Telling Stories & the 50mm Prime Lens

It's no doubt that photography is a great medium to tell a story or convey an idea with. But there isn't a set way to learn how to use it effectively.  Like all those movies where the main character trains by way of a certain methodology (Rocky hitting frozen meat, Karate Kid waxing a car), one method I found that helped me was by limiting myself to shoot with just a 50mm prime lens. I've been thinking about why this is so, here are two reasons I came up with:

Normal Lens

The 50mm lens is considered to be a normal lens because it mimics the field of vision of our eyes. In practice, this can be seen in the picture below where the distance between me and the men standing in the foreground, and the distance between them and the man performing his routine is the same whether seen through my eyes or through the lens.


Canon 5D, 1/4000 @ f/1.2, ISO 100

This allows the least amount of "translation" between what I see and what I capture. Instead of relying on the charm of a telephoto or wide angle lens in order to create a shot, the scene before me is what I have and composition, content, and intent becomes crucial in creating a strong photo. The vision that motivates a photo becomes the heart of the picture, not the equipment or technology. With the current leaps in technology within digital photography, this seems to have become the exception rather than the norm. Limiting myself to a 50mm has kept me from thinking that way. Now, regardless of the which focal length I use I only have to learn how it helps me tell a story, not relying on the lens or equipment to do the job for me.

Prime Lenses

The second reason why it was so effective for me was because it was a prime lens rather than a zoom lens. It forced me to become a part of the environment I am covering, and not comfortably use my fingers to bring a subject closer or farther away. Instead I move closer or farther and became more aware of the space around me, and the space between me and the subject. This familiarity created an intimacy between me and what I'm covering, which result in stronger, clearer pictures.   

There's no question that a zoom lens is great for it's versatility especially when capturing the moment is crucial there are simply some moments that I wouldn't be able to capture if all I used was a 50mm lens. But again, when I now use a zoom, there's a specific reason to why I zoom in or out, rather than having the lens dictate what I capture.

If you want to try out this method, regardless of which brand you use a 50mm lens is a staple lens that they would offer. Canon has three offerings, a f/1.8, f/1.4, and an f/1.2. Nikon also offers the same here.  One thing to note for those that have a camera with a 1.6 magnification sensor (eg. any camera below Canon 5D model or Nikon's D700): you should get a 35mm prime lens instead of a 50mm prime lens. Because of the magnification in the sensor, a 35mm lens will effectively give you a 50mm field of vision (it's actually 56mm, but similar enough to a 50mm). It's not about the lens per say, but rather the experience with the 50mm focal length I am talking about. I own a Canon 5D which has a full frame sensor.

So if you do end up going trying this out to help hone your skills, please let me know and please share photos.

What are some other techniques you used (regarding lens choice or any other method) to help you grow as a photographer?

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