7 Focal Lengths to try for Street Photography
Manufacturers’ lens lineups are growing all the time, and the options can be overwhelming. The decision is perhaps even harder for street photographers who want to be creative and expand on the 35 mm focal length, which, although relevant, isn’t the best option for unique images. But what is? Though there are many focal lengths applicable to street shots, 7 stand out as a street photographer’s dream.
Note: all focal lengths are in full-frame 35mm terms
Lens 1: 16mm ultra wide-angle
Ultra-wide lenses are perhaps most often used by landscape and architectural photographers, although they can produce compelling street images, too. A large, expansive scene presents what feels like a view of an entire city, with incredible detail and subtlety across your image. You can also use a lower ISO and shorter exposure times (theoretically, as slow as 1/16th of a second), as well as compose with ease. It’s the perfect focal length for dramatic street photography.
Lens 2: 24mm wide-angle
The 24mm focal length is a favorite of documentary photographers — and with good reason. It provides a perfect compromise between the 16mm wide-angle above and the classic 35mm format. It’s a brilliant choice if you want to fill the frame with your entire subject, or if you want to take a low perspective. You can find some exciting and impactful shots with a 24mm lens that would be impossible to capture otherwise.
Lens 3: 35mm standard
The 35mm lens has long been the most popular lens amongst street photographers, partly because it mimics the perspective of the human eye perfectly. It presents a very natural and effective way of showcasing your street images. Find an interesting perspective for more interesting shots — this is a commonly overused focal length, but new and different images can still be made.
Lens 4: 50mm standard
The 50mm lens is possibly the second most popular lens choice amongst street photographers. It allows for lifelike renderings of both full, 35mm-esque scenes and portraits. Also, there are near-infinite lens options around, and they are sold for very reasonable prices. 50mm is a very good way to go if you’re on a budget.
Lens 5: 85mm medium telephoto
85mm is the classic focal length for portrait photographers, and there are endless size, weight, and price options. Although it’s a difficult choice if you’re looking to capture wide, classic street photography scenes, it is an excellent focal length to employ if you want portrait-style shots in your portfolio.
Lens 6: 105mm telephoto
105mm is another useful portrait focal length, and there are some very fast-aperture options on the market for those who favor low-light or fast shooting. It’s a frame-filling option for anyone who wants evocative portrait images take on the street.
Lens 7: 300mm telephoto
The 300mm lens isn’t exactly a conventional street photography lens… in fact, it’s the opposite. This focal length isn’t about composing street images but about creating city and architectural compositions with people in them. Is that layers of buildings with a street crossing in front? Is it a sea of umbrellas, as viewed from a high vantage point? Try this one — you’ll be surprised.
Bonus Lens: Anything you want!
Any lens that you think will give you interesting, unique images is a lens that you should get! It doesn’t matter if it’s a conventional choice for your genre (I use a 150–600mm super-telephoto lens for landscape photography). What matters is your creative approach, and your unique style.
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