Choosing a Focal Length and How Primes Can Improve Your Photography

Restriction is an excellent technique to boost creativity. On a session with only a prime lens, I learned why 35mm is one of the finest focal lengths for events.

Every photographer has a zone in which they feel most at ease. These are focal lengths that you can simply pick up and instantly know exactly where to stand to frame your photo — as if you can see in that field of vision. Even the greatest shooters find working outside of their comfort zone difficult. Wider focal lengths have always been a challenge for me. For many basic compositions, I admit that I rely on the compression effect and bokeh that may be readily achieved with a long lens as a crutch.

Over the last decade, my objective has been to break through mental boundaries and improve my professional abilities using lenses that provide a fresh viewpoint – one that rewards narrative. This is when a site like comes in handy. I decided to try out some focal lengths that I thought I didn’t use very often.

Discovering Your True Favorite Focal Lengths

The usual set of zooms is likely to be found in the luggage of any random photographer. This usually consists of a 16-35mm, a 24-70mm, and a 70-200mm for full-frame photographers. These three lenses are known as the “holy trinity” since they are the foundation of what you’ll need to capture most genres and settings without sacrificing quality. While a zoom lens will suffice, things get more interesting when you consider adding a specialized, ultra-sharp, ultra-fast prime to your arsenal.

I chose to add a wider angle prime to my bag around two years ago, which at the time consisted of a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art, an 85mm f/1.4 Art, and a Canon 135mm f/2L. It might be difficult to decide which lens to use. There is an option to arrange photos by metadata for users of Lightroom (or comparable software). This is a fantastic method to discover out how you prefer to shoot and what gear you use the most. I narrowed down my findings to only display certain subjects and only those taken with a 16-35mm or 24-70mm lens. The 24mm and 35mm focal lengths were used in a high majority of the images captured with these two lenses.

I opted to purchase a Canon 24mm f/1.4L instead of a fast 50mm prime lens because I already have a fast 50mm prime lens. I envisioned stunning above dance floor pictures during a wedding, as well as dramatic environmental portraits with gorgeous backdrop falloff and solitary people. This is a situation in which this lens excels. However, it did not represent my actual usage. I determined that the lens wasn’t as beneficial as I had first thought after several months of practically daily use to acquire my comfort levels dealing with it. I immediately realized how infrequently I wanted to capture such dramatic wide shots. The lens wasn’t receiving much use from me. Don’t have buyer’s remorse like I did — rent first before diving into a completely new range of view!

Working with a Prime Lens vs a Zoom Lens

I felt like I’d made a mistake, but the experiment piqued my attention. So, for a jam-packed weekend at Summit Motorsports Park, I leased a Canon 35mm f/1.4L II. My main job is to film drag racing and event footage for the NMCA, and this event would allow me to put my gear through its paces. I need to obtain crew responses to their drivers’ triumphs at the conclusion of the race, as well as the winner’s circle hijinks, in addition to covering the story on the track and in the pits. Away from the track, I’m coordinating photoshoots on automobiles for magazine articles. In addition, I need to snap photos of drivers and crew members throughout the day for our “Spotlight” presentation. The fact that I was scheduled to photograph engagement photos for two drivers who had met at the track the year before made this race unique. Race weekends are a smorgasbord of activity that puts a lot of strain on myself and my equipment.

My objective was to test if the 35mm lens could take up the slack where I thought my 24mm had fallen short throughout the race, so I challenged myself to use it as much as possible. I wanted it to do well in my general photography around the track, and especially in the brutally illuminated low light winner’s circle shots that would close out the race weekend. In a fast-paced shooting situation, this meant relying on the picture quality and AF dependability, but most importantly, I needed to test how the 35mm focal length worked for me and if it would offer up new, distinct creative possibilities.

Things started to become interesting as I was wandering about with the lens through the pits for the first couple of days. This was a location that piqued my interest because I hadn’t seen much in the 35mm lens length before. But it wasn’t long until I was exactly where I wanted to be for the image I had planned. The issue about prime lenses is that you have to zoom using your body rather than the lens, which takes some getting used to. To get closer to the action, you must go closer physically as well as optically.

When it came to driver portraits, detailed pictures in the pits, and a welcome perspective during the engagement shoot, the lens worked excellently. As the weekend drew to a close and elimination rounds began, it was time for drivers and their teams to express their feelings after a hard weekend of fighting. By the time the final eliminations take place, the end of the track and the winner’s circle are usually dark and badly lighted. Because there’s nowhere to efficiently bounce a flash outside, you’ll almost always receive straight, harsh, and unpleasant light. It was the 35mm’s turn to shine, and the f/1.4 aperture allowed me to use ambient light while still achieving excellent subject isolation. Here are some of the photos I took with it (please notice that these photos have been scaled down and optimized for faster loading):

Taken with the Canon 35mm f/1.4L II lens on a Canon 1D X Mark II at 1/125th of a second, f/10, and ISO 100.


Taken with the Canon 35mm f/1.4L II lens on a Canon 5D Mark IV at 1/2000th of a second, f/1.4, and ISO 100.


Taken with the Canon 35mm f/1.4L II lens on a Canon 1D X Mark II at 1/800th of a second, f/1.4, and ISO 100.

The Perfect Prime Lens Focal Length for Events

I liked how the 35mm made me feel like I was a part of the celebration, but not so much that I was in the way. Because it is somewhat broader than 50mm and a little more telephoto than 24mm, the focal length allows you to completely immerse yourself in the images. It’s just the correct quantity for me. It went great with my 85mm lens, which I installed on a second body. That’s the ideal wide-and-telephoto prime lens combo for me.

Personally, I believe that contemporary lenses have such great sharpness that judging how much superior one lens is at out-resolving another is a case of splitting hairs. However, owing to the Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics, this lens looks to have established a new standard in overall optical performance for me – notably in how it handles chromatic aberrations. This is significant since many wide-angle lenses suffer from color fringing as a result of residual chromatic aberrations. Color fringing is an optical issue in which you see a color (usually purple or green) edge on your image in regions with great contrasts, such as dark foliage against a bright, open sky. While chromatic aberration does not cause all fringing, it is a prevalent culprit. Canon has responded with the 35mm f/1.4L II, which has a new type of short wavelength spectrum-diffracting lens.

Every focal length has its own set of advantages. A fast 35mm lens, on the other hand, may be utilized in almost every photography circumstance. I now adore what this lens brings to my photos after using it on approximately 15 different photo assignments. It’s well-built, and it autofocuses quickly, precisely, and consistently on my Canon 1D X Mark II and 5D Mark IV cameras. Before you can truly see properly, you may need to utilize anything for yourself. If you’re caught in a creative rut, try playing with a lens you’d never consider using on a daily basis. You could just find out what you’ve been looking for in your portfolio all along.

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