It’s a piece of advice you’ll hear over and over again, especially in Street Photography: “Get closer and you will get a far more intimate and interesting image.” In practice it can be terrifying to raise your camera when you are within arms length of someone and there will be absolutely no doubt that you are taking a picture of them.
I have been experimenting with a cheap 18-55 plastic kit lens that I got with my Nikon D50. Holding the camera against my chest with the lens wide on 18 I can get really close to people and catch them completely unaware, especially when walking through a crowd.
But recently I’ve wanted to get closer and with my 50mm f1.8 and at eye level. I tested a Nikon D7000 before eventually deciding to buy, it’s much quicker than my D80 and also the shutter is quieter, so on a journey home one evening I was getting bolder and closer. On the tube there was a beautiful blonde girl with headphones standing 3ft away. In the shot she looked straight down the lens and it’s safely the best street portrait I’ve ever taken.
The best places to do this are where the rules of personal space have been suspended due to practicality, like a tube or bus. So far I’ve only had one real complaint, I really get inside people’s comfort zone and I was shooting in a tube station. A few people have asked me what the moral implications are of my street photography, what gives me the right to take pictures of people on the street? Usually I just say if they are out in public then there is no issue. I never cast anyone in a bad light so why would anyone object? So what would I say about getting this close? I don’t really know, the subjects have a much greater opportunity to say if they don’t want their picture used as I am just as trapped on the tube or bus as they are. I don’t go out of my way to spark up a conversation with them after I have taken the image, but they would simply have to say they wanted me to delete the image and I would. It’s only happened once and I deleted the image on the spot.
A couple of days later I found myself opposite a stylish black girl, again with headphones, on a bus in Brixton. This time as I raised my camera her eyes swept across me and settled top left, another perfect shot: full of attitude, style and personality.
This is the way forward. The buzz you get from getting this close, provoking a reaction and walking away with a shot that pops with the very best of humanity in it’s many forms. I’ve gone from taking pictures of buildings to taking pictures of people and wondering why on earth I bothered with buildings at all, to not being happy with wider images of people and wanting to get in so close that not only do I see them, but they see me.