Our friend Ark recently remarked about street photographers’ obsession with getting in close for the shot, and I must admit, it’s a prejudice I don’t buy into either. The truth is, if you’re a lousy photographer, you can stand on the subject’s head and still take a bad photo. I think it’s more important to find your own comfort zone and work from there. I LOVE having a zoom lens for shooting street, although you will lose some sharpness as a trade-off. But if you’re not a brazen Garry Winogrand, popping off a thousand shots in a guy’s face with nary a second thought, you’re likely to get quite a bit intimidated trying to point a big camera up someone’s nose.
Besides, most of us who do that are 1)
jerks experienced in street shooting, and 2) using a pretty small camera. I started out with a big telephoto or practiced shooting people I knew (in college). As I got closer, my cameras got smaller. I think you tend to move in over time, as your comfort level goes up. As long as you’re making good compositions, I don’t think distance is the determining factor — at all. Sometimes you need to step back to gain perspective on the entire scene, or to avoid disrupting what’s going on.
Other times you step in closer to isolate the subject without having to tote around a huge lens. If you’re like our Bess or me, you probably have a couple of cameras with you already.
Surprisingly, getting closer to your subject does nothing towards the frequency you’ll be noticed by subjects. Unless they’re kids (children always notice you) you’re just as likely to be stared down from across the street as two centimeters away. The only advice I’d give to newcomers is no matter where or how you choose to shoot, always consider moving your feet before you move the camera or twist that zoom. It’s you who takes the photo, not the kit you’re carrying.