Join Steve Simon for an in-depth discussion in this video Reviewing the gear used by a street photographer, part of Street Photography: Candid Portraiture.
- Before we hit the streets of New York City, I thought I'd take a little time to talk about some of the tools that I use when I'm doing street photography. Let me preface this movie by saying it doesn't really matter what camera you use, as long as you're familiar with it. The more familiar you are with the camera the more the camera can, sort of, fade to the background and let you just shoot and react the better. Even if it's your phone, you can use that to capture amazing images on the street. I like to have a variety, just because, you know, I take the tool that maybe best suits the particular street experience that I'm going to go out and shoot.
The compact camera, this is the camera that is always with me. For me, it's essential. My compact is actually a DX camera with a big sensor. It gives me a lot of flexibility. It has autofocus, but I use the zone focusing technique. Zone focusing takes advantage of depth of field to keep your images sharp. Now, some of the great street photographers use a manual focus rangefinder like the Leica camera and they would use the zone focusing technique. With whatever lens that they had on, they would set the camera to f/8 or f/11 and generally you need a lot of light to make this happen.
At f/8 or f/11, you've got depth of field. You know that your subject's going to be about six feet away, let's just say. You set your focus to six feet. You come up to the scene. You approach it within six feet. You take the picture, and you know that even if you weren't exactly six feet away at f/8 or f/11 the depth of field is going to take care of that and give you a sharp image. It's essentially even faster than autofocus. The next step up is a mirrorless camera and, you know, the mirrorless camera is sort of taking the photographic world by storm.
This camera being small form factor, silent shutter, reticulating screen allows me to be really stealthy and sneaky on the street to get images without interrupting the action that I'm trying to record. But probably my sweet spot is the DSLR. I use my DSLR often, mainly because it's the camera I'm most familiar with. Granted, it's bigger, a little more challenging because people are going to notice me more. But it also offers me the ability to use at wide aperture selective focus.
I can focus really fast. I've got a variety of different lenses. So the 35 millimeter and full frame that's my favorite lens, but I use different lenses as well. I also have a 24 millimeter fast lens. I also have an 85 millimeter lens, which I use when I want to keep a little bit of distance from the action that's all around me. A zoom lens offers you the ability, of course, to vary the focal length which can be very a powerful tool to use, but I'd rather zoom with my feet on the street and I tend to shoot wide.
Most modern DSLR cameras allow you to disengage the focus from the shutter button and exclusively use either an AF-On dedicated back button autofocus button or configure another button for back button autofocus. So, the only real thing that you're doing here by disengaging focus from the shutter release is you need to be on a continuous servo mode. Once there, and once you've configured for back button autofocus, if I see something that I want to focus, I focus with the back button.
When I let go of that back button, I've locked the focus which means that I could shoot, I could recompose carefully without losing that plane of focus so I have to be very careful, or if whatever I'm focusing on moves I simply hold the button in and shoot while holding the button in and I'm tracking a moving subject. So, as a street photographer, by being able to lock the focus or track a moving subject there's really nothing I can't get sharp.
The other thing that I find really important with a DSLR or any camera is on the street I find that the number one reason why a picture doesn't quite make it is the shutter speed was too slow and as a consequence you've got blur. Now sometimes blur could be an advantage giving you the illusion of movement and I understand that. But most often, in my experience that little bit of blur, if it's not helping the picture by giving that illusion of movement, it's kind of hurting it. Auto ISO is a powerful technique that allows you to set the camera so that you've got a minimum fast shutter speed and the camera will automatically float the ISO up to give you that fast shutter speed and I would put it 2/50th of a second, 3/20th of a second, 4/100th of a second even.
These cameras now, high ISOs are not what they used to be. I mean, 1600 might be the new 400. So I have no problem if the ISO's going to float up to 3200 even on cameras like this, and they go even higher. I'd rather have a sharp image with a little more noise than a great dynamic range with a blurry image that I can't use. So, those are some of the tools that I use. I also have a DSLR that has a reticulating screen. The reticulating screen allows me, again, to be a little sneaky but I have all the fast action of using a DSLR and a reticulating screen.
The other important things, of course, are, you know, having enough memory cards. You know, I've learned long ago that I should always have twice as much memory as I think I'll need. We're going to find out that we're going to be shooting a huge volume because that's the ratio you need to capture those fractions of a second, those moments that happen just once. So we want to have enough memory cards to go around. The other thing too is, you know, these things are just paperweights without a battery so I want to have twice as much spare batteries as I think I'll need.
And then, of course, I have my business cards because occasionally, you know, I'm going to be approached by people who, you know, want to know what I'm doing or often want to know if they can get a picture. So, this is it and I basically keep everything in a very, sort of, small bag. You know, less is more. I'm not going to carry all this stuff with me. I'm going to make a decision. I'm going to take one camera, one body, one lens and work within the range of that. Occasionally, I might take more than that if I'm in a situation where I'm going to be out for a long time and not really know exactly what I'm going to encounter.
Throughout this course, you're going to see me use a variety of different cameras. But I'm going to decide depending on the street scenes that I'm wanting to photograph. There's not a lot of fiddling that I'm doing with the camera. Once I have these cameras configured the way I want them, they're kind of an extension of my hand and eye and I just use them and move very quickly. You'll find once we're out there you're going to find your reaction time decrease significantly, and your pictures are going to get better because you're not thinking about the technical.
You're concentrating on the thousand other things that are much more important than that.
- Street photography gear
- Shooting with a long lens
- Photographing a crowd
- Focusing on people
- Getting permission to photograph someone
- Shooting people in motion
- Photographing people in a sensitive or significant place
- Reviewing images in post