Home News Eric Kim Day Three: Comfort zone, what comfort zone?

Eric Kim Day Three: Comfort zone, what comfort zone?

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  This is the street portrait I chose as the one picture to submit to Eric for discussion and appraisal by the instructors and participants. The facial expression is so good that I accepted the background figure. Other shots from the same series had a cleaner background but lacked this great pose
This is the street portrait I chose as the one picture to submit to Eric for discussion and appraisal by the instructors and participants. The facial expression is so good that I accepted the background figure. Other shots from the same series had a cleaner background but lacked this great pose

There’s no such thing as a comfort zone at one of Eric Kim‘s street photography courses. And on Sunday morning I was beginning to wonder why I had exposed myself to a weekend on the streets of London with instructors cracking the whip at every corner.

I left Saturday’s session with some misgivings and my mood hadn’t changed overnight. Time was running out to get even one usable photo that the rest of the group wouldn’t find hilariously amateur. By the end of Saturday morning’s street session I felt I had been running around like a headless chicken desperate for one, just one, picture that I could bear to show.

As it turns out, this is not an unusual reaction and Sunday, the last day of the course, proved to be awful, stimulating and satisfying in equal measures. First I was out with Charlie Kirk who encouraged me to run up to people in the street and snap them from close quarters (and with the obligatory 35mm lens that’s too close for my comfort). I found myself refusing point blank to do this. One of my colleagues on the course had already fomented a nasty situation which Charlie had had to defuse. If this is street photography, I thought, I don’t see myself enjoying it. There has to be some pleasure in it.

Fortunately there are many facets to street photography and it is perfectly possible to indulge in a little specialisation. I am definitely not the in-your-face random without-permission snapper. It just doesn’t sit well with my rather reserved temperament. It’s ok for Charlie and, I suspect, Eric Kim, because they have the ability to get in and out without the subjects really noticing.

Charlie did his best get me to limber up and dance around the camera like a welter-weight; but to little avail. I’m just too old to indulge in this sort of activity. I’m more the type to wait for a suitable situation to arise.

But what I am quite good at, it transpires, is in chatting up people with a view to getting a consensual portrait. This was clear as Eric Kim took over for my half-hour one-to-one session at Oxford Circus, of all places. I wouldn’t have put it high on my list of desirable locations, but Eric worked it (and me) like a well-tuned Stradivarious. Get in there, cried Eric as I allowed myself to be pushed into the faces of unsuspecting locals and tourists. The challenge was to set the camera’s focus to 70cm (which just happens to be minimal focal distance with a Leica) and get a portrait. Seven-tenths of a meter is pretty close, but for a 35mm lens it is about right, if a little scary, both for the photographer and the subject.

This time, though, I was not expected to shoot without permission. Eric had me chasing after people, chatting them up and getting consent for portraits. He charmed one lady from Madrid in Spanish and she was so pleased to have her picture taken. I would not have believed this before I joined the couse, but eight out of every ten people approached were delighted to pose, be moved around into a better positions and generally act the model. At times I (and possibly they) felt part of some elaborate Candid Camera routine.

I began to experience a sense of accomplishment and my confidence was boosted by both Eric and Charlie telling me that I had a gift for talking to strangers. I knew this already, outside the photography context, but my main problem has been in breaking the ice prior to a chat. The ice is now well broken.

In the afternoon we processed the thousands of shots taking over the weekend in order to winkle out five good examples from each of our portfolios. Then, from this five we had to choose just one to submit to Eric. In the end I was proud of my lady-in-black shot which I had achieved after she passed us and Eric encouraged me to run after her and ask for a portrait.

Unfortunately I was pulled out of the group as a person with talent at chatting up strangers and had to take part in an excruciating and rather laboured chat-up-routine with Charlie who was standing in as a reluctant would-be model. It’s all part of the fun and serves to get everyone involved.

Throughout the weekend I used my Leica Monochrom with an f/2 Summicron lens which spent almost the whole time welded to f/8. Where possible I was shooting at 1/250s or 1/500s to help eliminate camera shake.

Should you take part in a course when Eric comes to your city? I think is something everyone with an interest in photography should experience, whatever the age or level of competence. Eric is a great motivator and puts his heart and soul into these weekends. The £395 I paid (this was the introductory price for the first comers) was certainly well worthwhile.

I learned my strengths, in particular my people skills and my penchant for portraiture. Along the way, I also realised that I could never be an aggressive streettog, one who is willing to take risks to get the perfect shot. In other words, I found my comfort zone and I now have much more confidence in approaching street subjects, secure in the knowledge that with the right attitude I will not get myself into trouble.

  All these portraits were taken after a friendly chat requesting permission. Eight out of ten people in the street will say yes, I discovered.
All these portraits were taken after a friendly chat requesting permission. Eight out of ten people in the street will say yes, I discovered.
  Pity this was monochrome because of the stylist burgundy hat and the cherry-red lips on the hoarding, complementing the smile from our Canadian visitor
Pity this was monochrome because of the stylist burgundy hat and the cherry-red lips on the hoarding, complementing the smile from our Canadian visitor
  This image from the Saturday photo-shoot is the only one of my selection that was opportunistic and not taken with permission. Exit from the British Museum on a December weekend.
This image from the Saturday photo-shoot is the only one of my selection that was opportunistic and not taken with permission. Exit from the British Museum on a December weekend.
  Eric Kim in H&M
Eric Kim in H&M’s, Oxford Circus, getting ready to push me in the direction of a fresh victim
  Charlie Kirk plays the model outside the British Museum during the Saturday session
Charlie Kirk plays the model outside the British Museum during the Saturday session
  A phrase or two of Eric
A phrase or two of Eric’s New World Spanish worked wonders on this visitor from Spain.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Some very nice portaits Mike. Have noted you shot mostly at f8 which makes the DOF a bit too wide to my taste with very little bokeh but I guess the risk of getting out of focus pictures is well mitigated as a result. Always wondered how some photographers could get excellent results with street photography with a Noctilux wide open at 0.95mm…

    BTW I am enjoying the M so much I cancelled my pre-order for the a7R and bought a RX1 second hand. I have the feeling the M + RX1 will be a more reasonable combo for my needs. Time will tell if I got it wrong.

    • Hi Frederic,

      I agree with you. This aperture was more or less obligatory for the weekend (between f/8 and f/11). There are obvious benefits for roughy-and-ready street photography, as you point out. Both Eric and Charlie spoke against the modern wide-open-and-lots-of-bokeh trend and I can understand their point. Personally I would have shot most of these portraits (where I had the time) at wider apertures. But then I would have had to focus and bear in mind that most of them were taken at 0.75cm distance as specified by Eric. I was forbidden to touch the focus ring and instructed to move closer until focus was achieved. This is a good way Eric has found to force students to do what is otherwise alien to them.

      I think you have made a great decision in going for the RX1 as a companion to the M. I had an RX
      1 for six months and it is a fantastic, compact little camera with stunning performance. I am trying the A7r out of curiosity and because I want to try my Leica lenses. I was minded to order the 35mm f/2.8 as well but decided against it on the basis that it would just be an over-large RX1 with a slower lens. If I am not going to use the Leica glass there is not much point in it for me.

      I might defect back to an RX1 (or 2?) when I have had enough of the A7.

      • I think the main reason I chose the RX1 over the A7R in the end is because I already have an interchanging lens system with the M and from reviews and what other people say (not enough experience with the M myself to be the judge) what better body for M lenses than the M itself ! Which may be snobbery but which may be true as well…

        Also I hope this is not correct but I read many people complained that some Leica lenses would not deliver their full potential on the A7R, in particular wider angles – some had issues with the 35mm summicron or summilux as well. I acquired recently a beautiful 18mm super-elmar f3.8 lens and I wanted to use it as often as possible.

        The RX1 is interesting for me because it is a silent and discreet full frame camera still being able to fit inside a pocket…maybe that is my foot in the door of street photography after all 🙂

        Having said that you will certainly find out yourself, that is the best way to make your own opinion about the A7R and I would welcome your ‘review’ or comments if you find the time to write an article about the use of it with Leica lenses in future (Steve Huff’s reviews were very positive so who knows…)

  2. Dear Mike,

    It was such a huge pleasure having you at the workshop this past weekend with Charlie! I loved your enthusiasm and your obvious people skills (certainly honed with your career in PR and journalism!)

    I think you should continue to definitely pursue your street photography — I think it is a natural extension of your character and who you are as a person. I still think it was quite surprising how you mentioned how you were nervous– I never sensed that at all. You really put your subjects at ease, and I think your gregarious and polite demeanor has taught me how to better approach strangers as well.

    Keep up the great blog and looking forward to your future images, and your review of the supposedly 4.7 inch iPhone 😉

    Cheers,
    Eric

    • Thanks Eric. It was great to meet you and Charlie and, of course, my fellow students. I had my moments of doubt but I came away last evening with a sense of achievement and look forward to improving my skills and gaining a better eye for a good situation, angles and all….

      My sincere good wishes to you and Cindy for a great Christmas and I hope you remarkable career, which has started so early in your life, goes on to greater things. I am sure it will.

      Best,
      Mike

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