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Street Photography Gear

Updated: Apr 8, 2020

Hello everyone thank you for stopping by my blog. If you are interested in street photography and learning a little bit more about some of my very best tips and tricks then you have come to the right place. Of course there are different styles of street photography but in this article we will assume that you are interested in capturing human beings in their natural element and to some degree, capturing their portraits.

People dancing in the streets of Toronto during a festival in Kensington Market.
Dance Off!

In today’s blog, let's talk about the gear that you will need to be successful in street photography. Now understand that this is only my opinion and others may have a completely different idea of what gear you should possess for street photography. So for that reason I will explain what type of gear that I use and why. Then I will go over some other types of equipment that I think you could use as an alternative.

For most of my street photography I am using a Sony a6000 which is an APS-C crop body camera with a Sony 35mm f1.8 lens. What I like most about this camera is that it's very small and compact. It’s lightweight and can easily be worn around my neck, in a belt, or even in a purse (if I carried one). There are two very important reasons why having a small compact camera in street photography is important. This is especially true when shooting people. 

The first reason for having a small camera is that you look inconspicuous. Let's be honest for a second. Street photography is about capturing people in candid situations. Sometimes this means getting in their face or certainly in the direct line of fire. Now I have found that shooting with a small compact camera seems to be less threatening to the people passing by and the people that I'm capturing. I think I would run into a lot more angry people and potentially bad situations if for example, I was carrying a heavy DSLR with a medium to long telephoto lens.  The reality is with a camera like that on the street... you kind of look creepy and maybe a bit pervy too. My honest apologies to anyone shooting this style with a massive lens and camera combo. I just think that size matters (pun intended). 

Great looking older black gentleman walking down the sidewalk. I snapped a quick candid shot of the man while in Toronto. Edited by Mr Brian James for color with Adobe Lightroom.
Ya Man!

The second reason that I really enjoy shooting with a small compact camera like the Sony a6000 is because of its size and its ability to shoot quickly. I can raise the camera, snap 10 photos on burst and then walk away as if I was minding my own business all along.

Many people do not even realize that I'm carrying a camera because it is so small. Now that's not to say that I never shoot with my Sony A7 II because I do on occasion. That too is not an extremely large camera by any means. Sony mirrorless and other companies like Canon, Nikon and Panasonic have done an extremely nice job keeping these cameras small and lightweight.

While I prefer Sony, it will be more cost effective for you to stay with the brand with which you already own lenses for. Now I am sure that there are professionals walking the streets right now with a huge DSLR taking 10 photos an hour. Maybe for argument's sake they are so good that three of those photos are print quality. However, I am not one of those photographers. I would rather snap 10 shots in one second, put my camera down and walk away. Then shoot another burst when someone catches my eye. Although I may go home after 1 hour of shooting with 1,000 images, I can quickly go through them using Adobe Lightroom and rate the photos that I like and simply delete the rest.

Now let's talk about my focal length. Typically when I'm shooting with a crop sensor camera, I like shooting with a 35mm focal length (a 52.5mm equivalent on a full frame camera). This is also the fastest lens that I have for an APS-C camera body. When I shoot with a full frame camera I like to shoot with a 50mm because that's the distance that I'm comfortable with on most occasions. This again will come down to your personal style and what you're comfortable with however, for me, I like to be somewhat close to my subjects but not right in their face.

You will see some street photographers use a very wide lens like a 24mm on a full frame camera but they literally have to get right in your face for any type of portraiture shots. I find that this makes people standoffish and uncomfortable. For that reason I don't recommend a wide lens like this. A lens like this could be useful however if you are trying to capture the entire scene and make the people in the frame less recognizable. 

Man eating alone at the Kensington Market in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. In the background you can see a sign for cheese. Edited for color in Adobe Lightroom by photographer Mr Brian James.
Cheese Please!

Let's quickly talk about aperture. Now I am not going to dive too deeply into this as I will cover it at a later time however, shooting very wide open or shooting closed down, is a personal preference. Of course if you have a lens like a 1.4 or 1.8 and you're trying to get that creamy buttery background then I would certainly tell you to use it. I would like to encourage you to think about that shot or think about the scenarios you will be faced with ahead of time. Get to know your camera and decide what makes sense for you.

Do you want to have more of the scene and the background in focus to help tell the story? Will the background be too distracting and take away from the subject that you're photographing? If you're shooting during the night then a fast prime lens will certainly be helpful paired with a decent shutter speed. Since I shoot quickly and capture many shots in a short time, I often find myself using aperture priority and keeping my finger on the wheel, sliding back and forth between 1.8 + 4.0. Just something to think about as you develop your own style. 

As promised, I said I’d cover other cameras in this article. Can street portraits and street photography be captured on a cell phone camera? The answer is 100% yes. As a matter of fact there are very talented and quite well-known photographers who use their cell phones for 90% or more of their shots. As of recently, cell phone cameras are getting much better results with image quality and shutter speed. I personally believe that a cell phone cannot replace what a mirrorless camera can do right now.

Certainly if a cell phone is all you have and you find that it meets your needs as a photographer or hobbyist, then I would say you certainly should continue using it. As an added bonus tip 📸 I want to point out that if you are shooting with a cell phone camera, some of the latest mobile phones will let you shoot with the  volume button on your headphones. So in the event that you are trying to capture people in their most natural element, you could literally stand in one spot with your phone up in one hand, headphone volume button in the other hand and be clicking away. No one would know the difference 😉. 

More to come soon. Leave me your thoughts if you found this helpful, if you have any questions or you have other suggestions that can help out the photography community.

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