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  • Writer's pictureMark Heathcote

Travel light, move fast in street photography

Updated: Jan 21, 2021

I have had a motto for many years - 'travel light, move fast'. This originated from holidays with mates and girlfriends who would always say 'is that all you are taking?' (while looking at my bag in disbelief). When I took up photography I unfortunately didn't take my own advice and for many years crippled myself.

A Lens for Every Scenario

During my early photography, I believed that I needed a lens for all scenarios I might come across. Not only that, they had to have image stabilization, filters, and other accessories. Regardless what I took with me, I was still unable to get great shots. I understood exposure, aperture and ISO settings, so the only conclusion was that I needed better lenses and better cameras. A common term for this is GAS (gear acquisition syndrome).

Borough Market
Pre-exposed for highlights

It took me many years, and a change in my research into photography for me to realise that I was the problem, not my gear. It took my discovery of In-Public and Magnum photographers, and in particular a moment in 2013 on a shoot in with David Gibson (of In-Public) for me to realise. Meeting David with my full frame SLR and 3 lenses I proceeded to explain that I needed to understand how to use my gear settings to get better images. David looked at me and said that he knew nothing about the technicalities of photography, and that he just shoots on auto (with his 40mm pancake lens). What? This took me a while to absorb the implications of what I had been doing these previous years.

The Camera is Just a Tool

I now get it. Very much the camera is just a tool. It is the photographer's brain which makes the image, using their tool to capture it. That tool could be incredibly expensive gear, or a simple camera phone.

We get drawn into magazine articles where they compare the sharpness of lenses, how we can get beautiful Bokeh, and all published images show the aperture, ISO and lens used. This is completely misleading and nothing to do with photography. Images to not have to be sharp (some of the very best images are grainy and blurred), bokeh from tiny apertures does not make a photograph great, and the camera settings are irrelevant (it is the power of the resulting image that is important).

A very brief moment, zone focus, no BOKEH!

So, I learned to keep it simple and it transformed my photography almost overnight. Here is why:

  • By shooting with a single fixed lens I know exactly what will be in the frame from wherever I am standing. This allows me to get in position without even raising the camera.

  • By using hyperfocal and zone focusing techniques I can nail the shot without worrying about focus (since everything I want will be in focus). You can google those techniques for an explanation.

  • By pre-setting the exposure based on weather conditions, I can decide exactly how I want my shadows and highlights to be exposed (auto exposure is rubbish on sunny days).

This means the only button I need to press on the camera is the shutter. I raise the camera and click, shot taken. This allows me to be fast in capturing very brief moments, and also means that I can shoot for much longer since I am not carrying a backpack full of lenses to tire me out. Not only am I less conspicuous, I travel further and get better shots. I still have some way to go though before I catch up with In-Public or indeed Magnum, say another 50 years.

So, like I said, travel light, move fast.

For a stream of my work, follow me on Twitter or Instagram. If you are interested in rapidly improving, and learning more secrets of the masters then get in touch about my workshops.


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