Getting Close: Does It Really Make You a Better Street Photographer?

Eric’s note: The following guest blog post is by Simon Garnier, part scientist and part street photographer who lives and works in New Jersey. Read about his experiences in getting close in street photography–and how he grapples with the idea of getting close in street photography. Interestingly enough this post was written before Fabio Pires’ video came out, but it is more relevant than ever. 

Simon: I am not an experienced street photographer. I started shooting street and candid pictures about a year ago, after several years of irregular experimentations with film and digital cameras. Everything you will read in this post is therefore the result of an ongoing reflection about something that I thought was true, but that I start to find overestimated, and potentially problematic for street photography in general.

Over the course of this past year, I have seen on many occasions people wishing to have the “balls” or the “guts” to go closer to the people they photograph in the street. Others would speak about how wide is the angle of their lens, how it forces themselves to move toward the people, to be part of the action. In several blog posts and articles, I read that dropping my zoom lens and going close would improve my photographs. So I did it. Some months after starting shooting street photographs, I got a 20mm lens for my Panasonic Lumix GF1 (40mm equivalent). I struggled a little bit at first trying to get used to zoom with my feet, but very quickly I started to love the lens and this sort of dance I had to perform to get in the right position on time for the shot. Today, I shoot exclusively with it and it would take something huge (like a Fuji X100 for Christmas :-) ) to make me stop using it. As soon as I had the 20mm, my pictures started to improve (at least in my opinion) and I was convinced that it was because I was going closer to the people, because I had grown bigger balls. I think now that I was wrong about that.

Recently, I watched an interview of the famous street photographer Jeff Mermelstein (here on my blog). At one point in the video, he says that he could have travelled the world to take pictures in more dangerous areas than downtown Manhattan (he cites Gaza for instance), but that he was not a risk taker, that he felt safe and comfortable in New York City where he takes most of his pictures. These 15 seconds in the interview made me realize several things that were probably already in the back of my mind. First, most of us do not need to be particularly brave when shooting candid pictures. As long as we are taking photographs of ordinary people, it is just a matter of putting aside our natural social reserve. Average Joe is not a dangerous person, and the worst that can happen to you is a one-minute argument that can be settled by simply deleting the picture of the moderately angry person. You would need to be brave if your subjects were criminals (as Bruce Gilden for his recent pictures of Russian gangsters), or if you were taking pictures in a war zone. In our relatively safe cities however, saying that we are brave for taking pictures of strangers seems to me as some form of high school bragging.

The second thing I realized is that most of the masters of street photography do not actually go that close to the people they photograph. Some do of course (Bruce Gilden is, I guess, the most known example) but a majority does not, or does not systematically, alternating between close-up pictures and larger scenes (Henry Cartier-Bresson for instance is an excellent example of that). While going again through the pictures of all these famous photographers, I noticed that they used their wide angle lens in many cases not to force themselves to go toward the people, but rather to embrace the context around the characters, to create a complete scene that tells a complete story. I even discovered that some of them used telephoto lenses (as Saul Leiter who regularly used a 150mm lens) and still made incredible street photographs. To take a good street photograph, the size of the lens does not seem to matter that much apparently, nor the distance to the people. So, what does actually matter?

An example of a street photograph taken with a telephoto lens – Taxi, New York, 1957 © Saul Leiter

Robert Capa once said “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough”. This is probably the favorite citation of all the advocates of what I would call “close contact street photography”. If Capa says we have to go close, it must be true. However, Capa does not say that exactly. He says that we have to go close ENOUGH. I am not here to speak instead of Capa of course, but I like to remind you that he was before all a photojournalist. His job was to bring back pictures that would capture the essence of an event, whatever this event could have been. If you want to do that, you have to make sure you are taking the picture at an appropriate scale (the “close enough” of Capa). If you are too far from the event, you will include external elements that will diminish the strength and clarity of the information you are trying to convey. If Capa had taken his pictures of D-Day landing from a boat a mile a away from Omaha Beach, they would have never became the iconic documents we all know.

In street photography, we face a similar problem. We are trying to document events of the “everyday life” and we have to make sure we are capturing these events at the right scale, reducing as much as possible intrusive elements by zooming (with our lens or our feet) toward our main subject. Following the same principle, getting too close is not a good thing either because it would crop out elements that are essential to the full understanding of the captured event. Therefore, the distance at which you photograph people should not be a function of how brave you think you are. Actually, such an attitude might become very problematic for street photography in general, as it would reinforce existing prejudices against street photographers. Instead, the distance should be determined by the main subject of your picture and by how much useful and useless information you are including in the picture at a given distance. If your subject is the tattoo on the back of someone, then go very close. If it is a pick-up streetball game, take some distance. Whether you use your zoom, or your feet if you have a prime lens, does not really matter. What really matters is the scale at which you take the picture.

Example of the importance of using an appropriate scale in street photography. Pass your mouse over the image to see the full story.

More and more, it seems to me that my pictures were actually not improving because of the length of my lens or because I was able to go closer to the people. I am not more brave than a year ago. However, I am more confident in what I am doing. By spending more and more time in the streets, I have improved my ability to detect and to anticipate interesting situations and potential pictures, I have learned how to approach people without making them worried about my intentions, and above all I now have a better understanding of what elements should, or should not be included in the picture.There is still a lot of room for improvement in my work, but I am sure that it will have little to do with my gear and my balls.

———-

Simon Garnier is an amateur street photographer based in the New York – Philadelphia area. You can find examples of his work:

How close is “close enough” for you? Share your thoughts and experiences below!

73 thoughts on “Getting Close: Does It Really Make You a Better Street Photographer?”

  1. Thank you Simon, I find it very refreshing to read this! So many people are so vehemently in one camp or the other, and seem to want to completely dismiss anyone who doesn’t shoot street exactly the way they do, or the way they perceive it “should be done.” I have seen fantastic street photos shot with a 20mm lens, and equally fabulous ones shot with 70mm, 105mm, etc. A good street photograph is good because of the moment it captures, the story it tells, the composition, the humour, the pathos, etc., all of these things are the important qualities, not focal length.

    I am still very much a novice, but I am learning to pretty much ignore the opinions of those who preach only one method while trashing anyone who doesn’t agree. I personally like shooting with a 23mm (35mm equivalent) the best, but there are some situations where I will reach for my G11 with it’s zoom lens, because the additional reach makes sense for the moment.

    Love your photos Simon!

    1. Thanks Nancy! You’re right about what make a good (street) photograph: the subject. The point of the article is to encourage people to focus on their subject rather than on themselves.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. I was actually writing notes about this very topic last night to put into a blog post myself! (And I may have to reference back to this one!) Here’s my take on it:

    Getting up close and personal with a subject on the street can be great. The emotion, expression, feeling of the image can be there. However, to me those are more just street portraits. They are like one paragraph in a story. I want the whole chapter!

    I’m originally from Wyoming and have taken my fair share of wildlife photos. I love to sit and observe them in the natural habitat, without disturbing them. If they see, hear, or smell you they’re gone. Or they change their behavior. I liken this to street photography. If you get up in someone’s face, you’re altering their behavior. Sure you might get a great expression, but the bottom line is you caused it.

    I like observing mankind in his/her natural environment. Watching, waiting for that moment to strike. And I also agree with Nancy’s comment as well. I’m so tired of reading or hearing “street photographers” tell me that I must do it this way or that, or there’s no emotion or feeling. To each their own. Some days I want to just observe, and others I want to interact. There’s no right or wrong way. There’s just YOUR way.

    1. Thanks Nate! You’re right, there isn’t a right or wrong way to take all your pictures. There are ways that can be better adapted to a particular subject, there are ways that are better adapted to you, and they are most of the time not mutually exclusive.

      I like the comparison with wildlife photography. I’m a behavioral scientist, specialist of collective behaviors in social animals (humans included), and interacting with the subjects of my experiments is something I try to do very carefully. It is sometimes useful, it is sometimes a disturbance, depending on what question my experiment tries to answer. I often like to compare art and science, and I think this is another common point between these two fields. Sometimes you want to interact with the person/scene you photograph, sometimes it’s better not to.

    2. Thanks Nate! You’re right, there isn’t a right or wrong way to take all your pictures. There are ways that can be better adapted to a particular subject, there are ways that are better adapted to you, and they are most of the time not mutually exclusive.

      I like the comparison with wildlife photography. I’m a behavioral scientist, specialist of collective behaviors in social animals (humans included), and interacting with the subjects of my experiments is something I try to do very carefully. It is sometimes useful, it is sometimes a disturbance, depending on what question my experiment tries to answer. I often like to compare art and science, and I think this is another common point between these two fields. Sometimes you want to interact with the person/scene you photograph, sometimes it’s better not to.

  3. I believe that there is not a rule. Things changes upon the situation. Sometimes it could be beautiful to have little people sometimes you have to catch the expression on a face, sometimes you want to show others people or something more.

    1. You’ve got exactly the point of the article. Your subject matters, the rest is just constraints you have to deal with.

    2. You’ve got exactly the point of the article. Your subject matters, the rest is just constraints you have to deal with.

  4. Personally I think street photography can be split into two camps. Get up close and you have a ‘street portrait’ take the wider view and you get the subject of your photo set into the context of the street which tells a story itself. My preference is the latter, neither is right neither is wrong and sometimes I shoot both types :-)

    1. As said in the article, I don’t think you can artificially split street photography in two (or more) camps based on the distance to your subject. The distance (or focal length, same thing) at which you will take the picture is just the by-product of what you decide to include in the picture, nothing more.

    2. Not necessarily. I often shoot pretty close and use a 15mm. It let’s me have both worlds–getting intimate depth and a wide environment at the same time.

    1. Thanks for your kind words Patrick! And indeed, thanks Eric for giving me the opportunity to talk about this subject on your blog.

  5. Nice that Simon brings up Leiter and HCB, I was about to comment the same. There’s a reason Leiter chose longer focal lengths and HCB sticked to his 50mm lens for most of his work.

    Results matter, focal lengths do not. Neither does this bickering about the one true definition of street photography help.

    1. As I often say, real photographers have a purpose in mind when they take a picture. As you say, there is a reason why Leiter and HCB choose to work this way. There is also a reason why Gilden (and Eric :-)) goes very close with a flash, and I respect his work for this. Trying to imitate Gilden just for the fun or for getting some excitement is just being a jerk with a camera.

    2. As I often say, real photographers have a purpose in mind when they take a picture. As you say, there is a reason why Leiter and HCB choose to work this way. There is also a reason why Gilden (and Eric :-)) goes very close with a flash, and I respect his work for this. Trying to imitate Gilden just for the fun or for getting some excitement is just being a jerk with a camera.

  6. Nice that Simon brings up Leiter and HCB, I was about to comment the same. There’s a reason Leiter chose longer focal lengths and HCB sticked to his 50mm lens for most of his work.

    Results matter, focal lengths do not. Neither does this bickering about the one true definition of street photography help.

  7. Great post, Simon. While it may take balls to get close, balls don’t necessarily translate into compelling photographs. The photographer is responsible for all elements in the frame. The key benefit for most photographers of getting close is reducing the number of potentially distracting elements in the frame. If a photographer is really only concerned with capturing someone’s expression and doesn’t fill the frame with it, they invariably introduce elements in the frame that distract from their focus and obscure their intent. Personally, I’m bored by most “candid portraiture” and am more interested in photographs that balance subject and scene in a way that transcends literal capture to creates a view of the world (dare I say art?) that most would miss, even if they were standing next to the photographer when picture was snapped. Your example of Saul Leiter is spot on.

    1. Thanks Jason! I kind of like every form of street photography, and photography in general, as long as it shows me something that I wasn’t expecting to see. Even a street portrait can be surprising, but it’s often less easy to achieve, which may explain why it attracts so many people.

      You’re right when you say that framing is essential, specially in all forms of documentary photography. The way you achieve this framing is not that important, even by cropping in post-processing if necessary (see William Klein’s opinion on cropping in this interview: http://www.simongarnier.org/out-of-necessity-william-klein-takes-an-amused-look-at-his-work/, from about 30 sec to 50 sec in the video).

    2. Well said and I think that directly address the huge gap between “shooting on the street” and street photography. Many don’t know the difference.

      It’s very easy to walk down the street and take a snap of a random person walking by. Even with a wide angle lens, because that snap can be taken in motion. But to actually stop, frame up, consider context with surrounding elements and how a subject makes an interesting story, is something that’s sorely missing today. The end result many times are just boring photos of a person with nothing else going on in the frame. As a viewer why would I care? Good sp is more than just snagging a person close-up on a street. Without any influencing factors, such as the release of narrative, ambiguity, mystery, humor, irony, tension between elements, nice light, gravitas, etc, its just a boring photo.

      That really speaks to the shoot-n-run, so-called “hard core” street photography view of what sp is held by some. But it really isn’t. I’ve yet to see anything that speaks to a “hard core,” “guerilla,” etc vision that some people think it’s all about.

      This all seems to be propagated by the relatively recent confluence of social media and photography, where some have this romantic vision of what a street photographer and street photography is. Seems to be much more about that, rather than creating compelling photos. I could write pages on this…

  8. Simon, great post. Eric posts on a single day about two of my pet peeves of all the writings in the street photography community — jumping in front of people and by doing so actually not being able to capture the decisive moment but altering the moment — and then this on how close it close enough.

    in the end it all comes down to what makes the picture good. i think there is never a one size fits all solution to everything. i think the reason why standard lenses whatever the size are preferred by most photographers is that they usually have better glass and that as a photographer you can visualize the frame easier than with a zoom. the rest is all about framing and capturing the emotions you want to capture.

    funny enough i doodled down some thoughts about that last weekend: http://thestreetsofdc.tumblr.com/post/9735357799/what-makes-a-great-photo

  9. The way I have interpreted “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” is that the subject should merely fill the frame, or that the all the content within the frame should have meaning/purpose. Whether that be with a wide angle or tele doesn’t really mater, but your main subjects needs to fill the frame and not only take up a small segments.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ask_alaska/6053919219/

    vs.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/renaud-camus/4139566934/in/photostream/

    1. I think your interpretation is correct. And the hardest thing is to define correctly what is part of the subject and what isn’t.

  10. Unfortunately, there are too many people… photographing people. It is becoming really, really tired. People are not the only thing upon the street that can be photographed.

    The problem with photographers is that they think like photographers. They will walk down the photography section in a book store first… whereas, that book over there (in the painting section) about Mondriaan or Klimpt… will actually DO something for their photography.

    Of course, there’s the pottery and textile section… maybe there’s something there, too? Methinks, yes.

    I have several degrees in music composition. I stopped listening to music, years ago. Why?

    I want my stories to be mine.

    1. You make a really great point! I often go to the photo section to look for inspiration or a new technique and ask myself if the photographers who are writing these books are also inspired by other photographers or if they are just shooting/creating all the time.

      What I frequently end up doing is putting it back on the shelf telling myself it’s time to stop reading and start doing. That goes double for photo cook books.

      That said, just can’t help myself when I see a photo book that utilizes surrealism.

      I end up putting many back on the shelf because I tell myself it’s time to stop reading and start doing.

      That goes double for photo cookbooks. That said, if I come across a book on photographic surrealism like Jerry Uelsmann or Dominic Rouse I’m a gonner and so is the book.

    2. You make a really great point! I often go to the photo section to look for inspiration or a new technique and ask myself if the photographers who are writing these books are also inspired by other photographers or if they are just shooting/creating all the time.

      What I frequently end up doing is putting it back on the shelf telling myself it’s time to stop reading and start doing. That goes double for photo cook books.

      That said, just can’t help myself when I see a photo book that utilizes surrealism.

      I end up putting many back on the shelf because I tell myself it’s time to stop reading and start doing.

      That goes double for photo cookbooks. That said, if I come across a book on photographic surrealism like Jerry Uelsmann or Dominic Rouse I’m a gonner and so is the book.

  11. Another important point of view in late discussion on the approach to street photography – and another really good one.

    “close enough” is the key indeed, thought it is somewhat subjective. It surely does not mean “as close as possible”, that’s for sure. Adjust yourself to the situation, watch the surroundings and consider all the ways of taking the shot. Do not become close-minded with one concept, not accepting the other.

    (waiting for the next voices in this discussion btw )

  12. “Instead, the distance should be determined by the main subject of your picture and by how much useful and useless information you are including in the picture at a given distance.” – That sums it up perfectly. This is a great outlook for any form of photography and something I will now always have in the back of my head when shooting.

  13. A very well written article, Simon. As I know you personally, I even understand you better. Both of us use the same camera and lens and I even think on the GF1 I should have a wider lens. I only go close to shoot portraits of strangers and these kind of photos people don’t like as much as the full scene. A full scene shows everything and all the content. Maybe I should get the 12mm from Olympus to mount on my GF1.
    I hope we will meet again one day in NYC to exchange some new thoughts about our passion.

    1. Thanks a lot Thomas! I personally like most of your “close contact” portrait because they are included into a coherent body of work. Taken together they really create an impressive catalog of expressions and characters, somehow in the same spirit as Andrew Bush with his pictures of people in their cars. As for getting a larger angle and getting more contextual information, I trust you enough to not worry about the quality of your future pictures. I hope to see you soon in NYC or somewhere else on the planet.

  14. Wonderful article Simon. I think that what a person photographs on the street shout be the story THEY are trying to tell. No one should go out into the street and shoot based on what someone else thinks street photography is. You as an individual determine what you want to portray in your photographs.. What is important is that you take a good photograph. Take your time, compose what you are shooting take a breath and shoot. Above all I think the most important thing is to just enjoy yourself, and develop your own style.

    1. Thanks man, I really means a lot coming from you. We had the occasion to shoot together (and I can’t wait for the next time), so I know we share similar opinion on this subject.

  15. Well said Simon!! “Close” by my interpretation is taking a photograph in such a manner as to make the viewer feel like they are a crucial or intimate part of what is transpiring in the scene before them and thus evoking emotion from them. It certainly isn’t about being nose to nose with your subject.

    I disagree with the whole in your face form of photography that is touted as being the best [and sometimes “only”] way of capturing people on the street as of late. Like it is the new chocolate or something. It has become a trend as Brad says due to the confluence of social media and photography propagating a distorted [my word] vision of what street shooting is. The whole ‘whose got the biggest balls’ game is really exhausting and to see so many wonderfully diverse street photographers suddenly jump onto the bandwagon to compete in the same ‘sport’ and produce the same kind of images has been really disheartening to watch.

    You hit the nail on the head that some compositions require surrounding elements to convey a message and others satisfy that need with just a portrait frame and the good photographer observes what is before him and makes a decision based on what he is presented with. It’s not about the camera brand nor is it about the lens size as good street shots have been taken with everything from Leica to Holga. Jason made a point that many photographers get close to reduce the number of distracting elements in the frame. Sometimes this is a good and necessary approach but maybe like Cartier-Bresson we should observe our surroundings and utilize them whenever possible enriching our images rather than habitually cutting the background out as a method of simpler framing.

    Thank you for sharing your perspective. As you can read in the comments there are many that believe as you do so whether you feel you are experienced or not you do have a good sense of what street photography is (in our opinion) and the rest is just a matter of keeping shooting.

    -Kristen

    1. Thanks Kristen! I agree with everything in your comment and I really like your definition of “close”, it really illustrate what I’m trying to do with my work (but it’s not always a success :-) ).
      I’m not sure yet to have a good sense of what street photography is, but I have tried, failed and learned a lot during this year and I felt it was a good time to start giving my opinion on some subjects that I have truly struggled with these last months.

      1. It sounds like you have a very accurate idea of what street photography is Simon. The rest is just training your eye and developing your camera skills, like me. :) Photographers are ever evolving beings. As for successes.. street photography is a little harder than landscapes, architecture or studio shoots because moments come and go and you have to be ready. You can’t change perspective, lighting or background elements when you are on the street. I think this is why Cartier-Bresson did so well. He often made preparations, he scoped out his setting first, waited and let his subjects step into frame so that lighting, perspective, background.. was all in place. Also, taking two or three successive rapid fire shots might increase the odds of getting just the right framing on a moving target but even the pros will tell you that they aren’t always successful either. There are a lot of discards, we just see the good images. If you shoot often and get one good shot a month you are doing well. After all when you go to a show or a gallery to see a photographer’s work you don’t see 300 images. You might see 20 of their best and that’s it. Maybe that 20 IS their best and that’s fine too. All of those near misses add up to experience gained and sometimes some really nice photos that don’t have to be art but are treasured never the less.

        1. Thanks very much Isoterica, I really appreciate your kind words. I totally agree with everything in this comment. There are several things in it that I’ll discuss probably in future posts. So stay tuned :-)

        2. Thanks very much Isoterica, I really appreciate your kind words. I totally agree with everything in this comment. There are several things in it that I’ll discuss probably in future posts. So stay tuned :-)

      2. It sounds like you have a very accurate idea of what street photography is Simon. The rest is just training your eye and developing your camera skills, like me. :) Photographers are ever evolving beings. As for successes.. street photography is a little harder than landscapes, architecture or studio shoots because moments come and go and you have to be ready. You can’t change perspective, lighting or background elements when you are on the street. I think this is why Cartier-Bresson did so well. He often made preparations, he scoped out his setting first, waited and let his subjects step into frame so that lighting, perspective, background.. was all in place. Also, taking two or three successive rapid fire shots might increase the odds of getting just the right framing on a moving target but even the pros will tell you that they aren’t always successful either. There are a lot of discards, we just see the good images. If you shoot often and get one good shot a month you are doing well. After all when you go to a show or a gallery to see a photographer’s work you don’t see 300 images. You might see 20 of their best and that’s it. Maybe that 20 IS their best and that’s fine too. All of those near misses add up to experience gained and sometimes some really nice photos that don’t have to be art but are treasured never the less.

  16. Nykino (John Kim)

    I think Simon pointed out Mr. Capa’s words in more appropriate way. I mean getting close physically can be different for every photographer. The physical distance should be ‘discovered’ by each photographer by experimenting his/her style. So psychologically accepted distance between photographer and subjects can be flexible. If photographer get close ‘enough’ to get what they want, that is really enough. This understanding, in my opinion, requires that street photographers must know what they want to capture. I recently found out one German street photogher, Siegfried Hansen while reading Thomas Leuthard’s ebook. I really liked his style of street photographer. His style made me think more about street photography in different way. With more practice and thought, I also want to try his style as well. When it comes to his style, getting close to subjects is not always answer in street photogrphy.

    1. Thanks John! You’re completely right about the distance being specific to each photographer, depending on his style and interests. Siegfried Hansen is an excellent example of a very talented street photographer who doesn’t go very close and yet produce powerful, almost surrealist images. His website is a pain to navigate, but his pictures are really worth it. I strongly recommend everyone to take a look at his work on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/streetphotography/).

  17. It’s a rule of thumb, and a valid one at that. Of course it depends on the situation and the subject, and I don’t know of anyone who advocates getting in close just for feeling brash, but generally spoken, taking the same shot up close with a wide angle and from 50 yards away with a tele makes a big difference. It’s only natural that in street photography the surrounding plays an important role, and you’re not going to get the surrounding AND a good shot of the subject by being far away. You’re either going to lose the context or the subject is too small. Sometimes there are good reasons not to get close, but most of the time it does indeed make for a better picture. Unlike the author, I think it does very much matter whether you zoom in with your lens or with your feet.

    1. Thanks for your comment illuminaut! There are unfortunately people advocating going close for the excitement it gives. The example of Mario Pires is probably the worst case I have seen so far (here on Eric’s blog: https://erickimphotography.com/blog/2011/09/how-not-to-do-street-photography-my-thoughts/). But more importantly, there is a sort of belief spreading on forums, blogs and social networks that you have to have big balls and go close to take good pictures. As you can see in the other comments, I’m not the only one to have noticed this.

      Concerning the zooming technique, with the lens or with the feet, I agree with you that you won’t get the same final result. However I don’t think that one produces better pictures than the other. Both techniques have their own constraints and particularities that will have an influence on the picture and it’s the work of the photographer to get the best out of it. For instance, Saul Leiter makes an excellent use of his telephoto lens to deliver beautiful dreamy pictures. Another example is the work by Stefano Santucci with a 85mm lens (http://www.flickr.com/photos/tastino0/), less mature than Leiter work, but that delivers picture incredibly peaceful compared to more classical street photographs.

  18. I love this post Simon, I’ve been missing an input like this for a long time now. It’s always about being close and “in your face” and having “guts” and almost being an asshole. I enjoy reality more than having people react to me and my camera…and with that I mean reality “as if I wasn’t there”. The other side of street photography where you have a great connection with people and photograph them based on this new friendship is also the kind of photography I love.

    Also I really enjoy your photo “The Thinker in the City”.

    Thanks again Simon!

  19. I love this post Simon, I’ve been missing an input like this for a long time now. It’s always about being close and “in your face” and having “guts” and almost being an asshole. I enjoy reality more than having people react to me and my camera…and with that I mean reality “as if I wasn’t there”. The other side of street photography where you have a great connection with people and photograph them based on this new friendship is also the kind of photography I love.

    Also I really enjoy your photo “The Thinker in the City”.

    Thanks again Simon!

  20. I take a much different view on the close/far issue on shooting…

    Great sp is about capturing the rhythm and energy of the street. Shoot with a long lens from a distance and you’re sniping; and in most case the results speak to that, rarely showing any energy. They’re just boring photos of a person on a street with not much else going on. There’s a huge gap between “shooting on the street” and street photography.

    I shoot exclusively with a 35mm on a full-frame body. Shoot close and actually experiencing the rhythm/energy of the street, you’ll get much better results. It’s not about being brave. I shoot in the open, in plain sight, rather than lurk in the shadows sneaking shots. It’s a world of difference. Shooting in some neighborhoods, like San Francisco’s Tenderloin district where I shoot a lot, it’s essential – otherwise you’ll get popped.

    Similarly, many think that sp is about being stealthy, shooting with “unobtrusive” cameras, and using deception or hip-shots to get good results. Being accepted and blending in by shooting in the open you’ll get far better results. Being accepted speaks to photographer attitude, behavior and confidence projected.

    1. Thanks for your comment Brad! I practice street photography more or less like you. My lens is a 40mm equivalent and I’m not trying to hide, without trying to interact either, at least until the picture is taken. I think that people deserve a chance to know their picture has just been taken and hence to ask for an explanation (which they don’t ask for most of the time). I also agree with you that street photography taken with a short or a long lens will provide very different results and feelings. However I don’t think one produces better pictures than the other. I love the work of Gilden and Leiter, but for different reasons. They are both observers of the streets, but one gives you an intimate look into people’s life while the other one is more detached, less interested in people’s individuality and more interested by general patterns of human activity. It’s the difference between someone walking by the people, almost bumping into them, and one observing them from his window. That you prefer one style over another is subjective in my opinion, and of course there is nothing wrong with that, but I don’t think it’s fair to devaluate the other style for this reason.

  21. Very good observations Simon. I could not agree with you more. Getting close is NOT about getting as close as possible, as many “leisure” street photographers think Capa´s famous sentence means. But just as you point out – getting close enough, as in “get into the optimal distance to capture the situation, as you see it, perfectly”. That may be very close or very far in distance from the main object in the shot. I think you analyse it correctly by connecting Capas words with the fact that he was foremost a fearless war-photographer.

    http://www.kejlskov.dk

  22. Well written piece. One thing that I am not sure has been touched upon is bokeh. Even shooting with a 50mm lens is going to give bokeh even at f16. Bokeh in my opinion should be avoided by street photographers. I think street is about recording life. People in the foreground and background. If you kill all of the scene by bokeh then what do you have? Just one subject in a field of blur. That’s not life.

    Bokeh can be good sometimes, but it tends to mask errors in composition.

    1. Thanks for your kind words Charlie!

      Concerning the bokeh, I’d like to make two observations. The first one is that, as zooming can help cropping out unnecessary elements from the picture, bokeh can help focusing the attention of the viewer to the key elements of a scene. As you say, it has to be used carefully (as zooming, with lens or feet), but in some situations a little bit of bokeh can help reading a picture by increasing the perceptual contrast between the main subject and the rest of its environment.

      My second observation is that bokeh (especially at 50mm) is very close to the way human vision actually works. In a busy street for instance, our attention will be focused on people immediately around us, maybe in 3-4 meters radius. Beyond this radius, our vision will be naturally blurred because of the properties of our visual system. Conversely, if we focus on a distant subject, every object close to us will be also naturally blurred. Therefore, in a certain way, one could say that the use of bokeh correspond better to our perception of the reality, while a important depth of field might be considered as an artificial effect.

      By the way, are you this Charlie Kirk: http://www.flickr.com/photos/charlie_kirk/ ? If yes, I’m a huge fan of your work.

  23. Pingback: 10 Famous Street Photography Quotes You Must Know « Professional Photographer « Professional Photographer

  24. Pingback: 10 Famous Street Photography Quotes You Must Know Eric Kim Street Photography

  25. Pingback: Getting close. Does it really make you a better street photographer?

  26. A very nice overview Simon on what is a subject of great discussion and debate. I am at the moment (as you know from my blog) using a 28 – 300, but am switiching to either my 50mm or 85mm as an experiment to see what difference it does make to my pictures. I take on-board what you say and will ‘try’ and put it into practice, should not be too hard as I am a peoples person. Thank you for the advice and also the inspiration.

    1. Thanks very much Neal! Don’t hesitate to share your experience once you’ve become more comfortable with your 50 and your 85.

  27. Pingback: What Does it Take to Make a Good Street Photograph? « Professional Photographer « Professional Photographer

  28. Pingback: What does it take to make a good street photograph?

  29. Pingback: How to Avoid Paralysis by Analysis in Street Photography — Eric Kim Street Photography

  30. Pingback: How to Avoid Paralysis by Analysis in Street Photography « Professional Photographer « Professional Photographer

  31. I want to express some thanks to the writer for bailing me out of this type of trouble. After checking throughout the world wide web and meeting ways that were not helpful, I believed my entire life was over. Existing without the presence of solutions to the issues you have sorted out as a result of your good website is a critical case, as well as the kind that could have in a negative way affected my entire career if I hadn’t discovered the website. Your personal competence and kindness in touching a lot of stuff was tremendous. I’m not sure what I would’ve done if I hadn’t come upon such a subject like this. I am able to at this moment relish my future. Thanks for your time very much for this professional and results-oriented help. I won’t hesitate to endorse your site to any individual who ought to have guidance about this area.

  32. Pingback: how to get into medical school

  33. Pingback: Street photography quotes to motivate you and improve your shooting – Latest Snap

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.