Shooting With Just One Lens

The icy blue of a cold martini. Light through liquids has always fascinated me as a photographer. (Copyright 2009/Andrew Boyd)

The icy blue of a cold martini. Light through liquids has always fascinated me as a photographer. (Copyright 2009/Andrew Boyd)

I like to advise photographers seeking to improve their skills to try spending a day with just one fixed focal length lens. It really is a great exercise, as the confines/parameters of the fixed focal length force you to truly “see” in that perspective, really looking and seraching for the possibilities that unfold before you. So when my wife and I were preparing to go out with friends for New Orleans’ “White Linen Night” Arts District street party, I decided to take my own advice and bring only one lens.

Golden late afternoon light created dazzling light and shadow at our restaurant table. My 50mm macro lens gave me lots of compositional options. (Copyright 2009/Andrew Boyd)

Golden late afternoon light created dazzling light and shadow at our restaurant table. My 50mm macro lens gave me lots of compositional options. (Copyright 2009/Andrew Boyd)

White Linen Night is one of my favorite annual events in New Orleans, centered in the renovated Warehouse District that’s now home to fine restaurants, stylish condos and many art galleries. It’s held in the evening, but during the hottest part of the year (first weekend in August) so having some linen to wear, or at least some breezy white cotton, really is a necessity in our subtropical climate.

Shadows say as much about what's not visible as what IS. (Copyright 2009/Andrew Boyd)

Shadows say as much about what’s not visible as what IS. (Copyright 2009/Andrew Boyd)

It occured to me as I looked around at all the white-clad people how the dress code of the evening was really similar to my one-lens shooting approach: people take the restrictions of attire and find ways to make it their own. No two people dressed alike, each looking different while looking the same. I found that the white clothing actually accentuated the faces and forms of each individual to me since everyone was already wearing some version of a white “uniform.”

'White Linen Night' is ostensibly about seeing art, but it's really tone of the best people-watching events of the year in New Orleans. (Copyright 2009/Andrew Boyd)

‘White Linen Night’ is ostensibly about seeing art, but it’s really one of the best people-watching events of the year in New Orleans. (Copyright 2009/Andrew Boyd)

So what to shoot? On this occasion, with so much constant milling about of the crowd, most of the images I saw that “worked” for my 50mm macro lens were details of one type or another. Our dinner table, a New Orleans streetcar and one crowd vignette are included here. A different lens–say a 200mm telephoto–would have yielded a completely different set of photographs. I think it’s really instructive to try this exercise with different lenses on different outings, forcing yourself out of your comfort zone. We all have favorite approaches to shooting, but our purpose here it to force oursevles to see, and solve the photo shooting problems that come up, in a new, different way.

I never get tired of photographing the streetcars in New Orleans. (Copyright 2009/Andrew Boyd)

I never get tired of photographing the streetcars in New Orleans. (Copyright 2009/Andrew Boyd)

Next time I plan to take the telephoto for just this reason. Isn’t it amazing how much our vision is shaped by the “successes” we’ve had in the past? If you shoot mostly with a wide angle, then you need to spend a day with some long glass…or vice versa!

selfport1aHi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog

Posted in: Equipment, How To

About the Author:

Photographer, videographer and photo editor. Host and creator of The Discerning Photographer web site. Currently a Canon shooter.

2 Comments on "Shooting With Just One Lens"

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  1. David Joachim says:

    Andrew,
    The first 35mm SLR I owned was a Honeywell Pentax sans meter, and sporting a standard 50mm lens. I shot tons of pix with it before I could afford short and long lenses to compliment my photography. It was a character-building experience, finding shots inside the confines of a “normal” field of view. Sometimes I’ll notice how close to a “normal” focal length I shoot when I read the histogram on my digital SLR photos. I am tempted to buy one of the pricey super fast primes that would give me great photos under poor light, and would let me revisit the days when I had to look before I shot.
    David

  2. This is one of my favorite exercises David. Glad to see you on the site! Welcome!

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