Why is One Camera & One (prime) Lens good for Street Photography?

Why is One Camera & One (prime) Lens good for Street Photography?

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One camera one lens

Introduction

Ever since I have started shooting Street Photography I have been a strong advocate of the “One Camera – One Lens” philosophy. If you don’t know of the term, it is pretty self explanatory. It means that I like shooting with one camera and one lens without making any change to my setup while on a project / assignment or just a photowalk. Personally I like simplifying things even more by making that lens a prime lens, always. I feel that zoom lenses do not count for “one” lens. They count for as many lenses as the available focal length offers. So for a example a 16-50mm zoom lens, can shoot like a 16mm lens, a 17mm lens, an 18mm lens and so on and so forth all the way up to a 50mm lens. When I go on a Street Hunt, I take only one camera with one prime lens with me and leave the rest of my gear at home. Have you tried this? You should and here are the reasons why.

7 reasons why One camera & One lens are best for Street Photography

1. You learn the size and weight of your camera.

Yashica Electro 35 GTN

The size and weight of your camera is not only determined by the camera body size, but also by the glass you use. You might own one camera body for quite a while and you might feel that you are familiar with it, but once you remove your lovely little pancake prime lens and stick on a huge tele focus zoom lens, you immediately feel as if you are holding a new camera in your hands, one that is not as comfortable as what you are used too. This feeling will take a while to fade away. Some photographers get used to the new size and weight of their camera faster than others, but the sense of change is apparent to all. When using one camera and one lens, the size and weight remain the same long enough for you to get accustomed to your kit.

2. You learn how to frame a photo before lifting your camera to your eye.

Checking into the camera viewfinder

When you spend a lot of time framing photographs at the same focal length, you begin to get accustomed to that focal length and get a good understanding of what your camera sees before having to look through its viewfinder (or LCD screen). This is the same as with driving a car and knowing how to park it in tight places. You do it so many times, using the same car, that your mind starts to understand the mass of your car and knows if you fit in a spot before you even try. So, by knowing what your camera will see before you lift it to your eye, gives you the advantage of framing multiple images in your mind before you choose to actually capture one and when you choose to do so, you will know long before you lift your camera what you will be photographing. This is a huge time saver and a great way to prepare yourself for capturing superb candid moments on time.

3. You learn how important your feet are in photography.

A camera and a shoe

Many photographers tend to forget that when a subject is too close they can just walk closer and take the shot. This is something that having many lens options or zoom lens options, can be easily forgotten. I remember hitting the streets with a friend once and he wanted to take a photo and he was too far away from his subject. He flipped open his bag and fumbled for another lens. I asked him what he was doing and when he told me I couldn’t help myself and I smirked. I said he was a friend, so my smirking was accepted. He was like “WHAT?!?” and I simply told him to put his bag away and just walk closer to the subject and take the shot. He looked so puzzled. He later told me that because he had the options of changing lenses, he completely forgot about just walking closer. Another thing that a single prime lens and feet are good for are creativity. Because you move yourself more and use your feet more often, you realise that you can try out different points of view and get more creative.

4. You learn how take much better hipshots.

Hipshot photography

As I mentioned in point number 2. You learn how to frame a photo before lifting your camera to your eye, framing becomes much easier when you use the same camera & lens combo. Because it becomes easier you can also start guestimating your hipshots more accurately. After quite a few trials and errors you will start getting really great hipshots, as if you had the viewfinder to your eye.

5. You don’t have to worry about having many options.

Frustration from having too many options

This used to be the most annoying thing for me and for many of my friends when were are out shooting street. Having camera bags packed with options or zoom lenses that give you the ability to change focal lengths just confuses things. It makes you worry about your options and by the time you make up your mind you have probably missed your shot. Just think about it. If you are shooting in A mode (Aperture priority mode) you have to only think about the setting of your aperture, the light and your composition. Those are 3 basic things you have to have in mind before hitting the shutter button. Think about adding to that focal length. Not 1 more focal length, but many focal lengths from X mm to Y mm. You now have 4 things to think about. Then add to that the contents of your camera bag… Yup. You see what I mean.

6. You become more creative having to work with what you got.

Cracked glass

As I have mentioned in previous points, when we are restricted by our tools it is when we become most creative. Yes, that is a fact. The less options we have the more things we think about in order to achieve our goals. So, when you are out shooting Street Photography with one camera and one lens you know what your kit is capable of, your options are limited and known to you, so the only thing that can help you rise above what you have at your disposal is your creative brain. That is when you get into zen and when you start Street Shooting without thinking. You start taking photos experiencing a creative surge. You try things, you have fun and you enjoy yourself. Just like a kid playing. Magic.

7. You don’t carry any extra weight with you.

Loads of camera gear and stuff

This is a most important point. Less gear means less weight to drag you down and less bulk to carry with you. It means that your movements are easier, lighter and more accurate. Because you don’t carry extras with you, you will not get tired as easily, you will not feel discomfort as easily. You will not feel thirst or hunger as easily. You will be free as a bird.

Conclusion

If you haven’t tried this approach to Street Photography, I highly recommend it. All the reasons are clearly stated above. You will feel a sense of freedom and manage to get into a Street Photography Zen state much easier and faster. Having less options to work with gives you the power to make faster decisions and that is a major part of the Street Photography experience. So, the next time you are about to head out on a Photowalk, do what my mate Paul Griffiths says and “leave your camera bag at home”.

Stay Sharp & Keep Shooting!

22 COMMENTS

  1. I can definitely relate to a few of those. Its nearly a year of shooting 95+% of my images with a focal length of 35mm (or its equivalent) and since that time I understood what it means that the camera becomes and extension to one’s eyes.

    Early on I sometimes wished I had a longer or a wider focal length but the greater the limitation and the more used you are to it the better your creativity becomes.

  2. Great article… So true simple minimalist equipment leads to quality and good photographs… My first lens I bought was the 18-55 Fujinon to go with the X-E, but my photography recently is sticking just with the Fujinon 35mm 1.4 and no I don’t take both out! and yes I “Leave my camera bag at home’… LOL

  3. Spyros, excellent article and points made.

    I’ve found recently how valuable sticking with one focal length is, because as you say, you can frame shots in the scenes around you before you even lift your camera to your face (or hip), because you get to know the dimensions of particular focal length. Or in other words, you get to know how much you can fit in your viewfinder, before you lift your camera up and actually put the subject in your viewfinder.

    I’ve been experimenting with a number of film compacts in recent weeks, and despite using maybe five different cameras, they’ve all been 35mm. So although each camera has its quirks and pros and cons, in terms of finding and framing compositions, the experience has been virtually identical with all of them, because of the shared focal length of 35mm.

    When I decided to dust off my Pentax Espio 24EW which is a zoom (and actually the only zoom camera or lens I own), I shot the whole roll at its widest focal length of 24mm. It was very different and took a lot more thought and repositioning myself (and the camera) compared the the 35mm compacts, and helped reaffirm how comfortable and instinctive I’d become with a 35mm lens.

    Whilst as you know I have a bunch of cameras, I only ever take on out with me at a time, and as I said, lately it’s nearly always been a 35mm. I take one at a time purely for the reasons you mention – to travel light (everything you need is in that one little box in your hand or across your chest) and to stay focused on that particular camera, so it becomes an extension of your hands and eyes.

    When you take even two or three cameras/ lenses out, the options explode and you’re likely to spend more time debating over what kit to use than just getting down to using what you have.

    • Dan thank you very much for your detailed comment and for your kind words. I find that my favourite focal length at the moment is the 35mm also. It is wide enough but not too wide.
      Stay Sharp & Keep Shooting!

      • Yes, I picked up my Yashica Electro 35GTN the other day, and the 45mm focal length seemed very cramped in comparison! But when I used it a couple of months back for 10 or 12 consecutive rolls of film, it felt the right focal length. Goes to show how we get accustomed to a particular size of rectangle in the viewfinder…

    • Hello Victor! Thanks for the comment. Glad you agree with most points. Actually the “hip shot” point is stated as fact. I am not an avid hip shot shooter my self. I feel too insecure about the way the photo will turn out. I like to be in control, so I tend to shoot from the hip rarely, unless I am using a camera with a flipping LCD screen. But as I mentioned in the post, by shooting with one camera and one lens, a photographer gets a better understanding of how their hip shots will turn out. Again, thanks for commenting and I hope to see more of your valuable feedback in other posts!
      Stay Sharp & Keep Shooting!

  4. While I do see the discipline that can come from all of the points in this article as a beginner or as a challenge, it ultimately limits your creativity. I actually hate zooms, but there is no way in hell I am going out with just one prime lens and one camera.

    I am not sure why, but it seems street photographers are the only kind of photographers that glorify this idea limiting creativity. I love shooting with a 28mm some of the churches in my city, but I may also see a beautiful girl or interesting guy of whom I want a portrait. Because of this, I also carry an 85mm on a different camera. /Maybe/ I would agree carrying one lens and one camera if you recommended the lens be a 50mm, but I would still miss the 28mm for architecture. And no… “feet” are not zoom. This belief is just wrong and ridiculous. Try shooting portraits with a lens 35mm or wider by “zooming” in with your feet. This is (photographic) lens 101: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camera_lens

    If you know what you want to shoot and are willing to sacrifice creativity on the unexpected, then yes, carry one (prime) lens and one camera. But as I said, no other photographer will do this creative limitation and certainly not professionals.

    As spyros once said:
    “… I wouldn’t be caught dead without a 2nd camera or another roll of film.”
    http://www.streethunters.net/blog/2014/06/18/street-photography-video-tutorial-street-hunt-no8/

    The idea of leaving a camera bag at home is just nonsense.
    Do NOT leave the camera bag at home, just do not carry everything you own.

    Things to carry in a bag:
    Extra battery, extra film, different lens, backup camera, notebook, pen, umbrella and water/food.

    • Hello Mavritivs and thank you for your vibrant and passionate comment. I would like to explain to you why I disagree with most of the things you mention and to kindly point out that I am not a huge fan of trolling.

      Firstly I would like to say that if you do not find a theory or principle to your liking it doesn’t mean that other people that do like it are wrong. Some people find that being restricted by One Camera & One Lens actually helps them be more creative, myself included. You might not think that and that is something that I respect and I am not trying to change your mind.

      Each Street Photographer has his/her unique style. Others like to shoot fast, others like to take their time. Other’s like to wait for a situation, others run straight into it. Depending on one’s style the One Camera & One Lens principle is either applicable or not. You like to shoot 28mm and 85mm. Ok, I get that. I like to shoot just 35mm or just 50mm. Not both. If I need to take a portrait, I will move closer.

      Oh, that comment you made about my “feet zooming” reference made me laugh. I really didn’t expect you of all people to think that I literally meant that when I walk closer to a subject it is the same as actually zooming with a telephoto lens. Adding the link to wikipedia made me feel that you stepped into trolling territory. Really, your comment was ridiculous, if you will allow me to use the same adjective that you did.

      As for my quote, the day I wrote that, I was on a mission in another city far away from home. I was filming a Street Hunt video and yes, I wouldn’t be caught dead without a second camera of another roll of film. I wouldn’t want my project to go to waste, especially after traveling 350km to shoot it. I was wearing a camera bag and I had everything I needed with me. Lenses, batteries, memory cards, film rolls. I wasn’t doing just Street Photography though. I was making a video. I carry a camera bag with me when I do Videos, Wedding Photography and Sports. I carry many lenses with me too, zooms especially. But those types of photography are not Street Photography. When I am in “the zone” doing just Street stuff with no video to record my actions, and I have no other distractions, I have one camera with me. The one I am using.

      Thanks for sparking the discussion.
      Stay Sharp & Keep Shooting!

      • If I had two or three cameras with me, say a 35mm, 50mm and 75mm, I wouldn’t know how to “look” for the photographs waiting in the environment around me. It’s like I’d simultaneously need three sets of eyes, one each attuned to one of the focal lengths.

        When you commit to one focal length, then the kind of compositions that best fit that lens’s focal length become more apparent. They kind of emerge from the surroundings more clearly, as if they were already there waiting fro someone with a camera to find them. This is what I have been finding shooting at 35mm for about 17 of the last 20 rolls I’ve shot.

        I would say pick the lens and focal length that best suits your preferred style and kind of photography. If you like doing close portraits then a 28mm wide angle probably isn’t the best choice, and similarly a 70-85mm portrait lens isn’t going to be ideal for someone capture sweeping urban landscapes.

        Put simply, picking one focal length (per photowalk, the next time you might feel like using another length entirely) really helps you focus on discovering and capturing the photographs best suited to that lens. Yes you might miss a few potential shots you could have captured if you’d have a crazy 28-120 zoom or something, or a choice of three or more lenses, but for me that sacrifice is more than worth the resultant simplified, focused and immersive experience that one camera and one lens gives me.

        Just my personal experience and opinion, of course.

        • Hi Dan and thanks for commenting. I feel the same way. I really like using One Camera & One Lens when I am out shooting in the Streets for the same reasons. I find that knowing what I will be framing before I raise the camera to my eye is much more important for my speed and creativity than having multiple options to fiddle with and think through. I will switch focal lengths between photo walks and if I am traveling I will carry a camera bag or if I am on a mission or doing a gig. I feel that Street Photography is one of those arts that is better done when less burdened by extra weight and multiple options. As I told Mavritivs, I would not consider the One Camera & One Lens principle for something like Wedding Photography.

          Stay Sharp & Keep Shooting!

      • I am not a fan of “trolling” either and I am not sure why we are discussing “trolling” at all. I will ignore this comment since I really doubt you think I am a “troll”. Unfortunately, it is such an easy weapon to use when someone disagrees with another. However, I like to think that we are all adults and as long as there are no personal attacks, I can disagree with your opinion and give reasons why I disagree. Sometimes we may persuade the other person, sometimes I may change my previous belief. There was no trolling in my post and no personal attacks.

        I described the idea of “zooming” with feet ridiculous, not necessarily aimed at you. Of course, I do not take it to mean literal zooming. It just happens to be one of those misconceptions in photography along with the false belief that sensor size give a shallower depth of field that happen to annoy me. I do understand what you may mean by recomposing by moving around, but the prime lens will always have the same perspective no matter how much you move.

        Lastly, it is not that I deem something wrong because I may not happen to “like” it. Whether I like the idea or not, it has nothing to do whether it is right or wrong. Sometimes the idea I happen to like is wrong, sometimes it is right. If you read closely, never did I deem something was wrong because I did not “like” it.

        Please criticize my comments/views using any word you want as long it is honest, and tell me why you think so. I may be wrong and would love to correct my beliefs or behavior. Use the same adjective if you must, call it stupid if you like. You think my comment was ridiculous or the action of posting a link to wikipedia a ridiculous action?
        I disagree. I mainly posted it to show this picture:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camera_lens#mediaviewer/File:Focal_length.jpg
        I think showing the evidence is much better than me just “mindlessly” calling something “ridiculous”.
        This is another picture that is _useful_ to see /even/ if you are aware of the perspectives of different focal lengths: http://johncarnessali.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Portrait-Focal-Length-II.jpg

        • Mavritivs I like you man, but honestly your comment about the “zoom with feet” kind of hurt my feelings.

          Just to get this out of the way, the only reason why I commented the way I did is because nowhere in my text do I use the expression “zoom with your feet” or do I say anything of the sort. What I do say if you read my paragraph entitled “3. You learn how important your feet are in photography” is that one can use their feet to move closer to their subject when using a prime lens. So, the whole argument about zooming, perspectives and focal lengths etc, has been mentioned for no reason in my opinion, unless you were not referring to my text but to a comment. I am not sure.

          Anyway. I appreciate your feedback and always will, so keep those comments coming!
          Thanks again for showing an interest in http://www.streethunters.net!
          Stay Sharp & Keep Shooting!

          • Then I apologize, it was not my intention.

            No, I was not referring to you saying the “zoom with your feet” bit. I should have been clear. I was referring to the idea floating around the internet about “zooming with your feet” is not quite right.

            My fault for not being clear.

            Thanks for the reply.

  5. I just came across this post by chance, and I have to say that I couldn’t agree with you more on every point. This is the way I’ve been photographing in the street for quite a long time now.

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