22 Jan 2008

Photographing people in the street

I read on one of the photography forums recently a claim from a photographer who stated that true ‘street’ photography should not be done with a telephoto lens. It should only be done with a lens with an equivalent focal length of between 35-50mm. This is utter nonsense.

The correct lens for photographing people in the street is the lens that enables you to get the picture you want, and a photographer who hog-ties himself to this sort of narrow-minded work practice will miss an awful lot of worthwhile photographs.

I do not have a favourite lens for my street photography. I am just as likely to use a 24mm wide angle or a 180mm telephoto – rarely anything longer purely because of the inconvenience of carrying large lenses about. Quite apart from its effect of isolating your subject with its limited depth of field – as in the photograph above - a small telephoto sometimes enables you to remain just that little bit less conspicuous. I am perfectly happy to move in very close with my wide angle when I feel the picture needs that sort of approach.

When GlenF commented that photographing people in less-developed countries is still a delight, I have to agree. I’m not sure I agree that people in Western countries are more suspicious, though – perhaps they are just less civilised. I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but when Mahatma Ghandi was asked what he thought of Western civilisation, he answered, “I think it will be good when they get it”.

Thanks to Saw Lady for her comment about paying street performers when you want to photograph them. I’d love to come over to NY to photograph you at work, and I think your blog is great. I suspect you get an awful lot of snappers photographing you already.


Saw Lady said...

Anytime you visit NYC just let me know and I'll be happy to tell you where you could find me. It might be an interesting challenge to photograph a saw player, since the entire instrument constantly moves and creates diferent shapes in the air as it is being played.
True, many people snap their cameras in my face (the surprise of the flash litterally hurts my eyes), but I can always tell a real photographer from the tourists.

All the best,

'Saw Lady'

Viv said...

Perhaps foreign conditions help to make the photographer less inhibited. Is it your newspaper background or do you find that Black & White works better for people shots?