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Interview with Eric Kim

Published by Jen Tse · October 12th 2011

Every day we see stunning photos from our peers in the 500px community, but not often do we turn the lens back upon the photographer. The Portrait series focuses on remarkable 500px users who may have something to teach us about their field of photography. This week's feature is Eric Kim.

Eric will be having a 2-day Introduction to Street Photography Workshop in Toronto (Oct. 22-23) which will be focused on conquering fears of shooting street photography while learning how to capture “The Decisive Moment." He will also be having a 3-day Street Photography 101 Workshop in Tokyo 12/2-12/4 with guest speakers Charlie Kirk, Bellamy Hunt, and Alfie Goodrich.
He will be available for a Google+ Hangout to accomodate questions tonight (Oct. 12) at 9:30 p.m. EST (6:30 p.m. PST). Email him at if you would like more information.

Tell us a little about yourself, Eric.

I am a 23-year-old street photographer currently based in Los Angeles. I used to work at an online media company, but recently got laid off due to the company downsizing. However it was a blessing in disguise, as it gave me the impetus to do my street photography full-time. For the last three months, I have been making my living traveling and teaching street photography workshops and having the time of my life. Although I am probably five times busier than I was before, I love the ability to travel, meet wonderful people along the way, and follow my dreams.

I don’t have any awards under my belt, but I have had the great pleasure of doing past and present collaborations with Leica, Magnum, and Invisible Photographer Asia.

How did you get into street photography and what draws you to it?

I first got started in street photography with my fascination with people. I studied sociology when I was a student at UCLA, and have always been drawn to people, how they interact, and how they live their lives.

Having a camera in my hand naturally drew me to capture people. I can’t explain it—but I feel that I have a need to document the people that I meet and fascinate me. Something about their face, expression, and who they are.

I also love the accessibility of street photography. I started off a landscape photographer, but would always be frustrated that I would have to drive for several hours in-order to get a decent photo. With street photography, I can literally just take a step outside and have tons of street photography opportunities presented to myself.

Not only that, but in street photography something happens only once—which is part of the challenge and beauty.

What would you say are some of the main factors leading to your recognition and success?

I attribute all of my recognition and success to my beloved community. When I started my street photography blog around a year and a half ago, I wanted to teach all that I learned with street photography with others. I was very keen on the idea of “open source photography”—in which I would be as open and free with my knowledge as possible. This has lead me to giving me away my Lightroom 3 presets for free, and I try to keep my blog as informative and useful as possible.

I have also found out the more I have given to my community, the more they have given back to me.

Not only that, but I have been fortunate enough to have supportive people helping and guiding me along the way. Around a year ago I did a blog post titled, “101 Things I Learned About Street Photography” which went viral and drew attention from Loryne Atoui, an art director in Beirut, Lebanon. She invited me to teach a street photography workshop there, but unfortunately I didn’t have enough money for my airfare.

My community and Thomas Leuthard helped pay for my trip, which was really the “start” of my street photography community. Thomas and I ended doing the workshop together, and we have been good friends and fellow street photographers ever since.

Another significant opportunity was when I was invited to the Leica + Magnum event in Paris. Leica funded my trip, and I was able to meet all the people at Leica and many renowned street photographers from Magnum, including Bruce Gilden, Elliott Erwitt, and Alex Majoli. There I also met Charlie Kirk, who has inspired me to push my photography and blog to the next level and take it more seriously. He has also had a huge influence on my recent work, in which I use a flash.

How do you choose your subjects? What are some of the things you look for in a person or a moment? Are your encounters always serendipitous?

When I am out shooting on the streets, I am fascinated by what Bruce Gilden likes to call “characters.” People who have something unusually eccentric about themselves and have a flair of originality and uniqueness. I look specifically for people with hats, sunglasses, flashy clothes, and beautiful smiles. I can’t explain why—but I am drawn to these people.

I work at a moderately fast pace when I am out shooting, and I try to always keep my eyes open for characters. However there are times when I will wait at busy intersections and wait for my subjects to come to me.

What is your approach to taking such intimate photos of your subjects? Can you describe both the physical process (for example, how close you have to get and your subjects' reaction) and the relationship aspect to capturing the people you encounter?

Alfred Eisenstaedt once said, "It is more important to click with people than to click the shutter.”

While my previous work used to be more disconnected and I wouldn’t affect the scene, I work extremely closely and intimately with my subjects now. Influenced by Bruce Gilden, Mark Cohen, Charlie Kirk, and Dirty Harrry, I have also been shooting with a flash quite a bit. I shoot with a 35mm lens, and I get extremely close to my subjects. Due to the nature of this work, it is important for me to interact with my subjects. Although I do not ask for permission when shooting, I generally speak with people during or after I take photos of them. This makes them feel far more comfortable when I am taking photos of them.

Some people are confused and think that just because I am using a flash and getting really close to people that I am being obnoxious and rude. I love the people that I shoot, and I wish to share my impressions of them with others without being sneaky about it. I think it is more respectful to shoot people up-close-and-personal with them knowing, rather than sniping them from a block away with a telephoto lens.

Care to share your hit-to-miss ratio?

Henri Cartier-Bresson said something along the lines of, “You must milk the cow quite a bit to get a little bit of cheese.” When I am out shooting for an entire day, I will typically take around 100-200 images.

If I get one good image from that entire day, I am happy. If I get one great image a month, I am happy. If I get one extremely memorable image I can add to my portfolio in a year, I am happy.

What is your favourite part about street photography? Your least favourite?

My favorite part about street photography is the stories I am able to tell and the people I have been meeting along the way. In shooting my street photography, running my blog, and building a community, I have met some incredible people from all walks of life. It has helped me get a much better global understanding and a sense of open-mindedness.

My least favorite part about street photography is the difficulty of capturing an amazing photo. Almost everything has been done in street photography before, so to create a truly original image with your own style is very difficult to do. However this challenge has been the impetus in improving my street photography and vision.

What gear do you shoot with? What other things do you never leave home without?

I shot quite a while with my Canon 5D and 35mm f/2 lens, but I currently shoot with a Leica M9 and 35mm 1.4 Summilux. I never leave home without my YN-560 flash, GoPro, Macbook Air, and Nike Frees (comfortable shoes are essential for street photography).

What advice do you have for new street shooters? Anything else you'd like to say about your work or street photography in general?

Shoot openly, honestly, and with your heart. Don’t be sneaky when shooting on the streets—but interact with the people you take photos of and meet along the way. Study great photographers constantly—buy all the photo books of street photographers who inspire you. Look at the Magnum photographers and their work. They create some of the most compelling and touching images of the world in which we live in.

The last thing is to be relentless about selecting only your best work. Great photographers are only remembered for their 5-10 best images taken during their lifetime. Don’t feel obliged to upload a photo everyday—rather upload images that you feel show your style and vision the best.

For more of Eric's photography, check out his 500px page, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, and his website.

Login or sign up to comment on this post.

James M Singleton  over 3 years ago
Black and White pictures look great. Taking pictures of downtown buildings is challenging.
Scott Webb  over 3 years ago
Is Erics TDOT Workshop filled? I was planning to go to TDOT on the 22nd-ish as I thought there was a photowalk going on. Even if I can't make the workshop, would love to say hi.
m.t. sullivan  over 3 years ago
Nice detailing of your method and practice! Thank you!
Awesome Account
Kim Brown Photography  over 3 years ago
Well done Eric!
Tieshka Smith  over 3 years ago
Congrats on a very well done interview, Eric.
Jeremy Barton  over 3 years ago
Stunning work!
Liam McHenry  over 3 years ago
Eric also is soon adding a new service - currently he privately coaches me one on one and this is by far his best offering to his students! Keep an eye out as soon he is taking on more private students and from what I have learned in the last few weeks, anyone who is serious about growing as a Street Photographer needs to get into private coaching with someone like Eric Kim.
cjkugler  over 3 years ago
Awesome Account
Anol Bhattacharya  over 3 years ago
Eric - your blog is a must read for all 'street togs'. Loved your interview too. Cheers!
Eruaistaniel (inactive)  over 3 years ago
Good for you Eric!
Awesome Account
Gage Caudell  over 3 years ago
Nice pics Eric.
Dade Freeman  over 3 years ago
Nice interview, very interesting read :)
F8 Photography  over 3 years ago
Great article Eric, more Kudos to you! Nice one. G
Paul Indigo  over 3 years ago
Excellent interview. Really enjoyed reading this. Thanks.
Neil Ta  over 3 years ago
I am looking forward to meeting Eric at the Toronto workshop!!!

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