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Video: The One Lens Minimalist Challenge: 24-70mm Edition

The Minimalist Challenge

The minimalist challenge is something I do with my students and it’s as simple as choosing a single lens and camera body for an entire portrait session. Today, we’ll be going with a zoom lens rather than a prime. Zoom lenses are essential for any photographer as they provide a range of focal lengths without the need to constantly switch so that if you’re in a time crunch or are keeping gear to a minimum, the speed and versatility of the zoom lenses will get you the shot that you’re looking for. The trade off is usually that you won’t get the sweet f/1.2 to f/1.8 that you would with prime lenses, but that shouldn’t be a limiting factor and I’m going to show you how you can capture a variety of stunning images with just a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L USM IIpaired with my trusted Canon 5D Mark IVIf you don’t want to stop there, you can try this with just an iPhone like we did in our Creative Photography 101 Workshop.

I’ll be photographing my friend Renee, who you can find on her Instagram and we’ll be walking around our studio with the sunlight popping in and out of the clouds which will add to the challenge as we try to work with constantly changing lighting conditions.

Why Take The Minimalist Challenge?

Exercising minimalism is crucial to maintaining a keen eye for lighting and composition. I’ll often see photographers bring their entire arsenal of gear to a shoot and because they feel like they have to use what they brought, I’ll see them photographing their subjects using strobes where there’s already an abundance of beautiful natural light.

By taking a break from the clutter of gear and sticking to a single lens, camera body, and natural light, we force ourselves to exercise our creative muscles with these limitations to make the most of what’s available right in front of us.

Location #1: The Vine Wall

one lens minimalist challenge location one vine wall
The vines provided great texture and contrast.

The texture of the dry vines created an interesting background and the leaves on the ground complemented Renee’s skin tone. In addition, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds and I wanted to take advantage of it and have Renee look into the direction of the sunlight rather than away. The 24-70 isn’t going to provide a whole lot of depth, so if I want to create some blur in the background, I’ll have to pull Renee from the background a bit and shoot wide open at f/2.8. If you’ll notice, there’s a white line on the wall in the background. That’s bird poop. I could move, but the vines create great framing where Renee’s standing so I’ll have her stand in front of it to block it and I can then Photoshop out the rest of it in post.

one lens minimalist challenge location 1

Keeping Renee in this position, if we move to her left and have her look down, with the way the sunlight is coming down, we can see a beautiful highlight forming along her hair and her face. I’m going to zoom the lens all the way to 70mm at f/2.8 and get a tight frame on her to get as much depth as I can. With the darker background, we capture this stunning dramatic portrait of Renee’s profile.

one lens minimalist challenge location 2

Before we left this location, I stumbled upon a branch that had some nicely colored leaves. When I held it to the light between the camera and Renee while shooting at 50mm f/2.8, the branch became this beautiful foreground element that, when backlit, lights up beautifully.

one lens minimalist challenge location 3
The leaves provided great framing around Renee.

When you photograph a subject that’s backlit like Renee is here, placing your subject in front of a darker background will emphasize the highlights on their edge. When I angled up and placed Renee against the bright sky, the highlights on her hair got lost so I brought the angle back down and kept her in front of the wall you see in the background.

Location #2: Puddle & Reflections Behind Warehouses

one lens minimalist challenge location 2 warehouse
Strategic framing can change the appearance of a location entirely.

Our first instinct upon seeing this unsightly scenery behind these warehouses is to keep moving, but having just rained in Southern California, we came across a bunch of puddles and I saw a good opportunity to frame Renee using the reflection on the water.

one lens minimalist challenge location 2 low angle

I swung the lens out wide to its maximum 24mm in order to accentuate the depth and distance and got down low to frame out the truck on the right as well as the fire hydrant and stop sign.

one lens minimalist challenge location 2 before after 1

Since the background was so rigid, I asked Renee to move around with her poses to create interesting shapes that would contrast with the boxy backdrop.

one lens minimalist challenge location 2 finals

It’s not uncommon to run into unwanted background elements and if Photoshop isn’t an option, use selective framing and position the subject to block out those objects and keep the composition clean and free of distractions.

Location 3: Leading Lines on the Ground

one lens minimalist challenge location 3 leading lines
Interesting patterns make for great opportunities to play around with perspective.

Right behind our studio is this set of leading lines which you may have seen before in our Creative Photography 101 Course. These leading lines make for great exaggeration when we throw the lens to its widest focal length, but photographing Renee up front isn’t as exciting. When we lower the perspective and have Renee come down to a kneeling stance, we see the lines really exaggerated and guiding the eyes to her.

one lens minimalist challenge location 3 before after

I can exaggerate Renee’s stance by moving closer and a wider focal length of around 10-14mm would make this effect even more pronounced. With a little bit of Photoshop to knock out some of the background pieces, we wind up with some pretty great final images.


one lens minimalist challenge location 3 finals


I hope you enjoyed this article/video and I’d highly recommend you take a go at this challenge yourself. There is so much potential for incredible photographs out there without the need for all the crazy gear and it is so important that we keep our creative minds sharp to be able to spot these opportunities when they come around. If you’d like to learn how to take stunning images with only the most basic gear, check out our Creative Photography 101 Workshop, in which all of the featured images were taken by an iPhone. This workshop is available on its own or as a part of the full Premium Subscription.

Don’t miss our next episode of Mastering Your Craft on Adorama’s YouTube channel next week! If you want to catch up on all the episodes, make sure you check out our playlist!