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Street Photography And Telephoto Lenses: A Challenge That Works

The milk carton golfer. 90mm – Image credit: Napier Lopez

Very interesting post by Napier Lopez on PetaPixel about street photography, and about telephoto lenses used for this purpose. The focal lengths that are normally recommended (and used) for street photography are roughly between 28mm and 50mm. And there is a good reason for that: focal lengths of 35-50mm are more or less equivalent to the perspective humans have, i.e. they correspond to the angle of view of our eyes. That’s why a 50mm lens is called “normal”; according to Wikipedianormal lens is a lens that reproduces a field of view that generally looks “natural” to a human observer under normal viewing conditions. Everyone who is into street photography (I am) has his own recipe on that matter, and telephoto lenses may appear to be not the best choice for street photography. Indeed, they are a powerful tool for that purpose, yet not necessarily easy to use. I am often using telephoto lenses when I am out to shot on the streets, mainly to shot candids.

The post, in the authors words, tries 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“. The article tackles the following points in regard to street photography and telephoto lenses:

  • Shooting candid: with a telephoto lens you can take pictures without getting noticed
  • The artistic element you may add to your pics due to the background flattening effect of telephoto lenses
  • Z-Axis and perspective. This one is very interesting (check the picture above) Quoting Lopez:
    • People generally think of telephoto lenses as capturing less space than a wide angle lens for a given framing, but this isn’t totally true. If you’re framing your subject similarly, the compositional space you lose on the 2D plane, you can essentially regain on the Z axis. Meaning, since you have to stand further from your subject for equivalent framing, you get more space in between the camera and your subject to work with, space that so often goes unused. Although photography is a 2 dimensional medium (usually), that doesn’t mean the option to express yourself through the third dimension isn’t there. It just takes a little more work.
  • You are not loosing the intimacy and the human element just by using a telephoto lens

An article that’s absolutely worth to be read, even if street photography is not among your main interests. You can follow Napier Lopez on 500px.

[via PetaPixel]
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