5 Creative Uses for the Super Versatile 50mm Lens

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When I am out and about with my family, say on a trip or a holiday, I go really thin on the gear and use this to challenge myself to think of new and creative ways to use just one camera and one lens. I usually carry an 85mm as my choice of lens, but I have been using the 50mm lately for this purpose. The 50mm lens is a hugely versatile one that is a handy size for traveling too.

5 Creative Ways to use the Super Versatile 50mm Lens

Having a totally pared down kit has its advantages. It pushes you to think outside the box and to find new ways of making pictures without having much choice of gadgets at all. The limitations you put on yourself certainly makes you more creative. It also makes you give extra careful consideration to factors that make a good image such as lighting, composition, color, the subject, and action.

To further challenge myself, which I do on nearly every family break, I don’t actively go out seeking subjects to photograph. My aim during my vacation with family is not to carve out time away from them in order to shoot some images. Rather, I actually give in to the limitations of the holiday and shoot what is in front of me, what happens as part and parcel of the trip or vacation. It increases the restrictions of course and takes away the usual amount of control I have when staging a photo shoot, but I believe it helps me practice using my eye and keeps me sharp. Personal photographs are the hardest to do, so with everything thrown in the box, this is definitely a creative challenge. Don’t let the lack of sophisticated gear cramp your style.

Here are five creative ways to use the 50mm if you find yourself in a similar situation (traveling with non-photographers) or want to set yourself a similar challenge.

#1 – Close-up shots

We are not talking macro close-up here of course but you can get pretty close for a normal lens. The lens’ ability to open to f/1.4 (or f/1.8 if you have that version) can give you a very shallow depth of field, so the contrast between is the subject in focus and the background can be quite dramatic. I usually use manual focus if the lens struggles to focus automatically because I am too close. You can definitely leverage the 5omm’s wide aperture to exaggerate the contrast between your sharply focused subject and the shallow depth of field.

You can also use your 50mm as a macro lens using the reverse lens macro technique by purchasing an inexpensive reverse mounting ring.

5 Creative Ways to use the Super Versatile 50mm Lens

5 Creative Ways to use the Super Versatile 50mm Lens

#2 – Silhouettes

I used to be rather panicked when shooting silhouettes on the fly. When I wasn’t trying to shoot a silhouette and suddenly I saw the potential for a great one, I would get brain freeze. What settings are appropriate? What shall I adjust? ISO? Aperture? Shutter speed? Shall I go semi-manual, fully automatic or stay fully manual mode shooting (which I am on most of the time anyway)?

With silhouettes, you must meter the brightest part of the background in order to underexpose the subject. The easiest way to create a silhouette is to shoot in manual mode. When you meter the background using either the back button or the by pressing the shutter button halfway down, this also means that you are focusing on that spot and not on your subject. Therefore your subject would not be as crisply outlined as you would like it to be. Your focus needs to be the subject and thus it needs to be sharp and clearly defined. After metering the background, you must move your focus to the subject but not change your exposure settings. Take the image and see what it looks like, and adjust the exposure as necessary. It’s as simple as that.

Lock the exposure

Now if you are shooting in automatic mode or semi-automatic which gives the camera full or partial control of the settings, you will find yourself in a pickle when shooting silhouettes. The moment you move your focus to the subject and press the button halfway down to focus, your camera will also adjust the exposure settings based on the light hitting the subject. You then lose your background settings which are the basis for your silhouette image. You can also use Exposure Lock (AEL) to set the exposure.

Read more about how to shoot a great silhouette in this article: How to Photograph Silhouettes in 8 Easy Steps

5 Creative Ways to use the Super Versatile 50mm Lens

5 Creative Ways to use the Super Versatile 50mm Lens

#3 – Portraits

On a trip such as a family vacation, I aim to capture natural moments and not necessarily strive to take the best portraits of my kids, posed or otherwise. I try and keep my eyes peeled for good light and opportunities but I hate to stop the natural flow and moments of the day just so I can take great portraits. With my own children, I try to be grateful for any I get, to be perfectly honest.

The 50mm is a superb lens for candid photography, street shots, and portraits. It gives me enough wiggle room (on my full frame camera) for the scene I want to capture. I don’t have to worry about moving further back if I want to capture more of a wider scene like I usually do with the 85mm , or going closer as I do with my 35mm and with it the risks of distortion for portraits if I get too close. The 50mm is comfortable and convenient for travel portraits and is a great handy size too, not taking up a lot of space in my handbag.

5 Creative Ways to use the Super Versatile 50mm Lens

5 Creative Ways to use the Super Versatile 50mm Lens

#4 – Night photography

For night shots including light painting and dragging the shutter, the 50mm lens is brilliant. The fun ghostlike painting images below were taken with a fairly slow shutter speed, as low as I can go hand-held, to make sure some ambient light in the sky was captured. I had the kids hold their torches (flashlights) underneath their faces which also illuminated the tippee behind them, with the triangular structure adding a more dynamic feel to the image.

5 Creative Ways to use the Super Versatile 50mm Lens

This photo below was done with a technique called dragging the shutter. I set my shutter speed so low, around 1/10th of a second, and took the image with my camera’s pop-up flash pointing straight at my son. As the image was taken, I also moved the camera up and down as fast as I cold within the 1/10th of a second. The flash froze my son so that he is sharp and clear, while my exaggerated movement of the camera blurred the background and added motion to the ambient light during the time the shutter was open. You must try this, it’s great fun! It is possible as long as you have a flash, whether that be a pop-up, on-camera or off-camera flash.

5 Creative Ways to use the Super Versatile 50mm Lens

This light painting image below was taken with the Bulb setting. For this to happen without a tripod, I had to put my camera down on a steady surface and positioned my kids in front of me where I could get enough of the scene in the shot.

5 Creative Ways to use the Super Versatile 50mm Lens

#5 – Travel and picture-scapes

This is one of the reasons why I love the 50mm lens. It is fantastic as a handy travel lens and creates very pleasing views. I find it so adaptable to a myriad of scenes and it’s incredibly versatile, not only for its focal length but also for its aperture range.

To be able to shoot at f/1.4 (or f/1.8) is amazing and the icing on the cake. The price is minimal. Super versatile and easy on the pocketbook, it’s a magic lens and I would recommend all serious enthusiasts to get one.

5 Creative Ways to use the Super Versatile 50mm Lens

5 Creative Ways to use the Super Versatile 50mm Lens

5 Creative Ways to use the Super Versatile 50mm Lens

Why do your love your 50mm? Are there any other creative ways to use it that you can add to the list? Please share in the comments below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Lily Sawyer is a wedding and portrait photographer based in London. Her absolute favourite past time is going on "mummy" dates with her kids and husband. Other than that, as a homebody, she is content curled up on the sofa, hot chocolate in hand, watching films with her family whenever she has a free weekend. Check out her work on www.lilysawyer.com Follow her on her fave social media platform Instagram.

  • Geno The Magpie

    Great article. Being new to photography I’m finding everything a bit overwhelming, but this seems to be quite easy to achieve.
    One question: I do have a 50mm lens but I have a crop sensor camera. Would this make much difference or do I need maybe a 35mm lens?

  • Lily Sawyer

    Hi Geno – the 35mm give you more wiggle room for your crop sensor and it is also the closest equivalent to the 50mm on it. The 50mm on a crop is more like an 85mm in equivalent and you need more space to get further back for wider scenes. Hope this helps.

  • Geno The Magpie

    Thanks for replying Lily. I’ll add the 35mm to my Christmas list, but it might be too late for Santa to sort out. Birthday in a couple of months, best continue being a good boy then. lol.
    Merry Christmas

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  • JSummar

    Great article! I have a nifty 50mm (f1.8) that I rarely use, but always have with me. The tips you provide would have helped immensely on a recent trip to Hawaii. I was going on a helicopter ride with my husband, and the helicopter was an open-doors one. We had to have everything strapped to something. I brought my 70-200 f/2.8 thinking I’d need a long reach and a wide aperture, due to the overcast skies. The helicopter was so tiny, I couldn’t point my camera to the sides much, or that long lens would stick out in front of the pilot’s face! Needless to say, I learned a valuable (newbie) lesson. My nifty 50 would have worked just fine. Thanks for the reminders.

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  • Lily Sawyer

    I love the 70-200 but it’s a beast! Thanks for your comments and enjoy your 50mm!

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  • Ravindra Kathale

    Your article has caused me to firm up my decision to acquire a 50mm. (So now you know who is to blame if the photos don’t turn out well -:). )Thanks for a very well written article. One of my concerns was about landscapes and that has been settled. Thanks for the article once again. Wish you a Merry Christmas and a very happy new year.

  • Lily Sawyer

    Glad it has helped you Ravindra! Have fun with your new 50mm and have a great 2017 ahead!

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