Street Photography Mini Course - DAY 2 GEAR
AKA What's in my bag?
Alright gear heads This is the part of the course I feel a lot you are most curious about am I right? If I’m being honest, I think a lot of people like to talk about gear because it’s the easiest thing in their mind to level the playing field. Want to shoot like Monaris? Hey, I’ll be one step closer if I buy a Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master lens right? Well, not really.
You see when it comes to gear it’s not about having the latest and greatest and most expensive. It’s what you do with what you have. So for anybody getting into street photography or photography in general I like to throw out a disclaimer here that in no way do you need any of the gear that we have in our bag. We’ve been shooting for a while and I know myself personally I’ve tried a lot of things in terms of camera bodies and lenses to get a collection of gear I’m happy with today. Am I missing some stuff I’d like to add. Sure. But this is truly a never ending and expensive game of gear accumulation and you’ll quickly realize that to take great shots you really only need a few workhorses in your bag. So don’t worry about breaking the bank for now and master the gear you already own.
So what do I shoot with? Let’s start with my camera body:
Sony A7IV - I’ve only ever seriously photographed within the Sony ecosystem of camera and lenses including my first mirrorless, the a6000 which I upgraded later to the a6400. Years later when I decided to take my photography more seriously I took the plunge and bought my first full frame and have never looked back. I had been using the A7III which had been an absolute beast for me with 24MP full-frame BSI sensor, fast AF system, 5-axis stabilization and 4K HDR video. That was until last summer when my shutter broke right before a shoot :(
Soon after I upgraded to the Sony A7IV. Thicker grip, 33MP sensor and better subject tracking, what's not to love? I also often had to apply fairly significant corrections to the A7 III images as they sometimes gave a magenta or yellow tint depending on the lighting conditions. The A7IV not so much. Having said that, If my shutter hadn't broke I'd be more than happy to continue creating images with my former camera.
In general my advice when it comes to gear is find a camera body that does what you want and get to know it inside out. Upgrading to the latest and greatest is so far from the necessary but I will say that the biggest bang for buck in terms of quality improvement in your photography will come from your lenses. This is where I might say, if you’ve got the coin don’t be cheap and spend on a good quality lens over an expensive body.
As I do a lot of night photography the most important thing for me is to have a wide enough aperture to let in the most amount of light without having to decrease my shutter speed or crank up my ISO (and introduce a lot of noise). Zoom lenses won’t do that job as the widest you may get will probably be about 2.8. As a comparison, my SONY 50mm GM is a 1.2 which is almost a full 2.5 stops lower. The difference is where the lens will be at its most sharp. Any lens is probably most sharp 1-2 stops above its maximum so a 2.8 is probably most sharp around 3.2-4. But a 1.2 is most sharp around 1.8-2.2, a huge difference when shooting at night.
In terms of focal length for street photography I like to work within a range of 24mm - 85mm depending on what style of shooting I’m into in the moment and that can change really quickly. I use a SIGMA 24mm 1.4 when I want to shoot more environmental cityscape style shots, a SONY 35mm 1.4 GM when I want a more pure and traditional street aesthetic, a SONY 50mm 1.2 GM when I want to showcase the subject a bit more (and shoot wide open at night) and at times a SIGMA 85mm 1.4 when I really want to isolate the subject and show more detail. Carrying around a bunch of single focal length zooms might seem cumbersome but the more you shoot the more comfortable you get carrying these in your bag. Also, before going out to shoot I have an idea of what sort of images I want to create as per the above, and only carry 2-3 at a time. The added bonus of shooting in prime is that it forces you to move while on the street. Unlike a zoom where you can change the composition with the turn of a dial with a prime you have to actively think and place yourself in the best position. This will, in my opinion, make you a much more critical and ultimately better photographer in the long run (but there are others who may debate me on that).
As for extras, I like to keep a little magic kit of sorts on me at all times including an array of prisms and glass to make the ordinary into something a bit more unusual with light leaks for example.
RGB lights if I’m shooting at night and need some extra light in a certain location and varying lens filters including a 1/8 or 1/2 blackmist filter and a 6 point cross filter. These types of photographer tools are a really fun and inexpensive way to make a big difference in the final look of your photography.
I hope this can give you some ideas. Again, this is just what I personally use a lot in my style of street photography and you'll have to experiment to find the tools and gear that works for the style of photography you want to show the world.
I'd love to hear what you use in the comments below or any other questions or feedback!
As always, thanks for reading and look out for DAY 3 SETTINGS FOR DIFFERENT CONDITIONS to be posted within the week.