Photography 101: Street Photography With a 70-200mm Zoom

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Many photographers would argue against a 70-200mm zoom lens for Street Photography. And there are some drawbacks to be sure but it can also be a great choice. I was out & about with mine in Rzeszow, Poland today.

I’ve bragged lately about how beautiful the people (both young & old and male & female) are in Poland. And it’s true—so I wanted to photograph some examples to back up my claim. Using a 70-200mm seemed like the perfect choice.

When I shoot in the streets I usually use a wider zoom like my: Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM or EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM (the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM is also a good choice). The upside is wider focal lengths allow for more environmental context but the downside is it’s hard to get a pleasing out-of-focus background. Today’s challenge was to shoot candid pictures of people without pissing them off—a 70-200mm zoom is a good lens for that kind of photography. I used to shoot, with excellent results, with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L (Non-IS) USM zoom. That changed a year ago when I upgraded that lens.

I now shoot with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM telephoto zoom. 200mm gives me plenty of range and the f/2.8 aperture produces great bokeh. It’s a big, heavy, white lens that sticks out like a sore thumb (or Moby Dick)—especially when it’s mounted on my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV full-frame DSLR with vertical grip. This is definitely not a combo for stealthy shooting and I got busted more than once today. Compared to my old Leica M-3 35mm film rangefinder camera my Canon combo is a beast (and a loud beast at that). Many Street Photographers today like to shoot with mirrorless cameras but I still prefer my DSLRs.

I had good luck both this morning and later in the afternoon. The people in Poland are Über-friendly and I didn’t have any problems at all even though I did get busted a few times. The women seemed flattered that I wanted to take their picture and parents didn’t seem to mind me photographing their kids. If I ever sense reluctance I always back off but I didn’t experience any resistance at all today. Whenever one of the women would catch me photographing her she would just give me a shy little smile (or a knowing smirk). Street Photography is challenging but can be very rewarding.

I love capturing candid moments whether they’re of animal critters or people critters. To know you’ve recorded a snapshot in time that will never be repeated (ever) is almost God-like. As I’ve mentioned before photography is almost like hunting but without the blood and kill. The same fieldcraft is used and the same thrill of excitement is there—no trophy on the wall (or meat in the freezer) but no killing is involved either. Photography: Non-violent hunting. That’s a win-win in my book. Today was a good day—I was shooting different subjects with a different lens. I had to think and do.

Street Photography allows you to tell a story. Real people doing real things. I’ve split the genre in two: Street Photography (with environmental context) and Street Portraits (with no environmental context). The first is usually candid where the second is sometimes posed. All the images on this page were one hundred percent candid (no posing whatsoever). All the people were in action doing real things and I caught them unawares—well mostly unawares. The last photo in the series shows a woman with a smirk on her face—yep, she caught me taking her picture. It happens.

Field Notes: I took all of today’s photos with my Canon EOS 5D Mark IV full-frame DSLR and EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM telephoto zoom lens. I shot in AV-Mode (Aperture Priority) wide-open at f/2.8 for background blur and in AI-Servo (for continuous autofocus) and high-speed continuous shooting at 7 fps. I set both my ISO and WB to automatic. Because I was shooting wide-open a f/2.8 my ISO stayed at 100 and my shutter speed was very fast. I processed my RAW files with ACR and fine-tuned my edits in PSE-15. I invite you to try Street Photography if you haven’t already done so. Happy shooting. SFD


9 responses to “Photography 101: Street Photography With a 70-200mm Zoom

  1. You have indeed proven that the people in Poland — both young & old and male & female — are beautiful! And you’ve proven too that the bias against telephoto lenses for street photography isn’t necessarily founded in fact. (In fact, I think it can be traced back to Robert Capa’s belief that, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” But glass has come a long way since then!) What matters is that you’ve captured a series of gorgeous portraits. I would even call some of them character studies. The proof is in the image, as they say.

  2. I have observed a few tourists here using that same lens, even on crop sensor 7D or 80D rigs. Then again, the type of scenery ranges widely. The odd L 100-400 also appears from time to time on our city’s streets. People also take these to Kirstenbosch, Chapman’s Peak, Cape Point, Boulders for the penguins, etc. I think it could be useful at Addo Elephant Park as well as there are both fairly close-up shots of antelope and birds, not just elephants.

  3. The photographs are superb and your approach to street photography inspirational even though (apart from street events) I wouldn’t have the courage to use the big Canon for the SP genre. Congrats on the term ‘people critters’. I’d like to distribute it more widely…..truth deserves it. 🙂

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