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How to approach subjects for street photography

Troy Lawrence , Nov 13, 2004; 11:36 p.m.

I've been into photography for a long time, but I've just recently gotten a good camera to use. My goal is studio photography but right now I'm looking to develop my skills at street photography before I invest the money into studio equipment.

The problem I have is that I sometimes feel a little strange pointing my camera at a complete stranger. I have an 85-210mm lens, so I can't be SO far away from my subject. How do you photograph complete strangers? Do I need to get a better lens and take the pictures from a greater distance? I of course don't want to approach them and ask their permission first because you loose the moment and it becomes a composed shot.

Any suggestions on how to get around this, or do I need to learn to just take the shot and not be shy?



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Jeff Lu , Nov 13, 2004; 11:58 p.m.

that's a pretty long lens to do street photography with...i do NOT suggest going longer unless you're taking shots of birds in the streets

i'd get a wide angle, zone focus, react quickly, and don't be shy. i was shy at first, but it becomes a zen-like experience. if your subjects react, that's part of the "street" too. personally, i don't feel bad about street photographt becayse i don't do anything beyond my good taste (unless it's a goal of my work), meaning i don't stick my lens a foot away from a fighting couple or a sleeping homeless person. by the way, i find homeless people are a common subject for beginning street photographers...they're fascinating, apparently. i would stay out of this trap. treat them as people, not freaks of the streets.

Jeff Spirer , Nov 14, 2004; 12:06 a.m.

I walk up to people and take their photo. Most never notice. Most that notice don't care. The ones that care haven't been the ones with big muscles.

Jeff Spirer , Nov 14, 2004; 12:11 a.m.

By the way, I typically shoot with a 35 to 50mm (or digital equivalent) lens on the street.

Leslie Cheung , Nov 14, 2004; 01:43 a.m.

Start right the first time. Begin with a 21mm and you'll never be afraid again;p

Sean H. Zhang , Nov 14, 2004; 04:15 a.m.

right gear + quick action

Hi Troy

I consider myself very shy, but I am also very aggressive when comes down to street photography, I quickly approach my subjects and capture the moment without interupt them, I know I got part of wolf in my shyness, I felt heartbeat and body temperature increase when I'm "locked-in", the whole world pauses and I get close and take shot (the real action only take less than 1 second). If you feel too much of the self existence, then I recommend 28mm-105mm, even 24mm -105mm zoom lens, * note I don't prefer zoom lens for street photography at all, only if you insist.

First find a camera body and lens combination that you can FOCUS BY FEEL (Leica M body with 50mm lens that does have an infinity lock button) or a zone focusing camera like Olympus XA-2. The following is a list of cameras I've used for street photography.

Pentax ME Super, Pentax Super Program with either 28mm/f2.8 or 50mm/f1.7 (mirror bounce noise, shutter noise, I like ME-Super tho)

Leica M3 with Summicron 50mm/f2 collapse lens, (first choice, near silent shutter and the very helpful infinity button for focusing by feel)

Canon P with 50mm/f1.2, (very good candidate, moderate shutter noise, but slow focusing due to the long range focusing ring travel)

Canonet GIII QL17, (nothing wrong with it, does the same as Leica M3 but lack of quickness)

Yashica Electro 35 GSN, (beautiful lens for color street shots, but slow focusing)

Minolta Hi-Matic E, (I used this one couple of times before I got the XA-2, a nice camera)

Olympus XA-2, (this little toy has a zone focusing scale, simple and intuitive, choose this one for quickness and sharpness of the lens)

Canon EOS 7e with 50mm/f1.8, (quiet shutter as SLR, very capable, but does draw attention when you get close to your subject)

Minolta X700 with numbers of lens, (don't like the sound of the mirror bounce, but it does the job any others can)

Leica R3 MOT with 50mm/f2, ( very nice lens, most logical body design, but slow focusing made itself a bench player)

Zeiss Ikon Vitessa 500SE, (with zeiss lens, small body like Canonet QL17, it's a way cool zone focusing camera, film winding is slow, tho)

Nikon FE-2 & EF, (sound of the mirror bounce never appeal to me, I like their bright viewfinders and smooth focusing ring on older lens) * Note: all my comments are judged as how fast and how quiet the camera can be served for a street photography, when I state "slow focusing" that means either I have to look at the focusing scale, rotate more than one turn or due to tight focusing ring on design. ** Here is why the Leica lens' infinity button is so practical? - I hang the camera on my neck and hold (rest) both hands on the camera and use both middle fingers to hold and position the infinity button, on 6 o'clock it's 12ft, push to 3 o'clock with my right middle finger I get 7 ft, goes the opposite way I got 12ft, perfect, with this setup you can shoot very fast by feel and never need to bring your camera up to focusing.

conclusion: the lens I prefer for everyday street shots is 50mm, besides that I also have 28mm and 24mm, if you have problem at framing, try use 28mm or 24mm, 24mm's images fall flat due to deep DOF , some consider this as advantage and turned their camera into a point and shoot.

Sean h. Zhang

75th Street Station

Troy Lawrence , Nov 14, 2004; 09:41 a.m.

Thank you very much for the information. I was not expecting everyone to tell me to get in closer. About what Jeff said, being 6'5" 215lb I don't have to worry so much, even the ones with muscles. That same aspect also makes it more difficult too, with those demensions, I kind of stick out living in an asian country (Korea). Guess it's time to put another lens on the camera (my 18-55mm) and get out there and take 'em.

Thanks again.

Steve Hovland , Nov 14, 2004; 10:42 a.m.

Last year at this event I started by trying to catch people on the fly.

It didn't work, so I just started stopping them and asking.

Much better and more respectful of their rights as well.

Attachment: 116_1672a.jpg

Steve Hovland , Nov 14, 2004; 10:44 a.m.


Attachment: 116_1676a.jpg

G Thomas , Nov 14, 2004; 10:52 a.m.

Use a TLR, like a YashicaNat and use it sideways. That is, stand facing away 90 degrees from the subject, but have the camera pointing sideways at them. Noone EVER catches on that you're actually taking their picture.

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