Advice from a street photographer: Be prepared for YouTube death threats

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One of Eric Kim's tips to his younger self: Avoid "gear accumulation syndrome." (Credit: kka20101/Ebay)

Eric Kim is one of the most recognized young street photographers today. He has made a successful career out of photographing everyday people in their daily lives. He never intended to pursue street photography, but just happened to fall into it; it helps that his studies in sociology at UCLA helped him in dealing with his street subjects. Through his blog, Eric Kim Photography, he shares his experience, technique, and tips. If you’re fascinated with street photography and would like to try your hand at it, Kim’s recent post, “A Letter to My 18 Year Old Self: If I Started Street Photography All Over Again,” is an interesting read and offers useful tips.

The post is meant to be a letter Kim is writing to himself when he was 18, when he first received a camera from his mom as a high school graduation gift. The letter is partly a recollection of memories from his first experiences in photography, but he also offers plenty of advice on what and what not to do, if he was given a chance to do it all over again. Of course, much of what he writes will apply to any aspiring street photographer, or any type of photography, for that matter.

The first tip Kim has is to keep shooting, and shoot a lot. He tells his younger self that he will encounter support as well as those who “hate what you’re doing.” Kim recalls being called “a sell-out, someone who is ‘tarnishing’ the purity of street photography. You’re going to be mocked, ridiculed, and given petty death threats on YouTube. You’re going to fall into a creative slump– and not pick up a camera for several weeks from all the negative feedback you get.”

Kim says not to be discouraged. “Realize that the secret to failure is trying to please everybody,” Kim writes. “Just speak openly, transparently, and don’t front – speak truthfully with your heart.”

The camera you currently own is more than capable.”

Throughout his letter, he offers other interesting pointers. He says to share all the photographic knowledge he has amassed with others, to help build a sense of community among street photographers – hence, why he writes his blog. (Kim is a champion of “open source photography,” making the medium accessible to all.) He also warns against “gear acquisition syndrome,” that buying the best equipment won’t make you a better street photographer; whatever camera you have now will do the trick. Kim suggests spending money on travel, workshops, and photography books instead.

While digital cameras allow us to take as many photographs as we want, Kim suggests spending time editing them and posting the ones that show “your best work.” He advises against immediately posting everything you’ve just shot, and he also tells his young self not to get caught up by the “likes” and comments from the “social media treadmill.”

Whether you’re using an iPhone or you’ve just bought your first DSLR, check out the rest of Kim’s letter for some encouragement.

(Via Eric Kim Photography)