Getting close and personal

One of the great things about street photography is that it gives us a way of connecting with people. In a way, I think that is what we really want when we decide to take on street photography, to develop our ability to connect with people. Being a street photographer allows you to do that because it forces you to be aware of people’s emotions and reactions. But to capture that, we must get close.

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Robert Capa

Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, New York, NY. 1/500 f8 at 16mm. (C) Juan Jose Reyes

One easy way of accomplishing  this is by using wide-angle lenses. Wide angle lenses force you to get close to people. It gives the photograph a completely different feel as opposed to a picture taken with a zoom lens. Besides the fact that it almost feels like cheating, shooting with a long lens will prevent you from getting the real satisfaction that we are looking for which is getting close to people.

A few questions to ask ourselves when taking pictures are: “Am I looking at life from a distance instead of getting immersed in it?” What would happen if I get close to people”? The challenge we all have is to overcome the fear of getting close to people. And I think that applies to photography and to life also. Your pictures always reflect your personality.

“There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.” ~Ernst Haas

Harlem, New York, NY. 1/500 f4 35mm. (C) Juan Jose Reyes

Street photographer Helen Levitt for example had a very shy personality and that was reflected in her pictures. She photographed a lot of graffiti and children on the streets (both non threatening ) and when confronting other subjects she did it with a right angle viewfinder called the Winkelsucher which allowed her to photograph sideways so the subject was  unaware about being photographed. On the other extreme is street photographer Bruce Gilden who got literally in people faces and took their picture with flash basically announcing wide open that he was taking their photographs.

It is up to us to find what our style is. I would assume that most of us are probably somewhere in the middle but it all comes down to how it feels to you. If it just feels comfortable then there is probably more room to grow. Feeling comfortable produces average pictures. Getting close gives the picture more visual impact.

Street party in Calle Ocho, Miami, FL. 1/125 f2.8 35 mm. (C) Juan Jose Reyes

Try wide-angle lenses and get close to people. You’ll be amazed how much your pictures will improve and I can almost guarantee that you will be more satisfied with your experience on the streets.



2 thoughts on “Getting close and personal

  1. For me, the fascination in street photography is getting to record the “fabric” of life with all its multi-faceted dimensions. As for making the connection to people, it’s really when I get home and review my shots that I get immersed in the possibilities of their stories.

  2. The basic observations I have gathered about getting close to people is, if the people are being present in a place where a special event is taking place, a simple smile is usually enough to get their tacit permission because they know the event will be filmed or photographed. In other situations where people seem puzzled by my presence with a camera, I explain to them why I am taking pictures of them or of the place where they are.

    The most important thing for me in street photography is knowing why you’re there and being able to explain it simply. Because of my personality, my explanations are brief but also somewhat philosophical and poetic.

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