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One Lens Photographer

See The World In A New Perspective
(For nude version of this photoblog post, go here: http://www.editorialnudes.com/m0x)

I just returned from hosting two, back-to-back, weeklong, successful Virgin Islands photography workshops—it’s our seventh year doing photography workshops in the “VI.” Besides the necessary photography gear I bring for my attending photographers to use, like Hensel portable lighting and California Sunbounce reflectors, I took my Canon 5D Mark II, Hoodman “RAW” digital cards and my Canon 85mm F/1.2L USM lens, that’s it!  Just one lens! A prime lens (fixed focal length), not a zoom!

Virgin Islands Photography Workshop Photo

Candice is photographed at my Virgin Islands photography workshop using a Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon 135mm F/2.0L USM lens.

Now it’s easy to say that I only took one camera lens so I could force myself to see the world in one perspective, and while this “one lens photographer” technique will force that, the real story might surprise many of you that take the time to read my blogs and books.

Canon 135mm F/2.0L USM Lens photo at Virgin Islands photography workshop.

Forced to use only a borrowed Canon 135mm F/2.0L USM Lens, I was still able to capture this iguana in my photographic style.

During last year’s VI May workshop, my daughter, aspiring photographer Stephanie Gomez, talked me out of my old Canon 5D and my Canon 70-200 F/2.8L IS USM lens. That left me with only my 85mm lens. Many people think, as an author of five  photography books, with a sixth on it’s way, that I get free camera bodies and lenses. I don’t, though I’ve received some promotional products or loaners throughout my 30-plus years as a photographer. Bottom line–I’m no stranger to this poor economy and I’m carefully purchasing one lens at a time, since I switched from Nikon to Canon, to rebuild my arsenal of photography gear again.

Virgin islands Photography Workshop, Canon 135mm F/2.0L USM lens photo

Here I captured Eleya using only my Canon 5D Mark II fitted with a Canon 135mm F/2.0L USM lens.

So there you have it, I only own one camera body and one lens—at least in the Canon brand—which is what I primarily shoot with: Canon 5D Mark II and the Canon 85mm F/1.2L USM lens. So when photographer and friend Marek Dudka offered to loan me his Canon 135 F/2.0L USM lens while he used my 85mm lens at the photography workshop, I couldn’t resist. It was a change of pace. It was a change of perspective and it brought back the memories of when I was a kid shooting with my Canon AT-1, the manual version of the popular Canon AE-1.

Thirty-one years ago that was the only camera I owned with a Vivitar 135mm F/2.8 lens. It also brought back memories of my U.S. Army days when I attended the Combat Camera Camera, World Wide Military Photography Workshop, hosted by the 55th Signal Company at Ft. Meade, Maryland. At this workshop we worked with guest instructors Eli Reed, Susan Biddle, James Nachtwey, Bernie Boston, Mary Lou Foy and a few other great civilian photographers.

I still remember Bernie Boston, the Kodak Crystal Eagle Award winner and the National Press Photographers Association’s Joseph A. Sprague Memorial Award winner, hollering at one photographer, “We don’t look at the world through a wide-angle lens.” Bernie was referring to a photographer’s “overuse” of a fish-eye lens, and while Bernie was hammering that photographer, Susan Biddle, told me to lighten my camera bag to one or two lenses, one flash, a camera body and one back-up body. I never forgot her advice. We were all photojournalists, so I understood what she meant and returned some of my U.S. Army issued glass to my unit.

Canon 135mm F/2.0L USM lens photo in the Virgin Islands photography workshop.

Captured with a Canon 135mm F/2.0L USM lens, this photo of Candice was post produced using Nik Software Silver Efex Pro filters in Adobe Photoshop.

While I’m a firm believer, use the right tool for the right job, sometimes, especially in this tight economy, we don’t always have the luxury of owning tons of photography gear—heck, I have five kids and three grandkids! So when we are forced to do without, we just rent, borrow or beg until we save enough to buy. If this is your case, as mine, instead of feeling deprived, especially when you see more well-to-do photographers carrying an arsenal of lenses, force yourself to master that “one” lens, it will pay off dividends in that you do learn to see the world in a new perspective.

In fact, I beg to bet, your photography will probably exceed those with sometimes “excess” lenses because you are “forced” to use what you have and they have “choices.” If you have more than one lens, then I challenge you to force yourself into using only one prime lens for a week or more, nothing else! (Note: Use only a prime, fixed focal length lens, not a zoom with this challenge.)

Don’t get me wrong, everyone loves to live the life of being able to have more than one choice, but most of the photographers today are carrying light loads as we all try to pull through not only the economy, but what digital technology has done to the photographer’s profession—and that’s another future blog post—so back to the ranch!

Force yourself to shoot with only one lens for at least an entire day, if not an entire week or month. You’ll probably discover a side of photography you didn’t even know existed, and if you really want to go “hardcore,” put gaffer’s tape on the back of your LCD preview screen and relive the film days were we didn’t have the luxury of knowing on the spot what we shot!

Flower photo using Canon 135mm F/2.0L USM lens

A longer focal length lens, like the Canon 135mm F/2.0L USM lens, can capture beautiful flower photos too.

It’s always about refining and improving your photography skills whether it’s attending one of my more exotic photography workshops in the Virgin Islands, or forcing yourself to see the world in one perspective, through one lens. Besides, it won’t hurt you. You can still beg, borrow or rent if you have a paid assignment you can’t take chances on—bottom line—just do it! You won’t regret it!

Photographer's Toolbox
Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Lens: Canon 135mm F/2.0L IS USM

Note: Look for EditorialNudes.com version soon!

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11 Comments

  1. Your advice reflects my experience. When I traveled in France for a month last year, most of the time walking, I decided to limit myself to my new Leica 25 mm f1.4 prime and my Olympus E-3 (so a normal lens). I reasoned that would allow me to shoot handheld at high speeds under normal conditions and still be able to capture acceptable night shots. I cheated a bit in that I also took my Lensbaby with a telephoto attachment but only use the tele once. I primarily used the Lensbaby with sift focus and plastic lenses for a completely different look. I used the 25 mm about 90% of the time and was very happy with the results.

    • Nothing beats experience! ;) Thanks for sharing, rg.

  2. Yes restrictions makes you focus on the main subject and not on all equipment choices you have around you. My philosophy is to use restrictions as as tool to see things in another way. Nice Photoblog with interesting articles and photos on it. Keep it up.

    My quote “Restrict yourself to the absolute minimum to unleash maximum creativity.” fits well to this topic I think. ;)

    • Great quote, great advice. Thanks for the nice comments too! rg

  3. I recently purchased a 35mm 1.8 and a 50mm 1.8 and am really loving them, if I need to zoom I use my self-propelled 2 leg Zoom and am loving the results.

    • Great advice, but you’d be surprised how many photographers mark a treasure map “X” and don’t move. Thanks!

  4. I couldn’t agree more, I look back and some of the best pictures I have were taken when all I owned was a Canon A1 and a 50mm lens. This is a challenge I’m looking forward to taking!

    • Cool. I remember the Canon A-1, that was the workhorse back then!

  5. I have Canon EOS 30D & 7D, with 17-40 mm L f/4 USM, 50 mm f/1.4 USM, 70-200 mm f/2.8 USM, and 10-22 mm f/3.5-4.5 USM lenses, and one Speedlite 580EX II.
    With them I still try to capture the beauty of my country Indonesia, the people, and everything. But I never satisfied with my photo result.. May be my skill is very less… :(

  6. Your one-lens article reminded me of my photographic mentor, Lowell Anson Kenyon. He conducted seminars for professional photographers. On the first day, he would lock up their equipment (for protection), and on the second day would say, “Today, you can’t use any of your equipment. You will use these Kodak Instamatics that I am providing–fixed focus and fixed aperture. There was always much complaining. However, at the end of the day, all the photographers would return with gorgeous photos, proving Lowell’s point that the most important piece of equipment is the photographer.

    • Interesting concept. Sometimes I’ll challenge photographers and tape the back of their LCD screen, take them back to film days ;)

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