Since the arrival of the Leica M9, bloggers have been abound with posts about Leicas, street photography, and why you need a rangefinder right now. Further, Chris Weeks has made a documentary on street photography and the human condition. If you watch it, you’ll see that it’s very pro-rangefinder. A personal critique of mine is that it almost seems like what we call in the industry to be an “advertorial.” To clarify, this is an article or piece of media that is supposed to be presented in a journalistic fashion but can seem more like subliminal marketing. To be fair, Mr. Weeks probably does legitimately love Leicas for street photography. However, as a photographer that has shot with all brands of cameras, I see no reason why a DSLR can’t do the same job. Regular readers of this blog may know that street photography is some that is held dear to me. More on this after the jump.
Author’s Note: This is not an anti-Leica post, when I worked for Magnum Photos many of their photographers used Leicas. I hold them in high regard and respect their history, but this post is about you as a photographer.
As a photographer with nowhere enough money to afford a brand spankin’ new Leica M9, it’s fair to say that just because there isn’t a Leica in my hands doesn’t mean that other photographers or I can’t take pictures just as well as the Leica street photographers and the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson can. Granted, those images are all very beautiful but street photography can be done without the use of a rangefinder as costly as the Leica M9. Sure, you can go for the older Leicas which are much cheaper but then you still need to invest in the lenses. In that case, you can use what’s being called the poor-man’s Leica – Micro Four Thirds. Additionally, a DSLR can do the same job perfectly fine as long as you come out of your timidness shell.
The important thing to remember in street photography is being discrete, not interacting with your subjects and simply documenting. If someone gives you a bad look, your confidence and smile should be able to disarm any bad feelings towards you. One can surely be discrete with a camera like the 5D Mk II and a 50 mm F1.8 II prime lens. In big cities, people are usually too busy going along with their daily routines to worry about someone that is walking around with a big camera. Chances are that they’ll think you’re simply just a tourist.
Additionally, there are many techniques that you can use to shoot. In the compilation above, some of those photos were taken with a technique I’ve been working on perfecting: shooting from the hip without looking into the viewfinder. It literally is just pointing the lens in the direction of your subject while the camera is at your hip and pressing down on the shutter button. Chances are that you’ll need to autofocus but it can be done. An advantage of this is that you are being discrete, using and learning a new method and you are getting a different perspective that one usually doesn’t see in photos by effectively breaking the rule of thirds.
Since when was street photography more about the camera than the photographer and subjects themselves? To be fair, it is done best with interchangeable lens cameras. Brad Elterman of Buzzfoto shoots with a Canon 20D and 50mm F1.2 L and is much regarded for combining artsy styles and street photography with his paparazzo work. If images like that can come out of an older Canon sensor, why does one need to blow thousands on a Leica? Additionally, many of those cameras are very simple as it is and sharp glass can be obtained rather cheaply. Further, film users can pick up some nice Fuji Velviclor or Kodak Monochrome film, put it in their SLR and start snapping away. For users that already have interchangeable lens cameras, it is fair to say that the money can be better spent on other equipment like lenses.
We as photographers need to keep in mind that our cameras are only as good as the photographers behind the viewfinders.
So, do you need a rangefinder to do street photography? What are your thoughts?