photo by Pollyana Ventura via iStock
If you’re a new photographer, the chances are good that you’re spending a lot more time learning how to use your camera than you are learning how to use your lens.
That’s a bit of a mistake, though…
Don’t get me wrong - you need to learn how to use your camera. But neglecting a deep dive into your lens will only hurt your ability to capture the best shots.
That being the case, here’s a few tips on how to use camera lenses.
Mastering Your Lens Tip 1: “Zoom with Your Feet”
If you’re in the photography game long enough, you’re bound to hear the camera lens tip to “zoom with your feet.”
As Mike Browne explains in the video above, this means you need to be unabashed in your pursuit of the best photos. You can do that by getting as close to subjects as you need to get the shot as opposed to relying on your zoom lens to do all that work for you.
Sometimes, this means getting really uncomfortably close to the subject.
Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash
Photojournalists are the ones who use this photography phrase most often because they oftentimes need to shoot horrific moments in a person’s life. A lot of times the person who is being photographed doesn’t want to have their picture taken.
But, it’s not just good advice for photographing the news. It’s also great advice for learning how to work with your new lens.
If you have an 18-55mm lens, then your subject will look much different at 18mm from five feet versus 18mm from 10 feet away.
photo by Vesnaandjic via iStock
You’ll never learn how to shoot the best portraits or landscapes or street scenes with your lens if you’re always shooting from the same distance from your subject. You’re not pushing yourself far enough and you’re not educating yourself about your lens, either.
So, rather than simply turning the lens barrel to frame up a different shot, get moving, interact with the subject, and zoom with your feet instead!
Mastering Your Lens Tip 2: Use the “Wrong” Subjects
If you have a telephoto lens it’s pretty easy to shoot portraits. If you have a wide-angle lens, there’s a ton of educational material for you to learn how to shoot landscapes. But, simply using the typical lens that everyone recommends isn’t necessarily how you get the most creative shots.
Here’s a good DSLR camera lens tip: When you Google your lens type, try to shoot the opposite subjects that most people tell you to shoot with that lens.
For example, try using the 100mm macro lens you bought for food photography to shoot portraits instead or use the wide-angle lens you bought for landscapes to shoot architecture photos.
Shooting the “wrong” subjects with your lens enables you to figure out why the lens is used for certain subjects, and you might have the added bonus of finding a new, creative way to examine your subjects through a different lens.
Get more details on using the “wrong” lens in the video above by Park Cameras.
Mastering Your Lens Tip 3: Use Different Focal Lengths
photo by RichLegg via iStock
The great thing about having a lens in your camera bag is that you have many different focal lengths you can test out in one package.
Typically, kit lenses range from 18mm to 55mm, so that gives you a wealth of opportunities to test out different focal lengths.
One trick professional photographers recommend is to think of your zoom lens as multiple prime lenses, just in easier packaging.
photo by MarioGuti via iStock
So, head out with your zoom lens and restrict yourself to shooting with only one focal length, say, 24mm. No matter what you do, don’t zoom in or out with the lens and instead zoom with your feet to see what you can do with a single focal length.
Then, the next time you go out shooting, choose a different focal length, like 35mm, and see what you can create at that focal length.
Working your way through your lens’s zoom range in this manner is an ideal way to get more familiar with and comfortable with your lens, while also learning how different focal lengths impact the way your photos look.
Mastering Your Lens Tip 4: Don’t Forget Certain Apertures
photo by klerik78 via iStock
Yes, your lens gives its optimal performance in its “sweet spot,” which is usually in the f/8-f/11 range. This is true for all lenses - even high-end professional ones.
But, that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to forget about the widest and narrowest aperture settings on your lens. Just because the image is going to be softer at f/2.8 or f/22 than it is at f/11 doesn’t mean that those apertures aren’t useful to you and your photography.
If you take a lot of photos using small apertures, there’s an issue called diffraction. Diffraction makes your photos softer the further you step down in aperture. So, while you are getting more depth of field, your images won’t be as sharp.
photo by asiseeit via iStock
You can also use different apertures to create bokeh, or background blur, as shown above. If you set your lens to its widest aperture, say, f/2, you’re probably doing so to create more bokeh in your photos.
When you step down your aperture (to something like f/16), your image will get sharper thanks to a larger depth of field, as shown in the landscape photo below.
photo by Armastas via iStock
You’ll need to experiment with the aperture on your lens to see how changing it changes the depth of field in your shots. For more details about this topic, consult our beginner’s guide to aperture and depth of field.
Mastering Your Lens Tip 5: Use Just One Lens for a Long Period of Time
It’s no secret that practice makes perfect, but sometimes it’s really hard to practice as much as you need to with one lens. You might get distracted by different shoots and by the desire to add new equipment to your kit.
But, if you really want to master one lens, you need to commit to using it for a long period of time. This might mean using one lens exclusively for two weeks or a month or even longer. See how this challenge plays out over just 30 minutes of shooting video in the video above by Brandon Li.
Doing so allows you to learn the specific idiosyncrasies of the lens, learn its strengths, and its weaknesses. It also allows you time to inspect the images you create with the lens in post-processing to see what apertures are the sharpest or softest, where aberrations might appear, and so forth.
This exercise is more difficult with a zoom lens, but as noted earlier, just select a specific focal length and run with it for a while.
Mastering Your Lens Tip 6: Try Using Vintage Lenses
Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash
I always suggest that new photographers try using vintage lenses. The number one reason for this is because it saves so much money.
Newer lenses can cost a ridiculous amount for someone who is a hobby photographer or is trying to figure out if this may be the right career for them.
Plus, older lenses have great personalities. A lot of my favorite photographers, and a lot of my most creative photographer friends, swear by vintage lenses because they’re able to fill up their whole equipment bag for what I might spend on one lens.
I’ve purchased my fair share of vintage lenses from Lensfinder, which you can think of a bigger, better, and safer version of eBay that is made for camera enthusiasts.
Their website is easy to use, but more importantly, you can find pretty much any camera, lens, or filter you want being sold by another photographer who can answer any questions you might have.
When you find the lens you want, all of the fees are upfront and Lensfinder doesn’t make any money from you buying a lens. Instead, fees are collected from sellers.
You can also rate sellers and view sellers ratings so you don’t get scammed like you otherwise might off of eBay or Craigslist.
Another reason I use Lensfinder is because sellers on this website have some truly incredible vintage lenses.
This Lomo 75mm from the 70s is one of the recent finds I found on Lensfinder. Not only would I definitely not be able to find something like this for sale in my city, but I think it’s a steal for the rarity of the lens.
Whether you use a vintage lens, restrict yourself to a specific focal length with your zoom lens, zoom with your feet, or one of the other tips I’ve outlined here, these tips on how to use camera lenses will help you learn more about your gear, learn more about photography, and help you develop a stronger creative eye. What’s not to like about that?