What is Street Photography ?
Primarily Street Photography is not reportage, it is not a series of images displaying, together, the different facets of a subject or issue. For the Street Photographer there is no specific subject matter and only the issue of ‘life’ in general, he does not leave the house in the morning with an agenda and he doesn’t visualise his photographs in advance of taking them. Street Photography is about seeing and reacting, almost by-passing thought altogether.
Street photography does not need to include people although it usually does. Situated in public environments which are often but not exclusively, urban – street photography is perhaps more easily defined as a method than a genre. Subjects and settings can vary greatly but the key elements of spontaneity, careful observation and an open mind ready to capture whatever appears in the viewfinder are essential.
The classic technique for street photography consists of fitting a wide (20mm on a full-frame camera) or moderately wide-angle (35mm) lens to a camera, setting the ISO to a moderate high speed (400 or 800), and pre-focusing the lens. Pre-focusing? How do you know how far away your subject will be. It turns out that it doesn’t matter. Wide angle lenses have good depth of field. If your subject is 10 feet away and the lens is set for 12 feet, you’d probably need to enlarge to 16×20″ before noticing the error, assuming a typical aperture. This is why the high ISO setting is important. Given a fixed shutter speed, the higher the ISO setting, the smaller the aperture. The smaller the aperture, the less critical it is to focus precisely
Street photographers traditionally will set the lens at its hyper-focal distance. This distance depends on the lens focal length and the aperture but the basic idea is that it is the closest distance setting for which subjects at infinity are still acceptably sharp. With fast film and a sunny day, you will probably be able to expose at f/16. With a 35mm lens focussed to, say, 9 feet, subjects between 4.5 feet and infinity will be acceptably sharp (where “acceptable” means “if the person viewing the final photograph doesn’t stick his eyes right up against it”).
A modern alternative is to use a camera with a very high-performance autofocus system and a zoom lens, the Olympus OMD EM-5 id perfect for this sort of photography.
Many street photographers like to use rangefinder cameras but street photographs can be made on SLRs, four thirds systems, compact cameras and even Lomos or mobile phones! The ultimate street photography camera used by the masters is a Leica rangefinder M7 (analogue) and M9 (digital). We’re big fans of the Olympus PEN too! Choose a camera that you feel comfortable using and that allows you to react quickly when a picture appears in front of you.
You should also consider its weight and portability (you may be carrying it around all day) and how easily it allows you to blend into your surroundings. Many photographers find this ‘invisible’ approach works for them, although some like to get close to their subject which is also effective for the more confident photographer
Simply put, the main focus of street photography is taking the everyday and the mundane and making it into something unique and beautiful.