Something that is imperative to street photography is to get close. Street photography is not only about documenting life, but being an active participant. Therefore in order to capture the true essence of a scene, use a wide-angle lens and get really close to your participants to capture the scene and the mood of a scene. Wide-angle shots allow the viewer to be immersed in what you are shooting and “see it from your eyes.” Furthermore by shooting with a wide angle lens, you are able to capture more of a scene which gives your images better context and life.
But if I am shooting with a wide-angle lens, doesn’t that mean that I have to get close to people? That definitely is true. This may be uncomfortable to many people, but often the most interesting images are created when the subjects that you are capturing are aware of your presence and react. Getting the looks of shocked people looking straight into your camera can create images that captivate your audience—making them truly feel that they are a part of your scene, rather than a voyeur merely looking in.
Although I advocate using wide-angle lenses when it comes to street photography, I am not stating that it is the only way to participate in street photography. I know a great street photographer named Tom Kaszuba who uses telephoto lenses to isolate his subjects and get great candid portraits of them in moments of contemplation. These can make effective images which are nearly as moving. However I would avoid using telephoto lenses when shooting in the street merely because you are merely “afraid” of taking photos of people. I have noticed through my experience that it is much more awkward to get “caught” pointing a huge lens straight at a person, rather than getting caught shooting a portrait of a person right in front of their face with a wide-angle lens. The reason being is that because you are so close, people will assume that you are taking a photo of something behind them.
If you are still a bit timid of shooting wide-angle portraits of candid people in the streets, practice on your friends and family. If you don’t have a wide-angle prime lens (such as a 24mm or 35mm, which I use) but a wide-angle zoom lens, practice shooting pictures of people really close at your widest setting. This will typically mean that you are standing only 3 feet away from that person. Note how wide-angle images of people will capture their essence while pulling the viewer into the images themselves.
What are you waiting for? Get close! Don’t be afraid, and see what happens.