What do you need in terms of equipment for street photography? I think we’re all aware that street photography is perhaps the lowest-cost photographic genre there is and that great results can be achieved with the most elementary of kit. But what’s the minimum you can get away with?

Most people don’t have Leica-type budgets – especially students – and I’m often asked for advice on what gear they need for street photography. The most basic premise – which you’ll know as well as I do – is that sharp eyes, a quick mind and a keen sense of observation are paramount. Camera gear comes a fairly distant second, in my view. Some of the best street photography I’ve seen has been taken on a cheap compact, an old film camera or an iPhone.Look at Daido Moriyama – veteran Japanese street photographer and a true master of the art. He rarely uses anything but a small compact with a fixed lens. Okay, his pictures might not win a Pulitzer Prize for image quality but in terms of composition, form and content, they are up there with the best. Ditto Vivian Maier, who shot much of her best work on an old Rolleiflex.

I have met plenty of people who have spent £5,000 on a shiny new camera but does it make them a better street photographer? Well, a sharp image with good contrast and great tones can elevate an image right from the start but is such costly kit strictly necessary? One could argue that it gives the photographer a significant psychological leg-up, instilling a sense of self-importance and confidence, the latter being an essential personal quality for a street photographer. And there’s no doubt that an image produced using a 35mm Summicron lens will technically surpass that produced by the equivalent Tamron, but is the difference sufficiently noticeable in street photography? Maybe. But maybe it’s not. More often that not, it barely makes any noticeable difference.

Shooting at high ISO, as we often do, and in dynamic situations where either the photographer or the subject is moving, quality will inevitably suffer and such imperfections can be rectified by no amount or megapixels or glass.

So, don’t obsess about gear. Don’t rush out to buy the latest camera or that super-fast new lens. Don’t join the megapixel race – you can never win it. Instead, spend your money on books; absorb the work of great street photographers; learn from them and be inspired; practice using the equipment you already have and perfect your technique. Maybe buy a film camera (£30 on eBay will be you a perfectly good 35mm SLR with standard lens) and slow down a little, really thinking about what you’re doing. This is the sort of stuff that will make you a better street photographer.
Watch out for future posts on equipment for street photography:
– What’s in my bag?
– Buying a film camera
– Trying medium format
– A guide to lenses
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