Do You Really Need a Wide Angle Lens for Street Photography?

A key component for many street photographers is context in a scene. To many, an image without space in the frame for the setting may be considered as a portrait and not belonging to any particular genre or style. Street photographers are so focused on context they gravitate towards rangefinders that let you see outside the frame. This commonly held approach to street photography lends itself to the ubiquitous use of wide angle lenses.

Many street shooters want to capture both the primary subject and additional secondary subjects to complement or enhance a composition and provide context and setting. So, in considering this approach, what happens when you try using longer focal lengths for street photography? Faizal Westcott explores this question and explains how he is gravitating towards lenses that provide a tighter crop of a scene and how it’s transforming his approach to image-making. With so many YouTube channels focusing on street photography, this is a refreshing and interesting take, rethinking the gear you might reach for by default when heading out to shoot. I recently made a video where I attempted to use an 85mm prime as a walkaround lens for my style of street photography and found it wasn’t the right focal length for me. So, what do you think? Check out Faizal’s video, and if you haven’t yet, consider mixing up your focal lengths and see what you can come up with.  

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8 Comments
Hans J. Nielsen's picture

I think using a wide-angle lens for street photography has more to do with FoV in respect to how close your subject might be to you. With a wide-angle lens you have a bigger chance of being able to cover the whole of your subject, when the motive suddenly appears right in front of you.

With a tele lens you might have to take a step back to capture the scene, and then the moment might be gone.
And if your motive is far from you, you can always crop in afterwards. You can't crop out if a tele shot have cut of part of the motiv.

David Pavlich's picture

I used to use a 35mm for pretty much all of my street photography. But, I recently bought the 35-150 2.8/f4 version of Tamron's zoom. I haven't done any street stuff with it yet, but it should be quite nice. I'd like to get the f2/2.8, but it's a bit spendy for my photo bank account.

paul aparycki's picture

What a pointless, userless article.

Yes, we all understand you are "unique", an "artiste", you have a "vision" . . . well

. . . so do so many other people . . . and some/many will see the world at 20mm, or perhaps at 65mm? maybe 200mm?, some even at perhaps 500mm? . . . and they are wrong? because they don't agree with you?

The only lens anyone needs for street photography, is, well . . . any lens . . . that describes what the photographer in question sees or feels . . .

00rob00 Rob00Rob's picture

No but you need a camera...

Mike Dochterman's picture

I used to use a 35mm..... until I got a 28mm

Ricardo Yamamoto's picture

Thank you for the nice writing Lucy. My wide angle was a 28mm (used along with a 50mm) and for me it was mainly for creating a sense of depth through distorted proportions, or for tight spaces. The challenge was always to keep some harmony in the chaos of busy compositions while not letting the distortion become too conspicuous or unnatural. About longer lenses, they never worked for me on the street for the same reasons that you mentioned. Too bulky as well.