Prime lenses have a fixed focal length lens. That means you’re locked into shooting at a single focal length — no zooming and no magnification.
“If you want to get into photography professionally, I would suggest picking a prime focal length that you like, that you’re comfortable with, and shooting with just that for a while,” Boyd suggests. “Learn to be creative with one focal length, because it’ll make you think about using your camera. It’ll make you think about your settings more. It’ll make you take more time — it slows you down. It’s very tempting to just zoom when you have a zoom lens. But when you have a prime lens, you have to move.”
“Learn to be creative with one focal length, because it’ll make you think about using your camera. It’ll make you think about your settings more. It’ll make you take more time.”
Getting out into the street, or wherever your curiosity takes you, and dedicating time to consistent practice with a single focal length can be an important step in beginning to understand your eye as a photographer.
“The types of lenses and focal lengths that you choose to use is really going to help portray your style,” says wedding photographer Kilen Murphy. “It will influence how you like to shoot and the way things look.”
When your style begins to develop, it’s time for a change in perspective. Experimenting with different focal lengths can be an enlightening process that further defines your style. It’s also especially important to understand the benefits of different focal lengths if your goal is to build a Batman-like utility belt of lenses for more complex shoots.
Changing focal lengths can change the game.
Photographing a live event is a great way to understand how focal length affects your shots. You’ll be moving around the event, looking for that perfect angle, and sometimes you’ll need to change focal lengths to make the most of the opportunities.
“You have to know what you’re trying to shoot and which lens is going to facilitate that,” author, designer, and photographer Khara Plicanic explains. “You’re trying to predict where your subject is going or what’s happening next. And you want to be a few steps ahead in your mind, so that you don’t get caught in a bad location when something is happening.”
It’s moments like these that will have you turning to that superhero utility belt. Bring your backup with you.
When shooting weddings, Plicanic carries a trio of lenses: a 50mm, a 16-35mm, and a 70-200mm. Different events and different shoots have varying requirements, and as with a caddy selecting the right golf club to land that next shot on the green, your ability to understand focal length will set you up for success when chasing that perfect photo.