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What Is the Best Focal Length for Street Photography?

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photographer taking pictures

When you’re looking to take great photos out on the street, it’s important to use the right equipment for the job. When you’re picking out a lens, that all starts with the focal length.

But what focal length do you need for street photography, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each one? We break it all down for you here, so you can take professional-quality street photographs the next time that you head out with your camera.

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What Is Focal Length?

Let’s first acquire an understanding of what focal length is and how you can use it in your pictures. This way, you can get exactly what you want no matter what types of pictures that you take.

Focal length refers to the curve of lenses, the reflections of the mirrors, and other nitty-gritty details But you can technically get what you want by simply knowing how the focal length affects your photos.

In short, a shorter focal length (a smaller number) gives you a wider field of view, but it comes with less magnification. Conversely, a longer focal length (a larger number) gives you a much narrower field of view, but it has more magnification.

24-105mm camera lens

Image Credit: Ryan Warburto, Unsplash

What Is the Best Focal Length for Street Photography?

When it comes to street photography, most people consider the 35mm or the 50mm lens as the best choice. However, it depends on what kinds of pictures you’re trying to capture. Here are a few different options and the pros and cons of each.

28mm

If you’re looking at getting into street photography as a beginner, know that 28mm is the shortest focal length that you will want to go with. If you go with anything shorter, you’ll need to get even closer to your subject, and you’ll drastically increase the chances of distortion at the edges of the photo.

Except for extremely niche areas of street photography, you’ll want a longer focal length than 28mm.

different camera lenses

Image Credit: Duke.of.arcH, Shutterstock

35mm

A 35mm lens is one of the top choices for street photography when you want to capture both the subject and what’s going on in the background. It’s close enough to focus on the subject while highlighting the busy street life without making anything too overwhelming.

It’s this outstanding combination and versatility that makes the 35mm lens one of the best choices for street photography.

50mm

If there’s any lens that can compete with the 35mm lens in street photography, it’s the 50mm lens. It’s a great choice when you want to get closer to the subject and not have as much going on in the background.

You’ll still be able to tell that they’re on the street, but you won’t get nearly as much of the background. The subject will appear larger, enabling you to capitalize on smaller details.

Both the 35mm and 50mm lenses are great for street photography, so it’s up to you to decide what kind of photographs you want to take and what lens will help you get there.

hand holding camera lens

Image Credit: Devin Avery, Unsplash

85mm

While the 85mm lens isn’t the ideal choice for most street photography applications, it does have its uses. It’s a popular choice among paparazzi photographers because they don’t have to get near the subject to get a close-up image.

With an 85mm lens, you must be farther away from the subject; otherwise, it won’t come into focus. So, if you’re taking your pictures from a distance, an 85mm lens might be what you need for an “on the street” feel even if you’re not on the street.

That said, when you’re looking for the best focal length for street photography, you don’t want to go any larger than 85mm.shutter camera divider 2

Final Thoughts

There isn’t one focal length that shines above the rest for street photography — it all comes down to the types of pictures that you’re taking.

However, most of the time, you want a 35mm or a 50mm lens for street photography. If you’re still unsure, just head out and take a few pictures. With a bit of practice, you can find the perfect lens for your street photography and get top-notch results.

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Featured Image Credit: sergey causelove, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.

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