Doing Street Photography with a Small Film Camera

father and daughter at a jazz concert

I like doing street photography with a small film camera. Usually when I take my rangefinder cameras out I like to focus with the split image technique. This makes for tack sharp photos. But when I’m making photos at close range among people, I don’t have time to focus that way. I have to zone focus, estimate the distance to my subject, then quickly swivel my focus ring to that distance. I can do this without looking down at the camera. Many M lenses have a notched focus ring. I know by feel when my lens is at infinity because that notch is spun all the way to the end of its travel. I feel that point. I know that my lens is focused at five feet when the notch is at the very bottom of the camera. I can feel that point too. And a little further is four feet.

Everything has to be figured out ahead of time. I see a picture developing, I test the meter reading by pointing my camera in the general direction of my subject(s), or just estimate the shutter speed by the sunny 16 rule. F/8 is a good aperture for street photography. This provides adequate light and a generous depth of field. So I usually choose the correct shutter speed for f/8. I make sure my next frame is advanced, wait for just the right moment, and snap the picture. My Leica M6 is so quiet, people don’t know they’ve been photographed. For the shot above, taken at about five feet, I didn’t even look at them through the viewfinder, just quickly raised my camera to hip level and fired.

I like working crowds. There’s so much going on that you’re less likely to be noticed.

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