Prime Lenses

I’ve used Nikon gear since ’94. Before that I was using Mamiya and Contax with carl zeiss lenses. Due to the expense and the fact I was, well, dirt poor, I sold that gear and moved onto Nikon. I’ve generally always had tons of lenses, from wide angles to long powerful 300mm lenses. Pretty useful when I was working on a local newspaper. Then digital came along and I upgraded all my old 35mm lenses, sold my old camera bodies for the DX format (heh, sound familiar Nikon owners). By the ealry 2000’s. I realized Canon were miles ahead and seriously considered moving over to Canon, but didn’t due to the expense, unlike some of my fellow compatriots (you know who you are).

And, that brings me to date.

I love what I do, and I’ve realized just how much I love my prime lenses, not so much the wide angle zooms or telephoto lenses. The raw simplicity of a 50mm lens, getting in close to your subject, and the fact, you have to physically move to do this, makes it an absolutely honest lens to use. Perfect for what I do today. In fact,  I was reviewing my work from the last 12 months, and realized the majority of my favorite photos were shot with a 50mm lens. Why? A multitude of reasons. Composition, available light and the unobtrusive closeness to my subject allows me to really get a honest portrayal part of the day.

This morning I just purchased a 35mm f2 lens. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still use my 17-24mm lens, but to be honest, I usually just keep it stuck at one focal length. I’ll still use a 80-200 lens as part of my day kit, but sparingly. It’s very challenging to use this lens and tell a couples story within context. There’s nothing worse than shooting my subject, or any subject who looks alone with no context whatsoever. So, I only really use this lens  for those rather large chuches or venues where one just cannot physically get close to a couples vows.

What’s important for me as I evolve my style, is to get up close and personal to my subjects without making my subject feel self conscious or feel like I’m intruding on their space. How do I do this? It’s really about building up a open relationship with the bride and groom, making them feel comfortable and a smile on my face. I don’t hold the camera up to my nose all day ( I used too) as I want my subject to know I’m not being intrusive. I don’t shoot non-stop, trigger happy. In fact, I’ll probably shoot about 500-700 images on a wedding day, and even this feels too much. Many new photographers who have no experienced with 35mm or medium format will shoot around 1000-2000 images hoping to get great shots. That’s fine for most if you’re trying to impress your bride and groom with a numbers game, but how many of those shots will you really love?  For me, my early training was not too run out of film at the wrong time and this meant I only shot when I thought I had a great moment. With experience, I’ve grown to plan ahead and looks for shots, anticipate and react to moments . I’m still trying to cut this shooting number down and anticipate moments and much more difficult and challenging than reacting to every second. If I wanted to be trigger happy, I may as well go back to using a long lens and stand back in the corner of the room. Of course, I’m not up close all the time, I do sit back and observe. I often think of a wedding, like a stage play, You have to tell the story with establishing shots, medium and close up shots and find out who the main players are.

My philosophy and lens choice all tie in together. I love what I get to do for a living. Get close to your subject when it’s warranted, find the balance between not being intrusive and drawing attention to yourself. Use small prime lenses, less equipment, less intrusion. Smile and let folks see your face and shoot only when you see a moment. And keep the inspiration-for me it’s not learning from only wedding photographers. it’s observing and learning form the best photographers the world has seen.

All in all, easier said than done but this is what works for me. What works well for you maybe different and the clientele you’re trying to attract. Evolve your own style and try not to copy another photographers style or work as you have to be honest with yourself and find your own unique style.


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  1. I use a 24mm 1.4 and a 50mm 1.4 a LOT for my weddings. Even with the advent of the super high ISO DSLR cameras. For anything in the 35-75 range all you need is to take a step forwards or backwards!

    Super wide and super telephoto are a different matter though.

  2. Very well put… I have been shooting weddings for just over 12 months now and while new to this and still developing a style I have to say that my lens choice is really shaping that style. Although I own a 24-70 2.8 and a 17-35 zoom, I am finding more and more I just want to leave them in my bag as I get better results with my 35mm F2. Hands down my favorite lens as it pushes me to be more creative and move more freely. That said I do feel a little uncomfortable to use it at first as I feel clients want to see big cameras mounted with flash and telephoto lens as this shouts Professional in their minds… but as we all know, thats not necessarily the case.

    Great work. thanks for posting your thoughts.


    1. Hi Stephen,

      Thanks so much for your kind feedback and interesting comments.

      We’re all a work in progress, right? Have a great week.How’s the weather over there? It’s been a year since I was there last but I’m hoping to get back next summer.


  3. I agree – by far my favourite lenses are the 35 and 85 primes. I still need a zoom of some sort but I think a 50mm is next on my list followed by a 24 and that’s my full range then. Great post Philip. Kevin


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