Week 1- 50mm f/1.8 - Lens Challenge with Madeline Mulqueen

Week 1- 50mm f/1.8 - Lens Challenge with Madeline Mulqueen

 So to kick off the challenge we’ve decided to use a range of ‘prime lenses’. In other words, lenses that don’t zoom. There are specific advantages to these lenses in terms of their ability to let in more light over zoom or ‘variable’ lenses as they’re otherwise known. I’ll explore that element a little further later on.

This week we are using the… 50mm f/1.8. Or the ‘nifty fifty’ as it’s affectionately known in the photography industry.

This lens is one of the most common for budding photographers and with the typical full frame sensor it is probably the closest focal length in terms of perspective to the human eye. This means that as you look through your viewfinder with a 50mm lens, objects will appear roughly the same in size as they do when you’re not looking through the camera. Therefore the 50mm is an extremely versatile lens and can be used in many situations. Hence, the ‘nifty fifty’!
Given my love of nature, my first port of call with the 50mm was the woods and lakes close to home. Since I normally shoot with wider angled lenses (24mm, 35mm etc) to capture landscapes and broad images, I found it difficult to adjust myself to the slightly ‘tighter’ 50mm. Typically I would zoom in with my variable lens to get a tighter shot of my subject but the prime 50mm doesn’t give me that option. And so, I very quickly found myself having to move around a lot more to get the composition I wanted for my photograph. This might not sound ideal but in fact, changing your position in relation to your subject and getting another perspective is incredibly useful in the world of photography and helps you to learn and explore your options for capturing the image you want.

In terms of my own framing and composition I found that rather than shooting my typical landscapes, my eye was drawn to the subjects that were close to me. The ones that were in the ‘foreground’. Getting closer to my subjects; the trees, mushrooms (which I love), my little pal Dougie the dog, allowed me to examine them in a more thorough way and to capture and isolate details in a way that would be harder to achieve on other lenses.

Leaving the peace and tranquillity of nature behind me, I headed to the city to explore what the 50mm would have to offer me there. I’m not a very experienced with street photography but since the nifty fifty is the standard for most street photographers I felt confident enough to get into the hustle and bustle with my camera and give it a shot.

Pulling out a DSLR in public and snapping away can be an intimidating experience. You can’t always be sure that people will be happy to have their photograph taken and you may feel a little awkward at times. You are forced to engage fully with the environment around you and to be ready to leap into action to get the shot you want. Otherwise you can miss your window altogether!

However, when your nerves pay off and you get the street shot you want, the feeling is extraordinary. And the 50mm definitely gives you a wealth of opportunities to achieve this.

One of the great things about street photography is that you can find yourself sparking off a conversation with someone and engaging with people in a way you might not otherwise have a chance to. By and large, if you’re respectful, people will be forthcoming and accommodating with you and will try to help you achieve the shots you want to take.

Take a man who I got chatting to on my street photography day. He is a retired Dublin tour guide and he told me all the best spots to shoot the Christmas lights. As we talked he gave me some history lessons on Dublin and even gave me a 1916 commemorative €2 coin as a gift. Moments like these make all the nerves about stepping out of your comfort zone totally worth it.

One of the benefits of shooting street photography on a 50mm lens is that it’s a relatively small lens and isn’t as imposing as some zoom or longer focal length prime lenses. This generally means that people will be less intimidated if you ask them for a picture and you’ll be more easily able to blend into the environment around you. Although the tighter 50mm lens won’t afford you the ability to fit large building and structures into your frame, it will challenge you to get creative with your compositions and find a more impressionistic way to express your vision, or capture the image you’re interested in. Framing your foreground subjects with interesting shapes in the urban landscape background is a great way to make use of the environment. As evening falls the lights of the city make for great opportunities to capture ‘long exposure’ shots. This are achieved by closing the aperture or ‘f-stops’ on your lens and keeping your shutter open for an extended period, maybe 2 or 3 seconds, to let the lights of the traffic etc blur through the frame while keeping the buildings in sharp focus.

The 50mm Canon EF has a very wide or ‘fast’ aperture. This is the nature of prime lenses which will always have the edge over variables when it comes to this feature.

The 50mm has a wide open f-stop of f/1.8 which allows you to keep objects in the foreground in razor sharp focus while letting the background fall into a milky blur effect called ‘bokeh’. This is the principal of ‘depth of field’. Depth of field can be very useful when shooting portraits on the 50mm lens.

This feature of the lens also allows you to keep shooting in lower light and capture details at dusk which you might not be able to with a ‘slower’ lens. Normally in low light you would need to adjust your ‘ISO’ which can leave your photograph quite grainy, particularly above 3200 ISO. The 50mm removes this necessity.

To summarise, here are a few points about the 50mm prime lens.

  • It’s small and lightweight.
  • It’s discreet for your stealthy street shots, if that’s what you're looking for.
  • Encourages you to move around to get your composition.
  • Let’s you make use of a very wide aperture.
  • It’s as versatile as you are willing to be to get your shot. It will make you a better photographer!

Now that you’ve read all about my lens challenge we want you to take part in the Bermingham Cameras Lens Challenge. Tag Bermingham Cameras and put #BCLensChallenge in your shots using a 50mm lens to show us how you got on. We will share them on the Bermingham Cameras Instagram story. Happy shooting!

Follow me on Instagram for more of my photography @MadelineMulqueen