Shorter focal length for street photography



3 minutes


Street photography - two girls in red and white stripes holding hands

I’m starting to use a shorter focal length when I shoot on the streets. This lightens my gear and it also helps me to improve as a photographer.

I shoot four to six hours straight when I do my photo walks. The weight of the AF-S 70-200 mm f/2.8G VR II badly strained by wrist and back. So I decided to use the AF-S 50 mm f/1.4G instead.

The 50 mm lens is a lot lighter, smaller and it is faster lens. That makes it a very good choice for street photography.

Street photography - father and son with their scooters

This felt like taking step backwards. I don’t mean it in terms of a retrograde in my gear. I’m referring to the field of view. I was so used to the 70 mm to 200 mm field of view when shooting street photography.

Using the 50 mm felt like I took two steps backwards. It took me a while to become accustomed to using the wider focal length.

Street photography - man with a hat wearing shades and stripes

Street photography - tall man wearing shades and headphones

Without the luxury of zooming the lens, I had to move around to get the framing I wanted. The wider focal length forced me to move closer to my subjects.

One noticeable difference was how I was less intimidating compared to when I wielded the bulky telephoto zoom lens.

Street photography - two girls in red and white stripes holding hands

Street photography - boy being carried by his father

 If I were using a longer focal length, I wouldn’t have been able to capture this shot. With the 50 mm lens, I could capture a wide shot and then run nearer to them to get a closer shot.

Sure, I could move backwards with a telephoto lens but in street photography, there is a limit to how far back you can move. And the further you are from the subject, the more likely it is for other to walk into the frame between your lens and the subject.

I would have gotten a close up shot of the boy if I were using a telephoto zoom. With a standard focal length of 50 mm, I was able to capture more of the scene. Sure, it may lack the impact of subject isolation. But the additional elements give a sense of the environment and it does help to tell the story.

Street photography - boy wearing t-shirt that says vote me for president

Street photography - child in pram playing with iPad

I took a shot before this one but deleted it right after the shot as I knew it was a weak composition. It was from a higher perspective and made the boy look little. By bending down to bring my camera to his level, it made the image stronger.

In hindsight, I should have kept the previous photo so that I can juxtapose how the two perspectives showed very different views. I need to chimp less often and concentrate on shooting.

Street photography - man wearing a bear t-shirt

Street photography - man in broad-striped polo t-shirt looking at the camera

Street photography - street performer in Orchard Road

This elderly man performs every weekend in Orchard Road. From what I’ve heard, he’s doing it there illegally. He is a licensed street performer, but the license only permits him to ply his trade in Bugis, if I recall correctly.

The crowd in Orchard makes it a more worthwhile place to perform on Sundays. Apparently the difference in taking is worth him risking being caught. When the officers on patrol see him, they would request for him to leave and he would meekly comply.

Street photography - family in colourful t-shirts

Street photography - tourist looking at her camera

This is one bright and cheerful family on the left.

This tourist on the right stood there fiddling her camera for quite a while before she approached me. Her Ricoh point and shoot camera was having some problems. She asked if I knew what was wrong with it.

I checked the camera and concluded that it was a focussing issue. She must have knocked the lens or dropped the camera. It is a nightmare for a tourist for their camera to malfunction in the middle of the trip. I recommended that she pick up a new camera if she had the budget to. She did and she thanked me as she went off to shop for a new camera.

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