Why I Choose to Shoot with an Old, Broken 50mm Lens

Note: I started writing this blog post three years ago and as I kickstart my blog again for 2017, I thought it would be good to do a little housekeeping. Here’s the post that started in 2013:

A friend of mine was cleaning out his garage and found an old camera bag that used to belong to his dad.  Knowing I had an interest in photography, he offered it to me.  I unsnapped the clasps and found a film camera, a Canon, an attachable flash in a black vinyl pouch, and two lenses: a huge zoom lens that fit on the camera like a cannon muzzle and a petite black 50 mm.  Little did I know that this 50mm would change my life.

I had been relying on an 18-55mm lens, which is sort of an entry level zoom.  As the only lens I owned, it served me well.  However, on some advice from a friend who encouraged me to shoot manual and to move toward using a 50mm lens if I could get my hands on one, I began to use the 50.  Thus began a beautiful relationship.

Bokehs like never before began emerging in my photos.  I saw light play out differently in my photos.  The 18-55mm lens rendered my images with an exactitude that matched how I really saw the subject and setting – so it gave an objective reality and most of the art came through the composition, use of color and lighting. However, the 18-55 gave what I would call an accurate, but mechanical reproduction of the subject and setting.  With the 50mm lens, I began to frame differently.  Compose differently.

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I began to think differently, moving myself – as a photography mentor used to tell me, moving my feet before moving the lens – to frame the photo. Epic lighting is most epic at a certain distance. You can capture an image and the light at the time from further away with a 300mm lens, but there’s nothing like standing in the light that bathes your subject, capturing and feeling that epic light. Think of it like a singer’s voice. You can hear his or her voice 100 yards away projected by a P.A. system, and with the same decibels, but there is something unique about standing within a few feet of that source of beauty. The 50mm sticks with me. It helps pull me into the space of the subject, especially for portraits.