Phototgraphy

Get the right angle on street photography

Equipped with a wide-angle lens and a right angle viewfinder, you can inconspicuously slip into large crowds.
Add this attachment to your camera and prowl the streets like a pro

You’re taking more than a “walk on the wild side” when you use your camera out on the streets today. Pursuing that perfect moment could quickly transform into a matter of life or death.

It’s dangerous out there, and the first thing you DON’T want to be is “that” guy. You’ve seen him, Mr. Red Dot with stylish black cameras draped around his neck and a Billingham bag or two hanging off his shoulders. Don’t do that; blend in with the crowd and become disarmingly inconspicuous.

How can you avoid conflict? It’s easy, shoot like Diane Arbus.

Rather than delving into Diane Arbus’ unique compositional style, focus, instead, on her preferred street camera…the Rollei Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) camera. While initially using a 35mm Nikon F camera for her street photography, she switched to the Rolleiflex based on one signature trait of the TLR–a waist-level viewfinder which provided her with an unparalleled access to street life.

What you’ll need:

  • Waist-Level Viewfinder; for example, Hasselblad Waist-Level Viewfinder for 500C/M; please note: Mamiya calls the viewfinder for its line of TLR cameras a Focusing Hood.
    or,
  • Right Angle Viewfinder; for example, Nikon DR-4 Right Angle Viewfinder Attachment for F4, F5, and F6. Also, Nikon DR-6 Right Angle Viewfinder Attachment for D70, D80, and D100. An Olympus right angle viewfinder is featured in Figure 2.
Figure 2. A right angle viewfinder slides over the eyepiece of this Olympus OM-1 35mm film camera.
Figure 2. A right angle viewfinder slides over the eyepiece of this Olympus OM-1 35mm film camera.

or,

  • A Tilting LCD Panel on a Digital Camera; ensure your LCD can be pitched so that it is parallel with the ground; for example, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3. Flip the script on street photography by pitching your digital camera's LCD panel.
Figure 3. Flip the script on street photography by pitching your digital camera’s LCD panel.

Finally,

  • If you’d like to copy Diane Arbus’ TLR technique, Lomography sells a plastic-body TLR camera called the Lomo Lubitel 166+ (see Figures 4a & 4b). Be forewarned, however, this extremely popular $399 camera is frequently “out of stock.” You can check availability here, or on Lomography.

A waist-level viewfinder causes the photographer to look down onto the focusing screen of the camera. Therefore, your big mug isn’t staring into the lives of your subjects, rather it’s facing downward and hidden from view. This photographic technique renders you virtually invisible to most street denizens.

This same invisibility can be achieved by using a right angle viewfinder attachment that is available for most popular 35mm film cameras (see Figure 5). Furthermore, you can also use a tilting LCD panel found on most popular digital cameras as a waist-level surrogate (see Figure 6).

One final aspect of “going incognito” on the street is selecting a chrome camera body versus a black body. Yes, this flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but holding a large black box in your hands is typically seen as some form of modern technology. Conversely, a chrome camera body looks innocuously “antique” (e.g., “Hey, Dad, get with the 2000’s!”) and is seen as less of a threat (see Figure 7).

Figure 7. My chrome model Olympus OM-1 with a right angle viewfinder sneakily recorded local Mardi Gras revelers.
Figure 7. My chrome model Olympus OM-1 with a right angle viewfinder sneakily recorded local Mardi Gras revelers.

It’s easy to stalk your elusive public prey, like the two characters in Figure 8, by looking down at your feet while holding a small silver camera that sets your inner Lou Reed free to “hit the streets, looking for soul food.”

Unobtrusive photography is facilitated when using the right angle on your camera.
Unobtrusive photography is facilitated when using the right angle on your camera.



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