Often the most striking or heart-warming images of society are a product of street photography – the art of capturing daily life, culture, and humanity, in a spontaneous or candid way. [Courtesy of Ted’s Cameras]
Having revolutionised photography during the 35mm film heyday, street photography has become hugely popular in the digital age. It can be a challenging, but incredibly rewarding form of photography. To document people in their everyday environment you have to be quick on your feet, patient, determined, and intuitive. Everyone has their own tips and tricks for mastering this often-tricky art form, including what gear and lens is best for the job.
While some photographers go for a wider-angle lens, the team at Ted’s Cameras would like to argue that a 50mm lens is the best lens for capturing stunning street photography. Why? It’s an incredibly accessible lens, with a wide range of brands and aperture on the market, often at a low price point. In addition, its “normal” field of view, light weight, and minimal distortion make it ideal for both on-the-go photography and beginner photographers.
Here’s a guide to using a 50mm lens for street photography, plus some tips on how to get that perfect shot:
1. You’ll get a natural, life-like field of view
When shooting with a wider or longer lens, you often see something you want to shoot, raise your camera to take the shot, and then have to re-compose. This wastes time you can’t afford to lose in the hustle and bustle of the street.
Shooting with a wide-angle lens can often create far too much blank space around your subject, if you’re unable to get close enough to shoot. Telephoto length lenses do the opposite, sometimes providing too tight a crop, removing some of the vital details that make street photography successful in the first place.
In contrast, the 50mm focal length was once considered standard before the zoom revolution. It’s close to being what’s considered a “Normal” field of view – similar to what the human eye sees. As a street photography tool, this makes it easier for you to visualise and compose your shot before you even raise your camera to your eye – highly useful when spontaneity is the aim of the game.
2. You can keep some distance between you and your subject
It’s never easy to take photographs in a public place for the first time. People can become wary of being photographed unexpectedly and in turn, your own discomfort can lead to rushed images or missed opportunities.
The 50mm focal length is a great middle ground lens, saving you from having to get too close your subjects and risk distracting them, while also giving you the space to experiment with your composition and get the perfect shot.
3. Wider lenses often distort
Many photographers will plead their case for a wider-angle lens being best for street photography, such as something in the 28mm range. While these lenses do have their benefits, they also inherently distort – making the results tricky to control and leading to distracting lines within images. Part of the appeal of the 50mm lens is the fact that it distorts very little as a rule.
4. The 50mm lenses provide great quality at affordable prices
While wider angle lenses tend to distort images, particularly in the corners, even the cheapest of nifty-fifties provide a decent distortion control and pleasing image quality overall.
Because 50mm lenses are considered easy to design and produce, manufacturing prices stay low. This means you can get a great lens for a great price, with plenty of room left in your budget.
5. The 50mm lenses are lightning fast
Taking a look at the budget 50mm offerings on the market, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the maximum aperture ratings. Even the cheapest 50mm lens will feature a maximum aperture of around f/1.8, whereas a similarly fast wide angle or zoom lens would come at a much higher price. This is great news for those shooting in low-light or wanting to produce nice bokeh.
6. Choosing the right 50mm for you
When choosing the best lens for your camera, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to 50mm lenses – with most major manufacturers providing a great range of options for all budget levels. Even your base 50mm f/1.8 lens will be a good starting point for you to try your hand and get a feel for the famous 50mm focal length, and these offerings are cheap! When you spend a little more, you’re likely to get better image and build quality – plus a faster maximum aperture so you can toy with your depth of field and shoot comfortably in low-light conditions.
If you’re shooting with an APS-C format DSLR, keep in mind crop-factor and understand that you should purchase a 35mm lens if you want to experience the “Normal” 50mm field of view. Similarly, for Micro Four Thirds you’ll need a 25mm lens.
Street photography is all about thinking on your feet and responding to the moments of daily life that move you. With the right 50mm in your hands, you’ll be well on your way to capturing those moments in an emotive, natural way.
To learn more about how to choose the right lens for your camera, head to your local Ted’s Cameras store for a chat with one of our friendly experts!