Friday, October 16, 2009

Is 50mm My Favorite?

Pigeon Feeding
Of all the lenses in my kit, the 50mm is making a great run at becoming my favorite.  Shifting to dominant use of this lens was not conscious or intentional, but more a matter of retrospective awareness.  As I was reviewing shots from the last couple of months, I found the two most used lenses in my bag were the 50mm f1.8 II, and the 17-40 f/4.0 L.
Capitol lantern
After making this observation, the next question is clearly - why?  Following a bit of thought, I made the following conclusions:
1.  I have regularly been challenging my self to be creative by constraining myself – not relying on the full stable of lenses.  For example, all the photographs featured in this entry were made as a result of a walk around Washington DC that I intentionally limited myself to the 50mm.  I left all other lenses at home so I would not be tempted.
2.  The 50mm is a non-imposing lens.  It is less noticeable and non-threatening when compared to some of the bigger lenses.  Walk around with a 70-200mm f/2.8L and you will both draw attention and likely scare small children.  This lens helps you to get intimate with your subject, and because of the focal length, it forces you into a physically intimate position.  For certain personality types, this can be a real challenge – yet very worthwhile.
3.  This lens is extremely sharp, and with the large 1.8 aperture, you can get some great background blur (boceh) that separates your subject from the background and you can make some great photography in very low light conditions.
Capitol Northeast Angle
Unrelated to these conclusions, this lens is very inexpensive.  $100 new, and as low as $50 used.  You cannot afford not to have a 50mm lens.  I have been enjoying this lens and focal length a great deal and am even considering upgrading to the “L” version of this lens.  Ironically, with the thousands of dollars I have invested in beautiful glass, an inexpensive plastic toy-looking lens bubbles to the top of the heap.
Hide and go seek at the National Gallery
I am very fortunate to live in Washington DC.  I am never more than a few minutes away from some fantastic subject matter for photography.  There are always people on the mall, at the monuments, and wandering the streets.  It only takes some patience, and something interesting is bound to walk in front of the lens.
Hide and go seek at the National Gallery-3
I generally don’t have the patience to sit and wait, although I have tried it, and know it works.  I prefer to wander.  Wandering around with a photographic eye is much more enjoyable than the typical bustle of people being driven by their next meeting or rush to go home that clearly dominates DC foot traffic.
Library of Congress Fountain
If you have not done so, try it.  Just take a walk with the singular purpose of looking for interesting things to photograph in interesting ways.  Unlike being a tourist, you will not be in a rush to get to the next thing, or learn something in the 15 seconds taken to read a plaque.  Think of it more as a Zen thing and allow the opportunities to present themselves – you just have to be ready to accept them.
Capitol Reflection
If that doesn’t work for you, try another approach; I will frequently grab the camera, begin walking (without a plan), plug in my iPod, smoke a cigar, and call it exercise.  Does it get any better? 
Go make some great photography!

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