Recently I bought an 85mm 1.8 lens as a gift to myself for accomplishing so many of my goals this past year. It’s been a couple of years since my last lens purchase, which was a 35mm 1.8 lens and as I started to use the 85mm lens I realized just how much I have learned about lens choice over the last couple years. I thought that writing a post on how to learn a new lens would probably be very useful to a lot of photographers so here it is. I hope you find this insightful.
I am not going to go into the basics of lenses and how they work in this article. I am going to assume that you know what changing the F Stop does, are aware that changing the focal length will change the compression of the image and the depth of field.
One Lens, One Month
Commit to using only your new lens for one month. If you have a portrait session use whatever lens you need to use, but for personal use, stick to your new lens. By using just one lens and shooting everyday you will have ample time to become very familiar with all its quirks.
For example, I used my new 85mm on a portrait session recently and had several beautiful photos come out slightly blurry because I forgot that I needed to use a higher shutter speed for the longer lens I was using. If I had waited and spent some time getting to know that lens I would have learned this lesson in a practice shoot and not in a paid shoot.
Pay Attention to Distance
One thing you may want to study is how far you need to stand from the subject to get the image you envision. You can get similar pictures using a 35mm or 85mm lens. However, the distance between you and your subject will change quite a bit to get the same composition. By knowing these approximate distances you can concentrate more on the artistic side of photography and less on figuring out where to stand.
- Find a willing model who can sit still for a while. Teens and adults are best for this activity.
- Place your model in a chair and compose a headshot. Then measure the distance between you and your subject. Note that distance in your photography journal (more on this in a later post).
- Next, compose a waist up shot. Measure the distance between you and your subject. Note in your journal.
- Continue this process for a full body shot and an environmental portrait (that uses the enormity and beauty of the landscape in the portrait).
- Extra Credit: Do this exercise with a different lens and compare the distances.
- What do you notice? How will this information help you in your photography?
The Blur Factor
Many photographers want to have that beautiful blurry background behind their subjects. What many don’t realize is the distance between your subject and the background as well as you and your subject really makes a difference in how blurry the background is. To learn how your new lens deals with this try this exercise. In the first image above my son is closer to me and farther from the tree. In the second image he is closer to the tree and farther from me. Notice the difference in background blur, bokah, and how the antennae looks.
- Place your subject right in front of an outdoor wall. Have them lean back against it. Compose and shoot a headshot.
- Move your subject 3 feet from the wall and compose the same headshot. You will have to move back 3 feet as well to get the same composition. Take another headshot.
- Continue to do this at 6 feet, 12 feet, 20 feet and 50 feet.
- Bring your images into Lightroom and compare them to each other.
- How does the distance from the background change its blurriness? Which look do you prefer? How can you use this information to help your photography?
Create a Depth of Field Series
Different focal lengths affect the depth of field differently. Practice using and studying the changes in depth of field with your new lens so you are familiar with how much focal space you have at each F stop. Keep in mind that your distance from the subject will also affect the depth of field.
- Put your camera on a tripod, or balance it on something (safely) and focus on your subject.
- Start at the lowest F stop and take a picture.
- Change to the next highest F stop and take the picture again.
- Continue to take the same picture of the same subject and each F stop until you have done them all.
- Go into Lightroom and study the changes to each image as the F stop changes.
- Extra Credit: Do this activity again, but drastically change the distance between you and your subject. Compare the depth of field between the images taken at the same F stop, but at different distances.
- How does the DOF change based on the distance between you and your subject? How does this affect the background? How does it affect the subject? How will this information help you in your photography?
Practice & Analyze
The most important trick to learning a new lens is to practice a ton then analyze your images. Use the EXIF data to compare your camera settings to your pictures. Decide if you met your vision. What could you do differently in camera to better achieve your vision?
I hope this tutorial was helpful to you! I would love to know how this helped you in your photography. Please leave me a comment and let me know!