Diane Wehr Street Photography
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A Street Photography Blog

What Features Do You Need on a Camera Used for Street Photography?

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I am not a camera gear techie. I cannot recommend the best camera to use in street photography. But I can tell you the features that I use. If you have those features on your camera and you are not using them, you might give them a try. If you are looking to buy a camera for street photography, the features that I use might be a helpful starting list.

First and foremost, size matters. A smaller camera is definitely better. When I went to India, which as it turns out was my first street photography experience, I was using a Canon Rebel. It was huge. You cannot be a stealth street photographer with a huge camera in tow. Large cameras are too much trouble to casually take with you wherever you go. If there is no camera, there is no street photography.  Finally, it is not much fun to lug a heavy camera around hour after hour. It did not take me long to figure out that I needed a much smaller camera. Somewhat inadvertently, I ended up buying an Olympus 4/3rds mirrorless camera. For me, the learning curve to move from a DSLR to a mirrorless camera was an uphill battle. With the help of a how-to book, I finally made it. I am never going back.

Many of the pictures that I took with the Canon Rebel on this trip to India were taken from a boat or a bus, because there was no chance to be a stealth photographer.

Many of the pictures that I took with the Canon Rebel on this trip to India were taken from a boat or a bus, because there was no chance to be a stealth photographer.

 Right up there with size is the convenience of a live screen. Most DSLRs have a play back screen. Having a live screen means you can use the screen to take the picture. It is never convenient to take street photography with your camera up to your face. The possibility of getting a candid shot is just about zero, unless you are using a telephoto. If you do that, your pictures tend to lose an immediacy that is desirable in street photography. In addition, you can’t use the focusing procedures you use for almost all other kinds of photography. Your subject is not in a predictable place in the screen and most definitely does not wait for you to adjust to the right focal point.  I put my meter setting on either spot metering or center-weighted metering and touch the live screen where I want the focal point to be, most often a face. It is a very discreet, fast process.

 If you are going to use a live screen, you need a tilt screen, also known as a flip screen, for street photography. If you do not have a tilt screen, you lose the significant advantage of shooting unobtrusively because you have to bring the camera up far enough, almost to eye level, to see the screen.

This was taken from a relatively low position because which is easy with a flip screen.

This was taken from a relatively low position because which is easy with a flip screen.

I use a lens with a Focal Length of 24-80 mm, f/2.8. Most of my pictures are taken with the lens zoomed to 80mm, but I use the whole range of Focal Lengths.  The f/2.8 allows as much light as possible into the camera. 

Many consider it a good practice for a street photographer to use a fixed lens. I find it helpful to use a zoom. This was taken with an effective Focal Length of 68mm. Most often I shoot with an effective Focal Length of 80mm.

Many consider it a good practice for a street photographer to use a fixed lens. I find it helpful to use a zoom. This was taken with an effective Focal Length of 68mm. Most often I shoot with an effective Focal Length of 80mm.

It is certainly harder for me to keep things level when I am using a tilt screen. I am fairly convinced that a picture taken on level, even when there are no horizontal or vertical lines in the picture, is compositionally better than a non-level picture. If it is not level and you have to rotate it in post processing, you may lose valuable parts of the scene. My camera has the option to put a small level on the shooting screen. I almost always choose that option.

You always have to fight the sense of a building leaning. There is no need to add onto the problem with a picture that is fundamentally unlevel.

You always have to fight the sense of a building leaning. There is no need to add onto the problem with a picture that is fundamentally unlevel.

I also have the option to have a histogram on the review screen. I definitely use that. In the moments after I have taken the picture and the review screen shows, I can tell whether I need to change my exposure.  If the exposure is not right, I most often can adjust it by turning the dial that controls exposure compensation.

This is an unretouched photo of a member of Hare Krishna in Ljubljana. The histogram at the bottom left was what I saw in the brief moments of review after I took the picture. I knew I had gotten the light right.

This is an unretouched photo of a member of Hare Krishna in Ljubljana. The histogram at the bottom left was what I saw in the brief moments of review after I took the picture. I knew I had gotten the light right.

 As I have gotten to be more determined to shoot pictures in close proximity, I have begun to use the facial recognition focusing option on my camera. The camera will focus on a face that is less that about 6’ away. When the focusing square appears, I just press the shutter release. Because I always use the option of a silent shutter, truly no one is the wiser.

I absolutely could not get this picture without using the facial recognition focusing feature on my Olympus.

I absolutely could not get this picture without using the facial recognition focusing feature on my Olympus.

 Finally, I am glad that my Olympus camera is water resistant, perhaps even water proof. In some ways, the worst weather provides the best the opportunity for street photography.

It was, as they say, “raining cats and dogs” but I was not worried about my camera.

It was, as they say, “raining cats and dogs” but I was not worried about my camera.

 In summary, I shoot with a small, water resistant camera that has a live tilt screen with the following features: (1) facial recognition (2) a level on the shooting screen (3) a histogram on the playback screen and (4) a silent shutter. I use an f2.8 lens that zooms from 24mm to 80 mm.

 Exercise

Are you using any of these features in your street photography? What other features of your camera do you use?

 
Diane Wehr12 Comments