Street photography with a big camera

At face value, it doesn’t seem like the Canon 5D Mark III is a suitable camera for street photography. I am always a believer that any camera with you is the best camera you have however looking at the bulk & size of the Mark3 it’s bound to turn a few heads & feel intimidating to people you are trying to capture on a photograph. Even so, the challenge of getting the shot using a big camera is enticing so perhaps we can talk a little bit about how to use a big camera when street shooting.

Use a small & short focal length lens

The shorter the better. Try not to use anything longer than an 85mm on a full frame sensor camera. That’s about 50mm on an APC sensor body. I’ve shot using a 17-40mm ultra-wide angle lens on the Mark2 & the Mark3 before in the streets so it’s doable. Avoid big lenses like the 70-200mm. You already have a big DSLR. Don’t make it worse by putting a cannon on the thing! If you are a beginner like me, choose something comfortable like a 50mm where you can get close to the subject but not so right in the face if get what I mean!

Use the silent mode

If your camera has a built-in silent mode, use it! Usually this is only available on the higher end pro series DSLRs however I anticipate that Canon & Nikon may introduce this to later entry models. Besides street photography, I can see this feature being useful when shooting weddings & events if you are looking for candid moments. Extremely useful feature if you ask me so turn it on & leave it on for the duration of your shoot.

Live view

Somehow lifting the camera away from you while shooting something is less intimidating than lifting the camera’s view finder to your eye. This is perhaps a psychological thing but try it, you’ll find it easier to get a candid shot doing this & your subjects will mind less when you do this. Also for those who do not have silent mode on their cameras, shooting with the live view on is usually more silent.

Shoot blind!

Another technique which requires some practice, sometimes shooting blind helps. Without lifting your camera, just point it at your subject & snap. If you have silent mode, this helps. It requires a bit of practice to get successful shots so it’s best to fire some shots in quick succession so you increase your chances of getting the shot. Don’t do this all the time though. It’s always best to allow the subject to know you are actually photographing them to create that connection between subject & photographer. This is important even in street photography.

Develop thick skin!

Street photography really is about battling it out with yourself. Pointing a camera at a complete stranger without their consent can be viewed as a violation of social norms which can make the subject feel uncomfortable. Being the photographer taking the photo can make you feel like a complete creep. I constantly battle with this every time I bring my camera out for street photography. Here are a couple of tips that I use when I go out street shooting with a big camera…

1. Make eye contact with your subject. Don’t look away. Smile & nod your head. Lift the camera to your eye, compose & take your shot. Smile again & nod once more. You’d be surprise how this works most of the time.

2. You’re not going to die if someone puts up their hand & says NO. Just stop what you’re doing & say sorry or nod then be on your merry way.

3. Like what I mentioned above, use a wide-angle lens. The wider the better. Shooting with a long lens doesn’t make you more confident, it turns you into a creep! 200mm lenses aren’t meant for street photography, they are meant for stalkers & peeping toms.

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6 responses to “Street photography with a big camera”

  1. nonoymanga says :

    Good read. Thanks for sharing Nonoy Manga

  2. alessandro ciapanna says :

    good tips. now i want to go poke my camera in people’s faces 😉

  3. Octav Zaharia says :

    “Use a small & short focal length lens

    The shorter the better. Try not to use anything longer than an 85mm on a full frame sensor camera.” why short focal, 85mm is small, 105mm or 135mm are small, zooms are usually bigger primes are not that big, i would say the focal distance doesn’t matter, what it matters is to be small.

    • Adrien says :

      I think the whole point of it all is that wide angle lenses let’s you get intimate & close to the action, as opposed to an image captured using a long telephoto lens. So the longer the lens, the feeling of distance & being detached from the subjects you are trying to capture. With a wide angle lens however, there is no doubt of an emotional connection between the subject & the photographer. For me 85mm is as long as I will go for shooting street photography.

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