Lately, I am much more active on my YouTube channel, but it’s about time for a new blog post.
Today I wanna talk to you about something that is really important in street photography and that is the idea of using a wide angle lens and getting close to your subject.
Why using a wide angle lens in the first place?
You may already know the famous quote „If your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough“ by Robert Capa. He wasn’t exactly what I would call a street photographer but nevertheless, these famous words apply to a lot of genres of photography and especially to street photography.
But this is also raising the question what close enough means and if using a telephoto lens could simply solve the problem. In my opinion, he wasn’t referring to how much the photographed subject is filling the frame, it is rather about the proximity of the photographer itself to the scene he or she is taking a photo of.
A photo taken with a wide angle lens will give the viewer a very different perception of a scene compared to one taken with a telephoto lens. The viewer will feel more connected to the image and the main reason is that the photographer, instead of being an observer from a distance, was actually a part of the scene itself.
So, using a wide angle lens will force you to get closer to your subject or otherwise the image could end up being boring with simply too much in it and no actual subject to draw the viewers eyes to.
Leica Monochrom 246, 35mm, red filter, 1/250, f/5.6, ISO 1600
Sony A7rII, 21mm, 1/8000, f/1.8, ISO 100
How wide should you go?
Many years I shot a focal length of 35mm or something equal to that on cropped sensors. However, when I got the Leica Q I had to adapt to the even wider 28mm of its Summilux lens. I’ve also tried to shoot in the range of 21-24mm but that was almost too wide for me and these kinds of lenses might introduce some other issues like distortions.
However, if you’re used to shooting 50mm or even longer, a 35mm lens might be a good starting point.
Personally, 28mm is almost perfect for me and offers a couple of advantages over a 35mm lens. It doesn’t sound like a big difference, but the 7mm less will give you the ability to get even closer while including the same context of a scene. And of course, the depth of field is less shallow which makes manual focus more easy without stopping down the lens too much.
Does it matter what kind of gear I am using?
For the most part in street photography, the gear you are using doesn’t matter that much.
However, if you want to get close there is certain gear that might be better suited to get good results. I am not talking about image quality and stuff like that, it is rather the appearance of the camera and how noisy the shutter is.
You don’t need much imagination to guess how intimidating a big DSLR is to your subjects when holding it up right in their faces at a close distance of 1m. When using something small like a Leica Q, a Rico GR or a Fuji X70 it makes a big difference and you can get away with a lot more.
These three cameras share another advantage and that is the leaf shutter which makes them super quiet.
Of course, a small mirrorless camera that has an electronic shutter should also work very well.
What are the downsides of getting close? People are getting angry, aren’t they?
Actually, I can’t think of any relevant downsides or whatsoever but I get a lot of comments and messages where people share their concerns and assumptions on that topic. By far the biggest concern people have is that they fear that the subject is getting mad at them for „invading“ their personal space. That might sound logical to someone who has never done something like that. However, I’ve never had a seriously bad experience so far. Often people are confused because of you taking their photo. Sometimes they turn around to have a look at what could have been your potential subject since you are that close, they simply assume you must have shot something behind them. 😀
One thing you should be beware of when going out on the streets is that most people are stuck in their heads and they rather do not care about you. Even if they notice you taking their photo, they will most likely forget about it very quickly. In case someone is asking you what you are doing, be open about it and explain what’s going on.
Do you have any tips for beginners?
Of course, there are certain things you can do to make it a little more effortless improving your skills.
- Be familiar with your camera settings and use zone focusing. That will make you much quicker and the keeper rate will be a lot higher
- act like a tourist and always try to be polite
- avoid eye contact with your subject
- maybe don’t start in areas that are not very populated, instead go to crowded places
- sometimes people will approach you and invade your personal space
- you won’t stand out the attention is not on you
- go to touristy places where people take photos all the time
- try to shoot on subways where you can extremely close and you have time get some shots
- crosswalks and traffic lights are a perfect hunting ground where people are walking towards you
- carry the camera around your neck instead of holding it in your hands, it makes it a little faster to raise it and capture a decisive moment.
I hope that helps you to understand why you might wanna try to get close and personal with a wide angle lens. For me personally, the biggest benefits are:
- street photos taken with a wide angle are much are immersive and simply more fun to look at
- You are taking a higher risk by getting close to your subject but that might pay off with some nice images that stand out
- you need to step out of your comfort zone and that will help you to overcome the anxiety to approach strangers out on the streets.
If you have any questions, leave a comment below and I will try to answer them as soon as possible. And of course, smack the like button and follow me on Instagram and Youtube!