Part of the Prime Lens Photo Challenge.

Prime Lens Challenge: Part 1

A few months ago I was reading a terrific article by Steve Huff. Steve said that if you shoot with just one lens, specifically a 35mm lens, that your photography will improve. I wanted to try this to see if it was true.

The more I thought about it the more I thought it would make a great photo challenge. I thought I could approach it in true Mythbusters fashion. I would test it and confirm or deny that it works.

I didn’t want to do this all by myself, so I decided to invite Gavin Hoey to be part of the challenge. I mean, who better to ask than the king of photo challenges? Here’s my challenge to Gavin:

This was one of the most challenging and most rewarding videos I’ve ever made. I shot several hundred photos and walked over 16 miles. I didn’t intend to cover that much ground but I was having so much fun it just sort of happened.

You Should Read the Article

To be true to Steve’s article we should have made this a 6 month photo challenge. But the realities of work prevented both Gavin and I from dedicating that much time to the project. I also had to present Steve’s article in a way that was a bit oversimplified. To really understand what Steve was saying I highly recommend that you read his article. It’s a terrific read and well worth your time.

Why shooting with just a 35mm lens WILL improve your photography by Steve Huff.

My Thoughts

Would I chose to only shoot with a single prime lens? Absolutely not, and that’s not what this video is about. The exercise was to see if shooting with a single lens could improve my skills as a photographer. I definitely think it does.

Last year I made the switch to a rangefinder system for my travel photography. For the past 10 months I’ve been shooting with nothing but prime lenses. I primarly shoot with my 35mm or 50mm lens. But I also go to my 21mm quite a bit. The 135mm is only used for specialty shots. Being restricted to just four focal lengths has really helped me to visualize the shot before I make the photo.

I almost always have my 35mm lens on my camera. It’s my go-to lens unless I have a really good reason to use something else. It’s not something that was intentional, I just became so used to the performance of the lens that it’s become second nature to me.

I rarely shoot with my 135mm which effectivley makes me a three lens photographer. When I’m looking for things and scouting locations I’m now able to visualize the scene as a 21, 35, or 50mm shot. Limiting myself to just three main lenses has allowed me to work very differently. It simplifies the process and helps me focus on making a great image.

Me with my trusty 35mm f/2 Summicron. Photo copyright © 2015 Alexis Kathryn, used by permission.

Am I finished with zoom lenses? Absolutely not. I’m a huge fan of zoom lenses and I’d really be struggling in the studio without a solid 70-200mm lens. When I’m in the studio I’m almost always working with a 70-200mm f/2.8 L. The reason is that I’ve worked with that lens for over 10 years. I can see what I’m going to shoot before I even lift the camera to my eye. And that’s the point. Work with a single lens for a long period of time and you’ll improve as a photographer. It’s the practice and experience, not the gear.

Gavin’s video goes live in a few days. Stay tuned for his response to the challenge…

The Gear

Speaking of gear. Here’s what I used in the video:

And here are my other prime lenses: