Weekly Theme #9: Prime Lens

by Tiffany Mueller September. 26, 2016 4330 views

prime lens tips

Last week as I was looking through all the macro shots our community members have shared on their blogs, I had a good feeling you were going to knock the macro weekly theme out of the ballpark. Boy, was I right—the submissions into last week’s theme were really incredible.

Macro Theme Winners

I highly encourage everyone to spend a few moments browsing through all the submissions. To give you an idea what you’re in store for, here are the top three finishers:

1. Blue World by Tomie Poodle

2. Epping Forest by Mossy

3. Macro - Ode to Laci (Kozuka) by Becky

Weekly Theme #9: Prime Lens Challenge

And for this week's theme, we're going to use one of my favorite types of lens: the prime lens. That's right, this week you're going to want step away from that zoom lens and enjoy the speed of your favorite prime lens. 

You probably know the ropes by now, but just in case you need a refresher...

Here are all the details:

Deadline: October 2nd, 2016

How to submit: Add weeklytheme9 as one of the tags of your post

How to view submissions: Check the tag weeklytheme9

How to vote: Like and comment on your favorite posts


prime lens challenge

Photo by Drohask

I love my prime lenses--they're fast, sharp, and affordable. Really, what's not to love about them? Before I share some advice on how to get the most out of your prime, I wanted to take a minute to clear up some confusion about what exactly a prime lens is. You probably already know a prime lens is one of a fixed focal length--meaning no zooming in or out. But, did you know a prime lens can also be a telephoto lens?

Prime vs. Telephoto. vs. Zoom

Photography is a gear intensive hobby. Just take a look on Amazon at all the different kinds of lenses available for us to choose from. There’s prime lenses, telephoto lenses, macro lenses, zoom lenses, tilt shift lenses, cinema lenses—there’s a lot of different types of lenses!

Two of the most commonly confused lenses are telephoto lenses and zoom lenses. It’s a common misconception all telephoto lenses area also zoom lenses. This is not true, prime lenses can also be telephoto.

As Wikipedia states: “a telephoto lens is a specific type of a long-focus lens in which the physical length of the lens is shorter than the focal length.” 

That might seem like some kind of voodoo, but it's actually made possible by a group of telephoto elements (not zoom elements) inside the lens. The telephoto elements do not make a lens zoom—they just magnify things. That's how your prime lens may also be a telephoto lens. 

prime lens tutorial

Photo by Helen

Low Light

One of the best things about prime lenses is their inherent ability to shoot in low light conditions. Most prime lenses allow for wide apertures like f1.8, f1.4, and even f1.2 or wider. With wide apertures, you can let high amounts of light through in a relatively short amount of time. That is ideal for dim, low light shooting situations.

If you’ve been taking shots in poor lighting and haven’t been happy with the outcome, it’s the perfect time to break out that prime lens and open up the aperture. 

Keep in mind, however, there are times when a wide open aperture is not the best choice...

Use The Right Aperture

The temptation to shoot with a wide open aperture can be a difficult one to overcome. The first lens I owned was the kit zoom lens that came with my camera. It wasn’t awful, but it certainly wasn’t fast. After looking at photos taken with a prime at f1.8 by other photographers, I was hooked. I longed to take photos with soft backgrounds and shallow depths of field. 

Needless to say, when I picked up my first prime lens, I shot with the widest aperture possible, all of the time. Even when I didn’t need to and even when it wasn’t the best choice for the composition. Big mistake.

Avoid making the same mistake I did—just because you can shoot at f1.8, doesn’t mean you should. For example, when you’re taking portraits. If you haven’t carefully calculated your hyperfocal distance, chances are shooting at f1.8 will give you a portrait where the tip of a person’s nose is sharp, but the eyes appear blurry.

prime lens depth of field

Photo by Tiffany Mueller

Blurry Backgrounds In Bright Sun

By now, I’m sure you’ve figured out that prime lenses are fast. And a fast lens usually means shallow depths of field and lots of blurry bokeh. But shooting a a wide aperture in bright sunlight can make it difficult to not over expose your shot. You’ll want to make sure you have your camera set on the lowest possible ISO setting--usually ISO 100. A lightning fast shutter speed can also help cut back on the light without sacrificing a shallow depth of field.

Another great idea to consider is using a neutral density filter, which helps stop some of the light from passing through the lens onto the sensor. Neutral density filters come in a variety of strengths to block out varying degrees of light. They're great tools to have in your camera bag!

How To Zoom

Just because your prime lens doesn’t allow you to zoom in and out to different focal lengths doesn’t mean you can’t zoom. You still can, you just have to use your feet. If you want your subject to be closer, rather than zooming in to it with your lens, simply put one foot in front of the other and move closer. 

Alternatively, you can move farther away from the subject if you don’t want your composition to be a close up. Easy peasy. No special equipment needed.

Because I like to give people choices, if zooming with your feet isn’t an option, you can always shoot a little wide and crop down the image in post-production.

prime lens photography

Photo by MJ Klaver

The Nifty Fifty

Arguably one of the most popular lenses of all time, the 50mm prime lens is famous for a reason. In my opinion, it's a must have for all photographers who want to improve their eye for composition. When looking through a 50mm lens, it’s said the way things appear is closest to being the way they appear when looking at them with the naked eye. 

When I first started shooting with a nifty fifty, I noticed myself slowing down and thinking more critically about the way I was composing my images. Because I wasn't able to stand in one spot and zoom in and out until I had something I liked, it encouraged me to move around and use my brain to visualize my shots. Whenever someone asks me what lens they should buy, I always recommend a 50mm prime.

nifty fifty prime lens

Photo by gporada

Of course, a 50mm isn’t the only great prime lens—I also love my 35mm, and don't forget an 85mm or 105mm prime--they're perfect for portraits. In fact, I haven’t really met a prime lens I didn’t love. How about you?


Now’s the perfect chance to put your favorite prime to use. Enter your best photos taken with your prime lens into this week’s challenge. Just add the tag, weeklytheme9, to your prime lens posts here on Photoblog. While you're at it, go ahead and earn some good karma by liking and commenting on your favorite weekly theme submissions from around our community

Join the conversation
There are 9 comments , add yours!
Fc Dennis 4 years ago

I am new to Photoblogs and, in fact, blogs of any kind. I think you are doing a great job in sending out encouragement in massive amounts. However, I must be a slow learner, because after developing and printing my first roll of film in 1958, (successfully, in total darkness because I could not afford all the kit) I still find there is more to learn than I already know!
I am guessing you use a full frame DSLR, by your approach to - as you say - "prime" lenses [fixed focal length to me]. I have no need of the expense of full frame ( I still occasionally use my 35mm film camera [and even my 1905 Kodak 'Autograph' - that is as good as anything on the 120 format] ) but others may be helped by a reference and guidance on the effect of crop values when using cameras with proportionate sensors. For example - if I want nifty fifty I really need a 31.5mm (approx) fixed lens on my Canon 550D. also f.value is rather important. I talk too much, Shall I go away now?

4 years ago Edited
Tiffany Mueller Replied to Fc Dennis 4 years ago

Hi Dennis! You are correct, a prime lens is a fixed focal length--either of those names are correct. You are right in saying different crop factors will produce different focal lengths. And yes, a lot of people would find this information useful. In fact, I'm planning an entire article dedicated to this very subject on our official blog, which is launching very soon!

So, please, stay with us, Fc Dennis! We appreciate your comments and suggestions. :)

It's good to hear you are still shooting film--me too! There's just something about using a film camera I just can't get enough of.

4 years ago Edited
Fc Dennis Replied to Tiffany Mueller 4 years ago

Many thanks for your reply. It's a deal, you write, I shall read, OK

4 years ago Edited
Jay Boggess 4 years ago

Fantastic images & info, especially appreciated by a rookie, like me!
Thank You! Great job!

4 years ago Edited
Tiffany Mueller Replied to Jay Boggess 4 years ago

Thanks Jay!

4 years ago Edited
Jay Boggess Replied to Tiffany Mueller 4 years ago

Thank YOU!

4 years ago Edited
Ram Ya 4 years ago

I got the nifty fifty and a 40mm f2.8 pancake lens. I am looking forward to this week's theme.
Thanks for the tips, tiffany. Especially this one "just because you can shoot at f1.8, doesn’t mean you should"!

4 years ago Edited
Tiffany Mueller Replied to Ram Ya 4 years ago

Ooooh, a 40mm 2.8 pancake you say? I haven't shot with that one yet--how do you like it?

4 years ago Edited
Ram Ya Replied to Tiffany Mueller 4 years ago

I like it very much for the sharp images. It is really small (almost as if no lens is attached) so works well when you don't want to carry too much.

4 years ago Edited
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