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Today Matthew Luttmer shares his experience of buying his first prime lens – a 50mm (sometimes known as a ‘nifty 50’).
It’s true. There is only 50mm separating you from the photos you always wanted to take. Of course it is a 50mm prime lens that is between you and your goal. All the happy owners of this wonderful lens will testify on its behalf as to how their skill where strengthened by this marvel.
I got a 50mm prime lens this summer (a Nikon 50mm 1.8D AF), wanting a lens that was sharp and cheap. Little did I know how much I would improve as a photographer for it. Excited with my purchase, I immediately rushed to try it out.
“Wow this thing is weird!”. “I have to move to compose my shot?”. Not to sure how I was going to like this new lens. I moved forward and back, side to side and “Gasp” all the way around my subject to get a composition that wasn’t going to make my eyes bleed, on viewing the LCD. Click. Wow that’s better than a stick in the eye. Lets try another. Compose, move, compose, move again. On and on this dance went until I saw that certain something that made my subject compelling. I let the shutter fall like the guillotine it is, shaving off a piece of time an tucking it away to devour later at my computer.
After firing off my 21 exposure salute to the day. I sat on a bench and began to thumb my way through the fodder I thought I was taking. Hey! Wait a minute. These aren’t my usual boilerplate shots. There is something different about them. There is more contrast, the composition could make a diamond out of coal, they look almost 3d. Just about every image was holding my attention and my eye was not falling out of the picture like I tend to fall out of bed in the morning (groaning and complain). I… took… good pictures!!!!
Well it wasn’t like I became better over night. I had taken some pretty good shots in the past with the lenses I had before. The difference was, just about all the shots I had taken that day where not just better than pedestrian, they where ahead of the curve!
I realize now why I find this lens to be so magical. Its not because Gandalf blesses them as they roll down the line at the factory. It is because it forced me to compose each and every shot by moving and recomposing. The result was better composition. Great composition is what makes great photos. You can take a photo of the most uninteresting thing and it will burn through the viewers eyes with good composition. The 50mm prime helped me get off my ass and showed me a better way to take a photo. It was not easier, in fact it was much harder. In this day of making our lives easier the camera companies have tied our hands to the chain of mediocrity. The zoom.
Point, zoom, click. There is no faster way to take a bad shot. Now I’m not saying that you can’t take amazing photos with zooms. On the contrary. I’m saying you will take better photos with zooms, if you know how to compose your shots.
Compose, move, compose again, maybe rinse, lather, repeat. That’s the stuff that turns out masterpieces.
I have since purchased a 35mm prime as well (a Nikon 35mm 1.8G AF-S). I use this lens more and more because it achieves the same outcome as my 50mm. Brilliant photos.
In the end, what this all boils down to is this; Prime lenses force you to compose better photos. You can’t just zoom in and out from the safety of your own home. You have to move closer to your subject and get down on your knees or climb a fence, jump up and down while patting your head and rubbing you tummy to get that shot.
So don’t just take photos, make them!
Matthew Luttmer is an amateur photographer from Calgary, Alberta, Canada.