Close, Medium, Far

How close is close enough? (He never saw me – 1 foot away)

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.



Across the street. Still never saw me.

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.

1-DSCF8252A little space can still leave discretion and avoid interaction.

1-DSCF8375But sometimes, you just want to get all up in somebody’s grill.

I’m in her face – at arm’s length. She saw me. That look lasted 2 seconds and then she lost interest again.


I almost had to use my macro setting. Camera at my face. Never looked at me. No. Body. Cares.


I’m close and holding the camera at chest level, not looking as I shoot. There are a number of ways to get in close without bearing down on your vict… er, subject.


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.


9 thoughts on “Close, Medium, Far

  1. I just snaps ’em … I think that all-up it’s a ‘culture’ thing. Some peoples don’t seem to mind, others get quite twitchy if a camera points in their direction. I always used to (with a mug like this it’s perfectly understandable*) but these days am much less self-conscious. Win a few, lose a few. So perhaps it’s all a combination of awareness, habitude, self-opinion, feelings of intrusion, and the state of the sun in Leo …

    I just like (sometimes) catching people being people.

    * I can stop a clock at a hundred yards just by smiling at it …

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh well, I guess I’m aiming for jerk. But funnily enough, those up-close shots are the ones that many seem to like the most. Including you.
    I agree that you have to find your comfort zone, but having advised Ark to get in close when he shoots, I now feel duly chastised. Those photogs who like close-up shots but won’t take them are not aware that nobody really cares; they’re just being chicken. Sorry, but it’s true. I should know. Being a photographer requires you to be versatile in the pursuit of your art, whatever that is. If you aspire to be a certain kind of shooter, but lack the confidence to be that to which you aspire, then I advise you to put down the camera and take up knitting or something instead. At least be honestly mediocre as opposed to great if you don’t have the guts.


  3. Up close are fine if you are doing a posed ‘shoot’. But if the idea is to be the fly on the wall I prefer to keep my distance and use a bigger lens.
    Maybe this up close tradition stems from there not being really good or an y telephoto lenses in the bad old days?
    I dont know enough about photography to make a call other than for myself.


    1. No, it stems from the fact that you can’t get the same type of shot from any distance using a telephoto (or even a zoom lens). Shooting up close, we’re often using f/2.0 to isolate the subject. With a telephoto, you’ll get substantially different a shot. You can take some portraits from a distance, but they won’t look nearly as dynamic or interesting. I’ve shot from all distances, and there’s a reason people eventually move in closer.

      As far as being a fly on the wall is concerned, a great deal of the experience comes in learning how to do that no matter where you are. People will occasionally get really intimidated if they see a huge lens aimed at them. Conversely, M and I have shot in the middle of a crowded sidewalk with no one really noticing us.


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