I like to tell the story about the first time I posted a photo for critique in the Sharktank of lightstalking.com. I knew it was not a perfect photo. There is no point in putting your “perfect” photo up for critique. It can only end badly. I comforted myself with the certainty that, at least I knew how to do one thing right. I surely was an expert in cropping a photo. Famous last words. Years later, I have a new rule. Before I post, I try one final crop to bring the subject closer.
You can see the first crop that I did on this picture of a woman and her child in Quito.
Almost any article written about how to take street photography includes the advice to “get close”. A particularly helpful article, 7 Habits of Boring Street Photography, written by Forrest Walker for PetaPixel lists “Too far away” as Boring Habit #2. His argument in PetaPixel is literally to get close. Using a zoom lens may get you close to the subject, but it flattens scenes. Distance flattens scenes, even for our eyes. It is hard for your viewer to feel a part of a distant scene.
The first street photographers used focal lengths of 35 to 50 mm. If you are shooting with a mobile device, you are using a 30 mm focal length, approximately. I do not regularly shoot with a 30 mm focal length lens. Like many street photographers, I am shy about being caught taking a picture of a stranger. I am more in my comfort zone if there is a little distance between me and my subject. So, while 30 mm is too close for me, I am very comfortable using a lens with an 80 mm focal length. That often puts the subject pretty far away. I get a lot of “environment” in the picture.
As much as I am drawn to environmental street photography, which is taking pictures of people in their environment, apparently my idea of a suitable amount of environment exceeds my viewer’s idea. I actively seek critique in various ways, and the most common push-back that I get is that I should use a closer crop. Hence the new rule, always try one last tighter crop.
If you are going to crop most pictures, there is an argument to use the biggest image file setting for your camera that is possible. If I shoot in Raw, my 4/3rds Olympus camera shoots a maximum 20 megapixel file. That is absolutely the smallest number of megapixels that I am comfortable with, so I always shoot in Raw, which yields the largest file size. If you are making the choice to shoot jpeg files, by all means choose the largest jpeg file setting possible.
Go back to five of your street images and crop as much as you possibly can. How do you feel about the tighter crops? If you post a picture with a tight crop on Instagram or Facebook, please add the hashtag #dbwstreet so that I can see the post.