My Post-Pandemic Return to Street Portraiture

· 1.June.2021

My first post to Instagram was on June 17th, 2013. It was a mirror selfie of me holding two cameras, one digital, the other film. At the time I really didn’t know what the theme or direction of my account would be other than my day-to-day activity as a blogger, gear reviewer, and photographer. I recently looked back at my older posts, reminiscing the good old days of my weekly wanderings into Chinatown and Gastown. What I noticed about my older IG posts was that over time I started focusing more of my energy on people and street portraiture.

In contrast, today I spend most of my time testing cameras and lenses, choosing to photograph mostly at night instead of during the day. With the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, I spent even more time alone, again photographing mostly at night to avoid people. My focus became gear-centric, not people-centric. Over the years, my gear has gotten better, but my photography hasn’t necessarily improved. In some areas, I feel I have regressed, especially when it comes to my street portraiture.

Random Portrait Series on Instagram with my iPhone 5S

In the early days of IG, 90% of my posts were captured with my iPhone, mainly because it was convenient, but also because I enjoyed the limits of mobile photography. With low resolution and almost infinite depth-of-field, I had to be creative with my photography, especially with portraits. Looking back at these legacy images, I am jealous of my previous self wandering the streets of Vancouver with my iPhone 5S, photographing complete strangers in the wild, many of them eventually becoming friends. I was so confident that I could create a portrait of anyone with my iPhone and make it look amazing, I took on some client work and only used my iPhone. After studying my older photographs and remembering the excitement of creating images with random people, I’ve decided to re-focus my attention on street portraiture once the pandemic is over (or at least under control).

Photographers With Cameras Series on Instagram

Gaining some insight from my previous posts, using the same camera consistently over a long period of time really helped me hone in my photographic style. I used various iPhones over the years, but they all had similar 28mm equivalent field-of-view lenses. In addition, I mostly shot in square format, which was the limit of Instagram at the time. The problem I have now is that I’m constantly testing new cameras and new lenses while trying to apply my style to each and every piece of new photographic gear. Consistency in gear, especially in focal length, helps to develop your own specific style. I still feel that the 28mm equivalent is my preferred field-of-view, even for portraiture. For instance, other than my iPhones, I really enjoyed using the Fujifilm X70 for my street portraiture. The articulating screen was helpful when shooting from odd angles, and being able to move the camera close to the subject without my face having to move closer was useful at putting my subjects at ease (the opening collage of local artist Bob High captured with the X70).

GFX 50S + GF110mm f/2. Mario De Leon from my Film Is Still Alive Documentary

GFX 50S + GF110mm f/2. Local artist Priscilla Yu

GFX 50S + GF23mm f/4. TJ Schneider of The Shop Vancouver

I also discovered that shooting with the GFX 50S was great for my portrait photography. Although it’s the complete opposite from my iPhone or the X70, it feels just right in my hands to take portraits with it, even on the streets. The camera is big, heavy, and shoots like it was designed to take your time while capturing your photos. Whenever I had that camera with me, people were often curious about what I had, which was a great conversation starter. Some of my favourite impromptu portraits I’ve taken over the past few years have been with the GFX 50S. For the future, I would love to see an X100 version of a GFX series camera with a fixed 28mm or 35mm lens with a leaf-shutter. With a camera like that, I could travel the world with just one camera for all my photographic and video needs. Until then, I will need to re-evaluate my current setup to be optimized for my style of street portraiture.

Fujifilm X70. Chinatown local Donald.

Fujifilm X70. Chinatown local and prolific artist Bob High

Fujifilm X70. KC Winacott at The Shop Vancouver

My current set-up for street photography is my X-Pro3 with either the Pergear 25mm f/1.8, 35mm f/1.6, or the XF35mm f/2 R WR. If I want to get back into my 28mm equivalent field-of-view workflow again, I will need to find another lens or another camera-lens combo. I’m not a fan of the current XF18mm f/2 R, and although I love the new XF18mm f/1.4 R LM WR, it’s too big and heavy to use as my EDC lens. My only other option within the Fujifilm ecosystem is to use a compact point-and-shoot like the discontinued XF1, X70, or my X100F with the WCL-X100 converter. None of these options are ideal, but I think it’s important for me to use a consistent camera specifically for my street portraiture to get back into my previous way of shooting.

Fujifilm X100F + WCL-X100. Samatha (not Samantha) in Gastown alley, Vancouver

Fujifilm X-Pro2 + XF35mm f/2. Lauren on Columbia Street, Chinatown Vancouver

As we move closer to a post-pandemic era, many of us can finally return back to our previous photographic pursuits. For some it’s travel photography, for others it’s sports, wildlife, street photography, etc. For me, I’ll continue reviewing new cameras and lenses because that’s what I love doing. However, I’m also going to get back into making portraits of random people while I’m out and about. I miss the excitement of meeting new people, and I miss the adrenaline rush I get when I have to quickly capture a portrait of someone I’ve just met. I’m not going to worry too much about what camera I’m going to use, as long as it’s consistent and something I want to shoot with. My previous EDC was my iPhone, and as you can see by the photographs, the gear itself didn’t limit what I was able to capture. Let me know what you look forward to capturing once things open up again, and what gear you will be using. If like me, the gear you want isn’t currently available, what do you want Fujifilm to make? My number one dream is for the replacement of the X70; the second is an X100 series with an 18mm f/2 lens. Thanks for reading and happy shooting!

Portrait Without A Face Series on Instagram