Quick Tips: Using an 85mm Lens for Street Photography

When you think of street photography, you probably think of what a lot of the classic and older photographers have said. There’s surely lots of wonderful substance in their words. But the world of photography has evolved quite a bit since a lot of them have been around. Further, their ideas may only work well for them. These days, people take multi-award-winning street photography with their phones. At the end of the day, people just care about the image. Only photographers and camera-lover care about what products you’re using to get the shot. And if street photography keeps staying the same, then it never progresses. So here are some tips for using an 85mm lens for street photography.

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Check Your Intentions First and Foremost

You should begin by checking your intentions. The concern with street photographers doing street with longer lenses is that they’ll be creeps. So first off, check your intentions. Think about what you’re doing to do with the photo. If you’re taking it just so you can stare at it in a way that’s malicious or disrespectful to someone, put the camera down. You have no reason to photograph a pretty woman from behind unless there’s a genuinely good reason for the photograph’s artistic intent. What could some of those be? The lighting is a good one. But more than anything else, the reason for shooting street photography has to do with the moment. There has to be something newsworthy or emotional. When someone looks at the photo, they have to have a reason to look at it.

For the photo above, I was trying to use an 85mm lens to photograph Chuck. He was speaking in Union Square.

For this image, I felt he was such a character to look at. It’s common to find older folks who ding people for smoking pot. But this guy was all about it. Could the shot have been better? Sure, but it surely worked.

Think Cinematic When Using an 85mm Lens for Street Photography

With an 85mm lens, you have to think a bit cinematic. It’s a telephoto lens designed to single out a certain subject. In the photo above, I tried to show the sense of people trying to be normal during the pandemic. He’s shopping for groceries while wearing a mask. So too were a lot of other people.

In this case, the 85mm lens helped me photograph him from a safe distance while telling the story. If I used a 50mm lens, this scene would’ve looked much different. If I used my favorite, a 35mm lens, I would’ve risked my health. For the record, this was shot before vaccines were available. Even so, I would’ve recommend anyone be reckless.

Use Face Detection

Using an 85mm lens for street photography is also fantastic because it lets you keep a respectable distance from your subjects. With a wider lens, you often need to get in someone’s personal space. When you do that, you risk breaking the moment as it’s unfolding. But most folks won’t realize that someone is shooting them with an 85mm lens. In the photo above, the bride is too busy fixing something while the groom and photographer go through photos. It’s a fun shot that can surely use a crop to make the image stronger. But it shows off a bit of a funny moment since the couple isn’t looking at the photos together. Further, when you look at the photo, you’re clearly wondering what the bride is doing.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.