DSLR Lenses that Improve Your Urban Street Photography

A DSLR camera with a 35 mm or 50 mm street photography lenses are still my absolute go-to lenses for urban street photography.

Street photography in cities is an adventure. You’re never sure what might crop up around the next corner. If you are switched on, have a good lens attached, are full of intention, you will get good shots.

The right lens will help you stay prepared. And it will help you develop strong intentions when looking for ideas.

I use 50 mm and 35 mm. Even when I use the Canon L-Lens, 24 mm- 105 mm, as a general tool on the street, I tend to frame the shot, compose it, and click at 35 mm or 50 mm. I do this without checking. It just happens naturally as if it’s the best size to compose a shot.

Henri Cartier Bresson didn’t like the 35 mm. He simply stated that he could work better up close with the 50 mm lens.

He was doing his own thing. He developed his knowledge of equipment and most of all, his street photography abilities, by constant practice with the lens that he was happy with.

It turned out that he was a 50 mm man. He also used his feet to get closer.

A good lens is a good lens; but, if you are too far back from your subject the photo will turn out shoddy – for one reason or another.

When you study your work after the fact, you’ll notice that shots where you where too far away aren’t as satisfying as those where you got up close enough.

When the focus is sharper, the colours and tones are more dynamic, it shows you got up close with your lens. It’s that simple. And a good lens will help you achieve those objectives.

I’ve tried using the 85 mm lens in street photography, but went home feeling like a nut. I like to get up close, so 85 mm is too tight to capture everything you see.

On the other hand, a 50 mm will do a great job of allowing you to get the composition into the lens space, then frame the shot nicely. There’s nothing wrong with a 50 mm as your go-to street photography lens.

The 50 mm lens is great if you like to get up close and get all the colour and dynamics that you would hope for from your street photography.

50 mm lenses are great portrait lens, so is the 85 mm, but urban street photography is about everything on the street rather than close ups of faces.

There are some great compositions to be had through a 50 mm lens, or a top-tier 35 mm lens on the street. Both the 50 mm and 35 mm will put you in the position where you can practise street photography with a solid bag of tools built for the job.

When you work with quality tools, you are in the position to practise the art of street photography with skill. This means that you’ll see improvement in your outcome – the photos, and your photographic knowledge will begin to develop more rapidly.

I’m a great believer in the fact that practising street photography develops all the knowledge a good photographer should possess. It challenges the mind to think quickly, act fast, and adapt to the changes in weather and life on the street.

It helps you understand how to use your lens and camera as if it’s an extension of your own mind.

Light is important to get textures, focus properly, and to be able to minimise noise. I like to work at f8 and above, meaning I get a slightly deeper depth of field that allows me to play with wider ranges of texture.

Two Men and a Dog . Copyright: Sean P. Durham, Berlin, 2022

If you’re serious about the flexibility of a slightly wider angle, and great focus when you’re out and about doing urban street photography, the 35 mm lens will give you all that you need to come home with a bag full of great street photography captures.

It’s always great fun to use a new lens. Either 50 mm or 35 mm will up your street game. And it’ll help you improve your knowledge of how to use a lens to its best advantage. Great glass attracts great shots. And It inspires you as a photographer, makes you feel better about moving forwards with more professional feelings to your street work.

Sigma offer top-tier lenses that offer professional objectivity. I love ’em.

The Sigma F1.4 ART 35 mm Lens offers a wide view of the urban street, allows you to get in close and bend the perspective a little if you like to get artistic. It’s tack sharp. High contrast with HSM autofocus.

Mainly, it’ll nail the shot with tack sharp focus, and minimum lens flare problems due to the multi-coating. I use mine with a Berlin Optix UV filter.

The filter creates a lovely smoothness to colours and helps further with avoiding flares from bright sunshine.

I also use the 50 mm Sigma Art lens.

I get all excited when I get out there on the street with the 50 mm.

A change of lens is inspiring in urban street photography.

If the weather changes, and I had planned on working those beautiful sharp contrasts between shadow and bright sunshine to capture some powerful street shots that I could use in my portfolio. I find, if I use a different lens, such as the 50 mm instead of the 35 mm, it challenges me to think differently, and approach the urban street photography landscape with newness.

It’s then that I come back home with a great feeling and great shots.

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All images are copyright and the work of the author, Sean P. Durham. Berlin 2023.

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