This isn’t meant as an end all be all discussion about street photography gear. We’ll have that discussion on another day. It’s meant for the First Time Street Shooters that may have questions. Questions like ‘What gear should I use?’, ‘What lenses should I bring along?’
The nice thing about Street Photography is that ANY gear will work. An old TLR film camera, sure, lots do. A Graflex with a Polaroid back, yep. So, any digital camera will work. It’s important to remember that Street Photography is about getting in close and personal, and that ideally, you want it to be candid. So you want to get in close, but not get noticed.
This is where the right gear can help. My normal photography rig is a Canon 5D MK4 with battery grip, L-Bracket and a Canon EF 24-105 f/4.0 L or a Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8 L series lens. These are big professional looking cameras that people seem to spot from a mile away.
When you approach strangers also, they are less afraid, or rather, more responsive to a smaller cameras rather than big cameras.
Another issue with big cameras is the police, firemen and security people. Even though here in Canada we have the right to almost any photography (know the law, don’t take my word for it), they always want to stop you from taking pictures. The key here is that they want people with BIG professional looking cameras from taking pictures. Try shooting with a big rig at the International Airport in Vancouver. It’s all perfectly legal, but chances are a Security Guard will most likely ask you to stop. Shoot with your phone or small pocket camera and nothing. Try it someday.
Anyways, the point is that small unobtrusive cameras tend to work best at not being noticed. When I used to shoot with my 5D MK2 for Street Photography, I would take off my L-Bracket and Battery Grip and instead of using a large zoom lens, I would attach a Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM pancake lens or a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens which is just a little bigger.
There are several bonuses with this kind of setup. First is that it’s the camera you always use and you are comfortable with it. Secondly is that its cheaper than buying another camera and, buying a great lens for it like a standard 50mm f/1.8 prime lens is very cheap. Third, is these Prime lenses are sharper and have better contrast than their zoom based counterparts. Fourth is they are also way less expensive. The current Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM is only $129.00 US (Nov 2017) but you can purchased it for less on the streets and even less used. It is also quieter and faster and better at focusing that the larger Zooms.
The last bonus of using a fixed focal length lens like a 50mm is that it forces you to get in closer. It forces you to start noticing where (how far away) you need to be to get the shot, whether it’s full body or just head and shoulders. Over time as you get used to it, it becomes second nature. Zoom lenses will slow you down and will make you lose some shots.
Many street photographers like the wider angled 35mm lenses (or even 28mm). On the Fuji X-Pro2 with a crop factor of 1.52x its their great Fujinon XF 23mm F2 R WR lens. Using a 35mm lens does two things. First is that is forces you to get even closer, and second, is that wide-angle lenses have a greater Depth-of-Field at an equivalent distance and Aperture. More pictures will be in focus!!
There are other options for lenses, some get used for specific looks and we will discus this in the future. Most street photographers stick to one lens. It helps give them a look, a style, and besides, you’ll never have time to change lenses!
Is there a better camera? Yes. For years Street Photographers including the masters used the rangefinder type cameras like the Leica. Many photographers still do. Currently the trend is to move to mirrorless digital rangefinders like the Fuji X-Pro2, the Leica M, and a few others. Small cameras with an optical viewfinder (or hybrid viewfinder) are ideal. There are other great Street Photography cameras on the market.
Other camera specific gear I bring along are extra batteries and a lens cleaning cloth. On my camera I use a lens hood which is a very small unobtrusive lens hood and no filter.
Other things I bring along are my cell phone with several apps. The newest Google Maps works great and shows you what direction you are pointing in (important). Have a Notepad app like Notepad or my go-to which is AudioNote (Apple). AudioNote allows me to record sound while I take notes. Great when you’re in a rush and misspell things or when you want to do a quick on-street interview. I also bring business cards or you can even strips of cut out paper with your contact info or your website address to hand out, people will ask. It’s a great way to promote your website and to increase traffic to it. Lastly, bring your wallet and money including spare change for parking and handouts.
In a future article we will discuss other suitable cameras, monopods, tripods, remote trigger devices and other gear.
What I do NOT bring along is a camera bag, or any bag for that matter. They just get in the way. The spare batteries are small and easily fit in my front pockets or jacket pockets when I wear a jacket.
So here are my recommendations for those that are new to Street Photography.
- Make your camera as small as possible.
- Use a smaller fixed focal length prime lens like a 50mm or 35mm prime lens.
- If you do not own a prime lens, use your smallest zoom lens, set it at 35, 40 or 50mm and using black gaffer tape (or electrical tape), tape it into place so the zoom will not change while you are out shooting.
- Spare batteries
- Cleaning cloth
- Phone with Apps (or a notepad and pen)
- Business Cards (or printed information strips)
Once you have your gear sorted out, what settings should you use? Next up, settings!