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Video: The One Lens Minimalist Challenge: 70-200mm Edition

The Minimalist Challenge

The rules of this challenge are simple. I have to do an entire portrait session with a single lens, and nothing else. The purpose of this challenge is to teach us to think creatively and not depend on a host of gear to get the job done. While I’ve done this with prime lenses, zoom lenses add an extra level of versatility when conditions are constantly changing and you’re aiming to capture various looks on the go. For today’s challenge, I’ll be using the Canon RF 70-200 f/2.8 paired with the Canon EOS R6. If you’re looking for an even greater challenge, try an entire session with just a smartphone like we did in our Creative Photography 101 Workshop.

Our model today will be Bushra, who you can find on Instagram, and we’ll be walking around Downtown Santa Ana chasing the setting sun as we look for some great photos to capture with this lens.

How to Use 70 200 f 2.8 for Portraits

  1. The Walkway
  2. Through the Railing
  3. Backlit Alleyway
  4. Concrete Posts
  5. The Fence
  6. Bonus Location: Backlit Street

Location #1: The Walkway

minimalist one lens challenge 70 200 location 1 walkway
The white wall serves as a great natural reflector.

What’s beautiful about this location is the backlighting from the sun. In addition, the white wall is providing a lot of fill on Bushra’s face. You’ll often find that many locations already have these existing reflectors that can be extremely useful when photographing on the street.

minimalist one lens challenge 70 200 walkway final 1

I zoomed in for that compression effect and held the camera close to the railing and that created graduating color on the left side that led up to Bushra. I played around with the framing and by adding more of the building in the shot and lining her with the highlight from the sun and sky, we end up with these images taken at 100 ISO, 1/1000 sec, and f/2.8.

70 200 f 2.8 for portraits final edit
VF Presets > Modern Pack + Retouch

If we zoom in all the way and maximize the compression, we can emphasize the graduating color on the left and capture the leading lines on the rails.

Location #2: Through the Railing

70 200 f 2.8 for portraits solo pose

Another great way to use the zoom on this lens is to include foreground elements to frame the subject. I had Bushra stand in the direct sunlight below and I shot through the spaces in the railing to get these images.

minimalist one lens challenge 70 200 shoot thru railings

70 200 f 2.8 for portraits through the railing

The pattern on the railing emphasizes Bushra and as a bonus, the uniform color tone adds to create this strong composition.

Location #3: Backlit Alleyway

70 200 f 2.8 for portraits in an alley

One of the best qualities about this lens is its beautiful Bokeh that can be mistaken for a prime lens. In this location, I had Bushra backlit by the setting sun and framed her against the dark background behind her. I first captured this at 75mm standing up and this is what I got.

minimalist one lens challenge 70 200 backlit alley higher angle

However, I can capture a stronger image by zooming in even more and getting low to the ground as well as framing Bushra against the space between the buildings and we get this great image.

70 200 f 2.8 for portraits before and after exposure
The dark background behind Bushra helps emphasize the backlight.

The powerful rim light from the sun makes the subject pop against a darker background.

70 200 f 2.8 for portraits dynamic posing in an alley

By getting closer to Bushra, I can push the blur in the background.

Location #4: Concrete Posts

70 200 f 2.8 for portraits leaning against a post BTS

We came across these concrete posts as we chased the setting sun and I wanted to take advantage of whatever light we had left so I had Bushra sit down against a post and by zooming all the way in, I ended up with a shot that really emphasized the depth.

minimalist one lens challenge 70 200 concrete posts final

I moved closer and further away from her to capture the various ways depth can be shown with this lens.

Location #5: The Fence

70 200 f 2.8 for portraits leaning on a fence

We had barely any sun left but just enough for a beautiful hair/rim light. This scene by the fence is a great way to show how this lens can take amazing photos from otherwise undesirable locations. I scooted all the way back and zoomed all the way in and framed her against the highlight where the sun is hitting the plastic tarp behind the fence, creating nice splashes of orange.

minimalist one lens challenge 70 200 fence final

Bonus Location: Backlit Street

70 200 f 2.8 for portraits behind the scenes

Before we lost all the light, I wanted one more example of how the lens is phenomenal at compressing the background. We found a quiet street where it was safe to walk to the median and I shot towards the sun to capture that orange glow on the ground behind Bushra.

70 200 f 2.8 for portraits side by side poses on a backlit street


I hope you enjoyed this challenge and saw the power and versatility of the 70 200 f 2.8 for portraits. Its ability to control the background and create depth is unrivaled. It’s important to keep our creative minds sharp so we can take advantage of opportunities to capture a beautiful image. I highly recommend challenging yourself to see how creative you can get with just a single lens. For an entire course on how to take stunning shots with the most minimal of gear,  head over to our Premium Content and check out Creative Photography 101, where all the images were taken with just an iPhone.

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!