Top photography tip – restrict yourself to one focal length

Matt Bennett

Zoom lenses offer convenience but they sometimes make the photography process a little too straightforward!

Try restricting yourself to a prime lens for a day's shooting
Try restricting yourself to a prime lens for a day's shooting

We live in an age of zoom lenses, which offer considerable convenience, allowing you to capture a range of different perspectives with a simple twist of the zoom ring.

The downside? Well, just like having access to thousands of songs on Spotify can prevent you from listening properly to individual tracks or full albums and really appreciating them, zoom lenses can stop you from exploring the potential of a specific focal length.

The result is that, when it’s all too easy to simply adjust the focal length without even changing lenses, you  can actually end up missing things.

Why not try restricting yourself to just one focal length by using a classic prime lens like a 50mm f1.8? If you don’t own a prime lens, you can still experiment with this exercise – it will just require a little bit more self-discipline to leave your lens at a specific setting and resist adjusting it.

Give it a go!

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    • I’m in two minds about this. I used to suggest this to my students but have changed in recent years and the immediate feedback that digital photography allows. The purpose of the fixed lens exercise is to learn to see at a certain focal length and position oneself in anticipation of a shot, perhaps.
      I now urge students to start with a zoom and understand that perspective, their position of shooting, is not fixed and that the zoom is purely for “In-camera cropping”, or framing as we would have called it. The ability to see the effects of moving one’s perspective and keeping the key subject element the same size is one of the best compositional lessons a student can learn. Single focal length lenses have their place but i am no longer convinced learning to see at a fixed focal length serves as useful a purpose as learning the flexibility of intuitive framing/perspective.

    • I recently bought a Canon EF 50mm f1.4 and took it out into the snow. I usually use zoom lenses simply for their ease of use, but using a prime lens has made me rethink my whole lens buying strategy. I think I’ll be buying a lot more fixed focal length lenses in the future with a lower f stop than I’m currently used to