One Lens

We photographers often lug around so much stuff it ends up getting in our way and hampering our creativity. Let me recommend occasionally challenging ourselves to try a minimalist approach. Start with sometimes only going out with one lens and one camera body. One lens? Are you serious?

Yes. Some interesting things can happen if you really go with it. You learn to see in new ways.

Which lens?

Does it matter what lens you use? I don’t know. But probably not. The exercise is about discipline and mental training. Don’t take a 14-400 mm lens (does such a thing exist?) to make sure all your options are covered.

Just pick a good lens. When is the last time you used that 50mm prime? Yeah. Mine is usually not even in my camera bag. That is one reason it is a good one to choose for this exercise. For many of us, our lowly, unappreciated 50mm may be our sharpest lens. Just because it doesn’t cost a lot doesn’t mean it’s not good. These lenses are usually excellent.

The image with this post was taken on a “50mm-only” hike. I’m sure I would have framed the scene a little different if I had my normal zoom, but this made me think. And I like it. 🙂

The lens is not the key, though. If you have a telephoto eye then a 70-200mm might be the answer. Better yet, maybe a fixed 105mm if you have one.

Limit yourself

Limit yourself?? That seems absurd. After all, as creatives we do everything we can to remove limits. To envision new things. To create.

Much good art happens as a result of exploring the limits of a medium. If we walk around festooned with multiple camera bodies and several lenses we definitely are not about limits. We’ve got everything covered. We are confident we can always get any shot we see, right from where we are standing. That is, if we can get the tripod set up and figure out which lens to use and get it installed in time before the moment is gone.

But if we limit our self to one lens a different mindset happens. If you’re really in the game you quickly learn to visualize the field of view the lens sees. Now we start to reframe the composition process. We work to the limits of the lens we have instead of picking the one we want to use at the moment. Now we begin to be drawn to scenes appropriate for what we have. Eric Kim says “By limiting your field of view, you are forced to capture reality into your limited frame in an interesting and novel way.”

Limitations can actually be very creative and enabling. The composition isn’t right from here, move. Yes, actually use your feet as a composition tool. Can’t take that shot because it requires a super telephoto? Don’t bother with it. Find a better shot that works with what you have. You quickly adapt to screening out the “not applicable” things and zeroing in on things that will work. It can be quite freeing and creative.

Get out of your comfort zone

One of the benefits of the exercise is that it gets you out of your comfort zone. Things that get you out of your comfort zone are usually useful. They may be uncomfortable (hence the name), but they can help us to see and perceive better. As artists I believe we owe it to ourselves to push the limits and try new things.

One very uncomfortable question is “what if?” What if I used a wide angle instead of a telephoto? What if I used a long exposure instead of freezing the action? What if I got down low and shot up to this subject? I’ve only got a 50mm lens, how can I creatively capture this subject? These kinds of explorations help us to break habits of always approaching shots a predetermined way. Consciously forcing ourselves to look at things differently is very healthy.

See with new eyes

This is what this is all about. Seeing with new eyes is part of what is required to be creative. We have to put things in perspective – usually a new perspective. Walk around it to see another side. Take a different viewpoint. Change the lighting. Change our approach to capturing images. As artists we owe it to ourselves and our viewers to bring something dynamic and interesting to our images. I believe we have to always be looking for new paths, new insights.

Stretching ourselves is always good, if we learn from it. Just like stretching and flexibility exercises are good for our bodies. They keep us fit and slow down the effects of aging. Creative exercises to stretch our mind and vision is at least as beneficial. Our bodies will age regardless but our minds can be sharp until the day we die.

But a challenge here is to learn from it. We get stretched by things that happen to us but we tend to shrug them off and try to get back to normal ASAP. But it is useful to ask what can we learn and change in our lives? It is healthy to force ourselves to stretch.

In the same way, an exercise like restricting yourself to one lens is a mental exercise, creativity training. It can stretch us and help us get new insight on our vision. And you will appreciate not carrying so much stuff. That in itself is freeing.

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