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    20 Tips on How to Use Your 50mm Lens

    By September 18, 2019 May 27th, 2020 Photography

    A modern photographic lens with a 50mm focal length on a white background

    The 50 mm lens is one of the most versatile and practical lenses available on the market. 

    You can use a 50mm lens in a wide range of scenarios.

    Whether you’re shooting up-close portraits or sweeping landscapes, this lens fails to disappoint. 

    With a 50mm prime lens, you’ll also achieve high-quality images at a reasonable price, making it tough to beat.

    This lens is refreshing in its simplicity, affordability, and exceptional quality, which is why, despite the abundance of lenses available in the market, photographers continue to reach for their 50mm lenses. 

    Here, we’ll delve into how to best use a 50mm lens to play to its strengths and achieve striking images.

    1. Don’t Get Too Close

    All lenses have a minimum focusing distance. This is the shortest distance in which your lens can focus. 

    Getting closer to your subject than the minimum focusing distance will render it out-of-focus and blurry. 

    The minimum distance is calculated from the camera’s focal plane mark, typically found near the shooting mode dial.

    Most DSLR cameras will mark this point with a line through a circle (pictured below). 

    The Nikon 50mm f/1.8g lens has a minimum focusing distance of 0.45m/1.5ft from the focal plane mark.

    For Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens, the closest focusing distance is 0.35m/1.15ft.

    If you’re using a different lens brand, you should be able to find the minimum focusing distance labeled on your lens.

    The location differs depending on the lens, but some common places you can look at are near the focus distance display, on the face of the front ring, or around the mount.

    If you don’t find it on your lens, try doing a simple Google search to find out.

    2. Check Your Camera’s Focusing Motor

    A focusing motor is a feature in lenses and cameras that gives you the ability to facilitate automatic focusing. 

    Some lenses have built-in focusing motors, but others don’t. This is a key factor to double-check before you shoot. 

    The Nikon 50mm f/1.8 and the Canon EF f/1.8 STM lenses feature built-in focusing motors.

    If your lens doesn’t have a focusing motor, it’s imperative that you use a camera that does. If you have a camera with a built-in focusing motor you won’t need a lens with a focusing motor. 

    Generally speaking, beginner cameras omit an internal focusing motor and you’ll need to use a lens with a focusing motor.

    It is not always clear whether a lens has a motor or not. To be sure, look up the specs when you are purchasing or do a quick google search to confirm.

    3. Shoot In Wide Open Spaces

    When you’re using a 50mm lens, shooting in wide, spacious areas is often ideal. 

    Even with a full-frame camera, a 50mm lens only allows you to work with a viewing angle of 46-47 degrees, which often makes shooting in confined areas difficult.

    This gets even more problematic if you’re using your 50mm with a cropped sensor camera.

    In this case, your viewing angle will shrink to 31 degrees, which is about equal to that of a 75mm lens used with a full-frame camera. 

    So, when planning to shoot with your 50mm take the space of your location into consideration and make an extra effort to find open areas to photograph in.

    4. Know Your Maximum and Minimum Aperture

    Being knowledgeable of your lens’ maximum and minimum aperture is always helpful.

    Your lens’ maximum aperture will determine how shallow you can make your depth-of-field, as well as how well the lens will perform in low light conditions.

    While your lens’ minimum aperture will determine how deep you can make your depth-of-field and as well as how your lens will perform in bright conditions.

    For the Nikon lens and the Canon lens, the maximum aperture is identical: f/1.8. 

    But, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 lens has a minimum aperture of f/16; the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens has a minimum aperture of f/22.

    5. Master Bokeh

    Bokeh originates from the Japanese word “boke.” It is the blurry effect that’s produced in the areas of an image that aren’t in focus.

    You’ll often see this type of visual effect used in portrait photography.

    Portraits typically feature an in-focus subject with a subdued, soft background. 

    Bokeh results from using a narrow depth-of-field or a low f-stop, generally around f/2.8 or lower.

    Low f-stop values create wider apertures, enabling you to keep a subject in the foreground in focus with a blurred, delicate background.

    As you increase your aperture, the amount and quality of bokeh will reduce.

    You can create bokeh with larger apertures such as f/3.5 or f/5, but your distance from your subject will need to be farther.

    At f/3.5 and f/5 your depth-of-field will be wider, thus to create bokeh your scene will have to expand beyond those limits.

    A zoom kit lens like an 18 to 55m lens generally has a maximum aperture of approximately f/3.5. So, to achieve the bokeh effect, this type of lens isn’t ideal.

    A 50mm prime lens, on the other hand, has a maximum aperture of f/1.8, making them ideal for creating bokeh. 

    Mastering bokeh requires precision in focus as you work with a very shallow depth-of-field. 

    If you’re seeking to create bokeh with a 50mm lens, take extra care with these composition elements:

    1.  Distance: The Camera and The Subject

    The distance between your camera and your subject will contribute to the blurred look of your background. 

    Ideally, there should be as small a distance as possible between these two compositional elements. 

    When your camera is too close to your subject, it may be difficult to achieve a clear focus.

    But, if you’re too far away from your subject, it may be impossible to make the background appear blurred.

     2. Distance: The Subject and The Background

    When it comes to the distance between your subject and your background, you want it to be as big as it feasible.

    Your background will be more blurred if it’s further away from your subject.

    3. The Size of Your Subject

    The size of your subject matters too when you’re seeking to achieve bokeh in your image. 

    The amount of blur in your image will typically be different when you photograph a large subject compared to a small one.

    In particular, larger subjects will typically require a narrower aperture than smaller subjects.

    As such, the amount of blur in an image will be less on larger subjects than smaller subjects. 

    6. Don’t Limit Yourself to f/1.8

    Don’t drop your aperture down to f/1.8 simply because it’s available to you.

    I know that it’s tempting to do so, but it won’t always benefit your composition.

    An aperture of f/1.8 creates a very narrow depth-of-field.

    This means, achieving sharpness on the elements that you want in focus will require great precision on your part.

    This can be time-consuming and problematic. 

    When shooting portraits, for instance, you’ll likely end up with a set of pictures where parts of the face will be in sharp focus, but the eye that you wanted in focus may be blurred.

    If you intend to create bokeh, I recommend starting at f/2.8. This still allows great bokeh but is not as challenging to work with as f/1.8. 

    7. Choose the Right Aperture

    Your choice of aperture is never right or wrong. But, depending on your subject and desired effect, certain apertures will be more successful than others.

    For instance, in portrait photography, you may want to focus on strictly the eyes using a wide aperture.

    Using an f/stop of 2.8 will keep the eyes sharp while leaving the remaining parts of the image somewhat blurry.

    Landscapes and architecture, on the other hand, generally benefit from wider apertures.

    Although vast landscapes isn’t a strength of 50mm lenses, you can effectively use them to capture beautiful scenes.

    Just remember to use a narrow aperture to capture the landscape in sharp detail.

    8. Watch Where You Place Your Focus

    When you’re working with a shallow depth of field, you’ll need to pay close attention to where you focus.

    The subtlest change in focus placement will have a huge impact on the resultant image.

    For example, when you’re photographing human subjects you’ll likely want to place your focus in their eyes.

    However, if they are positioned in a way that their eyes are not on the same plane, the eye that’s a lesser distance from the camera will be clear and sharp, while the eye further from the camera will be somewhat hazy.

    This is true even if the difference in their distance is a single centimeter.

    If you want both eyes to be equally in focus, you can opt to use a higher aperture setting or position your subject so that both eyes are on the same plane. 

    If you’re shooting multiple people, using a higher f-stop number is a good choice.

    This keeps one human subject from being blurry while the other is in precise focus.

    9. Experiment Shooting Under Low-Light Conditions

     

    50mm lenses perform well in low-light conditions.

    These lenses have wide apertures and can allow more light to enter the camera compared to other lenses. This leaves you with more room to achieve proper focus in low light conditions. 

    If you are unable to achieve proper exposure by adjusting your aperture, I recommend experimenting with your shutter speed.

    To avoid camera shake when using slow shutter speeds, use a tripod. 

    I recommend the Manfrotto Befree Carbon Fiber TripodThis tripod is sturdy yet lightweight and easy to use. 

    You can also reach proper exposure by adjusting your ISO. However, this is often not the most ideal.

    While raising your ISO can help increase the brightness in your image, it also increases the appearance of noise.

    When shooting in low-light, experiment with your aperture and shutter speed first before increasing your ISO.

    10. Find the Perfect Background

    Your background is just as crucial to the composition as your subject.

    Even a bokeh can’t save an image from a distracting background. 

    If you’re shooting outdoors, identify visual elements to eliminate from your background, such as bright objects, people, trash bins, etc.

    In the case of people and cars, wait for them to move out of your frame.

    Even when blurred, having people on your background can distract your audience’s attention away from your main subject. If you can move an object out of your frame, do so.

    You may have to take some time to explore multiple angles to exclude unwanted objects from the background, but this is often much easier than removing them in post-processing.

    11. Chase the Light

    Schedule your shooting times thoughtfully so that you’ll be in ideal lighting conditions. 

    The middle of the day isn’t typically a good time to shoot because the natural light is harsh, making for intense shadows and uninteresting shots.

    If you’re photographing portraits, aim to shoot a few hours following sunrise, then a few hours before sunset.

    The golden hour can lead to beautiful pictures, but the light changes too quickly, which is often problematic when doing photographing portraits.

    The ambient light during the golden hours also tends to be saturated, which can be distracting for portrait photography.

    By shooting a little bit past sunrise and after sunset, you’ll still enjoy a soft, warm ambient light without the issues mentioned above.

    This makes for a simpler, stress-free and more successful shooting process.

    12. Explore Fast Shutter Speeds

    Another great benefit of being able to shoot at low apertures is the ability to experiment with fast shutter speeds.

    This is especially helpful when you’re taking handheld images.

    The rule of thumb for handheld photography is that your shutter speed should be one divided by your focal length. 

    With a focal length of 50mm, you use a shutter speed of 1/50 of a second or faster. 

    However, in many lighting conditions, setting your shutter speed at 1/50 or faster will render your image underexposed. 

    In such cases, being able to set your aperture to a low f-stop value, such as f/1.8 can be beneficial.

    That is wide apertures can provide you with a way to compensate for the diminished exposure from using fast shutter speeds.

    Another example where using wide apertures can be hugely beneficial is when photographing moving subjects. 

    To capture moving subjects with sharp details, you’ll need to use faster shutter speeds.

    Similar to low-light conditions, using a wide aperture in this scenario can help make up for the weakened exposure caused by a fast shutter speed setting.

    Keep in mind, in most cases, raising your ISO to achieve your target shutter speed will be a better bet than using f/1.8. 

    Although a high ISO will lead to more noise in your image, a photo that’s in focus with some noise is better than an image that is out of focus.

    Often, you’ll be able to adjust and minimize noise with post-processing software; the same is not true for out-of-focus photos.

    13. Focus on Details

    Focusing on small details provides you with more unique and interesting compositions. 

    While the 50mm lens isn’t a macro lens,  but you can generally work with minimal distance between the camera and your subject to hone in on specific details.

    Details can become the star of your shot when you employ certain methods. These include focusing on specific colors, textures, and patterns, among others.

    14. Shoot Candid

    50mm lenses are great for candid photography. These small, fast lenses enable you to achieve a high-quality image in high action scenes.

    Generally, your subject will appear more natural and at ease when you’re not pointing an enormous lens straight at them. 

    Because of their compact bodies, you can cut down on the distance between you and an unknowing subject without making them feel uncomfortable.

    Because they are also much faster than zoom lenses, allowing you to shoot candid moments with fast shutter speeds without having to increase your ISO.

    Candid photos are some of the most fulfilling compositions to see as a viewer. And using a 50mm lens is a great way to keep you from missing them. 

    15. Zoom in With Your Feet

    A 50mm lens has a fixed focal length, so any zooming will have to be accomplished by physically walking closer or farther from your subject. 

    Use this to your advantage. Vary your position continually and try to come up with more creative solutions to get your desired compositions. 

    This may take more time and effort than when working with zoom lenses, but it presents you with a great opportunity to better your understanding of composition and perspective.

    Practicing photography with prime lenses will force you to think outside the box and teach you to find new and creative ways to work around compositional limitations.

    When shooting handheld, secure your camera by using a camera strap or wrist strap. 

    I recommend the Peak Design Slide.

    Unlike most camera straps, it does not get in the way while shooting. It is also easy to attach and remove. 

    If you don’t want to use a camera strap another option is to use a wrist strap. Peak Design makes a great wrist strap that is secure and easy to use. 

    16. Use the Right Metering Mode

    Different photography scenarios require different metering modes.

    Spot metering is excellent if you want to use small areas or subject as your basis for exposure.

    This is my choice of metering for portrait photography.

    Spot-metering ensures that my primary subject is correctly exposed and captured with maximum detail. 

    Matrix metering mode is excellent for vast scenes because it will consider the entire frame and average out the exposure.

    It produces images that are evenly lit and maximize details across the whole frame. 

    I opt for matrix metering when I am shooting landscape photography. It is important to note that matrix metering does not perform well for scenes with uneven lighting or high contrast. 

    The center metering mode will give priority to the center of your scene when exposing the image.

    This metering is great if you place your subject at the center of the frame.

    It can be useful when you want to consider both your subject and background but place primary emphasis on your subject when exposing your image. 

    17. Use Auto-Focus

    Autofocus is generally my top choice for photography. This is true whether I am shooting landscapes or portraits, indoors or outdoors.

    Specifically, I select single area AF when my subject is only moving horizontally and not vertically in the frame. 

    Single area AF offers two advantages. First, if your subject moves, your image will remain in focus. Second, it allows you to recompose your image without the need to refocus. Your camera will follow the point you select and maintain focus. 

    If my subject is moving vertically and not on a horizontal plane, I typically use continuous AF.

    Continuous AF will track your subject and ensure that the subject you select is always in focus. This is great for capturing wildlife or sports photography, where it is hard to predict the movement of your subjects. 

    For night photography or dimly lit indoor photography, I use manual focus. Autofocus systems generally won’t work well in low-light conditions.

    If you’re not sure which to use, I suggest trying out autofocus first to see if it works. If not, manual focusing is the right choice.

    It’s also important to make sure the 50mm lens is capable of autofocus. So before you purchase to make sure there is an AF on the lenses 

    18. Use Back-Button Focusing

    One issue with most cameras default settings is that the shutter button and focus button are dependent.

    This means that the same button controls both functions.

    For example, to focus, you must half-press the shutter button and then fully press and release the same button to capture an image. 

    This is not ideal or efficient when you are trying to focus and recompose without capturing an image.

    The solution to this issue is back-button focusing.

    Back-button focusing separates the focus and shutter function by using a separate button for focus. 

    Typically, the new focus button becomes the AF-On button located on the back of the camera.

    But, not all cameras have a standalone AF-ON button; some models may require the programming of a button to operate as an AF-ON button.

    If you’ve pre-focused on your composition’s subject and are photographing objects in motion, you’ll benefit from the back-button focus. 

    I also recommend shooting in manual mode. Manual mode expedites the learning process as a photographer.

    Test out different settings at their lowest and highest values, such as aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

    You’ll learn and grown exponentially by experimenting with these settings.

    19. Know Your Aperture Sweet Spot

    All lenses have an aperture sweet spot, 50mm lenses are no different.

    The aperture sweet spot is the aperture setting that produces the sharpest image for the widest depth of field.

    The rule of thumb is that the aperture sweet spot is typically 2-3 stops aways from the maximum aperture.

    For most 50mm lenses with a max aperture of f/1.4 that is between f/2.8 and f/4. 

    However, the best way to figure out your aperture sweet spot is to test your lens.

    Take a photo of the same subject using different apertures. Then examine the images using post-processing software to check for sharpness. 

    20. Practice 

    Practice cultivates instincts, making you more efficient at what you do.

    By regularly taking photos with your 50mm lens, shooting with it will eventually become second nature.

    You’ll develop “muscle memory,” enabling you to look at a scene and visualize your compositions without needing to look through the viewfinder.

    The more familiar you are with your lens, the less time you’ll need to spend adjusting your composition and figuring out how to get the shot you want.

    In this way, you’ll be able to maximize your opportunities to capture the best images in every situation.

    Recommended 50mm Lens 

    BrandMaximum Aperture Minimum Focus Distance AF Motor Price
    Sonyf/1.8.45m / 1.15ftNoCheck Price
    Sonyf/1.4.39m / 1.3ftYesCheck Price
    Nikonf/1.4.45m / 1.5ftNoCheck Price
    Nikonf/1.8.45m / 1.5ftYesCheck Price
    Canonf/1.4.35m / 1.15ft
    YesCheck Price
    Canonf/1.8.45m / 1.5ftNoCheck Price

    Conclusion

    A 50mm lens is an exceptional tool for capturing high-quality images. It’s also affordable and easy to use.

    No doubt this lens has earned its place as a favorite among photographers near and far. As a beginner or an expert, the 50mm lens should have a permanent home in your camera bag.

    About The Author

    Photographer. Explorer. Story Teller. For the past 5 years, I’ve voyaged across the world seeking the next great photograph. If you’re anything like me, you love to travel, capture beautiful moments, and live life to the fullest.

    7 Comments

    • DAVID MARTÍNEZ says:

      Great explanation! Thanks so much! I’m still getting used to my Canon 50 mm f1.8. I’m sure that your amazing lesson will help me a lot!

      • Vinci Palad says:

        Hi David,

        I’m glad that my article could help you as you get used to using a 50 mm lens. I love using my 50 mm lens, it is one of my favorite lenses. I hope you feel the same way as you continue using your 50 mm lens.

        Regards,

        Vinci Palad

    • Ed says:

      Hi, that was a seriously helpful guide – much appreciated – I am looking forward to experimenting with my first prime lens.
      Many thanks for this input.

    • Barb says:

      Thank you for the clear explanation on this great little lens. I have only had my 50mm lens a few weeks and am blown away with the difference in compression this lens makes to my photos – so much so, it’s now my favourite lens! Your guide is a great help, thank you.

      • Vinci Palad says:

        Hi Barb,

        I am glad you found this article useful. I felt the exact same way when I first used a 50mm lens, now I always keep one in my camera bag wherever I go.

        Best Wishes,

        Vinci

    • Prasanth Bommareddy says:

      great explanation. thanks!

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