Loïc Magnien Street Photography Los Diablos Rojos de Panama 1

Get Closer

If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough

Robert capa

When you start street photography, you are shy and not confident. One mistake we all make is to not get close enough to our subjects.

Fear is not an excuse

We have all fears. They make you fill uncomfortable about the situation, they make you worried that the strangers you photographs will give you a hard time. Fears are just irrational thoughts running through your head, taking up all the space. This is just like with spiders, they are more scared of you than you are scared of them.

Step in intimacy

Fill this space with creativity and respect. Take my word for it, you won’t die by getting closer to you subject. You will notice that the closer you get to your subject, the more emotions you will feel. Both of you. You and them. When you get closer you step into the privacy zone, you will either experience a protection or an acceptance, that’s your job to make them accept your presence.

Compliment them

One big piece of advice to get closer to your subject without scaring them is to provide them with compliments. They are many kinds, you can compliment their styles, their fashion accessories, their hairstyle, sunglasses, gesture. Your purpose is to flatter their ego. Once you start your conversation with a compliment you will notice your subject tend to relax and let you in their circle, at least for a little while.

Change your focal length

Use a 35mm lens. This focal lens is a good compromise between perspective and human field of view. Other choices are usually 50mm and 28mm, 28mm is even better, you will need to get even closer to your subject in order to remove the useless from the borders of your frame. 50mm is too narrow and you will not get closer to your subject. A wider angle will usually provide you with a shortest minimum focus distance.

Manual focus at 0.7m

A good thing to force your to get closer is to limit your focus manually at 0.7m. To do so, extend your arm in from of you, put the camera on your shoulder and focus on your hand. lock the focus and you are done. your camera is now setup to be sharp at 0.7m. Now you will be frustrated to have out of focus subjects and will tend to get closer to them to get them into this sharpness range.

Shoot, get closer, repeat.

My best advice is to start shooting as soon as you spot your subject, then get a step closer, shoot, get even close, shoot again, repeat until they fill most of your frame. Make it an assignment. This is by far my favourite as you end up with different angles and you have materials to tell different story when doing reportage.

There is an example on the Diablos Rojos de Panama:

And another example when portraying nomadic families in Inner Mongolia:


Or street portraits in Beijing, China: