Photo by Thomas AE on Unsplash
I felt like a real photographer the first time I purchased my own nifty fifty lens. It’s a quintessential piece of photography equipment, but it’s also a fairly confusing piece of equipment if you don’t know what you’re doing with it.
That’s why we are outlining 5 ways you can become a pro with your 50mm lens with our comprehensive 50mm lens tips.
Let’s get started!
How to Use a Nifty Fifty Lens (Hint: With a Flash)
Photo by lucas Favre on Unsplash
No, your flash does not need to be this flashy (no pun intended) or expensive. Yes, you need a flash. Make it yourself for all I care, but please don’t be that photographer who forgets about it completely (or uses the pop-up flash on your camera - big mistake!).
While using natural light with your Canon nifty fifty is always preferable, there are times this is not realistic and this is when your flash can come out to play.
Using a flash with your nifty fifty allows you to create specular highlights in your photos that give the image depth and dimension.
Specular highlights can be catch lights in a model’s eyes that tell you what light direction is coming from in a photo.
Photo by Jessica Felicio on Unsplash
Or, in this portrait, the highlights on the model’s forehead and inner cheeks create a portrait that feels three-dimensional.
Compare this photo with the one below and it’s easy to see that using a flash with your Nikon nifty fifty or Sony nifty fifty is a much better option than not understanding how to use natural light in your portrait photography.
Photo by Michael Mims on Unsplash
Without a flash, this portrait is simply too dark. Besides that, it’s quite flat.
The photographer would have gotten much better results by using a flash to brighten up the model’s face (or by simply having the model face the bright wall behind her).
50mm Lens Tips Are Incomplete Without Learning to Stop Down
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Learning to stop down your images to ensure they are the sharpest they can be is difficult.
By that, I don’t mean that it’s hard to change the aperture value, because that’s really easy. Instead, what I mean is that resisting the urge to slam the lens open to its widest aperture for every portrait you take just because you can is a little tough to do when you first purchase a nifty fifty lens.
The video above by Adorama shows you why most nifty fifty tips lists include stopping down. You can create better-focused photos if you use f/4 or f/5.6 as opposed to f/1.4 or f/1.8 that many beginner photographers are drawn to.
This is because no lens - not even professional-grade lenses - are their sharpest at their maximum aperture. In fact, most lenses have a sweet spot in the f/8 to f/11 range, and that’s the point at which they provide the most sharpness
The easiest way to learn how to stop down with your new 50mm lens is to practice shooting every photo twice.
So, shoot the photo at that huge aperture you can’t resist, like f/1.2, f/1.4, or f/1.8, and then stop down the aperture to f/4 or f/5.6 and take it again. Heck, stop down again to f/8 or f/11 just for the sake of experimentation, and see how changing the aperture changes the sharpness of the shot (and the depth of field, too).
Learn How to Manually Set Your Focus Point
When you were first learning how to use a camera, whether it was back as a child or this morning as a full-fledged adult, the point and shoot method you were most likely taught is to use the center focus point.
Don’t get me wrong - this works sometimes, but the problem you encounter is that not every subject is perfectly in the middle of the frame, nor should it be. This means you have to focus the shot using the center focus point and then recompose the image.
This raises another issue in that doing so messes with the focal plane, so the subject might not even be in focus anymore.
If you instead manually set your focus points to ones in the outer areas of an image, then you can avoid the whole focus-and-recompose issue.
If you aren’t sure how to manually select the focus point on your Canon or Nikon camera, give the video above by Photo Genius a quick look.
The Nifty Fifty Can Do More Than Bokeh
photo by Domagoj via iStock
We all follow that one photography mom on Instagram who found out about bokeh and never turned back. Your nifty fifty lens can do so much more than bokeh, and it saddens me when this is all it’s used for.
Sure, you can have your fun with bokeh, but don’t fall into the trap of using it all of the time or all of your pictures are going to look exactly the same… boring.
Instead, practice things like capturing low-angle or high-angle shots to change the perspective from which the viewer sees the scene. Work on how you frame your shots, too, like using a frame within a frame to create a greater sense of depth in the photo.
Nifty fifties are so easy to use and so versatile, so they’re a great learning tool. Use it to learn more than creating bokeh!
How to Use a 50mm Lens (Another Hint: In Manual Mode)
photo by via Brostock iStock
When you’re learning how to use a nifty fifty lens, you should be working with this ultimate goal in mind: You should be able to shoot completely in manual.
Controlling your ISO, shutter speed, and aperture yourself allows you full creative control of your photos.
And though initially it will be a little overwhelming, at the end of the day, you’re a much better judge of the light in a scene than your camera is!
When switching from using fully automatic mode to manual mode, you will make a lot of mistakes. But through these mistakes you will learn what an under- or over-exposed photo looks like and you will further learn how to manually set your focus points. What’s not to like about that?
Where to Buy a Nifty Fifty
So now that you know how to use a 50mm lens, you may be wondering why you read this whole article and don’t actually own one.
Nifty fifty lenses are incredible because they are versatile, but also can be purchased relatively inexpensively.
I bought my last Nikon 50mm on Lensfinder for a better price than a similar product I found on Amazon.
Plus, Lensfinder is great because it’s a whole website of camera enthusiasts selling their cameras and camera gear to other camera enthusiasts. I’ve asked a slew of very in-depth questions to sellers before and most of them take the time to answer my questions in full. Try finding that on eBay!
Lensfinder, unlike other online platforms, works incredibly hard to ensure you’re never scammed on the website. I’ve bought camera lenses on eBay before and have had much worse luck.
So, they’ve got a great selection of lenses, fraud protections built right in, and lower fees than what you’ll find elsewhere. That’s not a bad combination if you ask me!
Check out their lenses here.