The photography world is full of great ideas, innovations, and tricks to make things happen when your budget is low. Even though I preach differently these days, I used to be thrilled by gear and gadgets.
After really experiencing the streets with heart and passion, these became trivial for me. After getting close to people and really connecting with them, regardless of our ephemeral moment in time, I knew that the most important thing in street photography is not the gear, but technical perfection as just a second layer.
The prime objective is the story that unravels in front of the lens. There are certain things that camera and photography-related brands offer us that we don’t really need to capture for street photos. They only create a more intrusive persona for yourself.
I’m not saying they’re worthless – they’re actually great, designed and manufactured with passion and magnificently thought out in terms of quality standards. But they may not be a great thing to have around when you’re dealing with street photography.
FYI – Street photography composition can be a little “same same.” If you're looking to take your street photos outside the box, then you might want to check out the advanced composition techniques in Kent Dufault's guide to the topic. Worth a look.
The Huge DSLR That Makes You Look Like a News Crew
It’s essential that your camera doesn’t make people feel nervous. A huge camera has a great downside when it comes to street photography. It makes people feel nervous when you make your first encounter. These cameras are noisy and really conspicuous.
In hot zones, a huge DSLR will gain you a lot of attention as well, and it even can be risky for you. Being stealthy is really important for street photography, especially if you love capturing candid images. Imagine you encounter a person doing an activity that will make an awesome image and you crouch nearby, very stealthy.
Everything seems perfect, and suddenly you raise your chunky DSLR to your shooting eye and the person notices you. The whole essence of the candid frame is gone.
Of course, after this, you can describe your passion and the purpose of your shots, and maybe the person will allow you to do a little reportage on the activity. If you’re in a rush, this is a threat to your time. You’ll be anxious, and the organic flow of your work will be drowned out because of the massive size of your camera.
This could affect the users of certain Japanese manufacturers of cameras and other stuff, which love to make things huge. Bigger is not better in street photography.
Once upon a time I heard a marvelous saying on a photography podcast called “Street Focus”. It went something like this: “When I was starting out, I wanted a big DSLR like the big boys. Now that I’m one of them, all I want is a small compact camera.”
It’s not an inspirational quote per se, since I only heard it and can’t find it on the web, but you get the message. People may even think you’re a newbie when they see your unthreatening, yet powerful small compact camera. Trust me, you want them to see you as a newbie, because they’ll be more natural and authentic, even though you’re around them taking pictures.
The Huge Lenses That Make People Nervous
The problem with huge lenses is that they tend to make people even more fuzzy than a chunky camera body. Especially those super-telephoto bazooka lenses that are great for other purposes, but definitely not for the streets.
People feel even less at ease when you shoot them from a long distance with a telephoto than if you get near them with a prime wide-angle lens. I love working with a super wide-angle zoom, but, thanks to its huge size, people feel weird when being photographed with it on the streets.
I’m forced to get really close to the action if I want to capture the story I want to achieve.
The Camera Backpack That Will Slow You Down
A camera backpack is not on the “Hey, I see you taking a picture of me!” list of downsides, but it is just not comfortable to have one with you. I’ve seen some great messenger bags on the web these days, and they’re definitely the way to go. This is something shining on my wish list right now.
Heavy and sturdy tripod
I’m not saying no to tripods. I’m just saying no to really heavy tripods. It's the same thing as the camera backpack. A great thing about using tripods for street photography is that people tend to ignore you.
It’s weird, because it’s obvious that you’re taking pictures, but people tend to think that perhaps you’re framing some buildings and stuff like that. I invite you to check out Alexey Titarenko’s fine images. You’ll see how a tripod can be an excellent tool for street photography.
The Flashes That Will Give You Away
These guys are the most notorious of all photography accessories: the conspicuous light beam that alerts everybody within 100 yards that you are there, taking pictures. Flashes are, in most cases, unnecessary for street photos.
Bruce Gilden fans definitely won’t like this – but let’s face it, the guy has technique. He’s great at what he does, and of course, there can be exceptions.
The Vests That Make You Look Like a Tourist
Avoid using a photographer’s vest. They make you yell, “Hey I’m a photographer!” and people will automatically be aware of every move you make. I want to show you proof with a video. This will make it obvious why you definitely don’t need this type of monstrosity with you to get great street photos.
This is something you definitely don't need. You don’t need to be in a rush, shooting whatever crosses your way. You need to be patient for the moments to start blooming in front of you, so you have to become somewhat a part of the context. This, my friends, takes some time.
This list can be summarized in one line: “Just avoid the photographer’s costume or outfit.”
I don´t think there is only one manual for street photography…
I use my “huge” K-3 with my “huge” 18-135 and have my “Big” sling bag on my back when i´m shoot in the streets. Absolutely no problem for me or the people on the streets.
But i don´t have a vest, or use tripod and blits….just using a lot of time and try to be patient.
This tings, and a smile, works for me:-)
Hi there Mate, you are definitely right, there is no Manual or Book for Street Photography. But as you see, even though you are using a medium sized camera, you still try to be inconspicuous and not get noticed. I still use some times my 18-135 for the streets. The best gear, is the gear you have with you at all times.
Smile is the best tool sometimes, and I couldn’t agree more with you.
The best thing I can recommend to anybody that feels passion for Street Photo, is to invest in Photo Books more than gear.
Thanks for these tips. I agree stealth is always a good idea when you’re taking pictures on the street. I’m just curious, what would you say if someone caught you taking their picture?
Smile, that’s the best you can do. PLEASE, don’t run away, that’s the worst thing you can do.
After the smile, it’s easy to have a little talk, and just explain your thing. Having some printed little photos of your work will be very helpful to explain why you do Street Photo.
If the person demands a delete, just do it. Don’t be rude with people, sometimes people are going through very difficult situations and a rude attitude can be just awful.
Hi Federico, all
I do both, take picture stealthily and ask people in the street if I can take their picture. Takes some courage to do so, I must admit. Here’s a link to a lovely example of being ‘caught in the act’. This pretty lady took off her killing stiletto heels and swapped them for something a lot more comfortable. I took her picture at that exact moment, she looked up and shared this wonderful smile with the world. We spoke and I send her the picture later. That works too!
That really works too, I have done that, and people gets really grateful from receiving their photograph. Sometimes people don’t believe that this will be true. So if you offer them a copy sent by e-mail, always do it, people will be happy about it.
What you need is ONLY a Ricoh GR….
Around here, people don’t like cameras period! I’ve been very successful using a newer Nikon 55-300mm off in the distance and out of sight.. when people figure nobody’s watching them, then that is when they’re most relaxed and doing their thing… For those who I’m lucky enough to get their confidence, a small point & shoot works fore and leaves them feeling less intimidated…. As I’ve always kept in mind… Photography s about the moment, not the type of camera..