How To Get Out Of Your Photography Comfort Zone: My Lens Challenge

Lens Challenge: Shooting with 35mm F1.8 only

Have you ever done anything specifically to challenge yourself in your photography? Here is what I did just for fun and explore a different spectrum of my skills.

My workhorse lens for the past 4 years has been my 18-200mm 3.5-5.6 DX VR lens. The reason I love it and use it so much relates to my shooting style. I like to shoot “tight’ and love the flexibility that this lens gives me to frame up my subject just the way I want to, quickly and all without having to change lenses or run close or further away to make an image work.

However, early in my shooting journey, I had a slight case of what Zack Arias terms G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) and had a few other lenses added to my collection. Lenses that I later realized that I did not use nearly as much as my 18-200mm. I had picked up a couple of fast lenses that I thought I would have used a lot more.

Well, in the last couple of weeks, I challenged myself to take out one of those lenses that I barely ever touch and challenged myself to use it instead of the 18-200mm, just to see what I would be able to do creatively with it and to see the difference it would make in what I would produce.

The lens that I chose to challenge myself with was the 35mm F1.8 DX prime. It is a fast lens and the rule was simple: I just had to use it for the entire event I was using it for and not give into the temptation to fall back to the 18-200mm. I was excited to use it because I wanted to see what kind of shallow depth of field images I would be able to create with it. The discomfort for me, was that it was a prime lens. Fixed in its focal length. So to get the image and framing I wanted would mean that I would have to  move my feet a great deal more rather than relying on the zooming in and out that I was used to.

I ended up using it for three different events: a shoot for the grand opening of the new children’s centre at my church, for taking photographs at a wedding for which I was a guest, and also for taking shots of my god-daughter’s birthday party this past weekend.

Lens Challenge: Shooting with 35mm F1.8 only - Wedding Details 2

How the 35mm F1.8 Challenged Me – The Results

The result of limiting myself to this lens was fun and rewarding. It forced me to think even harder about my composition and the shot that I was going to take. I already do give great thought to my composition and that is why I love the 18-200mm so that I can frame things out so that they are not distracting to the main subject of the photo. However, with this lens, I had to make a decision on the style of shot I was aiming to get and then move into position faster in order to catch important moments that would never happen again.

At the children’s centre grand opening, it meant being comfortable with the wider angle shots than what I was used to and still make them interesting according to my style of shooting. At the wedding, getting images like portrait shots of the bride and groom meant getting a lot closer in order to fill up the frame the way I desired. At the birthday party, it meant being ready to move to catch the fast pace of the 6 and 7 year-olds that were running around, chasing each other, playing on the jungle gym, playing “Just Dance 4″ on the Nintendo Wii as well as musical chairs.

Naturally, the unique characteristics of a lens like this also shone through. The lens has a fast F1.8 aperture which was very beneficial shooting indoors in the lower light situations like at the children’s centre grand opening and also at the wedding reception.

Also, as expected from a prime lens, the 35mm lens produced some really crisp and clean shots. I make it a practice to always shoot in a way that I don’t have to crop and I am able to achieve this 95-100% of the time with the 18-200mm lens. However, there were a few occasions with the 35mm lens in which I decided to crop a photo in order to  make it a stronger composition. When I did have to, I was amazed at the quality and detail that was still contained within the final cropped image.

Finally, I was also able to get some nice shallow depth of field shots while shooting with the 35mm f1.8 lens for things like the detail shots that you see here.

Lens Challenge: Shooting with 35mm F1.8 only - Birthday Party

As photographers, it is easy for us to get excited and tempted to get that next great lens or piece of equipment. Growing in your photography skills, however, ultimately comes down to knowing how to use what you have in your arsenal. I definitely do not regret picking up this lens when I did, but this exercise has helped me move a little more out of my comfort zone and expand my understanding of other scenarios when it might be beneficial for me to use this lens. As many other wise pros have stated, having more gear or lots of gear does not make you better at photography. But you do well when you have the technical skills and know-how to use what you do have.

Is there a lens that you rely heavily on? Which lens are you most uncomfortable using that would be a challenge for you to shoot with?

Now time to head over to the B&H website to drool! :)