How To Improve Your Trek Photography By Using Just One Lens

My first DSLR came with a kit lens. It was a Canon 550D with 18-55mm lens. After two days I bought another lens because it offered more zoom, and I could afford it then. I hardly used the kit lens after that for almost a year. But I kept adding to my collection of lenses. Soon, I bought a 55-250mm, a 50mm 1.8, and a Tokina 11-16mm.

The irony is that I was not able to master any of these lenses. When I finally decided to experiment with each lens separately, I realised that buying lenses without experimenting with my old ones was one of my biggest mistakes in photography.

From the lessons I learnt, I am listing the ways in which using a single lens can improve your trek photography.

Taking one lens reduces the weight of your backpack and saves time on a trek

For the photographers out there, this might sound silly. But believe me, on a trek this matters. The extra batteries will anyway increase the weight of the photography gear that you are carrying. Losing that heavy 70-200mm lens can make a world of difference.

Not just that, it saves all the time you would waste on changing lenses. Very often, you end up spending more time doing this than actually clicking photographs. In the Himalayas, the weather is unpredictable — clouds can suddenly block out views of a pretty lake or a peak. It could happen in a matter of seconds. Similarly, you don’t want miss out taking a good shot of a bird or other wildlife because you are fumbling with lenses.

See these pictures taken with just a 16mm focal length. Click on them to see them enlarged.

After considering the increase in weight of the backpack, if you still feel that you have to take 2 or more lenses with you, I have more reasons for why you should consider taking a single lens for your trek.

Explore the opportunities

Very often, we have predetermined ideas of which lens to use where. A wide lens for landscapes, a standard prime lens for portraits, a macro lens for flowers, a telephoto lens for wildlife, etc.

Have you ever tried shooting a portrait with an ultra wide angle lens, or a landscape with a telephoto lens?

These ideas come into your mind only when you explore more of each lens.

Think about going on assignments by taking only one single lens. Or at least decide that you will shoot with only one lens a day.

I know people who have taken this to another level by using a single lens for 2 whole years. They were able to master the lens and this changed their entire approach towards photography. I could see confidence in their composition, framing, and use of subjects.

Where do you start?

Start with wide angle lenses with zoom (eg. 18-55 mm, which come with most of the basic entry level DSLRs), so that you still have the ability to change the focal length. Shoot everything with that single lens – landscapes, portraits, wildlife (the squirrels in your backyard, birds etc), macro and more. Explore all the angles and effects you can bring in using this lens.

Next, move on to prime lenses like 35 mm, 50 mm, 85 mm.

Using a prime lens is the best project you can assign yourself to improve your photography game.

Mastering a prime lens takes time. You don’t have an option to zoom in or out. The focal length is fixed. The only way around this is to take photos and crop them later. But the challenge is to capture the photograph as it is.

Among prime lenses, 50 mm is a must-have lens. It’s light, it’s cheap, it’s sharp. In fact, the master of candid photography, Henri Cartier Bresson used a 50 mm throughout his life. Imagine the challenges he went through. But his pictures are considered to be the best.

Here are some of our best 50mm pictures.

Experiment with different angles

Consider this scenario. You want to capture a tree and you only have the kit lens with you. The subject is too big to fit in the frame. You have to try out various angles to include the subject in the frame. You go for low angle shots that you wouldn’t have thought if you had wider lens.

When the possibilities are limited you will start trying out new options. Having only one lens with you will help in improving your creativity and composition skills. The kit lens is one of the best lenses to start using a single lens. Documenting an entire trek with only a kit lens is one project you can take upon.

When I finally started using my kit lens, I was amazed by the results. I used to shoot pictures with the widest aperture and complain about the lack of sharpness. But after using only kit lens for a week, I found out its possibilities. I was able to take landscapes, portraits macro and more with the same lens which I once stopped using.

All these pictures were taken with just a 18-55mm lens.

Bring uniformity in your pictures

Using a single lens, especially prime lens, makes your photographs uniform.You will develop a signature in framing and composition. More than telephoto lenses, wide angle and ultra wide angle lenses help in bringing a uniqueness in every photographer. These lenses provide more depth to the subject. Let your audience recognise your pictures by the focal length.

Among prime lenses, 50 mm would be the simplest of lenses to try this out with. It is considered to be the closest focal length that resembles what we see with our naked eye. Wider focal lengths like 35 mm, 24 mm, 16 mm etc produce more dramatic results and are extremely hard to practice with. Start with your 50 mm and go wider.

I consider myself as a 35 mm person. You can shoot wide landscapes as well as close portraits with a 35 mm focal length. Hence this also can be a good option for your next trek.

See some of our pictures taken with 35mm focal length.

On treks, if you are not confident enough to take your pictures on a single focal length, you can always go for lenses that offer wide range of focal lengths. The quality of your pictures might be compromised, but you still get to take one single lens and click pictures with different focal lengths. Lenses like 18-135, 18-200 etc. are good to use.

These are some of the lenses you can take for your next trek. Remember, take just one.

1. Kit lens (The basic lens which comes with your camera. )
2. 50mm ( The lens with an opening f/1.8 is really cheap but the one with f/1.2 is almost more than 10 times costlier)
3. Sigma 35 mm f1.4 ART (My favourite lens)
4. Sigma 20 mm f1.4 ART (Extremely good with low light situations. A little more wider and difficult to be familiarised with)
5. Tokina 11-16 (A good option for Entry level and cropped sensor cameras)
6. Canon 16-35, Canon 17-40 (For professional Full frame cameras)
7. 18-200, 18-135 etc. (For getting a wide range of focal lengths)

Keep Clicking.


What you should do now

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Harikrishnan

Harikrishnan

A photographer by passion and profession. Before joining Indiahikes, Hari has worked as a professional freelancer for many movie houses and NGO(s). His love for nature and mountains brought him to Indiahikes. With a bachelors degree in Physics, his area of interests include playing musical instruments and solo travelling.

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