Street Photography with an Ultrawide Lens
Last week I posted the latest issue of my on-going Street Photo Diary series to my PhotoJournal blog. I had taken those shots in a single session and I felt that they worked well together as a set, however, I have a few more images that I took recently too. They didn’t really fit into the narrative that I was going with, so I thought that I would share them here in a separate post, with a bit more info on how I shot them.
I had wanted to take my original 5D out for a spin, for no particular reason, and so I was using that for this shoot. I also wanted to shoot with a 35mm lens, but as I don’t have one for my Canon cameras (this and my Eos 5 film camera), I had to use my 17-40mm instead. I had intended to try and keep it at 35mm but I ended up shooting wide quite a bit. It actually worked out ok though. I probably wouldn’t consider 17-40mm as the ideal focal length for street shooting, but it does have some advantages.
For a start, shooting with a wide angle allows you to get up close to your subject and take a shot without them realising that they are in it. From your subject’s point of view, it looks like you’re looking at something else altogether. Of course, this still requires careful alignment and shooting, but it’s easy to frame because they generally don’t pay any attention to you.
Secondly, when in the middle of a large crowd, you can get some great shots, isolating people but also showing the context of the subject that you’re taking. The more that I shoot street photography, the more I realise how important context is. Showing the subject in its surroundings helps tell the story and sell the shot.
The 17-40mm also is handy because it covers common wider focal lengths, particularly 24mm, 28mm, and 35mm. It’s also close enough to a 50mm for an almost standard lens. On the down side though, it’s not a great lens optically, at least the copy I have isn’t. It’s softer on one side than the other for a start. Despite being an L series lens, I don’t think it’s particularly brilliant. I don’t particularly like the optical character of it either. And at f/4, while it covers the focal lengths of several primes, it certainly doesn’t match an f/1.4 or even a f/1.8 when it comes to out of focus softness and depth of field. The flaws in mine could well be the copy I have though, as it was second hand, and surprisingly cheap when I bought it.
Having said all that it was an interesting lens to shoot with for street photography. I would love a version of the sigma 18-35mm f 1.8 for full frame cameras. Maybe a 24-50mm f/1.8. This would be an amazing lens for street shooting, if it existed!
I also ran into some of the limitations of the ageing 5d. In particular, the lack of dynamic range compared to newer cameras was really apparent. It was a dull overcast day, and I would have no problem recovering the sky in almost all of my other cameras, but on the 5D, on some of the shots it was burnt out and unrecoverable. To be fair, I had slightly overexposed in a few shots, but I was still surprised by the lack of dynamic range. Then the camera is 12 yeas old, and revolutionary in its day.
By the way, if you haven't seen it before, and you're a fan of street photography, check out my Street Photography Portfolio on my portfolio site.
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