Tag Archives: prime lens

6 Things I’ve Learned About Street Photography (So Far)

Sidewalk Circulation

Here are 6 things I’ve learned about street photography (so far). I present them to you, the aspiring street photographer.

  1. Stand Still — As you walk the streets, its easy to become overwhelmed by all the potential photography subjects. When you start to experience sensory overload, find an interesting background, or simply a street corner, and then stand and wait. Your subjects will come to you.
  2. Click the Shutter Anyway — There will be that voice in your head telling you that getting this shot might be awkward and uncomfortable. Push yourself to raise the camera to your eye and click the shutter anyway. Passing up these moments makes capturing the “decisive moment” all the more elusive.
  3. Shoot Wide — Don’t be afraid to shoot with a wider lens. It might be tempting to use your long telephoto lens so that you can stay far away from your subject, and possibly go unnoticed. While there’s nothing wrong with using a long lens if you are going for that specific aesthetic, the experience might be less than fulfilling if you are a fan of classic street photography from the likes of Joel Meyerowitz, Garry Winogrand, or the master himself, Henri Cartier-Bresson. Ideal street photography focal lengths are 28mm, 35mm, and 50mm. If you are still apprehensive, start with 50mm, which will allow you to stay the furthest away from your subjects, then graduate to 35mm. But all rules are meant to be broken, that is, assuming you have a good reason to break them. Just don’t let fear be one of those reasons.
  4. Avoid Eye Contact — Okay, this one will be controversial, and there will be some who will give you the exact opposite advice. I’m not saying you need to avoid eye contact or socializing in all situations, but if you are after true candid photography, it requires you to take photos without permission. Most people aren’t going to confront you, but that possibility will always exist with street photography. To help ease the process of capturing candids and avoiding confrontations, try to make it appear that you are looking past your subject. One thing you can do is keep your camera raised to your eye after taking the photo, pretending to shoot something that is just past your main subject. This works best if you are using a camera with a viewfinder (especially DSLRs), but it can also be accomplished even if you are composing your shots with a LCD screen (you just can’t hide behind the camera).
  5. Look For Conversations — I find some of the more interesting street photography photos (see above) in my collection are street conversations. Look for two, three, or more people congregating and conversing, particularly if they are oblivious to their surroundings, and then move in to get your photo. It might be helpful in this situation to have your camera in continuous mode so that you can snap off two or three captures.
  6. Use A Prime Lens — Related to #3, I highly recommend you use a prime (fixed focal length) lens, or alternatively, set your zoom lens to a focal length and leave it there. I can’t tell you how helpful this has been for my street photography. It really helps you to see your shot before you lift your camera when you know exactly what your field of view will be. In this case, using a prime lens is less about optics, and more about simplicity, and that’s why a zoom lens is fine, as long as you can discipline yourself not to actually use the zoom capability. Pick 35mm or 50mm and stay there. If you are out for a couple of hours, maybe shoot 35mm for one hour, then shoot 50mm for the second hour.
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Milkboy At Night, Philly Street Photography

Milkboy

I couldn’t pass up photographing the Milkboy restaurant again, this time at night and in color. This restaurant definitely catches my eye each time I walk by.

And this was my first street photography outing with the Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 prime lens (36mm equivalent on my Nikon D7100), and it performed as well as I expected it to. This photo was taken at f/2.5, 1/125th, 6400 ISO. I only wish I had gone wide open (f/1.4) which would have allowed me to lower the ISO. Even the shutter speed could have been a bit slower. But I was still in “street photography” mode at this point, trying to get a reasonably fast shutter speed at close range without too shallow of depth of field. I simply forgot to adjust the settings when I came upon this scene from across the street (where depth of field would not be an issue). Oh well, the shot still turned out great, and the D7100 is game at 6400 ISO.

This particular scene would probably have worked fine at 1/60th. If I had captured it wide open at an aperture of f/1.4, that may sound like it would result in too shallow a depth of field, but that wouldn’t be the case at this distance at a 24mm focal length. I was probably a good 30+ feet away (across the street). At that distance, at 24mm, and an aperture of f/1.4, the depth of field would have been well over 30 feet (about 10 feet in front, 20 feet behind). That’s the beauty of this lens. Sure, up close, say 5 or 8 feet, the depth of field would be extremely shallow at f/1.4 (no more than 1-2 feet), but at this distance, I need to remember it’s not a problem to shoot wide open, because pretty much the entire scene will be in focus.

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