"The Best Zoom Lens is Your Legs" - Ernst Haas

If I were to compare street photography to travel by motorcycle you would probably think I was nuts. In fact, you’d probably click the back button on your browser. If I haven’t lost you yet I hope you’ll humor me and read on.

Now, before I get started I have to tell you that by no means am I an expert on the subject of photography; I am not scholarly in my studies nor do I have a fancy degree or curriculum vitae which would render me worthy of listening to. What I do know is that when you take a good street photograph you feel something inside and it renders you a different person. Photography in effect lifts all of the social, political, and personal boundaries between you and your subject if you’re close enough.

I'm so close to this guy. We're feeling the same heat on the street and at this point I look about as frazzled. If I were further away I'd be watching him have this moment but being so close it's like I can feel it. Canon 35mm F1.4L

I'm so close to this guy. We're feeling the same heat on the street and at this point I look about as frazzled. If I were further away I'd be watching him have this moment but being so close it's like I can feel it. Canon 35mm F1.4L

In this shot I'm not nearly as close as I could be. This is with a 200mm lens and at this distance I'm very much a voyeur. If I were close I would be wondering, "what's behind me, what is he looking at".

In this shot I'm not nearly as close as I could be. This is with a 200mm lens and at this distance I'm very much a voyeur. If I were close I would be wondering, "what's behind me, what is he looking at".

As I’m writing this I’m thinking about Robert Pirsig’s, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,  in which Pirsig says,

“You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.
On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene. . .”
Again I'm farther away in this one so I feel safe. I am very much a spectator but if I were close I'd be reaching for my wallet. It's the difference between I saw this really wild guy today and I was next to this really wild guy.

Again I'm farther away in this one so I feel safe. I am very much a spectator but if I were close I'd be reaching for my wallet. It's the difference between I saw this really wild guy today and I was next to this really wild guy.

You wouldn’t believe it from the photos but I’m actually fairly shy. I make awkward jokes which people tend to understand after the conversation has ended which makes being shy even easier. For me though, street photography takes me out of the roll of passive observer. It strips away the frame of observer and throws me into the action and I am able to feel what the subject is feeling without communicating. It’s powerful stuff and I know it sounds a little crazy, but you have to trust me.

Ernst Haas said it best when he said, “the best zoom lens is your legs,” and I think if you take that to heart you will see what I am talking about.