The other day I was hanging out with Derriel Almario and we stumbled upon an old Borders bookstore that closed down and was converted into a $1 bookstore. When I saw it, I suddenly got giddy at the possibility that there may be some hidden photography book gems that we could find. Low and behold I stumbled upon a book titled, “The Camera” which was a photography book published in 1970 by TIME.
There was a chapter on shooting people that particularly fascinated me. Most of the photojournalists interviewed for the book generally agreed it was better to get closer to your subjects than shooting far away with a zoom lens.
For example photojournalist Bill Eppridge said, “I want a photograph of a person to have a sense of intimacy, of being there.. You lose this with an extremely long lens, or shooting from a high or a low angle. Whenever possible, I use a 50mm lens and shoot right at a person, dead on.”
Upon continuing to read, I read an interesting story of Alfred Eisenstaedt of him shooting a “chillingly evil close-up” photograph of Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister. Here is the story told by Eisenstaedt:
“I found him sitting alone at a folding table on the lawn of the hotel. I photographed him from a distance without him being aware of it. As documentary reportage, the picture may have some value: it suggests his aloofness. Later I found him at the same table surrounded by aides and bodyguards. Goebbels seemed so small, while his bodyguards were huge. I walked up close and photographed Goebbels. It was horrible. He looked up at me with an expression full of hate. The result, however, was a much stronger photograph. There is no substitute for close personal contact and involvement with a subject, no matter how unpleasant it may be.”
When it comes to street photography, I also believe that like documentary reportage, getting close does give you a better image as well. However don’t simply shoot closely for the sake of shooting closely. Think about the story you are trying to tell, and the feeling of intimacy in the image. Also there are times in when your subjects become aware of your presence when it gives you a sense of connection with your subject.
For example, Thomas Leuthard prefers to take his street portraits of his subject when they are looking directly at him. What he does is points his camera at his subject, and waits for them to candidly look towards him–curious of what he is doing. This technique helps him get shots like that pictured below which are genuine yet candid looks. Not only that, but you feel as if you are there and she is looking back at you directly.
When you are shooting street photography, how comfortable are you in getting close to your subjects? How close do you get to them and what focal length are you comfortable using? Leave your thoughts and opinions below in the comments!