My name is Ryan, and I have been a street photographer and documentary filmmaker since 2012. Mirror shot is a street photography blog. Sharing my tips on getting started in street photography, advice on camera equipment and film recommendations.
Finding the perfect street photography camera can be difficult especially when you are looking for an affordable option.
First we have to ask what makes a camera great for street photography?
Size is important
We don't want a big clunky camera to be carrying round the streets. It makes you more noticeable, when shooting. Plus It's not as comfortable to carry around with you all.
All of these affordable street photography cameras mentioned below are fixed lens cameras, meaning you can't change the lens. That might seem like a downside but when you don't have to decide what lens to use you can focus on getting out there and shooting.
All of the cameras below are APSC sized sensor cameras. Meaning that there is slight 1.6x crop factor on the lens. All of the affordable street photography cameras below have 35mm equivalent or wider fixed lenses.
Let's get into the recommendations.
Ricoh GR II
The Ricoh GR series is a great option for an affordable street camera. Firstly is super small, has wi-fi so you can transfer images to your phone and edit on the go.
The lens is a 28mm 2.8 equivalent. This is the perfect focal length for street photography, it forces you get a little bit closer to your subjects to fill the frame.
If you are serious about street photography you will most certainly have heard of the Ricoh GR. It perhaps has somewhat of a cult following now. The size of this camera is perfect for a daily use camera, you can fit this in your jeans pocket. The APS-C sensor is packed into the little body along with the 28mm equivalent lens. This is perhaps the best way to get a fast 28mm camera and lens for use on the streets. One downside may be the lack of viewfinder, however you can get an external hot shoe viewfinder if required.
The Fuji x100 is a little bit larger than the Ricoh but has more manual control dials. This is great for quick setting adjustments on the street.
The fuji also has the benefit of a viewfinder, both rangefinder style and electronic. This obviously helps quick composition.
The lens is a 35mm equivalent lens. 35mm is great for street photography and environment portraiture. It's the perfect lens for travel photography too. Its a great all round lens.
I would recommend this camera to someone who perhaps already has DSLR for other commercial work or video content production. The Fuji X100F certainly isn't a one trick pony, I have seen some amazing results using this camera for wedding and portrait work. The fixed lens does however make me lean towards recommending this to someone who definitely wants to concentrate on street photography and wants to learn how to shoot the one 35mm focal length really well.
Sometimes the best way to get an afforable street photography camera is to do a bit searching on ebay for a great used deal. There are always plenty of Ricoh's and X100's going up on ebay. Remember that a street photography camera is an investment and if you plan to use this camera daily it's worth taking time find the camera that will best suit your needs.
The Ricoh GR series is synonymous with the street photography genre. We have Eric Kim and Diado Moriami in part to thank for that.
Intrigued by what made these cameras so perfect for street photography, I took to the internet and spent time scouring different blog articles and watching lots of YouTube videos about all the interations of the Ricoh GR through the years.
I decided one day that I’d just have to get one and see what all the fuss was about.
My heart was set on the original Digital Ricoh GR, released in 2005. Their first iteration looks very similar to the latest model and that’s because the design has barely changed since the 35mm Film GR.
The GRD1 hosts a 6mm lens with 28mm equivalent. The sensor is 8.1 megapixels and the LCD display pixel count is nothing to write home about. Despite it's lack lustre specs by todays standards the camera feels tactile, solid and very ergonomic in the hand.
I took the streets with my little camera and started snapping.
The results in colour are not great. The images are grainy and there are weird colour artefacts.
However when you get those files into Lightroom, convert to black & white and crush the blacks you can get some amazing results.
That ISO grain looks ridiculously like natural film grain.
That why I love this camera. It has it's limits but it’s those limits that produce some fantastic looking images. You can't just bump up the ISO when the sun starts to set. You don't have the ability to hide the background with shallow depth of field. This camera forces you to work quicker and smarter.
When shooting with the Ricoh GRD 1 I set the snap focus to about 1m and the ISO to around 800 or higher to accentuate the grain structure. I barely ever use the digital display instead opting to raise the hotshoe to my eye and use it like a gun-sight to roughtly frame with the wide-angle 28mm lens.
After using this camera for a few years, I believe it's taught me so much about street photography. It's allowed me to forget about settings and focus on getting the picture I want.
Imposing limits on my creativity lead me to find new ways of making the camera work and produce images I loved.
The Ricoh is now of course almost 13 years old so youre only going to find it on eBay or other second-hand websites for around $100-$200. They hold their value fantastically.
There is however a great alternative if you want the same functionality but with a higher quality image. Not long after getting the GRD1 I got a new Ricoh GR Digital 16mp camera. This is an APSC sized sensor with an equivalent 28mm lens.
You dont get the same crazy film-like ISO noise, but you do get all the benefits of the GR system. The snap-focus and fast power-up makes it perfect for an everyday carry street photography camera.
A great wide angle lens is a very important part of your street photography kit. I personally love the 28mm focal length, but have also found a 35mm lens to be a great way to get started with wide-angle street photography if you are more used to a standard focal length like 50mm.
If you are using a Canon DSLR you have so many options for covering the 28mm focal length. Personally I alwasy try to buy lenses that can have multiple uses. I love street photography, but I also love documentary filmmaking. This lens would be a great choice for anyone intrested in Street Photography and Filmmaking as the Image Stabilisation feature of this lens is going to be very useful for stabilising your video work. The IS will also allow you to shoot in lower light situation letting you slow the shutter speed down and still get a sharp photography. Remember IS only stabilises the image, it doesnt stabilise motion of your subjects. So if you shoot with slower shutter speeds, IS will remove any handshake, but you will still get blurry shots if your subject is moving.
The Canon 28mm 2.8 IS features a Ultra Sonic Motor (USM) so it's almost silent when focusing, unlike some of the older Canon lenses that sound like there is a little bee trapped inside.
The lens is composed of 9 Elements in 7 Groups, featuring one Aspeherical element. Basically its a great quality lens composition that will reduce chromatic aberration and improve sharpness edeg to edge across the frame.
A key benefit to using this lens is the focal distance meter on the top side of the lens. So if you feel like pre-focusing, you can easily set the camera to Manual Focus mode and set your focus with the very smooth focus ring.
The Canon 28mm is optimised for full frame cameras, meaning that the image will be cropped if mounted to a Canon 80d, 7D or other APSC Canon bodies.
I have been a big fan of Fuji camera for street photography since the XPro-1. The lenses are outstanding! If you have any experience using the Fuji system you already know the quality is amazing. The Fuji 16mm is no different, it's a little pricey but this lens packs a bunch of features and the build quality is second to none.
On a Fuji mirrorless body, the Fuji XF 16mm f/1.4 WR becomes a 24mm equivalent lens. If your shooting style leans on the wider side (without getting into the crazy focal territory of the Rokinon 12mm f/2, another favorite of ours), you'll feel right at home. It's tailor made for contextual photographs, but you can squeeze 3/4 portraits out of this lens without unflattering distortion on your subject.
But this is a serious lens, built for people who take their photography seriously. With the Fuji XF 16mm f/1.4 WR, you hold legendary optics with a massive aperture and a versatile focal length housed in solid metal, dust and moisture resistant body. If you were planning on investing in your lens line up, I highly suggest you start with this one.
This lens for the MFT is simply insane in every way, it's big, its heavy and it's got incredible image quality.
I'm not always such a sucker for bokeh monster light gobbling lenses but this 17mm lens from Voigtlander is hard to ignore. It fills a much needed gap for true perfomance 35mm lens in the MFT line-up. Sure we have the 15mm Leica lens from Panasonic and everybodies favourite Olympus 17mm. But these lenses are either to expensive or dont quite fit the 35mm field of view that so many MFT users are searching for.
There are a few caveats, firstly you dont have auto-focus and secondly it's expensive.
If you are headin towards one-day owning a Leica M this lens provides a great stepping stone to the M-System. You can practice your manual focusing and zone focusing skills with the details lens barrel markings.
When it comes to taking portait photos this lens really perfoms well. The shallow depth of field that comes with the 0.95 aperture provide amazing background seperation and smooth and creamy out-of-foucs areas.
If you are heavliy invested in the MFT system this lens is a must have, fo photography and video work!
I have been using a Panasonic GX-80/85 for street photography for the past year. Previous to owning the GX80, I used a Canon 6D. I loved the image quality of the 6D but it is a large camera, I felt too obvious using it for street work.
The Panasonic GX80, is an interesting choice, I wanted a camera that could shoot high quality video and photos with a small form factor.
Small and Light.
This camera is super light, you could almost fit in a coat pocket with the 12-32mm kit lens. I wanted a camera that I could easy travel with, a camera that wouldn’t be burden to be an everyday carry.
It weighs 426g, weighty enough to feel secure in your hand, but not too heavy that it will be difficult to carry all day.
Although I'm not a fan of using the articulated screen for street photography it has come in very handy for the odd bit video I've shot with the camera.
They are very few limits on lens choice. You can attach almost any legacy lens. However for someone who likes wider angle lenses the x2 crop factor from the sensor size can be limiting. I’ve found that the included kit lens is great quality, perfectly acceptable for street photography if you enjoy shooting a higher apertures. I have a Canon FD speed booster adapter, I use this mainly when shooting video or more setup portrait shots.
My favourite part about the GX85 is the included kit lens. It's honestly amazing, the sharpness quality corner to corner is very good for a kit lens, the zoom range is brilliant too. Although I've been tempted to go for the 14mm 2.5 to get the 28mm equivalent the kit lens has been more capable of fulfilling my needs.
Coming from a full frame Canon 6D the change to a MFT sensor is quite shocking, of course I miss the ability to easily knock the background completely out of focus and push my iso to 6400 with no consequences, but I have to admit the MFT does perform very well when used within its limits. When shooting in good light the colours and sharpness is outstanding.
I miss the full frame pixel count, but the final image from the GX80 is perfectly fine for social media sharing and printing large size images.
Sometimes the camera under exposes though I think this could be more to do with the screen dimness have an effect on the chosen aperture.
You don’t get amazing dynamic range but it’s very acceptable.
Is this camera going to be your "forever" camera? I don't think it will be, but it certainly will be a great camera to learn the art of street photography, there are enough settings and features there to help beginners.
Owning the GX85 has been a learning experience, I've long been spoilt by full frame sensors and bokeh monster lenses. It's refreshing to use a camera like this for Street Photography, it feels more dynamic and less intrusive.
I think it is important to be clear about who influences your work, it can help form a path for you to follow, it clarifies your message and makes the process of actually getting out there and shooting easier.
For the past year I've been following the work of Andre Wagner, a photographer and artist who currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
It's obvious as soon as you look at his work that he draws his influence from Garry Winogrand, Gordan Parks and Robert Frank. His photographic style is timeless.
In this article I want to share a few lessons I've learnt from following Wagner's work.
1. Apply what you know
Andre Wagner, grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. He studied social work in university and in various interviews has mentioned how his background in social work feeds into his photography.
"I think my background in social work has a big impact on my work, maybe not visually but theoretically. Before one snaps the shutter, it starts with what the photographer thinks is important. When I’m working on a body of work, it always comes down to what it is I’m trying to say." ICP
Knowing why you want to press the shutter, is what helps build the story you are trying to tell. Otherwise it can become a collection process, just snapping everything and anything.
"Living in Omaha has definitely given me a framework as to how I think about the world, which influences how I see the world and that's gonna influence my pictures because I'm stuck with my own psychology and who I am. What interests me is what I'm gonna take photographs of so everything in my life impacts my work like living in Omaha or going to college or social work." The Fader
I think we spend so much time online dreaming of living other peoples lives. My dream is to be a photographer in New York, but that's someone else's thing, why do I want that reality?
What I've realised, is that everyone has a story to tell, every town, every city has potential. I've become more determined to tell my story through photography here in Belfast.
2. Find a process and stick to it
Andre Wagner has a very classic style, using a 28mm lens, Leica M6 film body and Kodak Tri-X. His images are poetic, the subjects always seem in motion, there is a natural energy in his photos that I believe, in part, comes from his dedication to a process.
He has decided to shoot black and white film and stick with it. Focusing on one single process and mastering that allows for more time and freedom in what you actually shoot.
"Part of it is because the process of shooting analog and looking back through old contact sheets is like reliving the moment the photo was taken in. It’s not like a digital camera, where you have an image right there. Spending a little bit more time means that it’s easier for me to select compelling images."
Shooting on film naturally means there is a delay in viewing those images, you may be able to get home develop and scan later that day, but there is something in the process of waiting and allowing time before developing and reviewing your work. You can distance yourself from them more and be more judgemental when selecting the most compelling images.
"For instance, if I shoot a roll today, develop it, and look at the images right away, then I’ll think, “All these images look great,” when most of them don’t actually look good."
"I try to be hard on myself while I’m editing because I shoot a lot, and if I don’t edit the work properly, then the quality and voice of it gets lost."
That extra distance from your work, leaving time before selecting and sharing images can feed into making the process of curating a show or book easier. It allows time for a story to develop.
"I’m interested in so much when I’m shooting because New York is so stimulating. This city is full of different cultures and languages, the unique ways people look and dress, structures, transportation, street life. I think about so much, and that’s how I shoot; I don’t count anything out. But when I go back and edit I try to narrow my focus. I ask myself, “Am I going to curate a show or a book, or am I trying to tell a specific story?” Once I decide on my focus, I look at my images with that in mind. I might think about that focus when I’m shooting if I’m working on a specific project, but in the day-to-day I shoot whatever catches my eye." The Great Discontent
As a photographer, I’ve dedicated myself to noticing what everybody else is missing. I show people what the world actually looks like. Street photography is so special because it’s about capturing everyday moments. It’s not produced. It’s not like I’m creating movie scenes or anything—I’m literally out reacting to the world. There is so much importance to that, and I enjoy taking pictures that way.
I love that, "Noticing what everybody else is missing" its part of what make photography so compelling, you are capturing moments that will be gone forever if they aren't photographed. I think Wagner's philosophy draws similarities to that of Winogrand who had this desire to photograph, simply to see what the world looked like photographed. Wagner goes further, he wants to capture those moments that have a truth, a story and a message.
3. Define yourself
I have a lot of respect for Wagner, for a while I couldn't quite put my finger on what made his work so attractive to me. I think it comes down to his element of "cool". There is a confidence that he carries, an awareness thatof goal in photography, to capture the poetic moments of life and capture what everyone else is missing.
Interestingly Wagner doesn't like the term street photographer, much like Winogrand.
"I think people often wanna categorize me as a street photographer and I hate that term because it's cheesy. Now, when people hear street photography most people think of street style like "Oh, you shoot fashionable people on the streets?" or they'll think "Oh, street photography! He shoots poor people on the street!" So you know, street photography has all these stigmas that are super lame. "Here's Andre Wagner, he does street photography" — like that's not helping the viewer get to a point to experience my work. I'd just be like "Hey, here's Andre Wagner. He's a photographer." My style is pure photography in the sense that I want images to be able to stand on their own. This isn't protest photography or photojournalism or street photography. These are photographs that Andre Wagner doesn't need to explain for the viewers to feel something from it." The Fader
The biggest lesson I have learnt from Wagner and what makes his work stand out from the very saturated street photography scene, is that he has a confidence in what he is trying to say with his work. There is no show or mystery, his work is pure, straight photography. It has a message, he doesn't have to define what that message is, it is clear and compels the viewer to form their own feelings from it.
My goal is to find the story I want to tell, I want to be able to present a body of work that speaks for itself. I want to be dedicated to a process and master that.
Firstly let me just preface this by saying that spending any amount of time shooting with a 28mm lens will make you a better street photographer. Here's why.
1. No Bokeh
When my love of photography began, I was very caught up in the search for creamy smoothy bokeh. It drove me insane, I was constantly shooting everything wide open, my pictures were soft and they had no substance.
Don't get me wrong shallow depth of field can be used in very effective ways, it's just that most beginner photographers get so engrossed in the shallow depth of field thing and the pursuit of faster and faster lenses that they lose sight of the important elements of photography.
Shooting with a 28mm lens means you are unlikely to get a very shallow depth of field without getting super close to your subject.
With more in focus, you will be forced to make choices on everything that is included in the frame.
If you shoot a 28mm lens at f8 pretty much everything will be in focus, meaning your background becomes important, so you have to think about what to include in the background and if that can help tell the story.
2. Get Closer
A 28mm lens is wide, wider than you're perhaps used to. It is not a great lens for traditonal portrait photography because it distorts, but that is exactly why its perfect for street photography.
The closer you get, the more realistic the image feels. It feels more and more intimate. It feels like you are standing right there in the scene.
I think it's important that our lens choices should be part of the story we are trying to tell.
A wide lens like a 28mm may be the common choice for those classic street photographers like Winogrand and Meyerowitz, but there is a reason why they work so well.
If you can make the viewer of your image feel like they took the photo, or they were standing there in that moment you've accomplished something most photographs never do. You make the image feel real, not just a pretty picture or a desktop background, but an image that draws you in, where a story unravels as you study it.
If I have one goal in street photography, it is to create images that tell a story and make you feel like you are standing in that moment again.
3. Build your Confidence
The closer you get the more likely you will be forced to interact with your subject, say hello, smile, ask them about their day. If it's in your character, shooting wider and getting closer will bring opportunities to talk with the people on the street and learn about their life.
4. Pre-Focus to 1.2 Metres
The wider the lens, the more comes in focus. With a 28mm lens you can stop it down to around f8 or f11 prefocus your lens to around 1.2 metres or 4ft and use the zone focusing technique to get everything in focus without having to adjust your focus every time.
Shooting this way means you will get tack sharp images every time. If you can spend less time worrying about settings, you have more time to worry about taking great photographs.
5. Include more detail in the Frame
Naturally with a wider lens, you are going to be able to include more in the frame. This gives you the opportunity to include more detail in the scene. Rather than a simple portrait where there is no context to the character, using a wider lens allows you to include background elements.
For example you could be taking photograph of a man in suit, but because you are using a 28mm lens, that extra wide angle gives you room to include the detail that he is sitting on a bus surrounded by people wearing very casual clothes, the detail in the scene has created the story, that this man is the odd one out.
Do I really need a 28mm Lens?
Good question, I think you have to examine what your goal is with street photography.
Are you trying to document a certain story, an ethnic group, an age group or gender?
What would your focal length choice contribute to that story?
A 85mm lens for your documentary photo essay about "Women" is going to make your images feel a little bit "stalker-ish". Simply because you are standing further away, the image background will be compressed and the potential shallow depth of field will isolate your subject.
Compare that to using a 28mm lens, the images are much more candid, there is more detail included in the scene and you are standing closer to the subject (less creepy than standing across the street).
For me if I could pick one lens to use for the rest of my life it would be a 28mm, It's just that simple.
Are there instances where a longer lens would be useful? Of course, but I'm happy to dedicate my photography to that simple story of realism, and I believe that realism can best be achieved with a 28mm lens.
If you currently have a zoom lens with 28mm in the range, set your lens to that focal length for a day and see how you get on. Immediately you'll feel too far away from your subject and you'll naturally start getting closer to the action.
Imagine what it would be like to spend your whole life taking photographs, hundreds of thousands of photographs and barely anyone sees them or notices them?
I've been exploring different street photography groups on facebook, all of them have thousands of photographers submitting their images everyday, some get hundreds of likes and comments, others only get a few.
It's very easy to fall into the thinking that your photographs are only worth the number of likes they gain.
That's what I love about Maier, she took so many images and rarely shared them with anyone, of course her work has now been discovered and gained popularity.
Many thousands of her negatives were bought in a auction, with hundreds more undeveloped rolls.
It was by chance that her work was discovered and the buyer invested his time into sharing her work online with the world.
When Maier was photographing, she did it for herself and her own enjoyment, she wasn't shooting to please her contemporaries.
How we view photographs has changed, social media is very important for sharing our work and finding fellow photographers, share ideas and become inspired by others work around the world. I think it's just important to remember that our photographs should first and foremost be for our own enjoyment.
2. Keep Taking Photos
How many pictures do you take in a week? It all depends on our schedules but it goes without saying, the more photos you take the better you will become. You may have heard of the 10,000 hour theory. That it takes that many hours to become a professional at whatever you’re choice subject is. I think that can apply to street photography too. With experience comes ability. Ability to seek out a good image.
Vivian shot prolifically. Hundreds of thousands of negatives and she even left behind undeveloped rolls of film.
If photography is your voice, if writing isn’t your thing. The images you leave behind are your legacy, it’s what you were trying to say about the world.
I believe Vivian did an amazing job of creating a legacy. She maybe never thought that her work would be discovered but that didn’t really matter to her. She just kept shooting, she needed that in her life.
3. Embrace your day job.
For the past 3 years I’ve owned and managed a coffee shop in Belfast. All of my time is poured into building the shop up. I had little to no time for street photography.
Until I realised that I could fit time in to write about street photography and create a community around the cafe for other street photographers to meet and share stories and experiences.
Our busy lives can be a barrier to carving out space for the passions we have or the hobbies we want to begin.
My belief is that you can find a way of telling your story through the time that you do have to photograph.
Maybe you could get up a little earlier walk to work one day a week, photographing your journey?
You could start to build a community of other street photographers in your area and organise meet-ups or photo-walks.
I love that Maier, found time whilst nannying to photograph the people she met whilst running errand with the children she cared for and on her days off.
I love that she turned her bathroom into a darkroom and dedicated her free time to develop.
If you have a passion for street photography you can find a way to fit time into the schedule for a short photo walk, starting a blog or simply organising your photos to compile a photo book.
The concept behind Mirror shot was to feature photographers from around the world, intervening them about their process and including the classic mirror-shot selfie as a profile picture.
Vivian Maier was prolific at taking mirror shots.
There’s something special about introducing yourself into your work in a literal way.
What makes your photography stand out against anyone else’s?
Including the self-portrait in your work or even alluding to your presence in a photo through reflection or shadow can add your own personal stamp.
5. Work Hard
You don’t get anywhere by not trying. It’s hard work to be dedicated to your craft. It’s hard work to have a vision and go after that.
I find the goal of street photography can be so vague and misguided at times.
What am I trying to accomplish in my work?
Am just trying to take humorous photos? Or am I trying to say something? Am I trying to tell a story?
It’s difficult to work hard if you don’t know what your goal is and what your mission statement is.
That goal can change, you can set a goal of shooting your first series of images for an exhibition or for a photo essay or book.
You can have a goal of telling the story of your city or town.
There are so many variations but ultimately I think it’s important to define what matters to you right now, what are you going to chase and work hard to complete.
It’s hard to know exactly what drove Maier to work so prolifically. Perhaps she had a goal in mind, perhaps she just wanted to leave a legacy. Whatever that drive was, it worked, she clearly enjoyed her work and continued to shoot, she was dedicated to her craft.
For that, she is an inspiration to everyone out there working silently and passionately.
If collecting photography books is your thing, I highly reccomend this book featuring a stunning collection of her work.
We view thousands of images everyday online, we have a constant feed on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Most of what we see online is digital noise, it is hard to find the good stuff in between the cat meme's and instagram comedian pages.
Thankfully there is a way to block out that noise and find inspiration in a printed book. So if you haven't bought a photography book before, here are my 3 affordable street photography books.
In this book, the authors explore and discuss the development of one of the most interesting and dynamic of photographic genres. Hailed as a landmark work when it was first published in 1994, Bystander is widely regarded by street photographers as the "bible" of street photography.
It covers an incredible array of talent, from the unknowns of the late 19th century to the acknowledged masters of the 20th, such as Atget, Stieglitz, Strand, Cartier-Bresson, Brassai, Kertesz, Frank, Arbus, Winogrand, and Levitt to name just a few.
In this new and fully revised edition, the story of street photography is brought up to date with a re-evaluation of some historical material, the inclusion of more contemporary photographers, and a discussion of the ongoing rise of digital photography.
First published in France in 1958, then the United States in 1959, Robert Frank’s The Americans changed the course of twentieth-century photography. In eighty-three photographs, Robert Frank looks beneath the surface of American life to reveal a people plagued by racism, ill-served by their politicians, and rendered numb by a rapidly expanding culture of consumption. Yet he also found novel areas of beauty in simple, overlooked corners of American life. And it was not just his subject matter – cars, jukeboxes, and even the road itself – that redefined the icons of America; it was also his seemingly intuitive, immediate, off-kilter style, as well as his method of brilliantly linking his photographs together thematically, conceptually, formally, and linguistically, that made The Americans so innovative. More of an ode or a poem than a literal document, the book is as powerful and provocative today as it was fifty-five years ago.
The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand is a masterfully curated selection of one hundred photographs from the Winogrand archive at the Center for Creative Photography, with each image accompanied by an original essay.
Garry Winogrand is often cited as the inspiration of many street photographers, including me! His style is flamboyant, precise, wistful and poetic. If you want a Winogrand book with many more images you should check out this book -> Garry Winogrand (Metropolitan Museum) its not always available but grab a copy when you can!
If you have been shooting film for many years or are just a beginner you have probably heard of Kodak Tri-X black and white film. As the price of film rises it seems to be pushing people towards using film emulation presets such as VSCO. Whilst I think this is a great alternative for quick turn-around projects, I belive there is still a case for shooting the real deal on the street.
In this article I would love to share with you a few benefits to shooting with Kodak Tri-x for street photography projects.
The first thing we notice about tri-x is the grain and grittiness, there is a subtle bite to images captured on tri-x that you just dont get through digital recreation or other film stocks.
Digital street photos are just too clean, I believe they need the chaos and grittiness that film offers to make them feel more real. It is likely just a nostalgia thing but the images we are inspired by can drive use towards replicating the processes used to create them.
A Quick History of Tri-X
Kodak cameout with Tri-X on November 1, 1954 in 35mm and 120 roll film sizes. At ASA 200 (160 for Tungsten), it was faster than any other film available. It changed where photographers could take their cameras and what they could shoot.
The Tri-X formula underwent a major modification in 1960, when its the sensitivity of the film was doubled to ASA 400 for daylight and 320 for tungsten. Now low-light situations, action and motion could be captured with outstanding results.
There are both artistic and technical reasons why street photographers over the last 60-plus years have embraced Tri-X. Its graininess, contrast and exposure latitude may be aesthetically pleasing if you’re trying to get that gritty, street-smart look–but those features also serve a practical purpose, covering up a multitude of sins that are inevitable in the chaotically uneven, uncontrolled lighting and shooting situations that come up on the street.
Tri-X is said to have a wider than usual exposure latitude for a black-and-white film (anywhere from 5-7 stops, depending on who your source is). For street photographers who deal with open shade, direct sunlight, cloudy skies and streetlight illumination as well as flash, and often have to make split-second decisions regarding exposure and when to press the shutter release, this has been a godsend. Tri-X can be underexposed by three stops and you can still get a good exposure with push processing, according to Kodak’s technical data for the film. At ISO 1600, this ISO 400 film can produce outstanding, if somewhat grainy, images.
Try it for yourself
Kodak Tri-X is incredibly easy to shoot, there is so much latitude in the film that you can under or over expose and still get great images, you can push the film to ISO 1600, stop down your lens and zone focus to your hearts content.
I know what you're thinking. You've come across this article hoping it will confirm your suspicions, that "yes, yes I need a Leica!".
Well I'm going to quickly list why you really don't need a Leica to be a great street photographer.
How often do you shoot?
We look up to our inspirations, and want to replicate what they do. And, well most of the well known street photographers shoot with a Leica. It's hard to deny that we are pretty much destined to desire a Leica at some point in our photographic journey.
Well I think this comes down to a matter of performance and usage. Famous street photographers shoot a lot. Garry Winogrand shot well over 10,000 rolls of film through his Leica M4. As you can see in the picture below, the film sprocket holes have been etched into the film plate from such extensive use.
Leica's are sturdy strong cameras that, with a little maintenance every couple of years, can keep going and going. Most digital cameras become redundant after 8 years. Sensors gather dust or shutters break. Modern equipment is made to break.
How often do you shoot? Do you need a super sturdy camera that will keep going forever? or are you working on a short term project or only shoot as a hobby?
It makes sense to invest in a good camera that does the job and invest any other funds into education. Taking photography courses or travelling.
Okay we can't ignore that Leica lenses are amazing, they do produce images that stand out from what other lenses can offer. However where are you sharing your images? Are you working towards printing your own book or do you share images online? Is the desire of owning and using a Leica holding you back from actually starting a project?
Truthfully most people that view your work do not care what camera it was shot with. Most people will be drawn to the story being told in your images.
Do you have a great idea for photo essay or project but are feeling held back because you don't own your dream equipment and therefore it's not worth starting?
You should just get a camera that does a great job and start your project.
Don't hold back because of something so simple.
Preciousness - Bring your camera everywhere
Time to admit something... I owned a Leica for a few years. Yes it was amazing...but I never brought it out with me. I was terrified of losing it, or breaking it, or someone stealing it. It was completely wasted on me.
I regret selling my Leica, but it taught me a valuable lesson. That I should spend more time shooting with a camera I am comfortable bringing with me everywhere and using rather than having a pretty camera sitting at home.
If you have saved up and you really really really want a Leica. You should just go for it. Get out there and shoot with it and start making images. If you are trying to pick a camera for street photography you should start with a camera you can easily pocket or bring with you everywhere.
1.Ricoh GR Digital
I owed a Ricoh GR after my affair with a leica. I much preferred the ability to carry this camera in a coat pocket. I never worried about it being stolen because it was fairly inconspicuous (no red dot)
Slightly bulkier but very easy to bring with you in a camera bag or over your shoulder. The image quality is astounding and the rangefinder style viewfinder will give you that Leica feeling.
I have been using a GX85 for the past year and have really loved the smaller form factor and the smaller micro four thirds sensor size. It fits in with my desire to get more of the frame in focus. I would say this is great starter camera for everything including street photography.