So what makes the metro an interesting place to make pictures? Well, there are several reasons for that:
- The window of a train is a natural frame, bringing some structure to the picture and helps with the alignment.
- People don’t move (much) so there is sufficient time to frame the picture.
- the window provides some distance to the subject, usually people don’t leave the train to ask you why you are taking a picture.
- People often look out of the window and might see you, leading to some interesting pictures if they look directly into the camera.
- The window helps to overcome your own fears / shyness – so it’s good to get a taste of what street photography is about.
- Depending on where you are standing and what’s in the background the picture can appear two- or three-dimensional (if you highlight the background).
- Depending on the time of day you can increase your chances to catch some mood in the picture or to have a special group of people in front of your camera (e.g. fatigue in the morning, people would be commuters or pupils. In the evening on weekend you might see more party people etc.)
Making pictures in the metro is not very demanding when it comes to equipment but there are a few things to consider. The camera should be rather small and unobtrusive so you don’t look like a stalker or paparazzo. A big camera with a huge zoom lens looks intimidating. Since you should try to get near your subject a big zoom is nothing that you should use anyway. In addition your lens(es) should be “fast”, meaning they have a large aperture. There is -surprisingly- no daylight in the metro so you need lenses that are able to catch a lot of light if you don’t want unpleasant noise in the pictures. From my experience using large aperture (F2.0 or better) prime lenses is the best way to make pictures in the metro.
You are dealing with more or less static subjects most of the time but due to the low light there is still a good change to get blurred pictures if your shutter speed is to low. In-camera or in-lens stabilization also helps to prevent blurred pictures. A good reason to be brave and get near to the subject is that with shorter focal lengths your chance of camera shake decrease ;).
Normally I use my Olympus PEN E-P5 when I make pictures in the metro. It’s a small and unobtrusive camera, it doesn’t look intimidating and it has a great stabilizer. It fits in my jacket pocket even if one the small Olympus lenses is attached. Using that camera nobody thinks I am a professional photographer and that’s a good thing. The articulated screen helps with “shooting from the hip” so it’s possible to make pictures without people noticing. Besides the PEN I use the Olympus O-MD E-M1 – it’s a little bigger though so I need my camera bag when I use it, it doesn’t fit in my pocket.
When it comes to lenses it depends how brave you are ;). the shortest focal length I use in the metro is the M.Zuiko 17mm F1.8 – 35mm equivalent in the full frame format. You need to get quite near but that also means that you are right in the action. You can see on the picture if you are more the observer or if you are very near to the subject, the latter is often much more interesting and that makes the lens perfect for street phtography.
The PanaLeica 25mm F1.4 (50mm equivalent) is only slightly longer. This excellent lens is very fast (F1.4) so it’s very good in low light. In addition is has the “Leica look”, hard to describe why I like it so much but the picture have a unique character, especially in black & white.
Using the M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8 (90mm equivalent) you need much more distance to the subject. It’s quite comfortable and your adrenaline is not very high due to the distance ;). From my point of view it’s an excellent choice if you’re not very familiar with street photography and you want a comfortable distance to the subject. In addition it’s very small, light and cheap – the right choice to make pictures without being noticed.
Finally I use the M.Zuiko 75mm F1.8 (150mm equivalent) from time to time. The focal length of this lens is a little long but it’s an excellent and sharp lens. Due to the compression of the background it’s possible to get some interesting results, too. I wrote an article why the M.Zuiko 75mm is my favorite lens if you like to read more about it. If you want to know more about my photo equipment take a look at the corresponding info page.
Well, at least in Germany there is something called “the right to one’s own picture” – so if somebody complains that you took a picture just delete it without arguing. There is a theoretical risk that someone sues you but it’s hard to tell what the real damage of the picture you took is. I never had any complains and some people even smile if their picture was taken. You need to decide for your own if making street photos is worth the risk.
These are some examples of metro pictures using different focal lengths. I think it’s quite obvious how the pictures differ from each other and how the focal lengths influences this. Just use the focal length you are most comfortable with and / or try to experiment a little. With a short focal length you are much more flexible than with a long one but on the other hand you need to get nearer and you might not feel very comfortable doing this (in the beginning). Have fun trying and if you would like to tell me your experiences or have some further advice feel free to comment below.