. Using more than one lens for street photography (I prefer a 35mm)
  3. Mixing my digital and film photos in a project
  4. Letting the number of “favorites” or “likes” dictate whether a photo is good or not
  5. Letting criticism affect me negatively. Rather, I try to use it to empower me to find weaknesses in my work.
  6. Uploading a photo online publicly without having at least 3 people critique it in-person first
  7. Spending a lot of time looking at photos online ; rather I spend more time looking at photo books
  8. Leaving the house without a camera
  9. Hesitating before taking a street photograph
  10. Cluttered backgrounds
  11. Showing my bad photos (I have tons of them)
  12. Shooting more than one type of film at a time (Kodak Portra 400 for color, Kodak Tri-X for black and white)
  13. Going a full day without taking a photographstreet-photography-tips-01
  14. Involving myself in online debates about the definition of “street photography”
  15. Meeting my photography friends without some new work to show them and get critique on
  16. Charging money for my photos
  17. Taking a photo of someone on the streets without saying “thank you” by smiling at them
  18. Focusing on single images. Rather, I try to focus on projects
  19. Looking at gear review sites (when I’m bored) unless I’m serious about buying a new camera
  20. Owning more than one lens for my camera (only a 35mm)
  21. Caring about sharpness
  22. Bokeh in street photography
  23. Forgetting how lucky I am to be able to go out and take photos
  24. Taking boring photos
  25. Taking check-in luggage when I travelstreet-photography-tips-02
  26. Comparing myself to other photographers
  27. Developing my film for at least 3 months after I shoot it
  28. Uploading photos online until letting it “marinate” for at least 6 months to a year
  29. Falling into the trap that buying a new camera will make me suddenly become more “creative” and “inspired” in my photography
  30. Not asking for permission to take someone’s photo in the street (Editor’s note: yes double negative here so he DOES ask for permission in other words)
  31. Checking comments on my photos more than once a week
  32. Spending more time on social media, and less time out shooting on the streets
  33. Leaving comments or critiques on other people’s photos that are shorter than 4 sentences long
  34. Only taking photos of people
  35. Taking photos of homeless people
  36. Taking photos of street performers
  37. Deleting photos (unless they are really nice or the photo is boring)
  38. Taking the film out of my camera when someone asks me tostreet-photography-tips-04
  39. Shooting to please my critics
  40. Ultimately shooting for anybody else but myself
  41. Making excuses when a photo doesn’t work
  42. Taking photos without emotion
  43. Recommending zoom lenses in street photography
  44. Recommending lenses longer than 50mm for street photography
  45. Shooting wide open on the streets (generally at f/8-f/16)
  46. Recommending selective color or HDR for post-processing street photographs
  47. Keeping photos that I think are good but really aren’t
  48. Shooting in bad light without a flash
  49. Sharing more than one photo a week on social media
  50. Recommending that you should listen to everything in this list. Rather, make your own! 🙂

Editor’s note: what things do you try and avoid when you’re doing photography of any kind? Share your list with us in the comment section below!

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Eric Kim an international street photographer, educator, and blogger. His passion is teaching street photography workshops and building communities all around the globe. You can connect over on his blog Eric Kim Street Photography or see his portfolio on his website.

  • The SAK

    I agree. It looks like the author had a blank page with only 10 minutes to deadline and decided that under the circumstances anything would do.

  • Insight Outside

    This is a great post! It gave some great inspiration and food for thought.

  • Peter Böhi

    Chimping: Ok, for quality reasons still helpful, it helped me to correct wrong settings early. Work with the gear that is familiar to you, and don’t buy new gear all the time (these days easier, because there hasn’t been real progress for a while). I care for sharpness, that is basic stuff we should have down without thinking twice. I never ask for permission in the street, because this takes the spontaneity out of the image (works only, if you don’t intend to publish your images). Certainly, I use zoom lenses (28-300mm on my Nikon D3s). Shoot many images (I set my camera on “continuous low”), you can delete the duds later. I also take photos of street performers and homeless people, if the image conveys a message. I never use flash and shoot in low light as well. And finally: Always carry your camera!

  • RegRR

    So you’re saying it’s better to “spray and pray” than to “chimp”? I’d rather use a few seconds (not minutes unless you’re that slow) of my time to recheck the shot than to waste my time going through each one and deleting or editing them later on the computer. That would take up more time than checking the shot on the spot. Sure there are indicators to help check if the shot is fine (histogram, etc.) but it’s not always reliable and they don’t tell you if your framing is right or if something suddenly jumped into frame.

    Few seconds of “chimping” Vs few minutes on the computer to correct mistakes… I’ll take chimping. Of course, still, to each their own.

  • Pio Danilo P. Cuadra

    Good reminders. But I don’t believe in item #43 re.; Recommending zoom lenses in street photography.” Instead, I recommend a reminder that shouldn’t be done in street photography, “Do not brag or show off your gear.” I learned a painful lesson from this, sometime in 2008 when I was nearly holdup by thugs in a tourist destination somewhere in Shanghai. Luckily police came on time to rescue me.

  • Edmund

    I love the “spray and pray” comment – never heard it before. The thing is that this article is specifically about street photography which, by definition, is spur of the moment. I admit that if I am taking a landscape or shots of a building with a tripod, or shooting a portrait I might review the work in detail on the screen which involves enlarging to the maximum and checking focus as well as framing but chimping for a street photo would be like doing it at a sports match – while you’re checking the screen they score a goal!

  • Edmund

    Oh dear just broke rule #14 by attempting to define street photography!

  • RegRR

    Not all street shots are spur of the moment. Well, they sort of are but most good ones are anticipated shots. I mean, you don’t just pick up the camera and shoot away now do you? Because that would be an awful lot of wasted time deleting those unwanted shots later. The usual process would be: setting up camera, looking around, then shoot if something looks interesting. Therefore, there’s already an idea formulating in your head of how you’d want the shot to be, the reason why you’d shoot that certain moment in the first place.

    Yes, you might miss a really good moment while reviewing your shot but isn’t a bad photo equivalent to a missed moment?

    An example:
    So you go clicking away without reviewing and let’s say you get 5 consecutive shots, but they’re all bad. How would that compare to 1 bad shot because you had to check? They’re the same thing in a sense because you didn’t get a good one. But if we continue, let’s say 5 consecutive shots went on to become 10 consecutive shots and you got 2 good ones out of it. On the chimping aspect, you also got 2 good ones but took only 4 shots because you got to adjust accordingly. You get the same number of good shots but you won’t be needing to delete or edit that same amount.

    Also, relying on “I’ll edit it later” shots is just a time waster. I admittedly am guilty of this.

  • RegRR

    Haha It’s fine. Sometimes is has to be defined to at least attempt at getting those discussing an idea of what the other is meaning.

  • James Tracey

    Sorry, but these photos are poor. The last one is awful. This guy teaches this stuff? I can’t be the only person who thinks this?

  • sir_quasar

    My list would include such useful tidbits as getting caught on the wrong side of the tracks after dark, muggings (those 2 are related btw), and in the path of oncoming traffic…but that’s just me.

  • captainjman

    what is “film” ?

  • Reader

    #50 was the only sensible suggestion.

    #51 – Don’t take suggestions from Eric Kim seriously.

    Pretentious list. He could never shoot to please his critics – there are far too many of them.

  • Anonymous

    I have to agree with Reader that #50 was the only suggestion that is a fact and not an opinion. I understand that opinions are what we learn from, but this article is too heavily based on opinions and self preferences. It’s ok to do that, but it’s wrong to present it as if it were true. This list is not factual from a technical point of view, but more psychological. Heres just one example so that my comment is not lengthy, example, #44. Any professional photographer knows that longer focal lengths provide a greater bokeh effect while allowing you to grab candid shots from far off. The example pictures look amateur as if you don’t know what you’re doing. 50 tips but they are not tips. Here’s a tip, Google what the Canon 135mm f2L can do for street photography. Almost every tip can be proven false. Almost…

  • thanks for your support Edmund!

  • ellocotheinsane

    I’m not sure how easy I would feel taking a shot across someone’s shoulder while they are using an ATM … permission or no permission …

  • Insight Outside

    Why would you shoot to please critics anyway? It’s about expression rather than about pleasing someone.

  • Anonymous

    the point Reader was trying to make is that his pictures are far from pleasing to look at

  • Anonymous

    ur not

  • Photography

    im glad you got inspiration and food for thought. Just remember, these are not RULES. There’s two sides to every coin. Know when to abide by the tips he provided, and know when to break them. Too much to explain, just keeping my comment short… Cheers

  • W

    he only keeps the bad ones, as you can see by the examples shown 🙂 hehe

  • Matt

    Another thing to avoid: following recommendations like (some from) above to copy the style of someone else.

    Best regards

  • Keenan Adams

    STUPID LIST!!! Especially “Uploading photos online until letting it “marinate” for at least 6 months to a year.” Just STFU

  • bahnism

    Great list and it made me think of a few things that I should (and shouldn’t be doing) 🙂

  • Marian Murdoch

    Not recommending a zoom lens? Pffft. Some of my best shots were of things that happened waaaaay down the street and I would’ve lost the moment had I not had a zoom lens.

  • Marian Murdoch

    A lot of these have nothing to do with Street Photography. This could have been a much shorter list and many of them put into a “Things I try to Avoid Online” article instead.

  • jumbybird

    You should have added, never take pictures of people blowing cigar or weed smoke, vaping, hookahing…

  • jumbybird

    Too many rules…

  • Laird Ehlert

    I DO take photos of homeless people, but I am very respectful about it. There are people with mental problems who have ended up on the streets, so one must use common sense, as in any street situation. But I find that many homeless like to be photographed, especially if you are willing to talk to them. So many people pass them by. I think that it makes them feel worthy, and that someone will remember them. And I know that some hope that you will give them a few dollars for their cooperation.

  • B. Cattoor

    Ahh, thanks, now it makes sense 😉

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