Your Complete Guide to Capturing Wedding Details

35mm and 50mm Originals

Committing To Primes | How It Made Me A Better Photographer

By Joseph Cha on June 10th 2014

Purchasing My First Prime

When I first started photography, I read every article I could find on Prime vs Zoom lenses. I wanted to invest in better lenses to improve my images, but I didn’t know if I wanted the versatility of a zoom lens or the quality of a prime lens. Fast forward to today and now 95% of my images come from prime lenses.

Helps Me Visualize My Shot

The three primes I use most often are the 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm lens. Because I use those three focal lengths so frequently, I know exactly how each lens compresses a scene, and how the final image will look. Before when I was shooting with a 24-70mm, I would stand in a general area and zoom into my composition with no real thought to focal length or lens compression. Now, I mentally compose a scene and pick which focal length I want to shoot with before I even look through my viewfinder. For me, it’s just easier to pick a specific focal length and shoot, it’s as if a lack of focal length options allows me to focus my creativity and composition.

Taught me the Artistic Component of Aperture

One of the best things about prime lenses is their wide apertures. Prime lenses help me keep my aperture in mind and that helps me discern how much depth I want to show in my image. Shooting with a shallow depth of field gives me more composition options. I’m able to separate my subject from the foreground and/or background, which is especially helpful when you’re shooting in an area that doesn’t have the most photogenic background.

Mamiya 645 AFD with 80mm f/2.8 and Kodak Portra 400

Mamiya 645 AFD with 80mm f/2.8 and Kodak Portra 400

Slows me Down

One thing I noticed when I shifted over to shooting a majority of my images with primes is that I took a lot less photos, but I was taking a lot more quality photos. Before when I went out on a typical engagement shoot, I would come back with 1000 images and deliver about 100, now I shoot about 300 and deliver 100.

When I was shooting with the 24-70 I felt like I had to shoot my shot, and then get all the focal lengths in between. So I would shoot a portrait at 50mm, zoom out to 24mm and shoot, and then zoom in to 70mm and shoot. This may work for some photographers, but it wasn’t working for me, and it was clogging up my workflow. Now I take the time to carefully compose my shots (which sometimes require a bit of walking), and shoot the shot I visualized in my mind. This helps me focus on capturing quality images and it keeps my workflow light and efficient.

CHA10066

Conclusion

This article isn’t about how primes are better than zooms, it’s simply about how committing to prime lenses have made me a better photographer. I’ve learned so much about photography and have developed my photography¬†style by using prime lenses. I encourage everyone to try only using a prime once in a while because you’d be surprised at the images you get when you limit yourself to one (or a few) focal lengths.

About

I’m a photographer and cinematographer based in Southern California. When I don’t have a camera in my face I enjoy going to the movies and dissecting the story telling and visual aesthetics.

14 Comments

Please or register to post a comment.

  1. Aaron Cheney

    I love primes! I try to use them the most and it has definitely made me a better photographer. Wonderful article!

    | |
  2. Maribeth Castaneda

    I have only zoom lens but after looking at the pictures, I am contemplating on investing in prime lens. I love the depth of field. And true, having a prime lens will be very useful in shoots that does not have the best photographic background….

    | |
  3. Rafael Steffen

    This is a great article to show people how primes help us develop a better eye for photography. I took a vacation with just my 50mm and tried harder to get more interesting shots and I was not only proud of my self doing that, but I got more interesting shots.

    | |
  4. Michael Chapman

    Great article! – and I agree – I’ve been adding to my kit of primes the last few months.

    | |
  5. Kurk Rouse

    I’m more of a zoom guy but this makes me want to use my primes way more, think i’ll put them to the test this weekend

    | |
  6. Tyler Friesen

    Completely agree.

    | |
  7. David Park

    Great Article Joe!

    | |
  8. Simi

    Thanks for sharing, I am headed in this direction and it is good to know that it helps be more creative when you soot with fixed focal lengths.

    | |
  9. Rachel H.

    Good article… thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences!

    | |
  10. Timothy Nguyen

    I definitely agree with this article. Primes generally force us to think of our composition a lot more, which I think helps improve us in the long haul. For most assignments, I’ll stick to my primes, but for something like shows or places where I have to remain stationary – I will stick with my zooms.

    | |
  11. Matt

    I went through the same thing when my cheapo superzoom broke, and came to the same conclusion. Think, then shoot.

    | |
  12. Jay Phoenix

    I agree wholeheartedly, Cha. Like you, when using zoom lenses, I would compose my shot at one focal length and shoot every focal length in between. The amount of photos one ends up with definitely clog up the workflow. I love shooting with my 85mm not only because it allows me to know my composition beforehand, but also because of the unparalleled depth of field missing in zoom lenses.

    | |
  13. Heru

    Agree..

    Prime lens can help us to visualize the result before we shoot!

    | |