Does capturing honest and colorful moments that most people tend to overlook strike a chord with you? If so, we suggest you try your hands at street photography. However, before you begin, you must know that to convincingly translate everyday life on streets onto a photo paper requires the selection of a good street photography lens. As an advertising slogan for a popular lens brand aptly stated, “[If] you didn’t compromise on your camera, you shouldn’t on your lenses.”
With the plethora of choices available, understanding camera lenses becomes important as it can affect both how a shot is created and how the final image will look. Expert street photographers prefer the standard lens, also called prime or normal lens, as it captures an image that is similar to the human eye, yet inundated with details.
What Street Photography Lens should You be using?
Before you set sail, you should know what characteristics make a normal lens the best for street portraits. Look out for these characteristics when purchasing your street photography lens.
- They are small, and therefore lightweight and unassuming
- Reduce the bulk of your equipment
- Help you click people without conspicuously pointing your camera at them
- They have a fixed focal length
- Help you click the cursory moments on streets without wasting time on setting the appropriate focus
- Allow you to always be click-ready so your subject does not get separated from your photo
- T hey have excellent optical quality
- Are sharper and optically superlative than their zooming counterparts
- Allow light to get to the sensor with less degradation
- They ha ve a wide aperture (f1.4, f1.8, or f2 and sometimes even f0.95)
- Improve the effectiveness of the camera’s autofocus system when working under dim light conditions
- Help you gain a selective focus on your subject
- They make you more creative
- Force you to make do with limitations, which makes you more creative
- Make you adjust your position in accordance with your subject to make a good composition, which usually results in better captures
Now you have acquainted yourself with the features of a standard camera. And you now know what to look for in a street photography lens, read on to understand which focal length is ideal for you (experiment and try out what works for you).
Different Focal Lengths of Lenses
If you are shooting with a compact or point-and-shoot camera or using the LCD screen, a 28mm focal length lens is apt. In such cases, you generally frame your scene by stretching your arm forward. Consequently, your framing will be tighter compared to when you hold your camera next to your face.
You can also use a 24mm, a 17mm, or even a 10mm fisheye. However, too wide a lens causes distortion in the edges of the frame, making your subjects look strange and flaky. The fix is to shoot from 0.7 meters to 1.2 meters (about one to two arm-lengths away) to fill the frame. Moreover, you have to be really close to your subject to make them the focal point.
But if you do not get intimidated by proximity to your subjects in order to fill the frame, you can try these focal lengths. You have to be very conscious of what to include or exclude from the composition and at the same time avoiding negative space around the edges of the frame.
When used well, focal lengths less than 35mm can produce amazing results because the closer you are to the main subject, the more impact your photograph can make. Your shots can take your street photography to another level.
- Nikon 24mm f/2.8
- Canon 24mm f2.8
- Sigma 24mm f1.8
As the focal length of the human eye is approximately 40mm, therefore, 35mm almost comparative to our natural field of view. Therefore, most street photographers use this focal length as they acquire greater flexibility in creating interesting compositions.
With a wider focal length, the background also becomes important. You can create a relationship between your subject and their surroundings. It is advised that with this focal length, you should shoot around 1.2 meters away (roughly two armsʼ lengths away).
- Nikon 35mm f/2
- Canon 35mm f2
- Sigma 35mm f1.4
Also called the “Nifty Fifty,” or the versatile lens, it is considered the best lens for street photography. There is barely any distortion. If you have to buy only one lens to start with, go for this one. It provides much better light-gathering capability than a zoom lens.
You can try the f1.8 versions because of their price and also because of their sharpness, which causes minimal distortion. A little on the higher side in terms of cost, the f1.4 or f1.2 versions are suitable when frequently work under dim light conditions.
- Nikon 50mm f/1.8
- Canon 50mm f1.8
- Sigma 50mm f1.4
At times you need a longer focal, for example, to shoot the street from a certain elevation or from across the street to save yourself from getting run over by traffic, or when you don’t want to intimidate strangers while shooting them, or when shooting from the top of a fairly high bridge.
In such cases, you can use 85mm or 90mm. The wide aperture lets you use a shallower depth of field. You can blur the background and bring greater attention to the subject’s face or body language.
- Nikon 85mm f/1.8
- Canon 85mm f1.8
- Sigma 85mm f1.4
How to Use Your Crop-Sensor Camera (1.6 Crop)
If you are using a camera with a Micro 4/3 or APS-C size sensor, multiply the camera’s crop factor with the focal length to get the equivalent focal length. For example, when you mount a 30mm Sigma f/1.4 lens on a camera with a crop factor of 1.6x, you will get an equivalent focal length of 48mm, which qualifies as a standard or normal focal length. The following are the focal lengths for a crop-sensor equivalent to the full-frame lens:
- 24mm (equals roughly 38mm)
- 17mm (equals roughly 27mm)
- 35mm (equals roughly 56mm)
Zoom or Prime Lens
An alternative to normal Zoom lens is the Prime lens. When picking out a lens you come across these two types you could choose depending on the situation or your style. Zoom lenses allow you to get closer to your subject from a further distance. Prime lenses are basically non-zoom lenses, and they put a constraint on your freedom to capture a subject, forcing you to get creative and find new angles, positions, and frames.
Using a Prime lens could result in a completely different result than you would have got with a zoom lens. Both, if you use them correctly, can be excellent street photography lens.
Must need Tips for Street Photography
Finding the right street photography lens is only the start. Once you have acquired it, you can start on your composition and experiment. Here are some tips you could use.
- Find an interesting spot where you can be at ease and get inspired. Wait for the right moment to record the perfect emotion.
- For more candid pictures, shoot the subject from the hip to capture the desired passion.
- Smile and greet the people to lighten the mood and atmosphere around. Strangers often give you a weird look when you are randomly capturing someone.
- Street photography has various moods up its sleeves like humor, irony, sadness, anxiety, and contentment. Bring out the various facets of everyday life by juxtaposition. Look for signs or people which are contradictory to each other.
- Do not worry about the image quality. High resolution is not important in street photography. Pay attention to composition, light, drama and the story you want to convey.
- Street photography is all about having fun. Without that, you cannot get inspired to renovate the ordinary day-to-day life into a masterpiece.
- Streets are highly unpredictable and every moment worth capturing is short-lived. Be ready to shoot at very short notice.
- Prefer shooting in manual exposure settings. Street photography is spontaneous, and you cannot afford to change the shutter speed or aperture again and again.
To summarize, choose your street photography lens wisely; even if you upgrade your camera, great lenses will always remain great lenses. The longer you get comfortable using one focal length, the better you will master it. You will start to fit the world into that focal length and can frame a scene without even thinking about it. You will master your knowledge about the edges of your frame, so you will not need to crop your photos ever again. In a nutshell, you will improve your composition and create better photographs.
So get hold of your camera, venture out into the realm of the unknown, and start capturing ephemeral moments with the sincerity it demands. And don’t forget the most important rule of street photography: always keep your camera with you. The choicest street photography opportunities always come when you least expect them.
Also read our article on Exploring Streets with Art: Street Photography and Quick Tips .
Do not forget to share your favorite pictures and stories with us.