Or at least a longer focal length than conventional wisdom suggests. I’m always reading that so-called street photography is best undertaken with a prime lens within the 35mm to 50mm range and I understand the merits of this range for reasons I will elaborate on further down. But convention is naturally a gauntlet that Alpha Whiskey cannot ignore. So before meeting my date I decided to kill an hour in town the other night shooting with a telephoto zoom and mostly at the maximum focal length (210mm: 420mm equivalent field of view).
‘So-called street photography’ because it often has vague definitions, typically settling around an observation of random incidents or encounters in public places, either with or without people. As I’ve said a few times in the past a lot of what is posted online as street photography, its artistic merit notwithstanding, seem like a lot of random shots of nothing in particular. Call me Mr Picky but I prefer my images to have a definite subject and I try to reveal something as well as just make an observation. Admittedly these images may have failed in that endeavour.
Now, 35-50mm is understandably the favoured range, allowing for a capture of one’s subject as well as a decent amount of its environment. That range is wide enough to show a scene or person and offer plenty of context as well. Some would argue it fits the field of view of the human eye and thus is more faithful to our observations. Furthermore, prime lenses that fall inside this range are usually fast, the wide aperture allowing for greater separation of one’s subject from its background if necessary whilst also allowing in more light to keep the ISO low. They are usually sharper than zoom lenses and the fixed focal length forces one to think more about composition and framing rather than lazily zooming in and out. They force you to have greater spatial awareness and to get into better positions to take your shot. Primes are small and light and virtually weightless around your neck, barely noticed by you or your subject, allowing you to discretely make your images. I’m sure you’ve heard all this before.
An even wider angle will help capture more of a scene, emphasising the location or perhaps interesting architectural geometry. The following two images were taken with the Olympus 12-40mm F/2.8 at 12mm (24mm equivalent FoV).
Furthermore, the strike against the telephoto or zoom lens, apart from fostering laziness in composition, is that they provide you with the comfort of distance so that one does not have to engage with one’s subject. This can, of course, alter (read: lose) your relationship with your subject or scene and risk the viewer being more indifferent to it. This distance also arguably makes the photography more voyeuristic, acquiring shots of unsuspecting people with greater ease.
I completely appreciate those criticisms of telephotos and believe me I would ordinarily not choose to cart a heavier lens around town. I’m in the gym regularly enough that carrying weight is not a problem for me but given the choice I would personally prefer a lighter load when out shooting. I just like my spine to keep the shape and length that nature intended for it. Having said that, the Olympus 40-150mm F/2.8 is still much lighter and smaller than its DSLR counterpart. (For most of the images in this article I had the tiny MC-14 teleconverter attached to the 40-150mm).
But that does not mean that longer focal lengths cannot play a role. I would argue that all street photography is voyeuristic to an extent since you’re opening an uninvited window into people’s lives. Whether you open that window from near or far is largely academic. Longer focal lengths have the effect of compressing the subject against its background, which may actually help isolate the subject within your frame.
A longer focal length also offers a shallower depth of field at any given aperture than a shorter focal length, which may enhance the subject separation and bokeh.
Speaking of frames, yes the telephoto is tighter and has the potential for greater intimacy. You may find yourself capturing more portraits than environments and from a greater distance those portraits are easier to capture in a more authentically random fashion.
Perhaps it also easier to take shots with a telephoto from within the crowded bustle of pedestrian masses. Couple it to a flip-out touchscreen and there’s no excuse for not getting the shot.
If you’re shooting buildings or places, the telephoto will enable you to consider more details and perhaps more abstract shapes. This may not strictly be street photography but it’s still an urban observation.
How long do I mean by longer or telephoto focal length? It’s debatable, of course, but for my money I suppose anything past 90mm would count. When I joined Nasim on his London photowalk a couple of years ago I shot almost exclusively with the Olympus 45mm F/1.8 which had a 90mm equivalent field of view. Despite being made of plastic and looking like a toy, that lens is super light and small and takes some pleasingly sharp shots.
I think I would normally draw the line at my Olympus 60mm (120mm equivalent FOV), but only because that lens is also very small and part of my light carry kit; I deliberately used the telephoto zoom on this occasion to try and debunk the conventions. I may not have been successful but it was enjoyable trying.
I think the take home message is that even if street photography is not your particular poison, and it isn’t particularly mine, don’t be confined to shooting with focal lengths that are deemed to be the norm for your chosen subject. Of course, conventions are established for good reasons but be willing to venture outside the box and give a little extra juice to your creativity.
(This article was taken and adapted from my blog)
Street photography is not like other types of photography, it is about experiencing life, sticking to and expressing personality in each photo. Slope Unblocked
I am often asked the same question, how do I manage to write so many essays when I work two jobs, but one does not even know that I found the authors of essay bidforwriting.com/research-paper, who are just magicians, what topic you can’t ask to write, everyone will write
My current gear of choice for cvwritingservicesuk.com/uk-ca…ter-review photography is the D500 with the 80-400mm. The world of telephoto street photograph
My current gear of choice for street photography is the D500 with the 80-400mm. The world of telephoto street photography first opened up to me with the 28-300mm on DX, but the 80-400mm brings in shots I simply can’t get with anything shorter. But it’s heavy and obtrusive, so I’m considering moving to an Olympus, if Nikon doesn’t bring out an enthusiast-quality mirrorless soon. I guess I’d need the Olympus 75-300mm to get equivalent long length, though I’d miss having the short end.
Loved reading your article on lens choice for street photography. It certainly shows with the right mindset you can make the shot with whatever lens is in your hand at the time. Again no right or wrong which brings us back to reality that the power of photography is in fact in the “eye” of the the beholder. Great pictures taken & this insight will certainly help me to step outside my box…Thank You!!
Thank you Marg :)
I wish you great success!
Thank you for this write-up. I just purchased a nikon 70-200 F4 because i wanted to have more reach for street photography. I have been using the nikon 50 1.4G and while it is great on the D700, it find it a bit …limiting at times. Please don’t get me wrong, I LOVE PRIMES!!! in fact, most of my lenses are primes but perhaps i’m in a different season of my life journey.
I have been comparing the 70-200 f2.8 and the 70-200 f4 for so long…but i decided to go with the F4 instead because budget and weight.
Erichful, the F/4 is a great lens and I hope you get some rewarding images with it :)
Beautiful work, man! You found some amazing light and great moments. Makes me want to head out with my tele and do the same. Nicely done!
Thank you John! :)
To be honest, I think you are making a better case against tele lenses in street photography than for them. The pictures you show taken with a tele lens to me are more portraits than street scenes. I know it is a fine line, but for me that line is there. And when it comes to those portraits, personally at least some of those I do not find acceptable to publish without explicit consent.
Thank you for your comments Robert.
I normally don’t do this kind of photography with a telephoto lens so I am somewhat indifferent to how well they make the case for it; I was merely trying to break convention and suggest others try the same. I did say in the text that I may not have been successful and I also did mention that one might be more prone to portraits rather than scenes with a telephoto.
As for consent, I am not seeking to make any profit from these images and would never do so without consent. But I have also seen many portraits and shots of people posted online (including of myself) from all over the world that surely cannot all have been done so with consent. Furthermore, to ask permission at the moment of capture might alter the nature of the image from that of being incidental to being somewhat posed, which is not the effect one generally wants from street photography. I hope that the images celebrate the subject rather than bring them into any disrepute; certainly the singer was very grateful to be shown here after the fact and sent me a lovely note to that effect.
Thanks for stopping by.
Ggreat shots sharif. You have followed your recent trend of not including pictures of your female friends which is a little cruel but your work is delightful none the less.
The 90mm may be plastic as you say but does not look like a toy. It even looks a little vintage on the camera.
I find it to be an ethical dilemma to take pictures of random people on the street and share them. People are very good looking and could possibly attract stalkers.
Thank you Muhammad.
I actually find it slightly awkward taking shots of random people, probably why I found it easier to do from a distance as I did with these examples. I don’t think they’d attract stalkers any more than the millions of random people pics elsewhere online and in any case there’s no way to identify them or where they’re from :)
If it’s any consolation to you I was with two of my female friends yesterday enjoying the sunny weather and took lots of pics of them, a few of which may appear on my blog soon. (Some I daren’t share!).
Many thanks :)
Thank you for this well stated and enlightening article. The illustrations are superb!
Thank you Ludwig!