50mm Street Photography: The Ultimate Guide

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So, have you ever wondered why 50mm street photography is so popular?  What about the lenses themselves or the techniques used?  What makes the 50mm focal length so ideal?

Don’t worry, all of these questions (and more) will be answered in this single article.

By the end of this article, you’ll know what makes 50mm so great for street photography, which settings are ideal, and what lens is most recommended.  After reading, you’ll have learned nearly everything you need to take amazing street photos yourself!

Let’s start with a discussion about the focal length!

Best focal length for street photography?

50mm Street Photography

Why is 50mm considered to be one of the best focal lengths for street photography?  

Well, it’s simple, but highly debatable.

You see, the 50mm focal length is very close to the same focal length that the human eye sees.  To those viewing your photos, it gives a very good real life representation of your surroundings.

This focal length is not only great for street photography, but for editorial photography as well.  Editorial needs to remain true to life and 50mm does just that.

Best lens for street photography 50mm

There's a reason 50mm is so widely used...

Best lens for street photography 50mm

Just know, there is a reason so many people walk around with a 50mm lens attached to their camera.  You can take incredible photos.  From downtown environments, alley-ways, and traffic intersections - the 50mm takes the “perfect” street photography shot.

Of course, with anything in this world, it’s debatable.  Everything in the art space is.

But seeing as you’re here, stick around.  Learn a little.  Apply what you learn and start taking those photos that captivate your viewer.  

The 50mm does just that.

Let’s move onto the settings

50mm street photography settings

When thinking of street photography, what pops into your head?  Is it photos of New York City (or an environment very similar)?  Maybe it’s photos of your local downtown environment or something in between?  Maybe street photography at night?

Regardless, there are a few settings you should keep in mind when out there on the streets.

The first is aperture.  Depending on your style, you’ll want to keep this at a higher f/stop.

I recommend an aperture between f/8 and f/11.  This will ensure your photo is sharp throughout the entire photo.  If you were to use a low f/stop like f/2.8 - you would get shallow depth of field in areas of your photo.  Not all of it would be in focus.  Keeping it between f/8 and f/11 will ensure that your photo will be as sharp as it can be.

Disregard this if you’re shooting street photography at night.  Open at aperture all the way up when shooting in dark conditions.  You want to capture as much light as you can!

The other setting is shutter speed.  If you want to freeze the movement of people on the streets you’ll want a fast(er) shutter speed.  I recommend at least 1/250.  Maybe higher if you find your images are too blurry.

If you want blur in your photo to achieve the feeling of movement, set your shutter speed to 1/100.  If you don’t get the desired effect, try something slower like 1/80 or 1/50.  

Be aware, you’ll get more blur from camera movement the slower your shutter speed is.  You don’t want blurry images so be both careful and aware.

Let’s talk about some lenses!

Best lens for street photography: you may be surprised

Honestly, you don’t need an incredibly expensive lens to take amazing street photography.  While I do take all of my photos on the Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 - I never recommend it to others for street photography.

Yes, you’ll get a little sharper of an image than a less expensive lens - but you do not need it.

I recommend taking a look at the 50mm f/1.8 prime lenses that all major manufacturers make.  They are very inexpensive and produce incredibly impressive images (Sony, Nikon, Canon).

If you later decide to get a better lens, so be it.  But just know, you don’t need anything special to take 50mm street photos. Nifty-fifty lenses do the job perfectly.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens
Sony - FE 50mm F1.8 Standard Lens (SEL50F18F), Black

50mm street photography on a crop sensor

If you have a crop sensor, don’t fret!  

If you aren’t sure if you have a crop sensor or what a crop sensor is, be sure to check out this article.  

If you slap a 50mm on a crop sensor camera, you’ll effectively have a 75mm focal length.  This is due to the crop factor.  With a common crop factor of 1.5x - a 50mm turns into a 75mm (50mm*1.5=75mm).

You can either rock the 50mm (75mm effectively) - which can take great street photos (and great portraits too).  Or, you might want to think about a 35mm lens.  

50mm Street Photography

This would make your focal length effectively 50mm (or 52.5mm to be exact).  

The “look” of both lenses and focal lengths are very different.  Those people with crop sensors have more “success” with street photography while using a 35mm lens.

Do with this information as you will.  But, a 50mm f/1.8 is usually less expensive than a 35mm.  It’s something for you to consider.  Either way, if you find yourself anxious or confused about what to purchase, pickup the 50mm and go from there!  

Everyone needs a 50mm (even after you upgrade your camera!)

Possibly consider a wide angle lens for street photography!

This is a stylistic choice, but a wide angle lens could be an option for you as well.  

If you enjoy architectural photography or capturing the general public and a bit more of their surroundings, a wide angle lens might be a better choice.

I have taken some great portrait orientated shots of the streets of New York City, all with a wide angle lens.

I’m not taking anything away from 50mm street photography, it’s amazing.  But having a wide angle lens in your arsenal can add that many more options!

50mm Street Photography

That’s it for now!

Well, I hope you have learned a thing or two about 50mm street photography!  Bookmark this article to check back down the road.  I will continue to update it to keep it fresh!  

I plan on posting some tips and tricks in this article as well.

You now know what settings are best, recommended lenses, and why 50mm street photography is so ideal.  Going forward, you can now make the decisions and stylistic choices you desire!

I want to thank you so much for reading!  Please leave a comment below letting us know what you think and how we’ve helped you!

Until next time, keep shooting and creating!

Jeff

I have been taking photos and film since I was a child. Now that I'm in my mid 30's, I want to share with the world what I have learned over the years. I attempt to live every day to the fullest and share that with you through my blog. I am an electrician by trade and photo and video lie within the "hobby" aspect of my life at the moment. It's what I'm truly passionate about.
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