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Nine Ways to Boost Your Kit Lens Creativity

The first lens many photographers will own is the kit lens. This lens typically covers a focal range of 18-55mm and has a variable maximum aperture. So before you move onto other lenses, how can you get the most out of this particular lens? Well, there is an awful lot that can be achieved with this lens when you put your mind to it. There are limitations of course, but there is even more room to experiment with your kit lens creativity! So let’s look at some of the ways you can do just that.

Kinetic Light Painting - Nine Ways to Boost Your Kit Lens Creativity

This photo used the kit lenses ability to zoom to do some kinetic light painting.

1 – Kinetic Light Painting

Light painting is an exciting form of photography and one that you can experiment with using a humble kit lens. What the kit lens is well suited for is a niche form of light painting, called kinetic light painting. This form of light painting involves moving the camera, as opposed to moving the light source. Light painting uses a long exposure, and as with all long exposure shots, it’s a good idea to use a tripod. So what types of kinetic light painting will work well?

  • Camera rotation – This is a type of light painting that involves moving the camera around while it is attached to a tripod. Use a wide focal length, and experiment with light sources that are above the camera. Tall structures like skyscrapers often work well for this technique.
  • Zoom – The 18-55mm focal range is ideal for zoom light painting work, good for kit lens creativity. In fact, perhaps the only better lens would be a superzoom 18-300mm. This time you’ll change the focal length of the lens during the photo, causing light to be painted across the scene.
Panning - Nine Ways to Boost Your Kit Lens Creativity

Panning is a great technique to practice, and it’s fun.

2 – Panning

While it’s true you can use more or less any lens for panning, you don’t need an upgrade from your kit lens to make this type of photo either. In fact, a focal length of around 55mm is often ideal for this particular technique. You simply require a shutter speed of around 1/20th second. There are some excellent guides on this subject, and the technique is simple and fun to master.

  1. Find an area where you’re moving subject will move across the area you intend to photograph. You’ll want your moving object to run parallel to you, relative to where you’re positioned.
  2. Use a shutter speed of around 1/20th. You can increase or decrease this if you wish. At slower shutter speeds the chance of camera shake increases, so you will need to be very steady when tracking the motion of the object you’re panning. It’s possible to use a faster shutter speed for panning, but then you’ll need a fast moving object to pan with.
  3. As the object you’re panning approaches, begin to follow the motion with your camera. When you’re confident you’re following the motion steadily, press your shutter gently as you continue to move with the object.
Zoom Burst - Nine Ways to Boost Your Kit Lens Creativity

Using your lens for long exposure photos can be creative.

3 – Zoom Burst

You’ll notice zoom is a kinetic light painting technique. It can also be used during the day, to create a dynamic feel to your photo. The shutter speed needed is similar to that of panning, so around 1/20th. You can also use a tripod for extra stabilization of your photo. It’s best to zoom into your subject when practicing this technique, which can work very nicely for portrait photos. Once again the kit lens is well suited to this since it allows a zoom range from 18mm to 55mm.

4 – Glass Ball Refraction Photography

Refraction photography is a niche that can use any kind of camera. You can certainly use a kit lens to get this type of photograph. The technique revolves around using a crystal ball, though other objects such as wine glasses filled with water will work. When you consider that a glass ball works like an external lens optic, in a sense, you’re getting your creativity from another lens. However, you still need a kit lens to take the photo! As these photos work best with a blurred background look to photograph at 55mm, and with the largest aperture you can.

Refraction - Nine Ways to Boost Your Kit Lens Creativity

In this photo, a wine glass was used to show refraction.

5 – Low-Key Light Portrait

You don’t need low light to create low-key portraits, and with that in mind, the kit lens can be a very useful lens. Using your lens at around 50mm will work nicely for your portrait, and you can use your camera body to expose at -2 or -3 exposure value. You’ll need to set your aperture and shutter speed to the appropriate settings to get this exposure value, depending on the environment you’re in. To make a low-key photo you’ll need a large difference in light from model to the background. This can be achieved through finding a place where a shard of sunlight comes through a gap in the roofing, perhaps at a market. You now need your model to be lit up by the sun, while the background will be underexposed, and therefore dark.

Low-Key Portraits - Nine Ways to Boost Your Kit Lens Creativity

You can use any lens for low-key portraits, including the kit lens.

6 – Long Exposure Photography

Your kit lens will not restrict your ability to take long exposure photos. The limiting factor here will be a lack of a tripod, and perhaps a lack of the correct filter. That means you can take amazing long exposure photos with a kit lens, so long as you have the correct additional equipment.

  • Car light trails – Find the right location above a road with plenty of traffic, and you can take photos of light trails produced by cars. Close down the aperture, and you’ll also create a starburst effect with any street lights nearby. You’ll need exposure times of 5 seconds or more for this type of photo.
  • Moving water – Moving water can look attractive in your photo, and a kit lens can certainly capture this. Exposure times of around 1 second or more will give moving water a silky look when photographed.
  • Light painting – The merits of the kit lens for kinetic light painting has already been discussed. It’s no surprise you can also up your kit lens creativity with light painting of any type.
Long Exposures - Nine Ways to Boost Your Kit Lens Creativity

Fireworks can be recorded using a kit lens, and it’s great for capturing the whole scene at wide focal lengths.

7 – Attaching a Filter

A great way to increase your kit lens creativity is to add a filter, and that’s not the digital kind. There are a good variety of filters you can add to your kit lens that will give you extra options as a photographer. These can be graduated sunset filters, that add warms tones to the sky. Alternatively, a strong ND filter will allow you to take long exposure photos during the day, using your kit lens and a tripod. This article will give you an idea of some of the available filters you can use. You’ll need to use the correct sized filter, with 52mm or 58mm being typical for a kit lens.

Adding Filters - Nine Ways to Boost Your Kit Lens Creativity

Filters can be attached to your kit lens. This photo was taken with an infra-red filter attached to a kit lens.

8 – Get Wide

At 18mm your kit lens is wide enough to capture a good amount of the scene in a landscape photo. This means as you travel with this lens you can take some photos of amazing viewpoints. Combine this with a technique such as long exposure or kinetic light painting and you will get your kit lens creativity! Note that if you’re using a crop sensor APS-C camera 18mm is effectively 28.8mm on a full-frame camera.

9 – Portrait Work

At the other end of the scale with your kit lens is 55mm. Once again when using an APS-C camera this will effectively be 88mm if this was used on a full-frame camera. These focal lengths are ideal for portrait photography though. Any compression of the face won’t be too extreme at the effective focal length of 88mm. So focal lengths from around 30mm through to 55mm will give you some good compression ratios to work with for portrait photography.

Get Wide - Nine Ways to Boost Your Kit Lens Creativity

Whether your portraits are street photos, posed, or travel, the kit lens is going to give you nice results.

How Will You Get Your Kit Lens Creativity?

The drive for more creativity is always there with photography. There is a lot you can do using your kit lens if you choose to. The list above gives you some examples of how you might go about doing that. Have you tried any of these techniques with the kit lens? Are there any other ways you’ve taken interesting photos with this particular lens? Please share your thoughts, and photos in the comments section.

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Simon Bond
Simon Bond

is a specialist in creative photography techniques and is well known for his work with a crystal ball. His work has featured magazines including National Geographic Traveler. With over 8 years of experience in lensball photography, Simon is an expert in this field. Get some great tips by downloading his free e-book!
Do you want to learn about crystal ball photography? He has a course just for you! Get 20% off: DPS20.