My 50mm Challenge

My 50mm Challenge

It is winter and I am at Pin Mill shooting with my 50mm lens, a lens that I hardly ever use, in fact I’m struggling to remember why I bought it in the first place. Don’t get me wrong it is a lovely lens, but it’s not one that I would naturally use for landscape photography. I am using it today as part of a challenge I have set myself. I want to see what will happen to my photography if I place some restrictions and limitations on what I can do. 

A 50mm lens will roughly see the world in the same way that we see it with our own eyes – at pretty much the same focal length that we see all the time. As a prime lens it has no ability to zoom so my compositions will have to be refined with my feet instead of a zoom ring. This is the part of the challenge I am interested in and it is the one that I am finding the most limiting as I begin to look around for compositions.

To take true 50mm images I have also set myself the restriction of no cropping in post production. I want my compositions to be my original in camera choices. 

The lens I am using for my challenge is a Nikon 50mm 1.8 prime. 

Pin Mill is a really interesting location. It is situated on the south bank of the River Orwell and looks north eastwards over a tranquil river.  The location is best known in the landscape photography world for its collection of old boat wrecks which have become a must visit Suffolk location. However I feel there are so many more facets to this tiny hamlet – its tradition of boatbuilding and its connection to barges and Arthur Ransome to name just a few. Anyone who has read Arthur Ransome’s ‘We didn’t mean to go to sea’ will already know what the ‘hamlet at the end of the little green lane’ is like even though the book was publish in 1937. The place feels timeless.

The day is grey and overcast, flat light which is adding to my challenge. The tide is quite a long way out as I begin photographing and the scene looks very grey and uninspiring. I wander around the boatyards and spend some time focusing on small scenes and details. With an aperture range of F1.8 to F16 I have plenty of options regarding depth of field which I began to experiment with on some of my smaller scenes.

I usually crop my landscape images, primarily because I don’t really like the 3:2 aspect ratio that comes straight from the camera. I usually crop to a 5 x 7 or and 8 x 10 ratio for most of my work. This is another aspect that I find requires my full attention with this challenge. Keeping a close eye on the edges of my frame before I press the shutter is really important as small unwanted distractions can really ruin a shot that I cannot crop.

As the day goes on I find I am focusing primarily on small scenes and abstract detail in and around the boatyard but also around the more wild areas. I suspect this has as much to do with the weather as the lens but I find I am really slowing my image making down and all my shots are much more considered.

I came away from Pin Mill with a good range of shots, some of which you will find in the gallery below. They are not the best photographs I have ever taken but they were fun to make and the whole exercise has proved a really good learning experience.

Key points from this exercise

Observation is key to good photography

Slow down and really think about your image – don’t just rely on your zoom to finalise your composition, moving your feet will almost always give you a better shot.

Don’t ignore the edges of your frame – look to see what you have included and excluded and make sure your choices make sense.

Think about your perspective and choice of viewpoint – don’t just stand and shoot, get down low and really work the scene.

Use depth of field creatively. My F1.8 lens is really good for creating out of focus highlights so if you have the light use it and add some bokeh to your shots.

If you are feeling inspired why not join me for a 50mm Photo Walk at Pin Mill on Friday 3rd March. Full details are available from my website >>