In Defense of Telephoto Lenses for Street Photography

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What is street photography? The question is controversial, that’s for sure. The first problem arises when trying to define it.

Street photography is a type of photography that features subjects in candid situations within public places such as streets, parks, beaches, malls, political conventions and other settings.

This seems to be something everyone can agree on… but it’s incomplete; it’s ambiguous. What, then, makes street photography different from simple candid photography or voyeurism?

The article goes on to say:

Street photography uses the techniques of straight photography in that it shows a pure vision of something, like holding up a mirror to society. Street photography often tends to be ironic and can be distanced from its subject matter, and often concentrates on a single human moment, caught at a decisive or poignant moment. On the other hand, much street photography takes the opposite approach and provides a very literal and extremely personal rendering of the subject matter, giving the audience a more visceral experience of walks of life they might only be passingly familiar with.

Now we’re getting more specific, although still incomplete. Unlike basic candid photography, such as the mindless shots of people a tourist might take, street photography is meant to communicate something. As this second quote also suggests, however, how to best communicate is a contentious matter.

Old School

Much of the debate is over the “proper” or “best” aesthetic for street photography. Many photographers swear by greyscale and a wide depth of field, for instance. But I want to challenge the most basic tenet most serious street photographers will tell you: that you need a wide-ish or normal lens in order to do the genre properly, and that you need to get close.

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