Focus on Street Photographer Eric Kim ~ In your face with a smile!

Focus on Street Photographer Eric Kim ~ In your face with a smile!

If you shoot street photography, you have most likely heard of California based photographer Eric Kim. He is so active in the social media and blogging world that it is virtually impossible to miss him and his big grin. Who is the person behind the Leica? I had the pleasure to ask him a few questions for the dPS readers recently and, without further ado, I am pleased to introduce you to the work of street photographer Eric Kim.

When did you start doing street photography and why?

When I first started shooting photography, I had a difficult time figuring out what type of photography I enjoyed the most. I tried everything—landscape, wedding, portraiture, macro, you name it.

However my defining moment was a day in which I was waiting at a bus stop. I saw a young man with horn-rimmed glasses reading a book while leaning on a pole. I felt the moment was so pure and genuine, and I felt the urge to take his photograph. Then the questions came to mind—should I ask for permission and was this “right?” Regardless I went with my guts and attempted to take his photograph (without his permission). My heart was pumping and adrenaline flowing, and I brought up my camera to snap a photograph. The second my shutter was about to go off, he stared right at me and I took the photo. I have been hooked ever since.

What is it about street photography that appeals to you the most?

What I love most about street photography is that it is extremely challenging—both in creating an image that is visually appealing and emotionally appealing. I am also as interested in the approach of street photography. After all, who takes a photograph of a stranger without his/her permission? But it is through this candor that you can get a sense of who that person truly is and what is going on in their mind – without asking for permission.

What gear do you use and why?

I currently shoot with Leica cameras for my street photography, as I prefer the small body, how quiet it is, and unthreatening it looks. For my digital work, I shoot with a Leica M9—but recently I have been shooting quite a bit of film on my Leica M6.  However one thing I would like to urge to the readers of DPS is to not get too caught up in the gear. Although I do shoot with one of the most expensive cameras out there, there is no reason you can’t take a great image with what you have—and even an iPhone!  Having said that, generally the smaller your camera is, the less scary it is to the average person and more suitable for street photography.

How often do you get out and shoot?

I shoot everyday. When I am out traveling I probably shoot close to five hours a day. When I am back home and resting, probably less—around two hours a day or so. The most important thing is that I always have my camera with me, and try to make the time to shoot whenever possible.

What are your favorite subjects and locations?

When I was an undergraduate in my university, I studied sociology and I consider myself first a sociologist and second a photographer. Therefore, in my photography, I am particularly interested in capturing the beauty and ills of society through my lens. Some themes in particular which interest me are the role of the presentation of self, gluttony (not just food but general excess), and the negative effects of wealth and capitalism. Therefore the areas I like to shoot in are generally urban and highly-industrialized areas. Some of my favorite places to shoot include Downtown LA, Tokyo, and Seoul.

Which were your best moments and your scariest ones, if any?

Whenever I am out shooting, I always shoot with a smile on my face. The response I generally get from my subjects while shooting is positive. Although I don’t ask for permission when I’m out shooting, I generally chat with my subjects after taking photographs of them. I compliment them on what I find beautiful or interesting about them—whether it be their smile, their flamboyant hat, colorful outfit, or the way that they walk with authority. After taking people’s photographs, it always makes me happy when I hear people say to their friends: “Oh my god, he took a photograph of me—he must think I am someone famous!” The best, is just a simple smile back.

My style of photography is much more aggressive and in-your-face than other street photographers out there- so I have run into a few negative incidents. However they are still few.

In Downtown LA I had an incident in which someone threatened to break my camera, and tried to grab my camera by pulling at my camera strap. I apologized and chatted with him afterwards, which helped him calm down.

Another incident in Toronto, I took a photograph of what appeared to be a male aspiring Asian pop-star wearing nothing but skin-tight leather leggings and a leather vest. I took his photograph and kept on walking, and he turned around and asked me if I took his photograph. I told him I did, and he told me to delete the image. I looked at the image and thought it was quite interesting, so I refused. He then started getting violent and started shoving me in the chest, spitting while he was talking, and threatening to call the cops. I stood my ground and told him to go ahead and call the cops—as I was doing nothing wrong by shooting in public. He pretended to call the cops, and then stormed off afterwards.

The most physical incident I have gotten into involved when I was taking photographs in Tokyo. I saw a guy who was around 6 feet 3 inches (I am around 6 feet tall) who was wearing a face mask yet smoking a cigarette. He looked pretty sketchy (he wore a doo-rag, had a menacing face, and a patch on the right side of his face) but I decided to take a photograph anyway. I then kept on walking, and then he ran after me, kicked me in the back of my camera bag. I was holding my off-camera flash in my left hand, and the force sent the flash flying to a wall opposite of us. The flash hit the wall, broke into a thousand pieces—batteries flying everywhere. He then gazed at me with menacing eyes, and I quickly bowed and apologized—and walked off quickly.

I don’t want to scare anyone from shooting street photography from the negative experiences I had. I have probably taken at least 300,000 street photographs—and these were probably the 3 worst experiences I encountered. 3/300,000 is a .001% percent of a truly negative reaction. You are probably more likely to get into a car accident. Regardless, it is important to always be prepared – because you can never predict with 100% accuracy what can happen on the streets. This comes with experience—but know when it is the best to stick around with an upset person and explain why you are shooting street photography and how to apologize. In other cases when people might not react well to what you have to say, quickly apologize and just move on.

Have you learned something interesting about human behavior from your street photography?

The first thing that always concerns people is the risk of getting yelled at or beaten up for shooting street photography. As a sociologist, I am particularly interested in the approach of street photography—and how people truly react when you take their photograph (without their permission).

The common understanding is that people absolutely hate it when you take their photograph without permission and will become aggressive. However in my experience, 99% of the people you take photographs of generally don’t react much or don’t mind when you take their photograph. In today’s society, people are generally non-confrontational and won’t react very much when you take their photograph.

What tips would you give someone who is just starting to experiment with street photography?

I would say the most important thing is to carry your camera with you everywhere you go. The best shots are in the places you least likely expect, and as Wayne Gretsky said, “You miss a 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Secondly, don’t be sneaky when you shoot street photography. Don’t shoot with a 200mm lens and shoot from a block away. Rather, use a wide-angle prime lens (35mm or 28mm on a full-frame equivalent) and get close to your subjects. If you get close to your subjects when you are shooting, it makes the viewer feel like a participant (rather than a voyeur simply looking in). I also feel with physical proximity comes emotional proximity with the people you are taking photographs of.

Lastly, shoot with the heart. Street photography (like other forms of photography) should be well-composed and framed. However in the end, a great street photograph needs soul—it should say something about humanity or challenge the viewer to see his/her life in a different way.


Street Photographer Eric Kim

To connect with Eric on FB, Twitter, G+, etc. and learn about his upcoming projects and street photography workshops click here.


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Valerie Jardin I live and breathe in pixels! Photography is more than a passion, it's an obsession, almost an addiction. When I'm not shooting or writing, I spend my time teaching this beautiful craft during photo workshops all over the world! I am also thrilled to be an official X Photographer for Fujifilm USA. Visit my Website Follow me on Facebook , Twitter , Instagram. And listen to my Podcast!

Some Older Comments

  • twocutedogs March 15, 2012 03:28 am

    bobby - why do you assume that anyone taking photos of your children is a paedophile? and why all of this hostility? perhaps the photographer is thinking that your children are cute and that they would make a nice picture. there's nothing wrong with it in the slightest. with attitudes like yours there would be no pictures of children at all. it's a disgusting and paranoid attitude.

  • Bobby February 21, 2012 08:20 pm

    if i catch any man or woman taking photos of my (minor) children without permission, and the photoogropher refuses to delete the images, then the camera will be taken away and the images deleted by me. should this civilised act prove difficult due to the actions of the photographer, i will simply smash the camera into the ground an then reimburse the photographer for the "accident".

    i will not have any random man or woman having images of my child. public place or not

    and on the subject of places, should the photographer be on my property when he takes any image then i will fetch my gun first, and ask questions later

    respect the wishes and privicy of people on the street, and stay the hell off private property

  • Ramya February 6, 2012 04:43 am

    Thanks a ton Eric for sharing your experiences. I am an amateur photographer. I have a basic Nikon D 60 and try to the get the best I can. Your tips will help me greatly in trying to improve myself. :)

  • Hayley February 6, 2012 04:14 am

    Sorry Eric, but I'm with pk and alyacroft on this one. I was really quite enjoying the article right up until the part about the man in Toronto who threatened to call the police at which point I thought "God, this photograher's a ruthless ****!". Like alyacroft, I think it's one thing not to ask permission to take photographs of people in public but it's another not to delete a picture if they've asked you to because you thought it looked interesting - it may not be illegal but it does raise serious questions regarding lacking of respect for the subject - a big photography no-no in my opinion.

    Having read your response to alyacroft above, I'll give the benefit of the doubt and assume that that particular paragraph was just unfortunate wording choice (e.g. You were about to explain to the man that you didn't want to delete the picture because you liked it and maybe you could persuade him that it was ok too but he flew off into a rage before you had the chance and you neglected to mention this...and if it is something like that then, I apologise for the lecture in the paragraph above!). Otherwise, I think this is a good article and an otherwise very encouraging and inspiring view towards street photography with some very notable results.

  • MikeC366 February 6, 2012 12:36 am

    Great article Here is one of my recent attempts:


  • Ze February 5, 2012 10:33 pm

    I love your shots. You have an eye for composition and all your shots have soul! I love street photographs but I never understand what are the rules these days. Which countries allow you to publish shots without having release forms signed by the person photographed or their parents (in the case of minors)?

  • George February 5, 2012 09:36 pm

    Thanks Eric for your honest and down to earth reply it was a breath of fresh air to me. I always get the feeling that the people in focus here on the site are established, self employed and succesfull photographers... But as usual thats often not the case as you pointed out.

    Keep inspiring Eric and you will be inspired.

    My bests

  • Jr February 5, 2012 06:59 pm

    Nice article. I also saw a video interview of Eric on youtube about street photography. Seems like a cool kat

  • Eric Kim February 5, 2012 06:19 pm

    Thank you to everyone for the kind and critical feedback. All is appreciated.

    @George: Please can somebody tell me, what does Eric or you other street photographers do with all you photographs in the end? Do you sell them, publish them, or just admire them yourself.

    I shoot for my pleasure- and enjoy showing them on the internet and in exhibitions/galleries. I try to focus on working on projects to give my images more power and meaning. Hopefully one day my photos are worth something-- haven't sold any yet! (only to friends and family).

    When I'm shooting digital I usually delete the photos if people ask me nicely. However nowadays considering I'm shooting mostly film, I can't.

    Love hearing the feedback- thanks guys :)

  • ES February 5, 2012 08:19 am

    Great interview - I like Eric's moxie, images and social media savvy. He offers advice that many would-be street photographers should take.

  • Paula February 5, 2012 12:43 am

    I am a big fan of Eric's and am so glad that he's been interviewed by DPS!!

    Way to go Eric!

  • Wayne February 4, 2012 06:42 pm

    The fact that people have a knee jerk reaction (even viewers of this blog on.. photography) to in your face street photography says this what we mean by great street photography. Not shiny chorme wheels open wide in black and white. What's more interesting a wheel or a human being? A new way of looking at a wheel? Or looking deep into the soul of another human being? How's that communist?

    Anyways, even these comments are a research piece on sociology. This is about photography. And this is one end of the extreme that many people are brave to go into or have the tack to pull it off.

    Those were powerful images..

  • Lynford Morton February 4, 2012 12:00 pm

    The comments from PK and alyacroft inspired me to write a blog post. The ethics of street photography. When does no mean no.

  • T~ February 4, 2012 03:18 am

    Fantastic interview and very informative, not simply entertaining.
    Keep on keepin' on, Mr. Kim.
    You're an inspiration!
    (Although it may be perfectly legal to snap a photo of someone in a public place; count me as one who would delete if requested to do so. I would want my request honored if the shoe was on the other foot.)

  • Maximo Almonte February 4, 2012 12:36 am

    Eric Kim is a must know when it comes to street photography. His talent is unique. Very persistent, funny, and always with a smile. Great post.

  • George February 3, 2012 11:48 pm

    I like his work I must say BUT....
    Please can somebody tell me, what does Eric or you other street photographers do with all you photographs in the end? Do you sell them, publish them, or just admire them yourself.

    Please don't take this as a smart as question, I'm just interested in what happens to all the great photo's.

  • Kapil February 3, 2012 06:17 pm

    I have attended Eric Kim's workshop in Mumbai and it has opened up new avenues for me in Street Photography, which I never knew existed.
    Street photography is really tough and it can dip a persons confidence level, but shooting consistently and reading such helpful articles coming from Eric and Valerie, keeps boosting your confidence by tons.

  • alyacroft February 3, 2012 05:04 pm

    I agree with pk. It's one thing if you take a photo, someone requests you to delete it, and you do so, but to refuse to delete your photo just because it will benefit you? That is unethical. I think Kim's photography is very interesting and while I wouldn't get into people's faces without permission, I think that's not a terrible thing. I think that line is a little shakey, but permissible. But if he is asked to delete the photos, I believe he should do so. I think as human beings it is our duty to be kind and respectful to people. Too many people in the world are out for their own good and not for the good of others.

  • MikeC366 February 3, 2012 04:29 pm

    What a wonderful article. I would love to get out and do more, but trust me, where I live is pretty Have a 28mm arriving today hopefully. Maybe I'll try one of the nearby cities. I do love the idea and images.

  • PK February 3, 2012 04:25 pm

    I'd be intensely peeved if this - or any - photographer took a photo of me without my permission and then refused to delete it after being requested to do so. I don't are if you, as a photographer, find an image of me "interesting" - the subject could be in Witness protection, running from the law (or an number of reasons) - or, like me, running from an abusive ex-partner, who would kill me should he find me, and if that photo made it onto the 'net, and if he happened to find it, well, let's just say it wouldn't be pretty. People like Kim don't think about things like that. They just care that the shot "looks interesting". How about thinking about others for once?

  • Kaushik Ganneri February 3, 2012 03:12 pm

    Excellent resource Lynford, thanks a ton for sharing!! I love photographing candids of kids but the fear of the laws sometimes prevent me from photographing my subjects freely (more so, because I am an alien :-)). But, the shared pdf beefs up my confidence level...Thanks again!!

  • Lynford Morton February 3, 2012 01:32 pm


    If you are in the U.S. this Photographer's Right is a great resource.


  • Paul February 3, 2012 01:15 pm

    try to keep your focus on photography and leave you idiotic communist views out. This "negative effects of wealth and capitalism" is straight out of communist manifesto.

  • debb February 3, 2012 01:04 pm

    I love the idea of the street photography but I worry about the legalities of it all. For instance, in one of the photos above, I can see the McDonald's logo. I think that could be construed as a trademark/copyright infringement when the photo is published. Can you publish a photo of a person without their permission?? Are there any websites or publications on the legal aspects of "public" photography??

  • Kristin Savko February 3, 2012 08:09 am

    I have great respect for good street photography. These are beautiful images that embrace the human spirit. Well done!

  • Minzayar February 3, 2012 06:28 am

    It's really useful for me.

  • Neil Ta February 3, 2012 06:26 am

    Great interview! What Eric forgot to mention was that I saved his life in that Toronto incident. hahaha.

  • Mridula February 3, 2012 04:36 am

    I would be scared to get into any of the three incidents Eric mentioned. Here is a tame one of a vegetable vendor from Jaisalmer, the second pic.

  • Theresa Z February 3, 2012 04:28 am

    I enjoyed reading this article very much. I have seen Eric Kim's videos on You Tube and enjoyed them very much as well and learned more about street photography, which is my favorite type of photography.
    Have a Wonderful Day!

  • Linda Houston February 3, 2012 04:19 am

    I realy enjoy this article. What a great self-assignment. As a portrait artist I am always looking for self assignments to keep my work fresh and this certainly fills the bill. It will certainly help at keeping my portrait loose and not to stowic. Thanks for sharing . Hugs From the US

  • KW February 3, 2012 04:01 am

    Probably the reason why the Japanese guy in Tokyo tried to beat you up is because it's actually ILLEGAL to take pictures of people without their consent in Japan. Most Japanese people were probably too polite to tell you to, let me put it politely, shove off. But this guy probably didn't feel so bound by normal convention. You're honestly lucky you haven't been arrested yet.

  • keith bruner February 3, 2012 03:54 am

    I am one of those people who strongly dislikes having his photo taken. I would not get violent with some one taking my picture but if I see it happening I will do what I can to get out of the image. I could not take street images just because of my own feelings. I like to see great people shots but can't produce them.

  • Donald Hogue February 3, 2012 03:48 am

    Eric has the magic eye for the shot. Great pictures.

  • Nishant Mishra February 3, 2012 03:36 am

    Street photography is best in B&W images. In color, I miss the feel of it.
    I am thinking of getting a compact camera which can shoot in RAW. That'd be better than carrying a bulky DSLR which is intimidating to many here in India.

  • Rob-L February 3, 2012 02:49 am

    Eric is the man! He's a hell of a nice guy too. If you get the chance, you should check out one of his workshops. They're really fun.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck February 3, 2012 02:42 am

    Great article - this shot was also taken one the street but in Chicago where we have The very awesome sculpture called The Bean. Looking closely, one can see the hinfreds of admirers...

  • Rick February 3, 2012 01:29 am

    Inspiring images !

    I feel now the need of going out with my Fuji X100 and shoot :P

  • raghavendra February 3, 2012 01:15 am

    I like street photography.
    It appears to be true and capturing people life is a good art.

    I have taken a street photography

  • Chris February 3, 2012 01:11 am

    I like using a long tele because I like the long tele look. Compressed image, out of focus back ground... this help things...

  • michael mccolgan February 3, 2012 12:28 am

    Just like to say I enjoyed reading this article. I really like going onto the streets of Liverpool where I live and capturing various moments of peoples lives. Up to now I've never run into any problems but I will try your approach because its bound to happen at some point