going back to my 50mm roots
Many moons ago when I was handed a Pentax loaded with 24exp ISO800 film, I felt like a proper professional. I had one of the best cameras on the market, a very expensive roll of film and all of it was going to come together using a fantastic 50mm f1.7 lens (second hand units on Amazon for less than $100) which still stands the test of time some 25 years later in the new world of digital and editing tools.
Using a Prime taught me so much about photography, especially using my surroundings and moving my feet to get a shot not seen before.
A great apprenticeship as most of my photography skills are self taught over many years of trial and error, along with a few courses along the way and with some teachings from Pentax during my first job in a camera store. But its the 50mm where it all started.
Fast forward to 2016 and I started to realize that I haven’t used or gone out to shoot with just the 50mm in mind (or the Sony 55mm FE f1.8 available on Amazon) sure its in my bag but the temptation to swap a lens so I don’t have to move as much has always proved too great. Lazy, yes I think so. Time for a change.
Having lived in NY for a couple of years now, I thought I would take my old flame out on a date and rekindle the enjoyment for my days as a Pentax shooter withonly 2 or 3 lenses in my kit bag. I left all the other lens lengths at home to subway surf the day away and just try out new places that have been hidden from my glass for so long or find places for me to explore. It was a little daunting I must say having spent so much time shooting wide for so long, but it felt fresh to do so.
On my journey into midtown on the Q Train which is an adventure onto itself, I was reflected that I have always maintained shooting with 50mm is more difficult than shooting with 35mm, the extra width with 35mm does take some of the composition issues out especially if you can crop out later. Yes I understand that statement will make many angry and grab their pitch forks, but I stand by it. Shooting with the 50mm is where I started and how I learned street photography and maybe it’s the only tool you will ever need, certainly from a learning perspective.
Having found a few things that peaked my interest I started to shoot as I got off just before 15th Street on the East Side of town, the day was bright and the skies clear of clouds, being reasonably early in the day (enough to avoid rush hour but late enough to miss the early tourists) meaning the shadows were not attracting too much contrast. I rattled off around 60 frames of the local areas and MTA station and got back into the swing of it pretty quick, love affair was back on.
I was very surprised that I had almost forgotten the art of moving my feet, having shot so many events over the last 12 months I kinda forgot how to move myself to get the frame I wanted, dam zooms. Especially as I have been shooting very wide for architecture and landscapes (Tamron 15-30mm SP on Amazon) as well during this time so the thought of using a prime was causing me some concern that I couldn’t whip out my zoom. Heading uptown past the NY Public Library now.
In the studio I mostly stick to 85mm and once you find your range you kinda stick with it. However the love for the 50mm was flowing back as I walked around midtown in the sweltering heat of July. A complete throw back to me of old with my Pentax at hand. Images started to pop out at me and give me encouragement to try new things again, sure some of the tried and tested were all there too. I could post all the the shots here but it would make for a horrendously long post, so here are a few shots from the MTA Q-Train as I got off. The guy sleeping was taken behind the USPS Post Office Building on 10th Ave near B&H. Citibikes were close to the Brooklyn Bridge and who can mistake the Love Locks (since removed) over the Brooklyn Bridge itself. Market day in Union Square and round the corner a couple of strangers ignoring the call to exercise by eating ice cream instead.
My brain was thinking again, in a way I thought was on but actually wasn’t working well in the first place. Quite a statement I know but still there it is, much fun was had. The love for the 50mm was almost at fever pitch, much like the weather and before too much longer my few hours in 90f heat had to come to an end and I was already of the Brooklyn Bridge in the shade of DUMBO. So I dived into the pub and reviewed some of my shots.
I think the take away from my lunch date with a 50, was I need to take it out more often. Romancing the glass as I now call it, spending time with each of your primes and working out what you can do with what you have. Rather than finding a solution with zoom, check your bag and you may find a gem stuffed down the back.
Might revisit my 35mm statement from earlier as after the shoot I thought to myself thinking maybe I was wrong to suggest the 35mm was easier, again it’s been too long for me since I went out just to shoot for pleasure with no remit other than seeing what I could capture.
If you’re starting out in photography then grab a 50mm just like I did some 25+ years ago and find some love, you may just find a life partner.